Becky Rutledge, director of Palestine’s University Academy, a charter school operated by the University of Texas at Tyler, is stepping down. Rutledge joined the Academy as principal in its first year in 2012.
Rutledge is joining Responsive Ed in Lewisville, Texas, as a regional director of Premier High Schools. She will work from home and travel to campuses around the state to guide other charter school directors, beginning next month.
Since the Academy opened, Rutledge has guided the school through several changes. She opened the school during its first year of operation and moved it to a new permanent building in the 2019-2020 school year.
In 2017, the Academy’s original building was deemed unsafe by the state fire marshal, precipitating a crisis. The university temporarily moved the Academy into Mathis Hall on its Palestine campus, but when the school year continued without certain plans for a future building, rumors of the school’s closure began to spread.
Tracy Niedecken, a past president of the Academy’s Parent-Teacher Organization, told the Herald-Press that Rutledge effectively guided the school after its original building was deemed unsafe.
Teachers, parents, and community leaders rallied behind the school in a public meeting in February 2018 attended by roughly 500 people. After university leaders announced they would build a new school in Palestine, another transition phase began that involved laying plans, securing funding, and moving into the new building in 2019.
As Rutledge led the Academy through these changes, many stakeholders noticed her calm, helpful demeanor.
”Without her, I don’t know if we’d have the school in Palestine,” Niedecken said. “She’s always been gracious, helpful, and a strong supporter of the school.”
Yet to Rutledge, her biggest challenge was building the school. As principal, she hired teachers and led them in implementing the Academy’s problem-based learning model, which encourages students to use critical thinking while solving real-world problems.
Her leadership has ensured the Academy’s success, which has included teacher and student retention and high scores on state academic tests.
“[Rutledge] is loved by staff, parents, and students, and will be greatly missed,” said Linda Absy, a parent of three students and volunteer. “She’s so appreciative and relatable.”
Allison Freeman, a parent of three Academy students, now works as a second-grade teacher at the Academy. Rutledge encouraged her to apply to work as a paraprofessional in 2018, when she began working on a teaching certificate.
“Becky has always been a mentor to me personally and professionally,” Freeman said. “She’s the type of boss who will talk to you and hear your concerns.”
Rutledge grew up in Elkhart and graduated from Elkhart High School. She attended Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, where she earned bachelor’s degrees in art, education, and psychology.
Her education career started at Palestine High School, where she taught art for nine years while earning a master’s degree in educational leadership in 2003. She continued at PHS as an assistant principal for one year, then served as principal at Westwood Primary for four years. She earned a doctorate in education in 2018 from Texas A&M University-Commerce.
“I’ve learned a lot about charter school law, finance, and operations, and I’ll be able to use all of that,” Rutledge said. “I’ll be a direct line of support to those schools.”