Success Stories

Early College Design Services

Helping Districts Reinvent High Schools for Postsecondary Success

Implementing and managing school redesigns that combine high school and college to enable struggling students to graduate with college credit and the tools for postsecondary success.

Caesar Mickens Jr.
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Success Stories

Click for another success story from Dayton, Ohio, or read a profile of a STEM early college school in Marlborough, Masschusetts.

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.

Read a full report about the PSJA Independent School District.

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:

  • Strategic planning and consultation for district leadership
  • School design consultation that identifies pathways leading to high-wage, high-demand careers and credentials in the local economy
  • Professional development and coaching for teachers and school leaders in college-ready instructional strategies

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:

  • All ninth graders take a college-readiness course that explores available careers; emphasizes reading, writing, and presentation skills; and teaches college-ready behaviors, such as taking notes and managing time.
  • Teachers support all juniors and seniors to pass introductory English and math at the college level so they can enter postsecondary without need for remediation.
  • Through the district’s partner colleges, juniors and seniors will pursue six or more transferrable college credits in their career pathways.

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

  • 44 schools serving 32,000 students
  • 4 comprehensive high schools, 5 alternative schools
  • 8,000 high school students
  • 99% are Hispanic
  • 89% are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch
  • 41% are English language learners
  • Most students are first generation college-bound
  • PSJA has graduated 1,000 former dropouts and noncompleters since 2007.
  • PSJA has raised four-year graduation rates from 62% to 87%, graduating a record 1,909 students in 2012, compared to only 966 in 2007.
  • Annual dropout rates have fallen by 75%.
  • 1,700 high school students took college courses in the 2010-11 school year, projected to rise to 3,500 once every high school has implemented Early College Designs.
  • PSJA doubled the number of students enrolling in college after graduation in two years.

For more information, please contact Caesar Mickens.

For more information on PSJA’s Early College Design work, please read Launching Early College Districtwide.

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