MCALLEN, Texas – Daniel R. Porterfield, the president and CEO of the Aspen Institute, made his first trip to the Rio Grande Valley recently, giving the keynote speech at the region’s premier education awards event.

Porterfield spoke at the 2nd Annual Teach For America-RGV Honor Roll Gala, which was held at the McAllen Convention Center.

“It is an incredible honor for me to be here, my very first trip to this part of the country, to be at the epicenter of emerging excellence in education. There is so much happening right here,” Porterfield said. The audience, mostly comprising educators, applauded these remarks.

In stating that the Valley is home to emerging excellence in education, Porterfield may have been alluding to last year’s news that every school district in the region received an “A” or “B” in statewide rankings.

Porterfield also praised Teach For America. He is a national board member of the nonprofit organization.

“I believe in Teach For America because it knows the every child can learn and grow the greatness inside of them. I believe in Teach For America because  it believes that every child has a legal right, a civil right and a human right to a high quality education,” Porterfield said, again to a round of applause.

“I believe in Teach For American because it has a can-do faith in its teachers, and schools and is fanatical about getting results. I believe in Teach For America because it calls itself to address not just the consequences of educational injustice but the causes of that injustice. And I believe in Teach For America because so many of its alums, many here tonight, have wrapped their brains around the ideal of educational excellence and never, ever, let it go. The is so important for our society.”

Porterfield also said he believed in the nonprofit because it “reminds us that everyone can make a difference and all of us should try.”

He added: “And I believe in Teach For America because it works in partnership with the communities, in service, not as if from above, and playing a long game, region after region after region, all around the country.”

The Honor Roll Gala served as Teach For America-RGV’s only fundraiser of the year. The aim was to raise $150,000. The process will allow the group to grow its teaching and leadership force.

In addition to raising funds, the Honor Roll Gala is Teach For America-RGV’s vehicle for giving awards to deserving educators and education institutions. Three awards were given out. They were: Dr. Luzelma Canales, South Texas College (STC), and JoAnn Gama. STC President Shirley A. Reed accepted the award on behalf of her college.

Canales was honored as the “Educational Champion.” Teach For America-RGV said of Canales:

“As the founding executive director for RGV FOCUS, a collaboration with Educate Texas. Luzelma provided leadership for a large-scale collective impact initiative launched to transform college readiness, access, and success across a four-county region in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas. The collaborative is comprised of over forty partners including four postsecondary institutions, eleven school districts, two workforce boards, private funders, and numerous community based organizations and nonprofits.  Her leadership was crucial to steward the regional progress we are seeing.”

South Texas College was honored as the “Institutional Catalyst.”  Teach For America-RGV said of STC:

“Founded in 1993, STC has grown to enroll over 31,000 students, employ a faculty and staff of over 1,600, and operate at five campuses and online.  South Texas College leads the nation in the number of Early College High School partnerships developed with area Independent School Districts. Additionally, STC provides workforce certifications and trainings which are responsive to local economic needs. Over the course of its history, South Texas College has seen the growth of higher educational attainment in Starr and Hidalgo County accompanied by significant and lasting decreases in the unemployment rate.”

Gama was honored with the Teach For America “Alumni Leadership” award. Teach For America-RGV said of Gama:

“She joined Teach For America as a 1997 corps member teaching in a bilingual elementary classroom. In 1998, JoAnn co-founded the IDEA Academy within the Donna Independent School District with fellow Teach For America corps member, Tom Torkelson. In August 2000, they opened the IDEA Academy Charter School with 150 students in grades 4-8. As co-founder, president and superintendent, JoAnn has helped lead the replication efforts of the original school. Currently, IDEA Public Schools (IDEA) educates nearly 53,000 students in 96 schools across six regions—the Rio Grande Valley, San Antonio, Austin, El Paso, Southern Louisiana and Tarrant County.”