Success Story: Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District
The PSJA Independent School District, serving 32,000 students, made a commitment that all students would graduate ready for and connected to college. This South Texas district created a diverse, districtwide portfolio of school designs and options to enable all students to graduate high school with at least 12 college credits, whatever their skills and career aspirations. Working with the district and its partners, we helped develop this plan.
PSJA started putting early college for all in place with the least likely students: dropouts. When Superintendent Dr. Daniel King arrived in 2007, he faced a dropout rate that was double the state average. In partnership with South Texas College, Pharr-San Juan-Alamo opened a dropout recovery academy that helps dropouts and noncompleters finish their graduation requirements while beginning college coursework leading toward a career credential. To this day, the College, Career, and Technology Academy has graduated more than
1,000 former dropouts and off-track students and bridged many of them to college. Dr. King used this early win to make the case: “If these students can do it, why can’t everyone?”
Since 2010, in partnership with Educate Texas, an organization that promotes college readiness statewide, Jobs for the Future has been helping Pharr-San Juan-Alamo implement its vision of college success for all. Our work with the district has included:
PSJA opened its first early college high school, PSJA Thomas Jefferson T-STEM Early College High School, with the intention of using it to incubate the idea of connecting all students to college. Out of the first class of 115 ninth-graders, 100 of them would be the first in their families to go to college. From there, the district opened additional early colleges within each of its comprehensive high schools, as well as creating course sequences for all students to earn 12 or more college credits by graduation. To identify these course sequences, we conducted an audit of PSJA’s career and technology course offerings in order to align them with opportunities in the local labor market. To support the district’s goal of ensuring rigorous college-ready instruction in every classroom, we have worked intensively in the district schools, providing continuous coaching for school leaders, lead teachers, and instructional coaches. District-specific solutions we recommended include:
PSJA will finish putting these pathways in place while phasing out courses that do not lead to postsecondary education or careers. All these changes, PSJA’s leaders say, are transforming the culture of the community and students’ perceptions of what is possible for their future.
“You’re like, ‘Wow, this college offers you so many things,’” said Sandro, a student at PSJA Southwest Early College. “It really makes you feel like you want to go to college. I can’t wait.”
PSJA Independent School District
For more information, please contact Caesar Mickens.
For more information on PSJA’s Early College Design work, please read Launching Early College Districtwide.