OpEds and LTEs

Commentary: Partners work together to support every Midland student by Bibi Yasmin Katsev

 

Midland Reporter-Telegram

Op-Ed: Partners work together to benefit every Midland student

by: Bibi Yasmin Katsev, Texas District Charter Alliance executive director, May 17, 2020

This time of change has caused us all to take a pause, to focus on our priorities and what we are truly grateful for. When I stop and think, it is the educators we work with every day who give me reason to hope for a bright future for every Texas student. They have not let this crisis keep them from doing what is best for students. Midland ISD has continued to strive for academic excellence for all students and introduced home learning support via Google Classroom, distributed devices for those in need, launched tele-counseling services and provided nutritional meals for all children under 18.

You have reason to be proud of Midland teachers and staff for short-term help and long-term planning. The school district is focused on excellence and that starts at the top. The school board adopted the Lone Star Governance model and the district joined the System of Great Schools network, which fits right in with community requests for high quality choices. Midland ISD has partnered with proven operators, through SB 1882 partnerships, to bring a variety of quality options to Midland families. Partners, such as IDEA Public Schools, Young Women’s Preparatory Network, REACH Network, Third Future Schools, The Carver Center, Ben Milam International Academy and the Pre-K Academy at Midland College, are part of the plan for the district to create innovation that supports student learning and provides high quality academic results for all students. 

We want to help clear up some misconceptions though. These students are Midland ISD students, and these innovative school partners are in Midland because your school district specifically asked them to come be part of the education landscape in MISD. The district has crafted these partnerships and created these innovations and changes with a focus on what is best for every student. This is the very definition of partnership: Joined together; usually involving close cooperation between parties having specified and joint rights and responsibilities. Using “takeover” language or competition only serves to divide, when the intention and goal of Texas Partnerships is to promote collaboration and cooperation.

It’s not us vs. them. It’s not our kids and their kids. These are all our kids; they are our future and the future workforce and civic leaders in Midland and in our great state, regardless of which school they attend. They may not all begin with the same advantages or at the same starting block. But we have innovative educators ready to prepare them to run the same race and to achieve to high standards and be ready for college and the workforce. Which is why every community needs a robust education system with multiple options for parents including district schools, charter schools, private schools, homeschool, virtual schools, and partnerships between districts and charters.

According to the Texas Education Agency, "Texas Partnerships offer districts the opportunity to expand the diversity of school options, bring in targeted expertise for innovation and turnaround support, and empower school leaders and partners with greater autonomy. Most importantly, effective partnerships give more students access to great schools.”

Midland has a plan in place to help ensure students are not stuck at a troubled school. Creating partnerships with strong providers with a proven track record of success enables our educators to serve students well. Change is hard, but we can remember to take a pause and focus on our priorities. Giving students access to great schools in Midland is at the top of the list. Districts working with charters and other partners to benefit every Midland student is a key part of the plan. Let’s stand ready to work together to achieve the goal of a bright future for every student.

 

Bibi Yasmin Katsev is the executive director of the Texas District Charter Alliance, an organization dedicated to district charter partnerships and collaborative work focusing on improving student outcomes across Texas.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


LTE: Look beyond the headline

 

Longview News-Journal

LTE: Look beyond the headline

by: Bibi Yasmin Katsev, June 11, 2020

It’s necessary to look beyond the headline and explain a few things because I think it’s important parents get facts and not a shock headline.

Your article (“LISD could receive $52M from charters, $5M would go to student needs, teacher training,” May 26) does not explain that 1882 partnerships allow for more money to be used for students. The Longview ISD partnership with the Texas Council for International Studies provides Longview schools with an additional $7.7 million for students, which they otherwise would not have access to. These 1882 partnerships allow for additional dollars for the new programs to support these high-quality ideas and options for students and parents.

In addition, your article disguises the fact that $24.9 million will go towards educator pay. You refer to this as staff allocation without ever defining the details and certainly without linking these funds to student needs in your headline.

I would argue that teachers, support staff, substitute teachers, and principals are on campus strictly for “student needs.” My question as a parent is: Do you want to shock readers and rile them up? If so, good job. Or do you want to inform parents and help them choose the best fit school for their child? If so, do better next time.

