Tamara Albury is the principal of Young Women's Leadership Academy in Fort Worth ISD. (Courtesy of Tamara Albury)

In the latest installment of our occasional conversations with Fort Worth leaders, Young Women’s Leadership Academy Principal Tamara Albury talks about how her campus is among the top ranked schools in North Texas and what sets it apart from other public schools.

Young Women’s Leadership Academy was founded in 2010, with 75 sixth-graders and 75 seventh-graders. The school’s first graduating class was in 2016.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity. For the unabridged version, please listen to the audio file attached to this article.

Jacob Sanchez: Tell our listeners a little bit about you. Who are you and what do you do?

Tamara Albury: My name is Tamara Albury. I am the principal of Young Women’s Leadership Academy. We are Fort Worth ISD’s first single-gender school. We are located in downtown Fort Worth.

We service all students throughout the city of Fort Worth and we are the No. 1 school in Fort Worth ISD. We are No. 6 in North Texas, No. 17 in the state of Texas and No. 117 out of 24,000 schools in the country. So we were in the top 1% of all schools in the country in terms of academic excellence and what our students achieve. 

Sanchez: That’s according to the U.S. News and World Report, right?

Albury: Yes.

Sanchez: Some of our listeners may not be familiar with the school. Can you give us a really high look at the school and what’s different about it?

Albury: We are a school of choice, and we are a partnership between Fort Worth Independent School District and the Young Women’s Preparatory Network

What happened was, Lee and Sally Posey were philanthropists. He grew up very poor, and his mother had an eighth-grade education. And so he had this passion for educating young women. Everywhere he met a young woman, he would want to educate her and send her to college, things like that. 

He and his wife visited a college prep school in east Harlem that was started by Ann and Andrew Tisch. It was a college prep public school. He decided to bring that back to Texas. He started the first network school in Dallas, which is Irma Lerma Rangel Young Women’s Leadership School. Since then there have been nine additional network schools. 

It’s a partnership between the network and the local district. There are schools in Dallas, Grand Prairie, Fort Worth, Austin, San Antonio and all across the state of Texas. The model really is about making sure that students not just get to college, but through college. 

Sanchez: So I’m so happy you’ve listed off all the rankings. But what makes Young Women’s Leadership Academy this top-notch school, the best school in Fort worth, and one of the best schools in North Texas, the state and the nation? 

Albury: I think there are a lot of things that make us definitely very unique.

What I would say is one of the great things is that our school is extremely diverse. When we look at diversity, it’s not just racial and ethnic diversity, but as it relates to religion, socioeconomics. We have students that are reflective of every type of domestic situation possible.

It’s really the expectation of excellence. Our students don’t know anything but excellence. We only offer Advanced Placement courses. We only offer college-level courses. We don’t offer regular courses at all. 

Because our kids come from different schools across Fort Worth ISD, there are a lot of opportunity gaps that they come with. We then assist in meeting those gaps to make sure that they are ready to complete that college-level work in high school. 

Our kids come in as babies. They come in as sixth-graders. That’s a great opportunity for us to build that foundation. We have a lot of students that traditionally would be classified as at-risk for not graduating from high school, that are first-generation high school students. Their parents didn’t graduate from high school. We have students who are undocumented. 

It’s excellence that helps us. The expectation that you are going to college, you have very little options other than you are applying to college, you are going to college and you are going to be successful.

Sanchez: What is a school of choice?

Albury: Charter schools or schools of choice are where people choose to attend outside their neighborhood school. In Fort Worth, there are a lot of schools of choice. There are performing arts schools of choice. There’s a Young Men’s Leadership Academy. There’s the World Language Institute. There’s a technical school. There’s the early college high school. There are different schools that focus on different areas. Fort Worth ISD has elementary, middle-school and high-school options that if a student wants to delve or explore a different area, there are schools that will meet that need and their interest.

Sanchez: Going back to the diversity element. How does the school build that diversity? I know the school district itself is diverse, but within the campus, how do you build that diversity? I know the girls have to apply and there’s this process to get into the school.

Albury: One of the things that we definitely have tried to do is we really take that whole idea of equity seriously. Our process makes sure that students, irrespective of where they’re coming from, have an opportunity to be at Young Women’s Leadership Academy because we’re really about realizing the potential in all of our students.

There is a misnomer that it’s all the students that are gifted and talented, and that’s not the case. We look at attendance when students are applying. Attendance, grades and behavior, those three things show hard work, the commitment of the parents. 

Our seniors are diamonds. How are diamonds made? It’s time and pressure. This is very much a pressure-cooker environment. 

What’s important for students to be successful in this environment is that we have parent support. We look at those elements to make sure students have what they need to be successful. Students are put into a lottery, and then we’re given that list. 

Previously, we did look at essays, interviews and math assessment as a larger portion, but not in recent years. 

As it relates to the pandemic, it’s the realization that if I attend a school where interview skills are not taught to me that puts me at a disadvantage and that’s not my fault. That’s an equity issue. If I’m at a school that really didn’t focus on essay writing, I’m at a disadvantage. 

Things that parents and families can control are attendance, behavior and grades, and so really kind of creating an application process really that is fair to families and what they bring.

Sanchez: It’s really giving these girls, regardless of their background, that fair shot that they deserve. 

Albury: Exactly. That’s really important, and that’s why we were started. We were started to make sure that the potential in all girls is realized.

Sanchez: How many students attend the school?

Albury: Currently, we have 467 students, with a capacity of 525. We have 75 students in every grade. This year we have our largest class of 56 graduating seniors. That’s our largest class group.

Sanchez: You’ve had a few graduating classes already, right? What have been the outcomes post-high school and going to college with your graduates?

