Changing the trajectory of education in the RGV has been Robert Carreon’s mission for the last 20 years. Changes to accessing quality education, ensuring success after graduation, and creating training building blocks for RGV educators has been a great part of Carreon’s work with Teach For America (TFA).
Carreon’s role has evolved since first arriving in the Rio Grande Valley in 2003 and working as a TFA corps member. He fulfilled his two-year teaching commitment with the nonprofit and taught in the La Joya Independent School District. But something about the area piqued his interest, and he recognized that he could do more in a leadership position with TFA to make a difference in the Valley’s education system.
TFA is a nonprofit organization that places teachers from across the country in schools located in low-income communities. It exists to address inequality in education between students from high-income backgrounds and their lower-income peers. The organization has a longstanding presence in the RGV. Carreon, who has served as a teacher and in various leadership roles, is now vice president of public affairs.
“Our kids and our community have for so long been seen as less-than when it comes to educational outcomes,” Carreon said. “The way we can change that perception is by supporting our kids to be super strong.”
Though his roles within TFA have changed, his mission hasn’t. He continues to advocate to improve public education and education as a whole. And it’s a lot of heavy lifting. Carreon ensures that the RGV has representation at the State Capitol and has worked to find ways to train teachers to be effective all across the region.
“We are working to ensure that we’re doubling the number of students that are reaching key academic milestones that put them on a path towards economic mobility,” said Carreon, adding that in the last 20 years, the RGV has made great strides, but there is still work to be done. “The reality is that we still have a ways to go to ensure every single student in our community is graduating high school and is ready for that next step — whether it’s a two or four-year higher education program, or directly into work.”
TFA’s core competencies focus on three things: talent acquisition, finding the people who are passionate about teaching; talent matching, working to make sure those people are matched with school systems they can impact; and leadership development.
“We are pouring resources and support into teachers in their first two years,” Carreon said. “Whether they stay in the classroom or move to school administration or start a nonprofit, they will have a positive impact on students.”
Carreon was raised in a border town in New Mexico and felt a connection to the RGV when he first arrived. Though he had never worked in a community that did not have consistent educational success, and while many raised an eyebrow at the mention of teaching in La Joya, he fell in love with the community as a whole — from the students to the educators who cared deeply about the outcomes for their kids.
“When I first started, people were saying, ‘Oh, that’s a bummer, you’re teaching in the Valley’ or ‘Are you sure you want to do that?’ But now, communities across the state are coming to learn what we’re doing in public education,” he said.
In that time, Carreon and many educators faced the difficult expectations the No Child Left Behind Act set for students and educators. The law held schools accountable for how students learned and achieved, and penalized schools that didn’t show progress. Still, he persisted along with the rest of the region’s educators who had the will to see students achieve.
“Once we knew where the goal line was, we were able to make investments in growing the leadership capacities in the system,” Carreon said. “We’ve seen our kids rise to the challenge in ways that are inspiring and are setting the bar higher for us as we look into the future.”
Listen to the full interview on our podcast RGVision: Advocating for tomorrow’s future with Robert Carreon.