RGV FOCUS Collective Impact Initiative Reports Rio Grande Valley Students Match or Exceed Texas State Average in Nine out of 11 Categories

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Additional Data, ‘Bright Spots’ and Learnings of Public and Higher Education Performance Shared During May 3 Annual Report Presentation in Harlingen

RGV FOCUS 2017 Annual Report

“We’re changing the story to make certain our Rio Grande Valley students find success in high school, college and in the workforce...” said Eduardo Infante, co-chair of the RGV FOCUS Leadership Team, and superintendent of Lyford CISD

RGV FOCUS leaders recently unveiled the organization’s 2017 Annual Report showing that Rio Grande Valley students now match or outperform their Texas peers in nine out of 11 key indicators – from high school graduation rates, to FAFSA financial aid and AP/Dual-Credit completion (see detailed stats below). The report, which spotlights successes along with areas needing improvement, reflects a growing shift in educational attainment for area students.

Educate Texas, an educational arm of Dallas-based Communities Foundation of Texas, partnered with Valley-based leaders to establish the collective impact initiative RGV FOCUS in 2012. The initiative’s goal is to transform college readiness, access and success throughout the four-county Rio Grande Valley region through cross-sector collaboration of key stakeholders representing education, business, workforce, community-based organizations and philanthropies. To do this, RGV FOCUS works to measurably improve educational outcomes across the region by aligning resources that create a cradle-to-career educational pathway enabling all Rio Grande Valley learners to achieve a degree or credential that leads to a meaningful career.

“We’re changing the story to make certain our Rio Grande Valley students find success in high school, college and in the workforce. And to do this, we’ve brought together a diverse leadership from the education, community, business and philanthropic sectors,” said Eduardo Infante, co-chair of the RGV FOCUS Leadership Team, and superintendent of Lyford CISD. “There is still much work to be done, but we are very proud of the progress of our students, and their continued improvement thanks, in part, to this unique cross-sector collaboration.”

Considering the size of the Rio Grande Valley, this type of collaboration is special. The region’s 1.3 million population comprises four counties (Cameron, Hidalgo, Starr and Willacy), 37 school districts, four public institutions of higher education and 356,964 Pre-K-12 students. Of those students, 21,000 are seniors and more than 97% are Latino. Additionally, there are 70,373 higher-education students, of which 92% are Latino. In 2016 alone, students earned 24 doctoral, 1,186 master’s, 4,374 bachelor’s and 4,707 associate degrees and were awarded 2,467 certificates from the four public institutions of higher education in the Rio Grande Valley.

The 2017 RGV FOCUS Annual Report details how high school and college students in the region are performing compared to their peers at a baseline (metrics established by RGV FOCUS leadership in 2012). Furthermore, to provide deeper context, it compares the performance of Valley students against their Texas peers. Also showcased is RGV FOCUS’ commitment to strengthen each step and align resources across the cradle-to-career educational pathway. The report underscores four “Bright Spots” – 3rd Grade Reading, 8th Grade Math, AP/Dual Credit and Postsecondary Readiness.

At the unveiling event highlights from the report were shared with approximately 100 regional leaders and invited guests. The event was held at the Harlingen CISD Administration Building, 407 N. 77 Sunshine Strip in Harlingen. Speakers for the event included Mr. Infante, his RGV FOCUS Leadership Team co-chair Dr. Alda Benavidez, superintendent of La Joya ISD and Dr. Luzelma G. Canales, executive director of RGV FOCUS, as well as other members of the Leadership Team. 4 exemplary RGV students shared their story of educational success. Upon the conclusion of personal statements, the students came together to join four life-size puzzle pieces. This act represented the four counties coming together as one region to improve educational outcomes.

As a result of the Leadership Team’s commitment and perseverance, RGV FOCUS is making a difference.

  • On four of the indicators, Rio Grande Valley students top their Texas peers – in the four-year high school graduation rate (91% RGV students compared to 89% Texas students), FAFSA financial aid completion (74% RGV compared to 62% statewide), AP/Dual-Credit completion (43% RGV compared to 36% statewide) and higher education immediate enrollment rate (56% RGV compared to 52% statewide).
  • When compared to the RGV FOCUS 2012 baseline, Rio Grande Valley youth showed positive progress on nine out of 11 key indicators:

        •    STAAR 3rd grade reading (2% increase from 2012 baseline)
        •    STAAR 8th grade mathematics (5% increase from 2012 baseline)
        •    4-year high school graduation rate (4% increase from 2012 baseline)
        •    FAFSA completion rate (15% increase from 2012 baseline)
        •    College-Ready Graduates increased from 18% to 32% (between 2016 and 2017)
        •    AP/dual-credit completion (11% increase from 2012 baseline)
        •    Public 2-year higher education graduation rate (6% increase from 2012 baseline)
        •    Public 4-year higher education graduation rate (2% increase from 2012 baseline)
        •    Higher 4-year education graduates employed or enrolled (2% increase from baseline)

  • Featured “Bright Spots’ in the findings were:

        •    3rd Grade Reading “approaches” increased from 70% to 72% (between 2012 and 2017)
        •    8th Grade Math “approaches” increased from 69% to 74% (between 2012 and 2017)
        •    Pharr-San Juan-Alamo North High School graduates up to 25% of their students with an Associate Degree
        •    College-Ready Graduates Increased from 18% to 32% (between 2016 and 2017)

The report also illustrates educational challenges the region faces. Leaders note that further work is needed in postsecondary education. Despite incremental increases in higher education enrollment and higher education graduation rates, since baseline, Rio Grande Valley leaders recognized the need to substantially increase both over the next five years. To accomplish this, Valley leaders have developed a three-year plan that includes five areas of focus: Early Childhood through Elementary School; Middle School; Secondary through Postsecondary; Workforce; and Teaching Excellence.

