Leading the Way

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Every new school year is an exciting time. This school year was no different, the same nervous butterflies fluttered in anticipation of the first day, except this new school year came with some notable additions at Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD (PSJA ISD). The district welcomed for the first time hundreds of students to two new redesigned high schools.

PSJA Collegiate School of Health Professions, serves 6th-12th grade and is the district’s first 6th-12th Early College campus. The school has opened with a limited 6th & 9th grade cohort, with plans to add the remaining grades in the coming years. PSJA also transitioned PSJA Elvis J. Ballew to a School of Business and Energy.

“We based everything on research and data, and we did a job market analysis and recognized areas that are both in high demand and great need,” said PSJA Chief Academic Officer Dr. Rudy Treviño. “On the business side, there is a great demand and focus on energy and conservation, and we want to get ahead of that.”

The goal for the campuses is to fill workforce gaps for in-demand jobs in industries like healthcare, business entrepreneurship, energy, and engineering in the Rio Grande Valley.

Dr. Treviño explained that they worked with the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and their Systems of Great Schools Network for guidance and mentorship through the planning, which was done a year in advance for both campuses. The district also received grants that will be disbursed in increments as the schools grow.

“We’re making history in PSJA being the first 6th-12th grade Early College campus,” said Mariza Saenz, PSJA Collegiate School of Health Professions principal. “Being a healthcare campus gives us the opportunity to create more healthcare programs and offer far more opportunities for our students in the health science fields.”

Joining Saenz was a 6th-grade student, Hugo Villanueva, who hopes to receive the proper building blocks he needs in order to pursue a career in medicine.

“I want to become a doctor, because ever since my mom got cancer, I’ve been worried. I want to cure cancer so no one who has a family member with it has to go through that pain,” he said.Hugo joins his sixth-grade cohort of less than 100 students who are motivated to learn and grow in the healthcare profession.

The schools have a 12:1 ratio and follow a small school concept, and all students must apply for the programs. The application process is rigorous. Each student must fill out an application, be interviewed by the school principal, and provide letters of recommendation. The programs also involve parents and guardians in the process. Administration staff and teachers make themselves accessible to families in order to work together to achieve the overall academic, emotional, and social successes of the student.

“We have more personalized learning for students and address any gaps immediately, ” said Ruben Garcia, PSJA Elvis J. Ballew School of Business and Energy principal. “For our parents, we provide customer service in order to ensure that we are there for the families.”

Garcia also mentioned the three principles that the school has:

Humility, leaving the ego at the door.

Attitude, maintaining a positive culture at all times.

Persistence, for everyone to develop grit; failure is not an obstacle. Failure is an opportunity to be innovative and to learn.

Garcia and the rest of the team plan to meet with local economic development organizations in the coming months to get a closer look at those in-demand industries and what PSJA ISD can do to fill those gaps.

“As one of the largest school districts in the Rio Grande Valley, we take our responsibility of educating and preparing students while helping meet the educational needs of our region, state, and nation seriously,” said PSJA Superintendent Dr. Jorge L. Arredondo in a recent announcement.

PSJA ISD recently earned an A-rating by the TEA for the 2021-2022 school year.

Selene Guerrero