HARLINGEN, RGV – A member of the RGV FOCUS leadership team predicts Rio Grande Valley students will catch up and surpass the statewide average in the two performance measures they region is weakest in.

Narciso Garcia, superintendent of Vanguard Academy, is confident there will be a big improvement in high school students being college-ready and in university students completing a four-year degree on time.

In nine other metrics RGV FOCUS tracks, Valley students are at or above the statewide average.

“We have been doing this work since 2011/12 and we are very proud of what we have achieved,” Garcia said. “Although we are doing great in nine of the 11 metrics, there are two we still have to work on, which is college ready graduates, where we are almost at the same rate as the state, and graduation from four year universities. We are a little bit below the statewide average but the foundation work has been done. I think moving forward we are really going to crush and really do better when it comes to students graduating on time from a four-year university or college.”

Asked why he is so confident, Garcia pointed to the leadership of Valley schools and colleges.

“I am excited about that, even though we are a few percentage points behind in a couple of metrics… I really believe that in a year or two we are going to surpass the state average, because of the great leadership we have in the Rio Grande Valley. The PSJA superintendent, the McAllen superintendent, the La Joya superintendent, the Harlingen superintendent, they are invested in all our students. In a couple of years, we will overtake in those metrics we are behind in, because of the work we have done these past six years.”

Garcia made his comments in an exclusive interview with the Rio Grande Guardian at the unveiling of RGV FOCUS’ 2017 Annual Report. Titled, Changing the Story, the report was unveiled at the administrative headquarters of Harlingen CISD. Education, community and business leaders from across the Valley were in attendance.

The nine education measurements where the Valley is doing as well as or better than the statewide average are: 1) STAAR 3rd Grade Reading, 2) STAAR 8th Grade Mathematics, 3) 4-Year High School Graduation Rate, 4) FAFSA Completion, 5) AP/Dual Credit Completion, 6) Higher Education Immediate Enrollment Rate, 7) Public Higher Education Graduation Rate 2-Year, 8) Higher Education Graduates Enrolled 2-Year, and 9) Higher Education Graduates Enrolled 4-Year.

The two education measurements where the Valley is not doing as well as the state as a whole are: 1) College-Ready Graduates, and 2) Public Higher Education Graduation Rate 4-Year.

The first of these two metrics tracks the percentage of high school graduates that meet or exceed college-ready criteria on the Texas Success Initiative Assessment, the SAT test, or the ACT test. The average for 2016-2017 in the Valley was 32 percent. The statewide average is 39 percent.

The latter of these two metrics tracks first-time entering, full-time, degree-seeking students in RGV four-year institutions of higher education who graduate with a bachelor’s degree or higher from the same institution of higher education or another Texas public or independent institution after six years. The average for 2016-2017 in the Valley was 46 percent. The statewide average is 61 percent.

Collective Impact

RGV FOCUS is a collective impact initiative that was started in 2012 by Educate Texas and the Communities Foundation of Texas. The group measures educational outcomes in the four-county Valley area and has a leadership team that comprises school district, higher education, philanthropic, workforce and community leaders. The group wants to see a coordinated alignment of resources along a cradle-to-career educational pathway for the region’s 427,000 pre-K-12 and higher education students.

RGV FOCUS’ mission statement is outlined in the new report. It is: “to transform college-readiness, access and success in the four counties of the Rio Grande Valley – Cameron, Hidalgo, Starr and Willacy.” The group says the mission will be achieved by working towards four goals. The four goals are: 1) that all students graduate high school college ready; 2) all high school graduates transition to higher education within a year; 3) all higher education students achieve a degree or credential on time; and 4) all higher education graduates are employed within six months.

“These goals are key to improving the quality of life in a region where 75 percent of high school graduates that enroll in higher education choose local colleges and universities,” the report states. “RGV FOCUS works in support of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board’s 60×30 Strategic Plan that aims for 60 percent of Texans aged 25 to 34 to have a postsecondary degree or certificate by 2030.”

Letter from the Leadership

The new report includes a letter from the RGV FOCUS leadership team. The letter states:

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

Regional collaboration is changing the story of the Rio Grande Valley.

