WESLACO, RGV – The Rio Grande Valley is about to receive the best generation of students to have ever entered the higher education pipeline.

This is the view of Eugenio Longoria Saenz, deputy director of RGV Focus. Saenz discussed the highlights of a new report from RGV Focus at the group’s recent Contigo State of Education Luncheon, held at the Knapp Conference Center in Weslaco.

The report shows that when it comes to educational attainment, Valley students in public education are on a par with or outperforming the statewide average in nine out of 12 matrixes RGV Focus measures.

“The Valley is thought of as the last pit stop before you head to Matamoros, or on your way to Monterrey. We are a much, much, more than that pit stop,” Longoria Saenz said.

Eugenio Longoria Saenz

Prior to working with RGV FOCUS, Longoria Saenz served as executive director of the Eastern North Philadelphia Youth Services Coalition for five years, served as director of leader development, knowledge and capacity at IDEA Public Schools for one year, and is principal and founder of BILLY Labs, a design-informed, social architecture consultancy.

Longoria Saenz holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration in economics and international business from Baylor University and an independent studies master’s of arts degree in education and human development from George Washington University. He is currently a doctoral candidate (ABD) at PENN State University in learning and performance systems with a research focus on role theory and social positions.

Additionally, he has been the recipient of two international research fellowships – one to the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva, Switzerland, and the other to the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) in Cape Town, South Africa.

In his remarks at the State of Education Luncheon, Longoria Saenz said one of the highlights is that the Valley’s 3rd grade reading success at the mean grade level has improved nine percentage points since RGV Focus started tracking this matrix in 2012. “And a sidebar to that is that our third graders, our low SES (supplemental educational services) Hispanic third graders, outperformed the entire country,” he said, to loud applause.

Another highlight, Longoria Saenz said, is that the Valley has sustained year over year its lead in AP dual credit completion and FAFSA completion. “These are particularly important because we know the hurdle that exists for our students to attend higher education.”

Longoria Saenz said the AP dual credit initiative in the Valley and its FAFSA completion rates are “big initiatives to remove those barriers, allowing more and more students to access higher education.”

He said this was due in large part to the “brave partnerships” that local higher education institutions, such as South Texas College, Texas State Technical College and Texas Southmost College, have built in collaboration with school districts to be able to provide that kind of opportunity.

“Given the demographics of the Valley, it is also important to highlight one other very interesting point,” Longoria Saenz said. “That is the success of our 8th grade students over the last couple of years. We have grown 20 percentage points since 2012 in accelerating the achievement of 8th grade math in our region.

“Of those 20 percentage points, ten were achieved in one year, from last year to this year. Big applause there.”

What that means, Longoria Saenz said, that 8th graders in the Valley, at the mean standard, are outperforming the entire state.

“Just to make a connection with you, we started today’s program with Valencia, an 8th grader, representing our students. But, most importantly, she also and specifically she represents our girls here in the Valley. This is important,” Longoria Saenz said.

“I come from a family of five sisters so I know the value of supporting girls, women, in this region. But, here is the important thing or the important highlight in regards to 8th grade math in this region. Specifically, our 8th grade girls, they are outperforming the entire state.”

Longoria Saenz asked an audience of VIPs and educators to pause for a moment to take in what this means.

“These young girls will be entering our higher education system in three years because the are 9th graders now. Many of them will be entering our higher ed system within another year, as they participate in dual credit and early college,” Longoria Saenz said.

“The thing that is different is that they are representative of a new generation of students that change everything we think about when we think of past generations of students. They are not the ‘us’ in this room anymore. They are a new ‘we’.”

Longoria Saenz encouraged the audience to think through that statement, “because as these girls enter higher education, as representatives of all students in this region, it is on us to be ready to receive probably the best generation of students to have ever entered the higher ed pipeline.”

He added: “When you think of the impact of those girls achieving those dreams and the ripple effects as they become the leaders of this community and across this country, it is on our shoulders that they stand. And it is on our shoulders that they fall off of if we let them down. We must not let our girls down. We must not let the Valley down.”

Chris Coxon

Chris Coxon is interim director of RGV Focus and managing director of Educate Texas. At the luncheon, Coxon explained what RGV Focus, which began in 2012, is all about.

“RGV Focus is a community partnership that exists to make sure all children in the Rio Grande Valley get the eduction they need and deserve to achieve meaningful careers and lives. RGV Focus is led by a team of leaders in public schools, colleges, and universities funders, businesses and community organizations, all working side by side to achieve academic results and job opportunities across the four counties of the RGV, Cameron, Hidalgo, Starr and Willacy,” Coxon said.

“To achieve the change we are seeking, RGV Focus follows what is called a collective impact approach. This is a process that provides a structure for how best to work together and reach our agreed upon goals.”

Coxon then listed those goals:

“Getting all of our kids college-ready, making sure they graduate high school ready to move on to whatever their next stage is. Timely transitions, all high school students need to transition to some form of post-secondary education within a year of finishing their high school work. Achievement, we want all of our graduates to get some type of degree or credential, whether that be in industry certification, whether it be an associate’s degree or a baccalaureate degree. And, most importantly, employment, we want all of our graduates to be employed within six months of graduation.”

Editor’s Note: The above news story is the first in a three-part series on RGV Focus’ State of Education Luncheon. Part Two will be posted later this week.