LAREDO, Texas – On the eve of an important meeting about adult basic education, a border leader has heaped praise on the work of Dr. Daniel King and Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD.

Blas Castañeda, chair of the Texas Border Coalition’s workforce development committee, said other border communities and the state of Texas in general could learn a lot from the pioneering work King and PSJA are doing to help adults secure a more rounded education and the skills needed to land better jobs. King is superintendent of PSJA.

“I have been very impressed with the leadership of Dr. King. PSJA needs to be commended, not only for what they are doing at the local level but on how they are impacting statewide and national public policy. We need to borrow from those models. We need to borrow from the processes they have and emulate that at the statewide level. I think it is a win-win situation for all of us,” said Castañeda.

“The best thing we can do for our young folks is to assure them that somebody cares about them and that they have every opportunity to excel in whatever career they might have. And so I commend Dr. King and PSJA, along with the leadership of South Texas College for the programs they have worked together on.”

Blas Castañeda
Blas Castañeda

Under King’s guidance, PSJA is opening three parent/community education centers in each of the three PSJA cities – Pharr, San Juan and Alamo. PSJA is partnering with the likes of South Texas College, the Pharr Literacy Project, Valley Interfaith and AVANCE to provide GED, English as a Second Language and vocational training programs at the centers. AVANCE National President Rick Noriega officially opened the center in Alamo in late April.

“We focus a lot on the education of our young people but we also need to focus on our current adults and their needs. Every week we have about 2,000 parents (taking classes). That is probably one of the most significant initiatives for a district of this size in the nation,” King said, at the ceremony to open the Alamo center.

King said PSJA has not really advertised its adult community learning centers yet and already there is a waiting list of about 1,000 parents. He predicted that by next year PSJA would be serving about 4,000 parents a week.

“We have about 1,200 in ESL (English as a Second Language) and GED classes and our parents want to better their lives and their family lives. What better help can a parent give their own child than by being a role model themselves and by having an opportunity to improve their life to educate themselves?” King asked. He proudly announced that one mother had trained as a welder at classes run by PSJA and is now working in that trade at the Port of Brownsville.

King thanked the volunteers helping with the classes, including many Winter Texans. He also thanked PSJA’s partners in the adult learning project, such as South Texas College, La Unión del Pueblo Entero, Valley Interfaith, AVANCE, and the City of Alamo. He said these partners help share the operating costs. He also said the new adult learning centers are already being used for healthcare sign ups and other services offered by the government. “We have 30 agencies that want to come in to the center. This is a tremendous day.”

On Wednesday, the Houston Center for Literacy in collaboration with the Texas Workforce Commission Adult Education & Literacy Advisory Committee and the Mid Rio Grande Border AHEC present the Adult Education & Literacy Community Forum. It takes place from 8:30 to 10 a.m. at the UT Health Science Center Laredo Regional Campus on East Bustamente in Laredo.

A similar event was held recently in El Paso and a future one is slated to be held in McAllen.

Castañeda is a member of the TWC’s Adult Education & Literacy Advisory Committee. He said the forum will give literacy organizations and others “a chance to speak out on their public policy needs, ideas, recommendations and priorities for the new adult education program in Texas.” He pointed out that thanks to legislation from state Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, and state Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, the Texas Legislature decided to transfer adult education from the Texas Education Agency to the Texas Workforce Commission. It was a move long championed by the Texas Border Coalition.

Castañeda said that with recent changes in how Texas administers its adult education program, “there has not been a more important moment” for adult education in Texas in decades.

“While change creates uncertainty, a huge opportunity exists to engage new voices to create an effective statewide adult education system. The forum will empower community leaders, inform policy recommendations to create an optimal system and build capacity for ongoing communication in the future for program participants, providers and other community quality of life benefits,” Castañeda said.

“Following the forum, every participant will receive a detailed summary of Texans’ adult education priorities once all forums in the state have been conducted and a summary of recommendations is compiled by the Texas Workforce Commission adult education and literacy advisory group.”

Castañeda, who once taught GED at Laredo Community College, said the work of the TWC’s Adult Education & Literacy Advisory Committee will be considered first by TWC and later by state legislators.

“We have a good amount of adults in Texas who, for whatever reason, have not finished their high school education. In order for us to continue to promote all of our communities along the border, from Brownsville to El Paso, we have got to have a good workforce. We need a workforce with a GED education and literacy skills,” Castañeda said.

“I really think this is an opportunity of a lifetime. As you know, we at the Texas Border Coalition have been working on this issue for almost 12 years. We need to provide better access to adults to go back to school. We have got to be able to provide a better mechanism so that the legislature can provide more adequate funding for the providers of this education and training program. Now that it is under TWC I think the adult when he or she comes back to school, not only will they be able to take their literacy or GED education, they can also tap into skilled training that TWC might offer in nursing, welding, automotive, oil and gas, whatever they might have a need for.”

Asked who should attend Wednesday’s forum, Castañeda said anyone who is involved in adult education and literacy, or who should be involved in adult education and literacy. He said such groups could include community colleges, K-12 education, city and county officials, foundations, regional organizations, community-based literacy organizations, business and industry, local workforce development board members, economic development professionals, and private sector associations.

“Our adults seem to have an issue with going back to school. I would like to say that we want to say to the adults, not to be afraid, not to be intimidated, to go out and get that education. It is not only good for them to get the education and join the workforce, I think it is important for them as parents, so they are better educators of their children. The best prepared student is the one that has their parent behind them,” Castañeda said. “I hope the word goes out loud and clear, go get that education.”