EDINBURG, RGV – When PSJA ISD Superintendent Daniel P. King helped announce a pilot project to get high school students qualified as nurses his mind went back to eye-catching remarks he made in Austin about Texas producing a perpetual underclass.

The state does this, King said, through continually importing high-wage workers and not cultivating and educating its own. He made this case at a conference of educators and legislators hosted by the Texas Business Leadership Council at the Four Season Hotel in Austin in March, 2013.

However, now, Hidalgo County has come up with its home-grown remedy, King said, at the recent launch of a nurse training project being undertaken by Doctors Hospital at Renaissance, South Texas College, Region 1 Education Service Center and PSJA.

Daniel P. King, superintendent of PSJA ISD.
Daniel P. King, superintendent of PSJA ISD.

“For years I have been hearing about the nursing shortage in the Valley. For years I have been telling our young people, take all the math and science courses you can, get prepared, the jobs are there. For years I have been frustrated that the end of the day the shortage is still there,” King said, as he shared a stage at the Edinburg Conference Center with DHR CEO Israel Rocha and STC President Shirley A. Reed.

Afterwards, King reminded a reporter about his “perpetual underclass” remarks and encouraged the Rio Grande Guardian to dig up the story and promote it once more. “With this nursing program we are now addressing what I was saying in that speech in Austin,” King said.

(Editor’s Note: In fact, the Rio Grande Guardian has focused on King’s perpetual underclass remarks in two stories. One, from December 17, 2012, was titled: King: We ought to be able to solve nursing shortage. The other, the one from Austin, was posted on March 3, 2013, and titled: King: Creating a perpetual underclass will come back to bite us. Click here to read the December 2012 story and here to read the March 2013 story.)

In his remarks in Austin, King said that while testing is important but it cannot be the only criteria used to judge a student or a school. “We must not let the tests drive who we are and what we want to be,” King said.

Far more important, King said, is “connecting every student to a successful future. He lamented the fact that the U.S. is not producing enough professionals in the STEM and health care fields. “We are importing a ton of the high-wage, high-skilled jobs and creating a perpetual underclass,” King warned. More than once, King said high schools in Texas need to be “reinvented.” He said this needs to happen “not just get a student through a test but get the student somewhere in life.”

The new nursing pilot program for high school students will do just that, help them get somewhere in life, King said. At the same time they leave PSJA, high school students will have had an opportunity to earn an associate’s degree in nursing at STC. Doctors Hospital at Renaissance will provide the clinical rotation experience for the students and will help them as they seek bachelors and master’s degrees.

King said the new program fits right in with PSJA’s mission statement: early college for all. “What we are about is connecting all students to higher education pathways, to post-secondary education while they are still in high school,” King said. He pointed out that over 3,000 of PSJA’s students are taking college courses while still in high school. Last year, he said, over 130 of PSJA’s students received their associate degree by the time they graduated from high school and another 300 received certificates in different fields. “This year those numbers are expected to approximately double and will continue growing as we go along,” King said.

King then explained how the idea for encouraging high school students to take an associate’s degree in nursing came about. He said DHR officials visited to discuss the idea of creating a health clinic in the PSJA area. King said helping people when they are ill is wonderful but how about helping the students get a better life also. Discussions continued for many months and the nurse training program is the result. “Other people were thinking along the same lines,” King told the Rio Grande Guardian, in reference to the project partners.

King said he recognizes that teaching high school students to become nurses is not easy. “It is a complex problem because we need more nurses with master’s degrees to teach the courses. You need more clinical rotations at the hospitals. You need to work with multiple partners,” he said.

However, he pointed out that PSJA already has graduate students with associate degrees in engineering, physics, biology, chemistry and other subjects. “So, why not in nursing?” he asked.

At the Edinburg event, King gave brief details about a new education complex PSJA is building at the old Yzaguirre Middle School. He said it will house many different early college academies.

“The nursing program is a small piece. It is going to be in the middle of a whole section of a campus where young people will be working in all kinds of medical areas, getting their certifications, degrees and so forth,” King said. “At PSJA our focus is to connect all of our students to college, to help them be ready for college, to help them complete college. We tell them, start now, and this nursing program is a perfect example of that. Start college now while you are in high school, complete early, and then go far.”

King said he “loves” the vision of stacking, of a high school student locking in an associate’s degree and, because they are still very young, say 18, going on to get a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, going on to medical school, and getting a PhD.

“People come from all over the country and all over the world to find a good living here. But what is even more important is we provide for our own young people, the opportunity to connect. The Valley is an exciting area, everything from SpaceX, the medical field, everything that is going on. We need our young people to be the leaders and to have the opportunity to have the great education, to have these great careers and to be the leaders of the community. The great thing about this (nursing project) is that it is a homegrown solution.”

King concluded his remarks by thanking PSJA’s partners, DHR, STC, South Texas ISD and Region 1. “Thankfully, there were people with the same vision,” he said.