— Bibi Yasmin Katsev, Austin (Katsev is executive director of the Texas District Charter Alliance)

https://www.news-journal.com/opinion/letter-look-beyond-the-headline/article_7283de86-ab62-11ea-a7c8-2717d7aabf55.html


LTE: A blow to education innovation

 

The Dallas Morning News

LTE: A blow to education innovation

by: Tracy Young and Bibi Yasmin Katsev, Dec. 11, 2019

Re: “DISD backs away from charter plan — Trustees had OK’d privatization for some pre-K programs,” Saturday Metro & Business story.

Two steps forward and three steps back, it seems. It saddens us to see continued one-dimensional thinking about innovation in our community’s public education system. This article reduces vibrant and varied educational partnerships, innovation and problem-solving to a simple money grab by schools. Partnerships allow schools to turn from competition to cooperation. They provide an avenue to share best practices and to work with proven partners to coordinate what works for students in need.

We should encourage and support more creativity by our school boards as they work to help students in struggling schools and tough environments. This is not controversial; it’s what we elected them to do.

Tracy Young, Dallas, and Bibi Yasmin Katsev, Austin

 

https://www.dallasnews.com/opinion/letters-to-the-editor/2019/12/11/letters-to-the-editor-plano-citizens-police-academy-dallas-isd-mobs-on-the-left-and-right-sen-john-cornyn-sen-ted-cruz/?fbclid=IwAR0i1CixbXpZ9GdaU69o86hawJTFXHglQdxsPQd8XLoJ3I0r__djCFBATn8


Enterprise Editorial: Audit, charter bring optimism to BISD

Beaumont Enterprise

Enterprise Editorial: Audit, charter bring optimism to BISD

November 17, 2019

After the disturbing reports of bullying and violence at Martin Luther King Middle School, the Beaumont ISD was a district that needed some good news. Fortunately, it got that last week — not once but twice.

First came the welcome report that the district had received a clean audit, in fact, its fourth consecutive clean one. Granted, this is the kind of news that shouldn’t be news. Taxing entities at all levels should be operated ethically and professionally. The most controversial thing that should come from an audit is gentle advice to tweak this fund or that policy.

But as Beaumonters know, that hasn’t always been the case in the district. The previous board and administration ran its finances into the ground, and there was even blatant corruption and waste on their watch. This is one of the main reasons the state had to take over the dysfunctional district.

Those days are gone now, and they must remain in the past. When the board returns to full local control early next year, sound financial practices must remain a top priority.

The other piece of good news is more future-oriented. Officials with the Port Arthur-based Bob Hope School said they are in talks with the district about operating one of its elementary schools, probably for the 2021-22 school year, though the BISD has not yet confirmed this report. The BISD has already transferred responsibility for three of its campuses to charter school operations to avoid closing them because of failing test scores. Bob Hope already has one private campus in Beaumont and is hoping to expand in coming years.

If this happens, the change would be encouraging, and not because charter schools are perfect. They’re not, and a few have even failed spectacularly. But across Texas, public-private partnerships with traditional school districts and charter operators have breathed new life into K-12 education.

Charter schools offer parents and their children another option when their public schools are letting them down. And let’s be honest; charter schools rarely if ever come into successful school districts. But when public schools can’t or won’t deliver the security and excellence that every student deserves, charter schools might be able to step in and fill that need. If nothing else, there’s no harm in trying something like this because it has a chance to succeed when there was little hope of progress from business-as-usual.

Bobby Lopez, superintendent of the Bob Hope School, summed up the potential of charters in this case when he said, “If you are a parent, and you have the chance to have a kid play a stringed instrument by first grade, and it is free, you may want to put your child in the school. If you are a parent that has a child that has a chance to learn Mandarin Chinese as a third language, you may want to put your child there.”

No parent in Beaumont is going to quibble with opportunities like that. Kids in Beaumont, like kids anywhere, can learn if they attend a school that enables them to master their courses in a safe, productive environment. They can grow up to become astronauts, CEOs and governors, even if they’ll be the first members of their family to attend college.

But it all starts in elementary school, and soon we hope that more children in Beaumont will have a chance to embark on an exciting journey like that.

