PSJA Setting the pace for rest of nation
Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott says the collaboration between PSJA ISD and local higher education institutions provides a working model that can be replicated across the nation.
Scott spoke at an event at the new Kennedy Middle School in Pharr last Thursday at which Gov. Rick Perry announced a $2 million grant for PSJA. Both Perry and Scott praised PSJA and Superintendent Danny King for the great strides the school district has made in recent years to boost graduation and dropout recovery efforts.
“As a result of what we expect to happen here in PSJA, school districts in Texas and across the country will have a working model that shows how a district can partner with institutions of higher education and work with its community to create college and career opportunities for all students,” Scott said.
Scott said the work being done at PSJA would impact generations to come.
“PSJA has made remarkable progress in recent years. The district has 1,500 high school students currently enrolled in college courses, which provides a tremendous opportunity for these students,” Scott said.
“The district also brought 517 dropouts back into school since 2007 and not only helped them earn a high school diploma but helped them enroll in South Texas College as well.”
PSJA ISD Superintendent King said the $2 million grant provides a “pivotal moment” for the district.
“What we are talking about is all students, college ready and college connected,” King said. “Over the next couple of years we will be using this grant to try to completely align our programs and seamlessly connect our students. Our high schools will be working and selecting career pathways to our academies. Those will be aligned to the degree programs at STC, UTPA and other colleges and universities,” King said.
PSJA has already piloted with STC to produce an education pathway plan that is presented to students early in their high school career. “From the time they are a sophomore they already know what it is going to take to not only get their high school diploma, but their associate degree, their bachelor’s degree,” King said. “That’s our goal. So, they already have a pathway.”
King was quick to point out this does not mean students cannot change their mind about their education path. “It is better to change your mind from a pathway to another pathway than to be spinning your wheels,” he said.
King is in his third year as PSJA superintendent. In the last two years, he pointed out, PSJA has reduced its dropout rate by 75 percent, going from more than double the state average to less than half the state average.
He spoke with pride about the College Career & Technology Academy, which helps long term dropouts get their education back on track. “The innovative high school does not just bring back dropouts but puts them in college, in two and a half years it has graduated 517 dropouts, 88 of them between 21 and 26 years old,” King said.
King said PSJA’s T-STEM Early College High School was also “innovative.” The school is viewed as a bridge to higher education. He said that dual enrollment in high school and college had been “mediocre” at PSJA. Now, however, the district has the highest participation rate in the area, with over 1,500 students taking college courses.
PSJA has also dramatically increased the number of graduates, by over 60 percent in just over two years, going from less than a thousand graduates to almost 1,600 graduates last year. “We are looking at 1,700 and 1,800 this year,” King said.
These achievements are good, King said, but they are only the start. “Now, the real work begins,” he said, referring to the $2 million grant. He said the awarding of the grant brings great responsibility.
“How do we take the lessons from all these concepts and bring them all together and scale up so we can really restructure our high schools into what I call true 21st Century high schools? High schools that are college connected, workforce aligned, where students are going to college with a purpose to connect to something in their future,” King told the audience, many of whom were students.
He said it was wrong to have the same plan for all students and then seeing if, after four years of high school, whether or not a student should go to college. “If some of you are ready when you are sophomores you can start some college courses. If some of you are ready when you are juniors, seniors… Student by student, connecting you when you are ready for your next step in life,” King told the students.
King said there are almost 8,000 high school students at PSJA. He said that with the $2 million grant, he and his staff want to “scale up” the dual enrollments at T-STEM and from the different high schools. “How can we work to really make a big impact and meaningfully connect the vast majority of our students to the next step before they leave us? That is what we are going to be talking about here today. And those that are the ideas that the great team here at PSJA has been focused on with our partners,” he said.
In his remarks, Gov. Perry said that as technology “shrinks” the world, it brings the U.S. into closer competition with people all over the globe who want the same jobs.
“If students are going to experience a successful, prosperous career, they need an education that will equip them to compete in the global marketplace,” Perry said. “The Pharr-San Juan-Alamo school district is part of a larger effort across the state to continue improving the quality of a Texas education and ensure every student graduates ready for college or career.”