We are committed to working collaboratively to change the educational landscape of the Rio Grande Valley to ensure all learners can achieve their aspirations. Our vision recognizes the responsibility of leaders to remove barriers to student success. Student achievement is the key to continued prosperity in the region.

This year’s annual report continues to illustrate the commitment and success of cross-sector engagement. For example, the 2017 annual report shows that the Rio Grande Valley matches or exceeds the State in nine of eleven metrics established by the Leadership Team in 2012.

The annual report offers key insights into the progress being made toward creating a seamless cradle-to-career educational pathway for students. It also highlights four bright spots in 3rd grade reading, 8th grade math, AP/Dual Enrollment credit completion and postsecondary readiness. Each of these areas is critical to meeting the goals of the partnership.

As we move into the next phase of changing our story, we will leverage bright spots within and among our partner organizations to accelerate student achievement across the Rio Grande Valley.

We invite you to get involved and join us in changing the story of the Rio Grande Valley by building a stronger cross-sector collaboration for student success.


Luzelma Canales, executive director, RGV FOCUS

Eduardo Infante, superintendent of Lyford CISD

Alda Benavidez, superintendent of La Joya ISD

Bright Spots

RGV FOCUS’ annual report has commentary from four Valley education leaders on four “Bright Spots.” Here are the four areas listed with the commentary:

3rd Grade Reading:

3rd Grade Reading in RGV “approaches” increased from 70 percent to 72 percent between 2012 to 2017.

“The Brownsville Independent School District used insights from data to better serve our 47,000 students, particularly those from households classified as 100 percent economically disadvantaged. We carried these insights through to action by tasking our principals with creating data rooms where teachers strategized on how best to serve their classes and individual students. These strategies helped contribute to the improvement in the percentage of 3rd graders reading at grade level. We are optimistic about the future of education in the Rio Grande Valley.” – Dr. Esperanza Zendejas, Brownsville ISD Superintendent.

8th Grade Math:

8th Grade Math in RGV “approaches” increased from 69 percent to 74 percent between 2012 and 2017.

“Our work with RGV FOCUS helped Vanguard Academy better meet the needs of our 8th grade students through data collection and sharing. Veteran teachers from our schools in Alamo and Pharr planned their classroom strategies with Planned Learning Communities where they shared knowledge with other educators and superintendents. These strategies filtered through our district as we addressed the needs of one child at a time, family by family, especially in a community where so many are economically disadvantaged. What is great for economically disadvantaged kids is also great for any student.” – Dr. Narciso Garcia, Vanguard Academy Superintendent.

AP/Dual Credit:

PSJA North Graduates up to 25 percent of their students with an Associate Degree.

“RGV FOCUS contributed to our success by convening leaders of different school districts and higher education institutions with community leaders to share best practices, set goals and meet the challenges our community faces. We set very clear goals for our AP/Dual Credit Program at Pharr-San Juan-Alamo North High School and our other initiatives in the district; connect every student to, then through, their college education. At Pharr-San Juan-Alamo North High School, about 20 to 25 percent of graduates have already earned associate degrees. Seventy percent have already started college. We’ve had young people finishing their undergraduate degrees within two years of high school graduation before admission to law school aged 20. One young lady graduated from Rice University within two years, while many others have gone on to post-graduate studies.” – Dr. Daniel King, PSJA ISD Superintendent.

Postsecondary Readiness:

College-Ready Graduates in RGV increased from 18 percent to 32 percent between 2016 and 2017.

“Our five years working with RGV FOCUS have helped us zero in on the needs of our students. When RGV FOCUS raises a topic of interest, we follow through at our leadership meetings to address it with our principals. It really comes home when we focus on kids living in economically disadvantaged households. The community comes together to build basic support systems to help them succeed, from developing small learning communities to developing resources, or even simplifying the college application process for students.

“College readiness has improved in part from program like dual-enrollment courses that help students gain college experience and, in many cases, associate degrees before graduation. For many students, it is their family’s first encounter with college that helps them realize their true agency and ability to take the next step toward success.” – Dr. Alda Benavides, La Joya ISD Superintendent.