 

https://www.beaumontenterprise.com/opinions/editorials/article/ENTERPRISE-EDITORIAL-Audit-charter-bring-14839168.php

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Editorial: Is Dallas ISD letting bad, old-school politics creep back in?

 

The Dallas Morning News

Editorial: Is Dallas ISD letting bad, old-school politics creep back in?

by Dallas Morning News Editorial, Oct. 24, 2019

Dallas ISD may well represent the most dramatic ongoing turnaround story of any major urban school district in the nation.

In 2013, the district had 43 schools on the state’s failing list. In 2018, it was three.

Across its schools, the district has arrested a long downward slide and turned the trajectory toward success. It has boosted performance for its most challenged students. It has increased choice for parents across Dallas. And it boasts some of the finest public high schools in the nation.

DISD has done this, in large part, by rejecting the politics of stagnation and the status quo and boldly embracing difficult, sometimes painful reforms.

That’s why we were so disappointed to see what looks like the old ways creeping back in, tilting us back toward the insular way of doing business that might protect a bureaucracy but does little to help children and families realize the best public education they can get.

We are talking here about a program widely known as “1882” — so named for the number of a recently passed bill that would have provided additional state funding to public schools in Texas that partner with nonprofit operators.

This stirred a predictable and stale backlash over “privatizing our schools” and the unfounded fear that public charter schools will somehow replace traditional public schools.

That is not what this program would have done for DISD. It would have instead given the district the opportunity to at least consider collaborating with nonprofit partners to operate certain DISD schools.

The district could have gathered more money, not only from the state, but potentially from the investment of a deep-pocketed partner. Students would have won. Parents would have won. Dallas would have won.

Instead, fear did.

Dallas ISD’s board now won’t even consider this valuable tool offered by the state after Superintendent Michael Hinojosa pulled the 1882 item from a recent DISD board meeting. We found that strange, since just a few hours before deciding not to even let the board consider 1882, Hinojosa told our editorial board he supported the plan.

Dallas ISD trustees should have at least been able to debate this publicly.

Trustee Dustin Marshall offered a defense of 1882 on Facebook, correctly noting “there is value in permitting the District the OPTION of evaluating potential partnerships.”

That’s true. What sort of business would decide it doesn’t even want to consider bringing on a good collaborator?

First-term trustee Ben Mackey made the disappointing decision to oppose the plan, saying he “doubts that any proposed partnership could operate a school as well as Dallas ISD.”

Thousands of parents disagree and have shown the district as much by leaving.

Some of those parents are beginning to return. And they are returning because the district had shown that stagnant, old-school politics were a thing of the past.

DISD, don’t let them creep back in, or those parents will walk back out.

 

This editorial was written by the editorial board and serves as the voice and opinion of The Dallas Morning News.

https://www.dallasnews.com/opinion/editorials/2019/10/24/is-dallas-isd-letting-bad-old-school-politics-creep-back-in/


Op-Ed: Overnight success: Yeah, that’s not a thing

 

Trib Talk: The Texas Tribune

Op-Ed: Overnight success: Yeah, that’s not a thing

by Bibi Yasmin Katsev, Sept. 17, 2019

Turning a struggling school into a good one requires systemic, long-term commitment from every educator, parent and community member. It does not happen overnight. It needs the support of the entire community, and mostly, it needs time. Texas schools have used outside partners for years; the key is choosing the right one.

Nearly a decade ago, partnership models in Texas added a path with proven, high-quality operators, most notably, the SKY Partnership in Spring Branch ISD. A few years later, Grand Prairie ISD and Uplift Education collaborated on a partnership program. Back then, there was no specific mechanism for districts to seek out high-quality turnaround partners or innovative programs to dramatically increase the quality of education for students.

These Texas partnerships have a history of excellence. Their coordination and collaboration have provided for greater academic successes and gains for public school students, including showing 6% to 7% improvement in just a one-year span for third grade reading and math STAAR test results in 2018-19. A state law was created in response to the success of these trailblazing partnerships between district and charter leaders. To selectively focus on the first year of school grades, without also providing the bigger picture of partnerships with a longer track record, does a disservice to the educators who took these courageous steps in embracing this innovative model.

