AUSTIN, February 5 - Edcouch-Elsa ISD hasn’t been in the news for the right reasons in recent years, having been cited by the Texas Education Agency for accountability and financial management irregularities.
However, new leaders at the school district are hoping to turn over a new leaf and regain the trust of the legislature, the State Board of Education and TEA.
To help celebrate Edcouch-Elsa Day at the state Capitol, the school district used the award-winning Mariachi Juventil for a charm offensive and it appeared to pay off. TEA Commissioner Michael Williams heard the band play at a SBOE meeting and, at the request of new SBOE board member Ruben Cortez, agreed to come down to the Delta region to meet with teachers and administrators.
“I want to personally thank state Reps. Terry Canales and Oscar Longoria for putting on Edcouch-Elsa Day at the state Capitol. It has been a wonderful event that has shown all the positive aspects of the mighty Edcouch-Elsa school district,” said Frances Rocha, assistant superintendent for Edcouch-Elsa ISD.
Rocha said putting Mariachi Juventil front and center on the trip to Austin was a smart move. The band played at a SBOE board meeting in front of 15 SBOE members from across Texas and Commissioner Williams. The next day the band played in the open rotunda at the Capitol, serenading Reps. Canales and Longoria and winning great applause from a large gathering of Capitol staff.
“I cannot be more proud of our Mariachi Juventil. We started this group about six years ago with one director and have steadily grown the program. Now we have three directors. The students in the band are very dedicated and committed. We have several of the top ten graduates this year. So, they are talented and very dedicated to their academics,” Rocha said.
“In truth, they are the pride of our school district. They bring joy to the people that listen to their music because it takes them back to their youth. And, by promoting music, we are giving our students a talent that will never be taken away from them. This is something that can help them get to college.”
Rocha said the reaction of Capitol staff said it all. “The people loved them. For a brief moment in time they forget the problems they have with state issues and engrossed themselves in the music of South Texas. It was wonderful,” she said.
Mark Lozano is Edcouch-Elsa school board vice president. He is one of a number of new, younger, school board members who have promised the electorate to clean up the district’s image.
“One of our first objectives as a new board was to mend relationships and reestablish the trust the district once had with the legislature and TEA and the State Board of Education. And I think we have set a standard this week in Austin,” Lozano said.
“TEA, the legislature, the state board of education, these are the people who approve grants and funding to school districts like ours. We want them to consider Edcouch-Elsa and the only way they will consider us is if they see we have leadership that will use the funds wisely. It is clear what we have to do. We have to spend the funds on the enrichment and betterment of our students.”
Like Rocha, Lozano paid tribute to Reps. Canales and Longoria for putting on Edcouch-Elsa Day at the Capitol. “I am overwhelmed by the support we have received by our state representatives,” he said. And, like Rocha, Lozano paid tribute to the students. “We are one of the poorest school districts in Texas. But, we wanted to showcase our kids regardless of our socio-economic status. The tradition and pride is still there. Our area is rich in culture. I am overwhelmed and I am so proud of this community for coming together like it has,” Lozano said.
Lozano thanked Cortez, who represents the Rio Grande Valley on the SBOE board, for setting up a visit by Commissioner Williams. “My understanding is he wants to go down and see Edcouch-Elsa. To see the challenges we have and to sit down with our teachers and administrators to see what he can do to help our district,” Lozano said. “Cleary, it is time to move forward. We are a small 4-A school district with about 4,500 students. But we are two united communities with one big heart. I am overwhelmed by what we have achieved in Austin.”
One of the Edcouch-Elsa leaders on the trip to Austin was Rina Castillo, who, as volunteer coordinator, has been working to set up a new Edcouch-Elsa-La Villa Chamber of Commerce.
“This visit to Austin has been a great experience for all of us. We have always had pride in our community and on this trip we have seen students represent our community very well. They are very respectful kids and hearing them here is so inspiring. It is amazing,” Castillo said.
Castillo said the new chamber of commerce will actually represent four communities. In addition to Edcouch, Elsa and La Villa it will cover the unincorporated community of Monte Alto. “We have spent the past four months putting together our bylaws and our mission statement. We have a lot of new leaders coming through. We see them united and so now there is hope,” she said.
Asked what sort of businesses the new chamber would seek to bring to the Delta, Castillo said she hoped her area would benefit from the new Valley medical school being discussed at the state Capitol. “We could do with a bigger clinic. Perhaps this can be part of the medical school,” Castillo said. “We are all working together to bring about progress. I am proud to represent our community in Austin. It has been very inspiring.”