Albury: This is our seventh graduating class that we have currently. In terms of high school graduation rate, we have a 100% graduation rate every year from our first class in 2016 to our most recent class in 2021. 

Our persistence rates were in the high end. This is our second graduating class from college. We’re really new to the whole college graduation piece. 

We also have a local foundation, the Foundation for the Young Women’s Leadership Academy. They helped to leverage tax dollars to make sure that our students have opportunities outside of the funding that’s provided by the district. They have taken on also looking at our alumni and meeting the needs of our alumni. They’re helping fill in that gap as well, or gap funding and things like that, to make sure to help our young women graduate from college. 

Sanchez: It’s not just about getting them out of high school. It’s about getting them on this path to success post-graduation from college and getting them to a great career. 

Albury: And to be the leader that we want with the voice. Having a voice is very important, being empowered, being able to have a seat at the table, having a seat in the room and keeping that seat at the table.

Sanchez: That’s really awesome. How long have you been principal? 

Albury: This is my sixth year. 

Sanchez: So how did you end up at the school? 

Albury: I really feel like all of my working experiences and my life experience sort of led me to Young Women’s Leadership Academy.

I’m from upstate New York. I went to a small liberal arts school in upstate New York. I went to school with a lot of people who attended boarding schools in New England. That’s a culture shock. I definitely can identify with what is necessary to make sure that you acclimate and are able to navigate that structure. Because if they’re accepted into those environments, then they’re accepted into all environments. If they’re accepted into those environments, that means that that’s more funding for them that they’re able to actually graduate from college. That’s the thing that’s always in the back of my mind that I definitely strive for. 

When I moved here to Texas, I didn’t really know a whole lot about Fort Worth. I started at Applied Learning Academy, and that really is the basis to my philosophy, social constructivism. My students learn by doing, so if my students want to be leaders here at Young Women’s Leadership Academy, I’ll always tell teachers, let the kids do it. That’s how they learn. Guide them through the process, but that’s how they learn. Just to see the level of empowerment by that piece has been amazing. 

And then from Applied Learning Academy, I went to work at O.D. Wyatt as an AP coordinator to learn the ins and outs of Advanced Placement, learn the ins and outs of college readiness that prepared me.

And then I worked downtown as a gifted-and-talented specialist followed by an AP specialist at Jean McClung. I’ve been all around Fort Worth and just seeing different neighborhoods had different learning experiences. Because my students come from all over Fort Worth, that sort of has built my capacity in meeting their needs to make sure that they’re successful.

Sanchez: It’s like you built the perfect resume for this job. 

Albury: And I didn’t even know I was doing it. 

Sanchez: What is the best part of your job?

Albury: I will tell you that when I get bogged down with paperwork and emails and things like that, I will go do lunch duty on purpose with my sixth graders and I will do afternoon duty and I’ll do anything just to be around my students.

My previous administrative assistant said, “You are the only person that will run to do after-school duty.” But it’s about being around my students and talking to them and getting to know them. It’s so important that students see who they can become. If you can reach out and touch it, you can become it. That’s what I believe. 

Being as accessible as possible to my students where they can come talk to me, if they have an issue. But I would tell you it’s the students because they are just, they’re so amazing and they’re just brilliant.

I fall in love every year, especially with sixth grade. Sixth grade is always in my heart. 

But my students are really my why. It’s why I get up in the morning, why I make sure things happen for them and provide them the opportunity because I see myself in them.

Sanchez: What is a challenge you see for Young Women’s Leadership Academy and, overall, education? 

Albury: We don’t really know what the effects of the pandemic really are going to be, not just on education, but ultimately in society and the business world. You have students who not just missed out on learning the last two years, but they’ve missed out on an interaction and they missed out on emotional growth. So what does that look like for employees and employers and college as well? 

All those skills that are necessary for grit, determination, stick to all those kinds of things. The whole idea of living in a pandemic and anxiety being such a large part of the last couple of years. What does that look like in environments where they have to work?

Being under pressure is a common occurrence, and now anxiety is an issue. We do need to address the academics, but I feel like the social-emotional piece is so critical. 

For example, we’ve taken play out of education. Interestingly enough, my sixth graders, when we meet every other week, they would tell me what they would want to do to improve at Young Women’s Leadership Academy. I remember the first meeting and they were relatively new to the school. They suggested that I take over the parking lot across the street and put in a jungle gym. I told them this is not elementary school; we are not going to put in a slide. t’s like our students have frozen socially at the age that they were before the pandemic hit. 

With the pandemic, if they’re behind emotionally, what does that mean for their success or their ability to grasp concepts going from concrete to abstract? If I have not really matured to that level, and I don’t know necessarily if we really even thought about it that way. 

There is a rush for everyone to go back to normal. There are just nuances that we have to think of things in a different way.

Sanchez: Anything else you want to mention for our listeners?

Albury: There’s still so much hope. This is still the future generation,and you can just see just the impact that education, as a whole, has for our students and our future leaders and things like that.

What I’m so excited about for our students here is that there is a level of personal grit and determination to achieve those goals and to be amazing and to be those leaders of tomorrow. And so we’re continuing in that work to make sure that our students are the leaders of tomorrow, and that they’re CEOs and, and they’re really in that C-suite and they’re leaders of the cities and the country. It’s about perseverance, and really it’s going to take time and we all need grace. 

Disclosure: Tamara Albury is a member of the Fort Worth Report’s Reader Advisory Council. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

Jacob Sanchez is an enterprise journalist for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at jacob.sanchez@fortworthreport.org or via Twitter.

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Jacob Sanchez

Jacob Sanchez is an enterprise reporter for the Fort Worth Report. His work has appeared in the Temple Daily Telegram, The Texas Tribune and the Texas Observer. He is a graduate of St. Edward’s University.

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