These partnerships did not become a success overnight because this work is hard. We recognize that turnaround work is tough and are grateful for accountability that keeps the work focused on students as the school leaders overcome challenges to increase achievement. Turnaround requires a culture change and a huge learning curve for districts and partners.

Texas is revolutionizing turnarounds, which require districts to choose partners who are willing to embrace these unique opportunities. We commend the districts and partners who did outstanding work to raise student achievement in only one year’s time. That is phenomenal, and we should learn from them. For other schools, it may take more time. We remain hopeful that we will see student scores next year that reflect great learning. It will take continued diligence, strong leadership and a focus on proven strategies to help students succeed.

Community support is also necessary for successful partnerships. Courageous and innovative trustees, board members and educators from districts across Texas are embracing cooperation, sharing best practices and coordinating professional development for the teachers who help struggling populations of students.

According to “Bridging the District-Charter Divide to Help More Students Succeed,” a study from the Center on Reinventing Education (CRPE) at the University of Washington, “for leaders genuinely committed to meeting children’s educational needs across a city, the question isn’t whether to cooperate, but how.” CRPE has studied district-charter partnerships for nearly a decade, and agrees this can be difficult and politically divisive work — but also concludes that it is necessary work.

In the coming years, we will have many more partnerships and more innovation occurring in public schools across Texas. Last year, Texas saw approximately 12 partnerships, two with public charter entities and 10 with nonprofits, according to the Texas Education Agency. This year district-charter partnerships have increased to over 70 schools, in hopes of seeing innovative or turnaround strategies grow in their communities. Districts are creating locally designed solutions to complex issues. Statewide, we see 32 partners in 16 districts. Of the 70-plus schools, 40 have innovative programs located at existing campuses, 21 are new campuses and 16 are turnarounds. Of the 32 partners, three work with universities, five with public charter entities, and the remaining 24 with nonprofits. We hope to see even more cooperation as districts are encouraged to work with proven partners to increase student achievement and expand options for families. These collaborations will serve to help students and to share what works across the state of Texas. 

The school district and charter school members of the Texas District Charter Alliance are focused on student needs first and on how to raise student achievement with proven strategies that create a path to success for these kids. We encourage even more school districts and charter schools to come together and share what works in order to put students’ interests before all else.

 

Bibi Yasmin Katsev is the executive director of the Texas District Charter Alliance, an organization dedicated to district charter partnerships and collaborative work focusing on improving student outcomes across Texas.

https://www.tribtalk.org/2019/09/17/overnight-success-yeah-thats-not-a-thing/


Op-Ed: MISD, IDEA join forces for Midland students

Midland Reporter-Telegram

Op-Ed: MISD, IDEA join forces for Midland students

by Orlando Riddick and Tom Torkelson, April 8, 2019

Great teachers often share a similar ability: to take creative approaches that get around the red tape that frequently stands in the way of student success. As classroom teachers in Texas nearly two decades ago, we didn’t know each other, but we shared that desire for flexibility to better meet the needs of our students. Fast forward to today, and we each lead innovative public school districts — Midland ISD and IDEA Public Schools — committed to giving schools and educators the support to meet the individual needs of each child. Today, we are proud to partner to put the needs of Midland students first, by sharing best practices and collaborating to prepare Midland students for success in college and in life.

We started on the path to partnership several years ago, when the Midland ISD school board adopted the Lone Star Governance model — a wonky term for a simple idea: that the role of any school board is to support students, empower educators and steer a district toward better results. Through this process, the board set clear goals for student success and a vision for supporting educators to create a system of great schools in West Texas. Now, through an initiative called Midland on the Move, the board has gathered ideas from families, educators, civic leaders and community members about their hopes and ideas for improving our public schools. In community meetings, listening sessions and classrooms, we heard one thing loud and clear: Every Midland child deserves a great school in their neighborhood that meets their individual needs and maximizes their potential.

A shared focus on preparing all students for success brought Midland ISD and IDEA Public Schools together this year. When Midland ISD searched for a high-quality nonprofit or public charter school to transform one of our struggling schools, IDEA was a natural fit. Our board members felt ready to move the campus forward, and we needed a partner with both a similar sense of urgency and the expertise to prepare these students for success both in college and in life. In every IDEA school, we saw passionate teaching, creativity and personal attention for each student. All IDEA schools are public charter schools — independently run public schools that are open to all students, do not charge tuition and have the flexibility to take creative approaches to teaching so each student can succeed.