“We are doing a much better job of increasing credential and degree completions. However, there is a group of students that are stopping out with significant college credits and not completing their degree,” said Luzelma G. Canales Ph.D. executive director of RGV FOCUS. “We plan to work with our higher education partners over the next three years to reengage students with significant credits who are only a few semesters away from graduating. Over just the past two years, that number could be as high as 7,000 to 12,000 students.”

In addition to co-chairs Eduardo Infante and Alda Benavidez, Ed. D., the Leadership Team members representing school districts are Arturo Cavazos, Ed.D.; Superintendent, Harlingen CISD; Lisa Garcia, Ed.D., Superintendent, Point Isabel ISD; Adrian Garcia, Chief of Technology and Student Services, McAllen ISD; Jose Gonzalez, Ed. D., Superintendent, McAllen ISD; Narciso Garcia, Ed. D., Superintendent, Vanguard Academy; Marla Guerra, Ed. D., Superintendent, South Texas ISD; Linda Uribe, Administrator for College Readiness, Pharr-San Juan-Alamo (PSJA) ISD; Silvia Ibarra, Ed. D., Assistant Superintendent for Instructional Services, McAllen ISD; Gonzalo Salazar, Superintendent, Los Fresnos CISD; Virginia N. Richter, Ed. D., Vice President of Advancement, IDEA Public Schools; Esperanza Zendejas, Ed.D., Superintendent, Brownsville ISD; and Teri Alarcon, Area Assistant Superintendent, Brownsville ISD.

The Leadership Team members representing institutions of higher education are Kristin Croyle, Psy.D., Vice President for Student Success, University of Texas Rio Grande Valley; Patricia Alvarez McHatton., Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs, Student Success and P-16 Integration, University of Texas Rio Grande Valley; Shirley A. Reed, Ed.D., President, South Texas College; Cledia Hernandez, Interim President Harlingen Campus, Texas State Technical College; and Jesus Roberto Rodriguez, Ph. D., Vice President of Student Services, Texas Southmost College.

The Leadership Team members representing community-based organizations are Melissa I. Lopez, Director, Office of College and Career Readiness, Region One; Tania Chavez, Fund Development Strategist, La Unión Del Pueblo Entero (LUPE); Chris Coxon, Managing Director, Programs, Educate Texas; Christina Patiño Houle, Network Weaver, Rio Grande Valley Equal Voice Network; Juanita Valdez-Cox, Executive Director, La Unión Del Pueblo Entero (LUPE); Priscilla Alvarez, Executive Director, Vida; and Traci Wickett, Chief Executive Officer, United Way of Southern Cameron County.

The Leadership Team members representing workforce organizations are Francisco Almaraz, Chief Executive Officer, Workforce Solutions Lower Rio Grande Valley, and Pat Hobbs, Chief Executive Officer, Workforce Solutions Cameron.

Funders currently supporting RGV FOCUS are the Greater Texas Foundation; Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; W.W. Caruth, Jr. Foundation; Ford Foundation; and Lumina Foundation.

The school districts of the partnership are Brownsville ISD, Donna ISD, Edcouch-Elsa ISD, Edinburg CISD, Excellence in Leadership Academy, Harlingen CISD, IDEA Public Schools, Ignite Public Schools, La Feria ISD, La Joya ISD, La Villa ISD, Lasara ISD, Los Fresnos CISD, Lyford CISD, McAllen ISD, Mercedes ISD, Mid-Valley Academy Charter District, Mission CISD, Monte Alto ISD, PSJA ISD, Point Isabel ISD, Progresso ISD, Raymondville ISD, Rio Grande City CISD, Rio Hondo ISD, Roma ISD, San Benito CISD, San Isidro ISD, San Perlita ISD, Santa Maria ISD, Santa Rosa ISD, Sharyland ISD, South Texas Educational Technologies Inc., South Texas ISD, Valley View ISD, Vanguard Academy and Weslaco ISD.

The higher education institutions of the partnership are South Texas College, Texas Southmost College, Texas State Technical College-Harlingen and University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.

The community-based organizations of the Collective are Educate Texas, Equal Voice Network, La Unión del Pueblo Entero (LUPE), Region One Education Service Center, Equal Voice Network, United Way of Southern Cameron County and Valley Initiative for Development and Advancement (VIDA).

The workforce organizations of the partnership are Workforce Solutions Cameron County and Workforce Solutions Lower Rio Grande Valley.

To learn more or get involved in RGV FOCUS, visit http://rgvfocus.org. Share our story of change on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook via #RGVstory and @RGVFOCUS.

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