TEA Commissioner of Education commends PSJA ISD’s special education program


PHARR, TEXAS – Texas Education Agency Commissioner of Education Mike Morath visited PSJA ISD’s Pathways Toward Independence/LIFE Program on Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2018 to see the district’s unique program which has been successfully providing living and employability skills to special needs students.

As part of the tour, the Commissioner got to visit PSJA’s Pathways Toward Independence (PTI) Program and the Learning in Functional Environments (LIFE) House,where students learn daily living skills like cooking, hygiene, laundry, budgeting, gardening, and household chores, to name a few.

The PSJA PTI Program promotes the continued development of vocational training skills and/or functional independent living skills to assist special needs students ages 14 to 21 in becoming emergent adults in the community. As part of the PSJA PTI Program, the LIFE House is like a second home for students and provides them with a safe space to work and learn basic life skills such as household chores, cooking, and even gardening.

“I wanted to see what was going on here at PSJA ISD,” said Commissioner Morath. “This is a very unique program for schools in Texas and we want to help spread this to more students with the same love and skills that are being served here.”

As Commissioner, Morath heads the Texas Education Agency, which oversees pre-kindergarten through high school education for more than five million students enrolled in both traditional public schools and charter schools. According to Morath, the goal of his visit to PSJA ISD was to see this unique program in action in hopes of replicating it to improve special education programs across Texas.

“We see so many examples of excellence in PSJA ISD,” shared the Commissioner during his visit. “We can see so much in what the data tells us in Austin, but when you come here and see the outpouring of love for students that’s clearly something we want to nurture and spread throughout the Valley and the State of Texas.”

According to the PSJA PTI Director Veronica Quintana, in addition to the visit by Commissioner Morath, the program’s success has garnered the attention of several nearby districts who are currently interested in replicating efforts.

“A hundred percent of our special needs students that have transition and employability skills on their IEP [individual education plan] have a job by the time they leave our school district,” said Quintana. “This program is producing results and actually helping our students get a job. That’s ultimately what parents want.”

Thanks to the district’s partnership with South Texas College, students in this program are also able to obtain Adult Education Certificates in floral design and photography, to name a few. As an open enrollment school district, Quintana shared that PSJA ISD proudly services students from across the Rio Grande Valley.

“We’ve had about eight school districts from the Valley that have visited our program to see how they can replicate it,” said the PSJA PTI Director. “I think that the need in other districts is great. To ensure that this program is replicated across the Valley and State is in the best interest of students.”