Two years ago, the Texas Legislature passed Senate Bill 1882, which allows districts such as Midland to partner with nonprofits, including public charter schools, to address the needs of their school communities. Midland ISD is excited that our district can benefit from this law to bring additional resources, expertise and talent to our community. And IDEA and Midland are not alone in our commitment to partnership. As members of the Texas District Charter Alliance, we have joined 12 other districts and public charters across Texas to solve common challenges and share new approaches to meet student needs. Alliance members all believe it’s time to put the needs of students first by expanding access to high-quality public schools. Our members benefit from diversity in our programs and school models but unity around our ultimate goal: a quality public education for every child.

IDEA is proud to join forces with Midland ISD in serving a diverse community of students to prepare them for success in college, career, and citizenship. Midland continues to press forward in the right direction, and together we are on the move on behalf of every student.

 

Orlando Riddick is the superintendent of Midland ISD and Tom Torkelson is the co-founder and CEO of IDEA Public Schools. 

https://www.mrt.com/news/education/article/MISD-IDEA-join-forces-for-Midland-students-13751156.php


Op-Ed: Collaboration with nonprofits will empower schools

San Antonio Express-News

Op-Ed: Collaboration with nonprofits will empower schools

by Patti Radle, Art Valdez and Debra Guerrero, April 1, 2019

Our students have achieved prolific measurable successes over the past four years under the leadership of the San Antonio Independent School District board. Measurements of success are reflected not only in an increase in graduation rates but in more graduates attending four-year colleges, from 40 percent in 2015 to more than 54 percent in 2018 and more than doubling the percentage of students at Tier 1 institutions.

Additionally, we take pride because we are on track toward becoming a B-rated district under Texas Education Agency standards by 2020. We were recently rated C and, according to the state, had SAISD been graded three years ago we would have gotten an F, meaning that 35,000 of the district’s 50,000 students were in the bottom 5 percent of the schools in the entire state.

However, the positive momentum and successes on behalf of our students have been mired with misinformation and false claims about SAISD’s transformational efforts. The most recent focus has been on 19 of our schools that requested and prepared applications to redesign their existing schools through new school models tailored to best meet the needs of the students they serve.

The reimagining of the campus provides greater flexibility and empowers the school leadership to create an environment that meets the challenging demands of their specific student population. These campuses continue to operate with the full support and oversight of the district, and in the case of 18 of the schools, they will have the additional valued assistance of nonprofits whose mission is aligned with the campus.

All SAISD schools were invited to present a proposal during this annual solicitation of campus strategies. Prior to board presentation for approval, these campuses were required to go through a detailed and lengthy engagement process to meet the approval requirements for teachers and parents. After an almost eight-month process that exceeded the expectations of public engagement, the SAISD board of trustees, at its March 25 meeting, unanimously approved the opportunity to empower these schools with strongly endorsed plans put forth by their principals and teachers.

Prior to approval, principals of these schools held multiple meetings with teachers and parents to discuss the in-district charter proposals and provided ballots for an official vote. The proposals passed with overwhelming support. Of those parents voting, the “yes” votes ranged from 85 percent to 100 percent, with the great majority in the high 90s.

We as a board dispel the rumors and intentionally misleading claims that our schools are “up for sale” or being “privatized.” Even though change is occurring, the core mission remains the same. NO tuition will ever be charged for our schools. NO child will be turned away from the neighborhood schools and ALL employees at the schools remain SAISD employees.

The nonprofit partners were selected by the schools to accelerate the great work they are already doing, build even stronger programs and provide deeper learning experiences for every child. These are NOT private management companies or charter operators. Campuses have brought in experts in areas ranging from early childhood learning to the International Baccalaureate program.

By approving the recommendations, the board authorized the nonprofit partners, school leadership teams and staff the responsibility to manage the schools’ day-to-day operations in collaboration with the district. This is a shift in allowing greater autonomy and more decision-making at the campus level by those who know our students best.

