PHARR, RGV – Dr. Narciso Garcia, superintendent of Vanguard Academy, has given credit to the school district’s teachers for the high marks received in the state’s new accountability rankings.
The Texas Education Agency placed Vanguard among the top ten school districts in the state with a score of 96 percent.
“In new A-F accountability report, we tied with another eight school districts. We scored a 96, which was the second highest. The highest was a 97. The district that scored a 98 is a single-campus district. So, we are really not comparing ourselves with that. We are competing with multi-campus schools districts. So, we really tied second with eight other school districts,” Garcia said, in an exclusive interview with the Rio Grande Guardian and RGV Public Radio 88 FM.
Vanguard Academy Public Charter Schools focuses on Pre-K3 through 12th grade education. It currently has six schools in the Rio Grande Valley with locations in the cities of Alamo, Edinburg, Pharr and the potential to open up campuses in the cities of Mission and Weslaco.
Asked why Vanguard did so well in the TEA rankings, Garcia, who only took over at Vanguard 13 months ago, said: “It is testament to the great work our teachers are doing. We have such phenomenal, passionate teachers. We have so many great teachers that care about their children. They go above and beyond. It is also a testament to the parents, trusting us with their children. Vanguard Academy is a special place, we have the potential to do some amazing work.
Garcia also thanked the Almighty.
“We give all the honor and glory to God. Without him we would not have accomplished a 96. We are four points from a 100. The goal for next year is a 100, to be the best in the state.”
Drilling down into the TEA report, Vanguard scored a 92 for college readiness, a 95 for student growth among the entire student population, and a 97 for closing the gaps.
Asked what changes he has made to make possible Vanguard’s high score, Garcia said: “Over the last 13 months we have been looking at data differently, breaking it down differently. We were not expecting to do so well (in the TEA rankings), but we have been making changes, adopting different initiatives.”
Among the new initiatives are STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and Healthcare. He believes both areas provide important career pathways. However, being a district that has always been focused on fine arts, Garcia is adding the “A” for arts into STEM, so that the focus is STEAM.
“In all six schools we have FIRST robotics. Robotics is connected with engineering, which is important,” Garcia said.
With regard to the introduction of healthcare, Garcia thanked Doctors Hospital at Renaissance for donating hospital beds, mannequins and medical equipment. “We are grateful for the partnerships we have with institutions like Doctors Hospital and Lone Star National Bank.”
Pahara-Aspen Education Fellowship
In his interview with the Rio Grande Guardian and RGV Public Radio 88 FM, Garcia also spoke about the professional training he received this summer with the Pahara-Aspen Education Fellowship. He was the only educator from Texas to be selected.
The Pahara-Aspen Education Fellowship is a two-year, cohort-based program that identifies exceptional leaders in the educational excellence and equity movement, facilitates their dynamic growth, and strengthens their collective efforts to dramatically improve public schools, especially those serving low-income children and communities.
“I was so inspired by such great educators from around the nation, very bright and smart people,” Garcia said. “I thought, I got something out of this, I want our staff to get something out of it. So, we had a leadership retreat at the end of July. I got 25 of our leaders, principals, directors, assistant principals and facilitators. A lot of the leadership strategies and activities I learned I, in turn, passed along to my staff. I got something great out of it. I wanted them to get something great out of it. So, they would grow as leaders.”
According to the group’s news release, the Fellowship provides those selected with an “unusual opportunity to step back from their demanding daily work to reflect with peers on their collective and individual impact as leaders and change agents.” The release says the Fellows “challenge each other to think beyond traditional silos and sector boundaries to develop strategies that enhance their effectiveness as leaders, address leadership challenges in public education, and accelerate the improvements needed to provide high-quality learning opportunities for all of our nation’s children.
The news release adds:
“The Fellowship is a partnership between the Pahara and Aspen Institutes. The Aspen Institute has created a leadership development model through its renowned Henry Crown Fellowship program, which focuses on inspiring Fellows to make a lasting difference in their spheres of influence through the application of effective and enlightened leadership. Pahara-Aspen Fellows become part of the Aspen Global Leadership Network, which currently includes more than 2,500 Fellows from over 50 countries who are collectively making tremendous positive change in the world.”
The summer training camp was in Park City, Utah. Other educators on the course came from states like California, New York, Kentucky, Tennessee and Florida. In the winter Garcia will go on another course in Aspen, Colorado. After that there will be two more training sessions, in the summer and winter of 2019.
“It got me to reflect on a lot of things that were going on in society too. As educators, we can do more,” Garcia said. “Yes, I have always been passionate when it comes to education and especially when it comes to children. But, I want everyone to feel that way. Our staff was very open to it. It was almost like I was a doctoral or masters level course with them because of all the readings that I gave them.”
Dr. Garcia joined Vanguard Academy in 2017 after serving as deputy superintendent of Pharr-San Juan Alamo ISD for three years starting in 2014 and culminating in 2017. As deputy superintendent of PSJA Schools, Garcia oversaw the areas of career and technical education, college readiness, curriculum and instruction, finance and special programs for example, bilingual, dual language and special education departments. Garcia also mentored principals in the school district by providing them with instructional and leadership support.
Prior to joining PSJA as deputy superintendent of schools, Garcia served as superintendent of schools for the La Villa ISD, where he established a college going culture by implementing the first early college high school in the Delta Area of the Rio Grande Valley. While at La Villa ISD, Garcia committed to provide all students with free college tuition by providing them with the opportunity to earn up to an associate’s degree, 60 college hours or becoming core complete. Prior to serving as superintendent at La Villa, Garcia served as an elementary, middle school and high school administrator in the roles of assistant principal and principal for seven years.