Investing in students proves valuable as Tekoa Academy celebrates 21st anniversary

Published 12:19 am Thursday, May 7, 2020

Tekoa Academy of Accelerated Studies celebrated its 21st anniversary May 1.

The Texas Education Agency certified the open enrollment public charter school in 1999, deeming it the first charter school in Port Arthur.

Tekoa CEO Dr. Paula Richardson established the 327 Thomas Blvd. location with little knowledge of running a charter school, but a lot of ambition and a vision.

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“One of my friends happened to be in the charter school division, and her husband and I worked at the Texas Education Agency together before I moved back to Port Arthur,” Richardson said. “I called the agency one day to check up and she said, ‘Are you in Port Arthur?’ I said, ‘Yes, I am.” She replied, ‘We don’t have a charter school in Port Arthur. You need to open one.’ I told her to send over the information. I read the legislation, the program overview and after about a week I called back and said, ‘I can do this.’”

Tekoa Academy staff celebrates 21 years in service. Left to right: Andonnia Lowe, Dana Gillepsie, Dr. Paula Richardson, Kelly Broussard and Richard Johnson.

Richardson studied and researched charter school guidelines for two years.

The academy officially opened on August 16, 1999, enrolling kindergarten through sixth grade only. In 2001, the school expanded to include prekindergarten through third grade and seventh through 12th.

Today, the strong values of administration, staff and employees are what keep pushing Tekoa Academy into the 21st Century.

Tekoa Academy CEO Dr. Paula Richardson stands in the new science room with unboxed equipment discussing the achievements of Tekoa Academy in the last 21 years.

“What’s most important about any business, because no one person knows everything, is surrounding yourself with people who connect to the vision God has given you,” Richardson said “This is what He had for me to do and that’s the way we’ve been here at Tekoa and why we continue to grow.”

The charter school started with 150 students in 1999. In 2019-20, more than 470 students enrolled. The highest number of enrollment to date is 585.

“Our children love being here,” Richardson said. “They love the safety. They love the food and the clean environment. We know what our children like here and we have the best of everything for them.”

Dr. Paula Richardson stands in the new science room.

Tekoa Academy journalism teacher Richard Johnson, who started three years ago, said it is the investment in students that make Tekoa stand out.

“I came from the marketing industry producing TV commercials for Time Warner,” Johnson said. “Then I came here and started teaching photography and video. When I started, the only equipment we had was my personal camera and some old equipment already here.

“By the end of my first year, we were already purchasing new equipment. Now we’ve got plenty of top-notch cameras, we’ve got 3D printers and we’ve got drones. The one thing that Tekoa does is invest in their students and they invest in technology.”

Richardson said alongside investing in the future of tomorrow, staying professional, listening to students and finding connections is important to growth.

“We want set the best example for our students,” Richardson said. “If we want them to dress professionally, we show up to school professionally. If we want them to be honest with us, we are first honest with them. We listen to our children, we connect with them and we invest in them. That’s why other charter schools may fail, but why Tekoa lasts.”