Dr. Daniel King is being honored as a Latino Educator Champion of Change.
I am thrilled to be named a Champion of Change. This is a tribute to the hard work of the entire Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD (PSJA) education community, which serves over 32,000 students, 99% of whom are Hispanic and 89% of whom are economically disadvantaged.
I was named Superintendent of PSJA in 2007, after a rewarding tenure at Hidalgo ISD. At the time, PSJA was making headlines for all the wrong reasons. A national report had labeled all three comprehensive high schools "dropout factories.” The district’s dropout rate was more than double the state average, and the four-year high school graduation rate was only 62.4%. Fortunately, PSJA had many committed educators, and the community was eager for change.
We committed to re-engaging disconnected youth in an ongoing initiative we call "Countdown to Zero.” Partnering with South Texas College, we opened a dual enrollment high school for dropouts between the ages of 18 and 26 and developed other customized programs for youth facing various types of challenges. Hundreds of former dropouts have now earned their diplomas. Today, PSJA's cohort dropout rate is a small fraction of what it was and is less than half the state average. The four-year high school graduation rate surpasses state and national averages, hitting 90.1% for the class of 2013. The number of students graduating from high school has doubled, as has the number of students entering college.
Our focus is on increasing the percentage of students who complete high school and transition successfully "to and through" college. In 2008, we began to create and scale Early College High School designs throughout the district. Currently, more than 3,000 of our high school students are enrolled in college courses. Most of the class of 2014 has already started earning college credit, even before completing high school.
We are determined to change the destiny of our community and provide solutions that can dramatically improve educational attainment and economic well-being for Americans of all backgrounds. Now, school districts and colleges from Texas and beyond are trying to draw lessons from the systemic changes that have taken place in PSJA. I hope that we can continue to play a leadership role in educating the next generation of students and preparing them for success.
Dr. Daniel King is the Superintendent of the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District, which serves more than 32,000 students in the lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas.