• by María “Cuca” Robledo Montecel, Ph.D. • IDRA Newsletter • September 2010 • Dr. María “Cuca” Robledo Montecel, Ph.D.

Editor’s Note: IDRA gathered more than 140 parents, community leaders, students, educators, public officials, and policymakers in July 2010 for a day of dialogue, action and network building to improve the quality of education for all of the 450,000 children who live in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. The following is adapted from the opening remarks by IDRA President & CEO, Dr. María Robledo Montecel. Presented as a model for active communities across the country, highlights of the event were provided in the August 2010 issue of the IDRA Newsletter. Additional details and resources are online at http://www.idra.org/Ya_Es_Tiempo/.

We have called together this mid-summer meeting, because changing the state of education in the Texas Rio Grande Valley cannot wait. In a few short weeks, a new school year will begin, and change is long overdue. We know you are here because you share this conviction… ¡YA! Es Tiempo. It is time to close the unacceptable gaps in equity and opportunity that hinder our children on their way to completing the great education they deserve.

In the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo school district, a classroom of 25 students has 250,000 fewer dollars for the education of its children than does the Highland Park school district. We cannot wait any longer to demand fair funding and to close equity gaps. ¡YA! Es Tiempo.

Sixteen percent of teachers in the Valley are teaching out of their field, and 7 percent are not certified at all. Our children deserve competent, caring teachers who are well-paid and supported in their work. They also deserve courses and curricula that adequately prepare them for college and careers. We cannot wait any longer to close the opportunity gaps. ¡YA! Es Tiempo.

Currently, four out of 10 – almost half of the students – who enter high school in the Valley do not graduate. Young people, families and the entire community feel the impact. And how could we not? Youth who drop out of high school earn an average of $9,000 per year less than high school graduates. It is time to graduate all of our children. It is time to see them go to college. It is time to see them graduate from college. We cannot wait any longer. ¡YA! Es Tiempo.

We know we must act and act now. But how can we be most effective?

Based on our research at IDRA, and through our experience and work with tens of thousands of educators, parents and communities over the last 37 years, we have found that lasting change requires working together around a clear framework for action. There are no magic bullets.

In the book we are releasing today, Courage to Connect – The Quality Schools Action Framework, we share our learnings. Sí se puede.

In the La Joya school district, for example, under the leadership of Superintendent Dr. Alda Benavides, we at IDRA have had the opportunity to help teachers create a professional learning community with mentoring and coaching in the classroom. Through that effort, students’ reading scores on the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAKS) rose, student attendance increased, no at-risk student dropped out, and there were many fewer disciplinary problems. Sí se puede y ¡YA! Es Tiempo.

Here at the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo school district, under Superintendent Dr. Daniel P. King’s leadership, the district has reduced its dropout rate by 75 percent in two years with the development of the College, Career & Technology Academy in partnership with South Texas College. PSJA has become a regional leader in connecting high school students to college with more than 1,500 students participating in dual college credit courses during the past school year. We have had the opportunity to partner with Dr. King to strengthen curricula at PSJA High School, PSJA North High School and Memorial High School. With his leadership and the dedication of the principals and teachers here, our partnership has improved TAKS passing rates at all three campuses. Sí se puede y ¡YA! Es Tiempo.

Long-term and sustainable education change requires parents and communities to become engaged as equal partners in and with schools. Together, we can make this happen. Here in the Rio Grande Valley, a grassroots chapter of the PTA – a PTA Comunitario – has been founded by the women of ARISE with support from IDRA’s Texas Parent Information and Resource Center (see story). And with the leadership of organizations like ARISE, the Brownsville Community Health Center, Casa de Proyecto Libertad, La Union del Pueblo Entero (LUPE), Proyecto Azteca, Proyecto Juan Diego, Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid, and the START Center, the Rio Grande Valley is showing how family and community leadership solves problems that seem almost intractable. Sí se puede y ¡YA! Es Tiempo.

This community has what it takes. At the intersection of two nations, the Rio Grande Valley is a young, vibrant and growing community of more than 1 million people. Growth is expected in a number of sectors over the next decade – from transportation to business and industrial and retail construction. And the health care industry here is expected to create tens of thousands of new jobs. Some of the best future jobs here and around the world will require more education. We need to be sure that our children have the chance to compete for these opportunities.

The Valley is also a place where rootedness, resourcefulness and generosity of spirit abound. Last year, when it looked like Census 2010 ran the risk of missing scores of colonia residents in the count, community and family leaders – many of whom are with us today – led the call for every person, every family to be counted. Responding with faith, family and fierceness, these are the hallmarks of how this community has taken on big challenges and how it can lead in transforming education.

As Bishop Daniel E. Flores, whose roots are on both sides of the border, said during the Feast of San Juan Diego, “This border culture was forged by the movement of history and directed by the efforts of families struggling to create a worthy life for their loved ones… [he went on to say] the encounter between distinct cultures does not necessarily imply a clash, we can show forth a pathway toward the future marked by cultural respect, the exchange of gifts and of authentic human solidarity.” ¡YA! Es Tiempo y sí podemos.

María “Cuca” Robledo Montecel, Ph.D., is IDRA President and CEO. Comments and questions may be directed to her via e-mail at feedback@idra.org.

[©2010, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the September 2010 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]