Receive our most important stories in your inbox every morning.
By almost any measure, Rad Weaver has been successful. At 41, he is the CEO of McCombs Partners, sits on the UT System Board of Regents, and chairs the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce. He and wife Ashley have two children. He played baseball for the University of Texas at Austin where he graduated from the McCombs School of Business.
Weaver gives a lot of credit to his mentor, billionaire businessman Red McCombs, for opening doors of opportunity for him. Once through the door, however, Weaver points to his educational background as the source of his success. In particular, he talks frequently about his freshman year at John Jay High School.
That year, as a white, middle class freshman, Weaver gained interpersonal and leadership skills that would define his career, he said. “It was such a great year for me to grow up and learn to interact with people I hadn’t interacted with before.”
Bucking the Trend
Socioeconomic integration has long been thought to have benefits for children of color or those from lower income households. However, as a trend, parents with choice continue to move away from diverse settings.
Northside Independent School District records show Jay’s student population in the 1990s was approximately 67% Hispanic, 19% white, 11% black, 2% Asian/Pacific Islander, and less than 1% Native American. Weaver recalls the campus feeling the effects of the mid-’90s gang wars that plagued the country. Based on his parents’ address, Weaver should have gone to the less diverse Marshall High School. However, his father was the vice principal at Jay, giving him the option of enrolling there.
In public education, demographics are key to a school’s desirability. Schools in higher-income neighborhoods usually have more resources, more experienced teachers, and more stable leadership. The decision to put Weaver at Jay contradicted conventional wisdom, but his father knew that the football coach at Jay would be a great fit for the athletically gifted, though painfully shy freshman. Entering high school, Weaver did well academically, but suffered from a serious speech impediment that diminished his verbal interactions. Weaver channelled that pent-up energy into “super-competitiveness” on the athletic field.
Weaver is certain that his father had more than athletics in mind when he enrolled him at Jay. That year, playing as a freshman on the Jay varsity football team, Weaver was placed in the most diverse setting of his life. His teammates, all older and from various backgrounds, adopted him because of his athletic prowess and taught him valuable lessons about diversity.
Studies increasingly show that white students benefit from mixed-race and mixed-income settings. Intercultural Development and Research Association (IDRA) National Policy Director David Hinojosa has researched the “two-way” benefits of racially and economically integrated schools.
“There are plenty of benefits that accrue for white students,” Hinojosa said.
Ready for the Real World
Most studies show that meaningful integration increased compassion and decreased racial bias among students. Other studies, like one from Teachers College of Columbia, also show that problem-solving skills are strengthened in diverse learning situations. As students move into the workforce, a skillset called “cultural competencies” becomes a valuable asset. Those comfortable in diverse settings are better able to navigate a global economy and have better executive function, a major predictor of success in school and the workplace.
NISD Superintendent Brian Woods agrees with the research. “What most of us realize in our adult lives is that we work with folks from pretty diverse backgrounds,” he said.
A group of Fortune 100 companies reached the same conclusion when they provided an amicus brief in a recent U.S. Supreme Court case to test the constitutionality of diversity criteria in college admissions.
“For [the participating companies] to succeed in their businesses, they must be able to hire highly trained employees of all races, religions, cultures, and economic backgrounds,” the amicus brief states. “It also is critical to [the participating companies] that all of their university-trained employees have had the opportunity to share ideas, experiences, viewpoints, and approaches with a broadly diverse student body. To [the participating companies], this is a business and economic imperative.”
Woods wonders how children will handle broad diversity if they’ve never experienced it. “That’s going to be a more of a shock to their system at [age] 25 than at [age] 5,” he said.
For Weaver, seeing all the ways that race and culture interact for each individual gave him “a really great background to understand people all over the world.”
As CEO of McCombs Partners, the investment arm of McCombs’ business empire, Weaver encounters many different people, few of whom fit neatly into racial or cultural categories. At the same time, business is profoundly informed by the identity and personal background of those involved, he said. In negotiations and partnerships Weaver must find points of identity, understand values and goals, and ultimately make good business decisions for consumers and investors.
Looking for Race in All the Right Places
Weaver’s one school-age child goes to St. Mary’s Hall. While diversity at the elite private school looks different, Weaver wants his children to seek it out and learn from it. “To me diversity is certainly skin color and culture, but that’s where most people stop, and they shouldn’t,” he said.
Weaver acknowledges that race and culture have a lot to do with opportunity. “I cannot wait until we get to [the point] where a person is a person, and they are valued and evaluated for their contribution,” he said. “The reality is that we aren’t there yet.”
To get there, experts talk about bridging the “opportunity gap” between lower-income and middle-income children. It begins before children are born, with the prenatal health of their mothers, but becomes more obvious when children enter school systems where performance is measured by standardized tests. Here the gaps come into sharp focus.
As a result, gaps are sometimes visible even within a diverse school. It can be as blatant as an Advanced Placement class full of white students, and a remedial class full of Hispanic or black kids. True integration cannot exist until schools find a way to integrate individual classrooms, Hinojosa explained. With kids tracked into advanced or lower-performing classes as early as sixth grade, it can be difficult for a high school student to access the challenging courses that have been proven to benefit minority students.
Take Diversity Wherever You Can Get It
In the meantime, retired Jay teacher Calvin Buchholtz said, students at diverse schools who participate in sports, clubs, ROTC, and student council benefit from seeing their peers outside of academic settings.
“Those kids don’t have a lot of money, but they have purpose,” Buchholtz said.
Buchholtz taught at Jay for 44 years before retiring last year. For 42 of those years, Buchholtz was the advisor for the student council, where he saw minority children find their footing after languishing in the classroom for years.
“For me it’s been all about co-curriculars,” Buchholtz said.
As the minority students excel, experiences like Weaver’s, Buchholtz said, are not uncommon. Dynamics shift, and middle-class children learn to respect their lower-income peers, work together, and consider perspectives different from their own.
“Rad Weaver was in the right place at the right time to learn those leadership skills,” Buchholtz said. “At a school like Jay, that just happens.”
This is possible at several schools in NISD and North East ISD that serve aging neighborhoods. High schools like Holmes in NISD and Lee in NEISD have seen drastic demographic shifts as middle class populations have migrated north to schools like O’Connor in NISD and Johnson in NEISD as the city expanded geographically. Growth in Boerne and Comal ISDs further illustrates that point.
Instead of fleeing schools as they become more economically diverse, as is often the trend for families who can afford to move to the newest and wealthiest pockets of a district, Buchholtz said, there is value in staying put. The lasting impact of sports and clubs are more profound, he said, if they include diverse participants.