Nov 8 Written by: Alisha Hyslop
November 8, 2011 at 11:21 am

This is the third in a series of four posts on using career and technical education (CTE) to turn around low-performing schools.  Click here to read previous posts: CTE’s Role in Turning Around Low-performing Schools and CTE’s Role in Turning Around Low-performing Schools: New Britain, Connecticut.

The largest school district in Hidalgo County and the second largest in the Rio Grande Valley, Pharr-San Juan-Alamo (PSJA), was once considered a district where every high school was labeled a “dropout factory.” The district contains 43 schools and over 30,000 students, with a population that is almost 99 percent Hispanic and over 85 percent economically disadvantaged.  Just a few short years ago, PSJA had a dropout rate of almost twice the state average, but that rate has now been reduced by 90 percent. The number of graduates has increased from 966 during the 2006-07 school year to 1,906 during the 2010-2011 school year due to the turnaround efforts implemented in the district.[1]

This remarkable turnaround has not come easy, but has required the hard work and dedication of the entire staff. Dr. Daniel King joined the school district as superintendent in 2007 to improve results, building on his prior success achieved in Hidalgo Independent School District. He immediately began focusing on dropout prevention and postsecondary transitions. Career and technical education (CTE) played an integral role in the district’s efforts to reach its at-risk student population.

One new initiative was the opening of a dropout recovery high school, known as the College, Career & Technology Academy. In partnership with South Texas College, students can enroll in this school up to age 25 to earn the credits they need for their high school diplomas and to dual enroll in postsecondary education. The school is designed to create viable career pathways for all students, which is accomplished through intensive support services and tailored, accelerated learning. The program segments data on off-track and out-of-school youth by age and credits and tailors a recovery program specific to the needs of the specific individual. As students gain skills, dual enrollment courses in areas like business computer applications, HVAC and health science are offered.

The district has also opened the T-STEM Early College High School, where students can earn up to an Associate degree while still in high school. The curriculum is designed to articulate clear degree plans and career pathways in STEM fields like engineering, computer science, electronics and pre-pharmacy.

In testimony before Congress in 2010, Superintendent King emphasized the importance of CTE and of a relevant education for all students. “Rigor, relevance and relationships (caring about students) are all important. College/Connected Career Pathways add rigor and relevance, allowing and motivating students to move to higher levels of learning…Career and Technology courses are important for creating viable career pathways for all students. These courses should be industry standard and college connected (dual credit) leading towards certification and/or associate and bachelor degrees.”

Guest Author: Alisha Hyslop is the Assistant Director of Public Policy at the Association for Career and Technical Education and is the author of the upcoming ACTE Issue Brief titled “CTE’s Role in Turning Around Low-performing Schools.”


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