November 7th, 2016 marked the 25th anniversary of Academics Plus, L.C., in McKinney, TX. This small business has helped thousands of students in Texas increase their academic success at school.
It all started in 1991, when Mark and Melinda Crenwelge dreamed of a supplemental education business committed to increasing each student’s academic performance in McKinney, Texas. Melinda, who holds a doctoral degree in reading, and Mark, a master’s degree in mathematics, had worked as educators in Frisco since the early 1980’s. As parents and active members of their community, the Crenwelges understood the value and importance of individual, prescriptive instruction in cognitive development. They wanted to create a business that would work in cooperation and support of the large group instruction students receive in local public and private schools.
Searching nationwide for successful, research-based, instructional models the Crenwelges were rejected due to McKinney’s small size. They finally located a provider who agreed to a franchise in McKinney as long as the Crenwelges were willing to work with schools within a 30 mile radius of the city. This was exactly their dream and the business quickly grew to be one of the largest of its kind in the nation. After a year, the Crenwelges developed their own unique program to develop thinking skills through reading and math and launched Academics Plus, L.C.
An atmosphere of empowerment and a joy of learning became the oasis students thrived in at Academics Plus. Data driven instruction committed to achieving specific, written goals (or continuing instruction free until such goals were met) was the standard. Educational goals were set high and were achieved due to the need to stay open as a thriving business. Academic growth was measured, documented and the resulting personal excellence in school, home and community was contagious. Parents and classroom teachers were involved every step of the way and the dream of supporting large group instruction with specific, individual, diagnostic instruction proved invaluable.
Two licenses were sold to support further student success in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and Paris, Texas. Melinda’s parents, Rev. Dean and Barbara Pratt, who had provided the original funding were active as well with Barbara teaching her Higher Order Thinking Skills Art classes at A+ to further develop students’ cognitive growth. Dr. Jack Cockrill, then superintendent of McKinney ISD, had the vision of a unique partnership between a local business and public school district. In 1995 he contracted with A+ to bring this academic success to the underachieving students of McKinney. In the first year these low performing students were outperforming academically recognized students! Soon these results led to contracts with Houston ISD and Wilmer-Hutchins ISD. Student growth continued to astound observers and A+ collected eight years of public school data clearly showing all students can truly learn to think through reading and math, and that academic success is not restricted by race, finances or learning style. Fr Dean Pratt coined the term, “A Mind Expanding Experience”, to capture the essence of A+.
In 2002 the decision was made to focus all attention on the A+ in McKinney where the Crenwelge kids grew up. Like most kids from small business families, Jay, Ben, and Brianna learned the value of servant leadership and the resulting success hard work provides. Whether remodeling shell space, helping at local school fundraisers, or participating at Rotary, Lion’s Club and Chamber events, Jay, Ben, and Brianna were an integral part of A+. Jay and Brianna both managed A+ as Director and Associate Director upon college graduation before moving on to their own careers. At Ben Crenwelge’s Holy Family Kindergarten graduation, Fr Dean Pratt asked him what he wanted to do when he grew up. Ben clearly stated that he would one day run A+. True to his declaration he returned to A+ as Associate Director in 2016.
But not all of the A+ team grew up in McKinney. Late in 2012 and several states away, an elementary school teacher in Spanish Fork, UT, said a tearful goodbye to her third-grade class. She and her family were relocating to north Texas, where her husband Michael had been offered a job at the new Baylor hospital in McKinney, near his family. Knowing that finding a teaching job was unlikely during the middle of the school year, Stephanie Talley started applying to tutoring centers in the area, including A+. In her interview with Melinda, she immediately felt a connection to the owner and to the diagnostic element of the programs. As a teacher, Stephanie had always felt frustrated with the system’s inability to help struggling students catch up to grade level. And here was the answer, at this small business in north Texas! She eagerly accepted an instructor position at A+.
Stephanie quickly moved from instructor to Assistant Director. As the Crenwelges spent more and more of their time at their home in Waco, she was given more responsibilities and was soon running the center as Director. A mentorship was developed between herself and Melinda, and A+ continued to thrive due to the A+ team who share their passion and long term devotion to academic excellence. Sarah Jackson, M.A., a previous A+ instructor, returned to A+ as Assistant Director in 2014, and Sonya Ponse, A+ instructor in the early 2000’s and previous Assistant Director, continues as Lead Instructor.
In July of 2015, Stephanie truly experienced the American dream as she purchased A+ from the Crenwelges. Her parents, Lori and Wayne Pedersen, assisted in the financing to make this dream come true. As small business owners themselves, they were thrilled to help Stephanie continue the A+ legacy. Her own son, Stephen, currently attends A+, and she and Mike look forward to the day when their youngest child, Soren, can be an A+ student as well.
Melinda’s passion and A+ dedication continues as she now serves all our students and families as Founder/Consultant. She and her family remain heavily invested in and involved with A+ with every diagnostic test administered, ongoing instructional progress, and community involvement decisions.
The last quarter-century has been a season of growth for both McKinney and A+; undoubtedly this growth will continue. Alongside their incredible team, Stephanie and Melinda are looking forward to the next 25 years. Whatever the future holds for McKinney, you can be sure that Academics Plus’ first priority remains the same: increasing each student’s academic success.
“Academics Plus has really helped my daughter. She started her tutoring sessions two years ago and she has already completed six grade levels. She was really struggling with her reading comprehension. In her fifth grade year she was reading on a third grade level. She is in the seventh grade now and is reading on an eighth grade level. I truly love Academics Plus and so does my daughter. She has so much more confidence now that it is unbelievable! She has come so far and it is all because of the help of Melinda, Mark and their entire staff. Thank you so much Academics Plus for working with my daughter and helping her to over come so much in so little time! If your child is struggling with any subject, the best place for your child to receive help is Academics Plus!”
– Andrea Oliphant (Parent from McKinney, Texas)