Top-Ranked Schools 

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Three Brownsville ISD schools have earned recognition in the Rio Grande Valley for their superior academic achievements. The honor was awarded by Children at Risk, a research and advocacy nonprofit organization seeking to improve education standards throughout Texas. The three recognized schools are Brownsville Early College High School, Benavides Elementary, and Ortiz Elementary.

The recent survey analyzed 526 public schools in the Rio Grande Valley, assessing schools based on student achievement, campus performance, and student growth. Findings include standardized test scores as well as demographic data in an effort to evaluate success in underprivileged communities. The organization also studies graduation rates to determine college readiness in high schools and accordingly ranked Brownsville Early College High School as the top-ranked high school in the Rio Grande Valley.

“This most recent accolade reaffirms our investment of time, instructional planning and funds to support our students,” said Dr. Rachel Ayala, principal of BECHS. “Our school community achieved this great distinction because of our collective efforts to help our target populations of at-risk and economically disadvantaged students.”

BECHS partners with college institutions to prepare its students for undergraduate studies. The high school, therefore, aspires for each of its students to graduate with an associate degree in General Studies from Texas Southmost College. This approach requires BECHS educators to provide social-emotional learning supports and interventions as necessary while removing all barriers to college enrollment.

“Our focus is to provide our students an enriched school environment,” Ayala said. “Our educators are committed to ensuring that every child is seen, heard and valued.”

Children at Risk also named Benavides Elementary one of its Gold Ribbon Elementary Schools, an honor recognizing academic excellence in high-performing, high-poverty schools. Anabela Almanza, principal of Benavides Elementary, notes that the award is a welcome addition to her school’s record of success.

“Our team is immensely proud to have been recognized for such a prestigious award,” Almanza said. “Our success is rooted in the dedication of our entire faculty and staff.”

Benavides seeks to respond to the holistic needs of students, offering a learning environment with academic, social, emotional, and physical benefits. Almanza has coordinated with her staff to expand extracurricular activities, student behavior incentives, goal-setting initiatives, and a lively calendar of school-sponsored events. This blend of student interests has fostered an inclusive environment for learners of all backgrounds.

“The culture at A.X. Benavides is deeply rooted in student-centeredness, collaboration and a dedication to meeting the diverse needs of every learner,” Almanza said. “Teachers actively encourage students to take ownership of their academic journey.”

Benavides was recognized by the Children at Risk analysis alongside Ortiz Elementary, making both Brownsville campuses among the top five elementary schools in the Rio Grande Valley.

“We have high expectations from our students, no matter what background they come with,” said Julie Peña, principal of Ortiz Elementary. “Some students don’t have the experience of affluent areas or neighborhoods, but we don’t let that be a deficiency for them. We encourage all of them to learn.”

The recognition by Children at Risk is one of many accolades for Ortiz Elementary. The school was named a National Blue Ribbon School in 2023, making it one of 26 public schools in Texas to be distinguished for academic excellence. The award honors schools for closing achievement gaps in student sub-groups and reflects an in-depth survey of content mastery. Peña notes that many schools can document students approaching grade-level ability. Still, fewer schools can attest to long-term progress and proficiency.

“Our students have to show some type of growth,” Peña said. “Getting growth and maintaining it is an issue that we have to work toward. We’ve been able to maintain that excellence, and that’s why we were recognized.”

Ortiz Elementary and Benavides Elementary are among the 12 finalists for the America’s Best Urban Schools Award. The award is presented by the National Center for Urban School Transformation (NCUST) based out of San Diego State University and recognizes efforts to prepare students for post-secondary education.

“It’s exciting for a school district because great things are happening here,” Peña said. “It’s now recognized on a national level, and other people are hearing about us.”

 

Bill Hill