Cynthia Trigg - Superintendent and Founder Evolution Academy Charter School Photo: Kauwuane BurtonCredit: Kauwuane Burton

Traditional public school education, at one point in time, was the only option for many families. With increased charter school options, parents have other choices to provide their children with a quality education. 

Cynthia Trigg is the CEO and founder of Evolution Academy, a public charter high school that supports at-risk youth. What started as a dropout recovery program has successfully graduated more than 3,000 students since its launch in 2002. 

Last month, the Texas Education Agency gave the Evolution Academy a 93 score for its annual accountability rating, a significant victory for the school serving many Black and Nrown youth. 

Trigg spoke with the Defender about her leadership role and the initiatives that prepare students for life after Evolution Academy. 

Defender: What inspired you to enter the education field?

Cynthia Trigg: Initially, I had hope of becoming an attorney. During that time [in college], I decided to add general education because the job market wasn’t as promising, and I didn’t know where I would go. One of my mentors was an educator, and [told] me, “When you are a teacher, you’re the CEO of your classroom,” and it stuck with me. After college, I landed a position teaching English and history to a gifted and talented class. I could make history come alive, creating a spark for me.

As I progressed into education, I knew that I didn’t want to have an impact in the classroom. I wanted to branch out, so I obtained my Master’s in Education Administration and my teacher certification, administration certification, and, years later, superintendent certification. I’ve had the opportunity to navigate into different spaces. It’s been 30 years.

Defender: You graduated from Prairie View A&M University and earned your master’s. How did attending an HBCU help prepare you for a leadership position?

Trigg: It was the intimacy…and the spirit of Black excellence that is required. Early on, as an African American, you’re taught that you will not get it on skills alone. You have to strive for excellence. When I was a teacher, I was relatively young. To get promoted, I became an assistant principal, maybe 26 or 27. I understood that if I was going to be turned down, it wasn’t because I was not qualified; they would have to find another reason why. I had the confidence that attending an HBCU raises the level of professionalism and expectations of how you represent. 

Defender: Evolution Academy launched in 2002. Why a charter school? 

Trigg: I started as an assistant principal seeing what we call a cohort. That’s a group of 9th graders…So you may start out with a thousand 9th graders, and then fast forward four years later, and you have a graduating class of 300. Where did those students go? That became intriguing for me. [I was] digging deep into the data to discover how many students don’t finish. Often, it’s because of the dual roles that students are forced to play that of a parent or caregiver.

I thought, wouldn’t it be so cool that kids come to a location that they wanted to learn with major flexibility and staff that wanted to be there? I envisioned myself doing that, and it was a three-year process of forming a non-profit organization, going through the town hall meetings and community forums. We had planned for 100 students; we opened our door with 252 students…literally, the rest was history. 

Defender: As a founder of the Evolution Academy Charter School District, three of your campuses have Black principals. Talk about your intention behind that decision

Trigg: We are in an initiative now called the “Grow your own” program. It’s a statewide initiative trying to engage more Black and Brown educators. I’m an educator who happens to be African American. We’re fortunate to secure principals of color willing to come in, roll up their sleeves and do the work. We serve a large portion of Black and Brown students [who can] see professionalism and [see] themselves in us. 

Defender: This has been a difficult couple of years across the board for many schools. What challenges have the administration/faculty/students overcome during this period? 

Trigg: It was the third week of March [2020]. We had gone on spring break. When we discovered that we were truly in a pandemic and we were going to have to shut down…we had to figure out how to navigate this. We closed for that week to put a game plan together to deploy educational services to students. I told the teachers that they would be teaching online. We had just completed a professional development series on blended learning.

Everyone was home, so it was finding out who needed a device. Connectivity? How do we get information to you? We had a lot of practice operating in emergency mode with our Beaumont campus because they always get caught up with hurricane season. Fast forward to getting everyone back; that has been a hard thing. We are still not up to our pre-pandemic numbers, but we’re making our way.

Defender: The academy supports students who were unsuccessful in traditional school settings. What strategies are being implemented to ensure the success of these students?

Trigg: Major case management. Every student has an adult attached to them. It’s continuing to monitor and adjust until the graduation date comes. 

Defender: Public charter schools in Texas are preparing the future workforce. What initiatives does the academy provide to take students to the next level in the workforce?

Trigg: We’ve ramped up and begun developing more certification options for our students. Each campus is designated as an early college high school. Our Richardson and Houston campuses are what we call P-Tech campuses, which means that it’s incorporating your career certifications into an early college platform. You partner with various community colleges or institutions of higher learning to ensure students can take college courses while in high school.

Our students have the opportunity to earn up to 60 credit hours prior to leaving. That’s tuition-free to them. We are constantly exploring resources that our students are interested in. We look at the labor market and whether these are viable options. We are small yet mighty, and we keep moving forward. 

Laura Onyeneho

I cover Houston's education system as it relates to the Black community for the Defender as a Report for America corps member. I'm a multimedia journalist and have reported on social, cultural, lifestyle,...