When Jeannie Robinson says that she is a lifelong learner, she truly means it. Even though Robinson has been in education for more than two decades, she says that her position as principal of Alice Carlson Applied Learning Center has allowed her to never experience a dull moment while at the school.
The school, in the heart of the 109, has become one of the best elementary schools in the FWISD. Carlson has been given an Exemplary rating from the Texas Education Agency for two straight years and has become one of the most sought-after places in the city for young children to attend.
And the principal who has helped to establish that innovative learning environment has been interested in learning since she was a child.
“I remembered being interested always in learning and teaching,” Robinson said. “I have a brother who’s 10 years younger than me and he was my first student. I remembered I had a book satchel that I used specifically for lesson plans I created for him, so I always had that feel, and I always enjoyed working with others.”
Robinson said she always had a knack for learning and wanting to learn more. She encountered numerous teachers along the way who honed in her motivation for knowledge, and she said she could not think of a time in her life when she was not involved in the learning process. Those teachers serve as models for her to this day.
“I had some exceptional teachers that solidified in my mind that education was a route that was right for me,” she said. “My music teacher in elementary school did not have a classroom, and I would listen for the piano wheels coming down the hall.”
Her teachers didn’t only help shape her learning experience. Robinson said they helped her develop as a person, as well. As a child, Robinson was cast as the lead in a school play, something that made her anxious. With the help of others and the teacher, she was able to find the confidence to perform in front of an audience.
“I was a shy child, and so my music teacher helped me find my voice. I was cast as the Miller’s daughter in the play Rumpelstiltskin. And so I had that starring role, and I had to be up in front of everybody and sing and talk. Doing that, it really helped me be less shy.”
Robinson also learned the importance of elections and being an active member of society from her high school government teacher at Southwest High School.
“She was hard, but I have voted in every election since that class,” Robinson said.
A passion to teach
While Robinson got her passion to teach from her childhood and her own education, the idea of starting a school that focused on an alternative education experience like Alice Carlson came from her days in college at Texas Wesleyan University in 1988. It was here where she first experience first-hand the potential of what alternative learning can provide for young children.
“We had some professors at Texas Wesleyan University who were from Australia and New Zealand, who were at that time and still known to this day at the forefront for literacy education. Their methods were quite different than the traditional methods that were being taught in the United States at the time. So, I never learned the traditional way of teaching. I was only taught in those real progressive methods.“
Being in that environment of new teaching methods helped prepare Robinson for the way of applied learning.
“I think being open-minded toward learning came from teaching my brother and my three children,” she said. “I had my kids reading at an early age, before the traditional schools would tell kids how to read. And I had such a wonderful experience with that, so I always had that underlying feeling that learning should be a more natural process.”
After graduating from Texas Wesleyan in 1988, Robinson taught for four years at Sunrise Elementary, another school in the Fort Worth area. It was then that she first heard about the program at Alice Carlson.
The idea for an applied learning center came from a national study of education in the U.S. that found that children were efficient in learning the basic skills one needs to succeed, but they were not being taught properly in two key areas: working together in groups and problem-solving.
The superintendent of the FWISD at the time wanted to see if something like an applied learning institution would be appealing to the community.
After hearing about this new school, Robinson said she was excited at the opportunity to practice some of the teaching techniques she had become so interested with in college.
Robinson joined Alice Carlson when the school officially opened in 1991 as an applied learning center. She went from teacher, to assistant principal, to eventually becoming principal in 2006.
A top destination for parents
Since then, she has been head of one of the top elementary schools in the city. Using the applied learning technique, which focuses on group work and problem solving among children, the school has become a top destination for parents.
The success of Alice Carlson is hard to ignore. A big green sign in the front lawn of the school says in bold letters, “2010-2011 Exemplary School.” This is the top honor a school can receive from the Texas Education Agency.
And if demand is a sign of popularity, well then look no further than the need for a lottery system along with an application for kids who want to get into Alice Carlson.
One of those parents who were lucky to get their children into Carlson is Mike Coffey. A father of three students who are at Carlson, he has had nothing but great experiences with Robinson.
“She’s a great administrator,” Coffey said. “With Carlson’s success and her leadership, she’s able to recruit and motivate the best teachers in the district and they are able to challenge each student at whatever learning level they’re at. I’m convinced that Carlson would be hard to replicate because there are so few real leaders in education.”
Coffey also volunteers along with several other parents at the school. The open and friendly environment, Coffey said, is a major reason why people are so willing to help take time out of their busy schedule to help out the school.
“I’ve never had the impression that Jeannie was trying to put someone in their place or demonstrate her own authority,” Coffey said. “Rather, she helps us work through opportunities or challenges. My friends who are teachers at other schools seem to constantly verify this. Carlson is rich in leadership at the student, parent, teacher, staff, and administrative levels.”
With the school nearing its 20th anniversary next school year, Robinson has seen the kids she dealt with in her first years at the school grow up, graduate from college and enters the workforce.
Robinson said she has often had former students come up to her in official functions and thanked her personally for the education she helped provide.
“We frequently have students come back to let us know that they’ve experienced,” she said. “The students who were my students here when I was still in the classroom frequently come back. They invite me to their college graduations, their weddings. I see them being successful and able to be problem solvers in every way that they can present themselves. And it’s been very rewarding.”
Like everything at Alice Carlson, the subject comes back to learning. There are several bricks that along the walkway leading to Carlson’s outdoor learning environment, and one of those reads: “Jeannie Robinson: lifelong learner.”
It’s the theme that has guided Alice Carlson to prominence in the 109, and it has guided Robinson throughout her life.