Charles Klein – International Leadership of Texas
As the population booms in Texas, so does the number of school-aged children. So last year, as a school district in Greater Houston struggled to handle the influx of students, the state approached International Leadership of Texas, a nonprofit that builds and operates free public charter schools in the Lone Star State.
Talk about quick results: Ground was broken in November 2021 in the growing suburb of Cleveland. By this past August, the ILTexas Brigadier General Ramirez K-8 opened. Named for Joseph E. Ramirez, Jr., a prominent Houstonian and distinguished military veteran, it’s a nearly 100,000 square-foot facility with modern amenities and a challenging curriculum to bring out the best in more than 1,400 children.
“Just a matter of good teamwork,” says Charles Klein, who supervised the project as senior executive director of construction. “Every day we’d talk about any new issues and be flexible, even if it meant redesigning aspects on the fly. In just nine months we went from field to full school.”
Under budget too, Klein says. And, to boot, while dealing with safety precautions and supply-chain shortages that have vexed so many construction projects during the COVID-19 era.
“The microchip shortage was the most impactful, hitting on several areas, including automation and HVAC,” Klein tells Blueprint in September from ILTexas headquarters in Richardson. “Kitchen equipment was also difficult to source, even things as simple as cores for doors and as mundane as PVC badges for identification cards.”
But ILTexas having built around 20 other charter K-8s and high schools, Klein says the organization had great relationships with suppliers and had acquired everything it needed. What the business learned on this project is being applied toward a prototype model that he says will reduce costs and schedules for the other schools that ILTexas will be building.
More schools coming
Their agenda calls for four to six new schools annually with metropolitan areas the primary locales. At last count there were eight schools in Tarrant County, seven in the Houston area, five in the Dallas area and two in Brazos County. And these are public schools, open to all school-age children with students selected by lottery and admittance not restricted by geographical lines.
As construction boss since March 2020, Klein’s only been involved in a few of these projects at ILTexas, but he already is an old hand. Entrusted with establishing an in-house construction department, he says it was a process of familiarizing himself with ILTexas.
“Our CEO [Ret. Marine Major Eddie Conger] is very adamant that he doesn’t want students to learn in a warehouse,” Klein explains. “So, I became focused on ground-up builds. We got fantastic partners into place who had knowledge of the charter school space. It has given us a renewed sense of urgency on our future.”
Klein says ILTexas takes a holistic approach that includes teaching each student to be fluent in English, Spanish and Chinese. These, Klein explains, are the languages most pertinent for the global economy and national security. Students also are given opportunities to study in China, Costa Rica and throughout Texas and the United States.
There’s just as much emphasis on physical fitness. Conger and Ramirez have earned their stripes in uniform, and ILTexas encourages the students to do the same with daily fitness classes and an affiliation with the Marine Corps Junior ROTC.
“We differentiate ourselves with the trilingual and fitness focus without a doubt,” he says.
Making the grade
While Klein is not a charter school alumnus, he says he wishes all kids could benefit from the education that’s been so instrumental to his success. His high school, Highland Park of Dallas, is public yet so academically advanced that 96 percent of its graduates pursue higher education. Notable grads include a former Texas governor and other politicians, celebrities, athletes, authors and Nobel Prize-winning scientists.
Klein did well enough there to move on to Rice University and the University of Texas School of Law, where he earned his juris doctorate in 2001. Unlike his classmates, however, he wasn’t destined for the firms.
“I never envisioned myself being a full-time lawyer,” he says. “I just knew a law degree would be very valuable in many fields, and my focus was always on service to others. And that is the ILTexas motto: Others before self.”
He cut his teeth with stints at a technology company and a political consulting firm, then found something more to his liking at YES Prep Public Schools, a network of public, open-enrollment charter schools in Greater Houston, where he managed and then directed operations and facilities from 2011 to 2016. For the next four years Klein practiced private law at his own firm—something he’s done off and on since 2001—and then joined ILTexas.
The legal background helps the cause as Klein’s responsibilities entail significant amounts of contracting. Construction having considerable risk, he’s a stickler for safety protocols. There being statutes for procuring services and supplies for Texas schools, he’s got details aplenty to oversee.
“Procurement is not the clearest of processes but having a law degree definitely helps,” he says. “I’d encourage anybody in my role to learn the law.”
There’s also a particular satisfaction Klein says he gets from ILTexas. And before, from YES Prep Public Schools.
“There’s nothing like being on campus and seeing these kids who have never had anything given to them,” he says. “They may struggle, but in the end, they succeed and go on to contribute to society as leaders and business people. Even on my worst days, they fuel me to do my best.”
View this feature in the Blueprint Vol. VI 2022 Edition here.
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