These plans and partnerships exist for one purpose: to provide greater opportunity, access and collaboration for our students in a system that requires innovation, creativity and commitment for one purpose — the academic success of our student.

That’s what this is all about — students are, and always will be, at the heart of every decision we make.

Patti Radle is the San Antonio Independent School District board president.

Art Valdez is the board vice president.

Debra Guerrero is the board secretary.

https://www.mysanantonio.com/opinion/commentary/article/Collaboration-with-nonprofits-will-empower-schools-13733239.php

 


OpEd: SAISD nonprofit partnerships will improve schools

 

The San Antonio Independent School District board meeting Monday was exciting for our principals, teachers and parents as we outlined plans for 18 of our schools to partner with nonprofit organizations they had selected — each with a particular expertise to help further the school’s mission.

While SAISD has had in-district charters for 20 years, these schools represent the next generation; along with greater autonomy and flexibility in implementing their program, they also have a formal agreement for ongoing collaboration and counsel from their nonprofit partner.

For example, Carroll and Tynan Early Childhood Centers is partnering with the HighScope Educational Research Foundation, a nationally recognized expert in early childhood research and curriculum that has worked across the U.S. and the world to improve education since its founding more than 50 years ago.

These agreements are based on the successful model of CAST Tech High School, which had its 1882 Innovation partnership approved by the Texas Education Agency commissioner in spring 2018, resulting in a significant increase in funding for the school.

CAST Tech is part of the Centers for Applied Science & Technology network and has greatly benefited from an advisory council that provides ongoing support and resources for the school, including industry professionals who mentor students and volunteer their time to work with teachers. The result is a high-performing school that is a strong draw for both students and teachers.

The teachers and parents in the schools with new partnerships overwhelmingly voted to become an in-district charter — surpassing the state’s requirement of “a majority” in favor.

These are not just the well-known specialized schools — 14 of the 18 schools with new partnerships are ones that serve their neighborhood.

These partnerships are just one example of our efforts to ensure that every school in SAISD is best serving every student in our district.

Forty-five schools in SAISD now offer dual language programs — and that number will increase to 48 by next school year. Studies show that dual language programs fully close the achievement gap between English learners and native English speakers.

We now have nine schools with the renowned International Baccalaureate framework, and SAISD is the only district in the county with IB at the elementary, middle and high school levels.

We have many high-quality options for students, and we are attracting families that had never considered SAISD in the past.

We have more students graduating from high school on time than ever before, more students college-ready, and more students going to college.

For the first time, we are getting attention across the state and across the country for the work we are doing to transform this district and accelerate learning for our students. The efforts of our staff are being recognized, and we are noted as one of the fastest improving districts in Texas. The data is showing a strong upward trajectory, and we are on track for our goal to be a “B” district by 2020.

We are able to do this because of the commitment of our school board. Each trustee is an integral part of the community, with a strong belief in the abilities and possibilities for each and every child. Their vision and their determination to do what is truly in the best interest of each child is driving the positive change within our district and making SAISD a highly viable option for our families.

Pedro Martinez is the San Antonio Independent School District superintendent.

https://www.mysanantonio.com/opinion/commentary/article/SAISD-nonprofit-partnerships-will-improve-schools-13727772.php


Op-Ed: This is how rural South Texas schools will bring the big world to students

 

 

Corpus Christi Caller-Times

Op-Ed: This is how rural South Texas schools will bring the big world to students

by Maria Casas, Conrad Cantu and Steve Van Matre, Brooks County, Freer and Premont ISDs, March 7, 2019

Texas has more schools in rural areas than any other state. In the 2015-2016 school year, rural schools, as classified by the Texas Education Agency, accounted for 459 of the 1,247 school districts in Texas. Having led school systems in rural Texas, we deeply appreciate the advantages of being part of a rural community.

The school district is the heartbeat of the community — the place we host community functions, celebrate student accomplishments, and sometimes even hold memorials for beloved community members. We are the largest employer in town, sometimes hiring multiple members from a single family.

Each of our districts has only one campus serving any given grade level – all 120 ninth graders in the entire district of Freer are part of a Buckaroo cohort together, for example. Every teacher knows every student – and as superintendents, we do as well.  We know whose sister is having a baby, whose brother broke his arm last weekend, and who is out with the flu.

In rural schools like ours, kids are less likely to fall through the cracks because we are able to customize, focus efforts, and individualize for each student. Our communities are filled with unity, loyalty, school pride, and a deep desire to provide every student every opportunity for success, and every student has access to individualized support.

But we also know too well the challenges of being part of a rural district. All schools in Texas are held accountable for the same standards, assessments, and requirements, regardless of zip code.

In rural Texas, often there is little industry and no place for our students to intern, apprentice, or be exposed to different careers or new innovations. Many in our communities sometimes drive an hour for basic family needs.

“According to the Carsey School of Public Policy (2016), "rural children are twice as likely as urban children to live in the vicinity of persistent high child poverty.” Many of our students don’t travel beyond our communities to experience what the world has to offer.  It is up to us, as educators, to bring the world of opportunities to them.

There aren’t many places for kids to meet up with their friends — as our students would say, “We’re lucky if we have a Dairy Queen.”

All schools face challenges. Rural schools often face funding and resource constraints, have older facilities, and struggle recruiting teachers to an area where there are limited housing opportunities. We aren’t always able to offer differentiated or collaborative professional learning to our staff — a high school chemistry teacher might be the only chemistry teacher in the district. We may be able to offer a couple of strands of programming for career pathways, but unlike an urban or suburban district, we are limited in the offerings for our students. And yet, we need our students to be able to compete nationally and internationally.

For these reasons, we’ve come together to provide our students with a multitude of options they would not receive in their respective districts. What we cannot do alone, we can certainly do together. Through the creation of the Rural Schools Innovation Zone (RSIZ), students will have the opportunity to choose from various postsecondary pathways. Brooks County, Freer, and Premont independent school districts are collaborating because we know we’re stronger together, and our students deserve every opportunity for success.

During each legislative year, the dreaded word “consolidate” is tossed around and incites fear in every rural school leader. Collaboration and the RSIZ is an answer to the unproductive idea of consolidation. We’ve decided to collaborate by addressing the challenges of rural school systems while maintaining each school’s own unique identities and programs.

As part of the newly formed RSIZ, four of our schools will be able to share resources and ideas, build stronger talent pipelines and staff development programs, and differentiate programming so that every student, no matter their home district, has access to every pathway program offered in the Zone.

A Premont Collegiate High School student can study medical sciences at Freer High but still be a valued member of Premont’s highly competitive mariachi program. A Brooks County student can participate in dual credit programs leading to higher education degrees in science, math, engineering, or technology (STEM) all the while being a beloved Jersey.

We’ve set ambitious goals for the schools participating in the RSIZ because we deeply believe in the possibilities. Students will be more engaged, enjoying access to core academics strengthened through the partnership as well as access to engaging and varied early college and career pathways programs that speak to their passions and prepare them for bright futures.

During a recent brainstorming session, educators from our districts expressed excitement to share expertise through cross-district professional development and collaboration sessions, launch new career pathway programs, align programming while retaining unique school and district identifies, and expand extracurricular offerings.

In a perfect world, this should be an easy endeavor. But innovation is not simple and changing the way we do things can often bring about a sense of uneasiness and discomfort. To their great credit, the elected school boards from our districts have voted to support this initiative, demonstrating the community support for a collaborative pathway that respects each individual district’s identity. We have asked board members, administrators, teachers, students, parents, and community members to trust and to have an open mind — all for the future of our students.  They are to be commended for their forward thinking and eternal desire to give our kids a better chance of success after high school. The Texas Education Agency has also provided outstanding support as we worked to make the dream a reality.

There is still much work to do. As we do the hard work of creating outstanding educational experiences for our students, we hope to be a catalyst for other rural schools and are eager to share lessons we learn along the way.This work is too important for the future of our kids and the vibrancy of our region to sit by and wait for someone else to take the leap. Maybe, just maybe, this can be a model for rural America.

Maria Casas is superintendent of Brooks County ISD, Conrad Cantu is superintendent of Freer ISD and Steve Van Matre is superintendent of Premont ISD.

https://www.caller.com/story/opinion/2019/03/07/how-rural-south-texas-schools-bring-big-world-students/3092244002/