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College, Career & Military Readiness in Brownsville ISD

College Enrollment Brownsville ISD, graph chart.

House Bill 3 (86 R), 2019’s historic school finance reform legislation, changed education in Texas in ways big and small. In addition to increasing the state’s biennial investment in public schools by over $6 billion, the bill created the College, Career and Military Readiness Outcomes bonus. This equitably distributed new funding stream rewards districts for graduating high school seniors who have chosen and executed on a postsecondary pathway to the military, a career, or a two- or four-year higher education institution, with larger bonuses accrued for students experiencing economic disadvantage.

This new standard for College, Career and Military Readiness (or CCMR, as it will be referred to from here on out) is more rigorous than the one outlined in the state’s accountability system, and as such is driving significant positive behavior change among TUC-member districts. And nowhere is this seen more clearly than in Brownsville ISD which is achieving remarkable success in meeting this new standard relative to its peer districts.

In an effort to learn from their success and share best practices with fellow district leaders, we spoke with Dr. Anysia Treviño, Deputy Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction, to get her perspective on the keys to Brownsville ISD’s success. In doing so, a few key themes emerged:

Clearly defined CCMR vision, centered around equity

“[Brownsville] ISD very much is about building student capacity in order to improve the generations to come… The students that come to BISD, 89% of them are economically disadvantaged. Because they’re economically disadvantaged, we know that they come in with more gaps than most kids. A lot of our students are emergent bilingual students. We have a large population of special education students and a large population of dyslexic students.

[But] we don’t see the children, whether they have a label of some kind, as a child that can’t do it. They just need more support. So we don’t lower our standards. Students will rise to the level of expectation. And so, because of that, we know that our kids are very capable of achieving whatever they set out to do, given the resources and the support that they need.

Every principal’s meeting was focused in on ensuring that everyone had the same vision of closing gaps and making sure that when students leave BISD that they were CCMR ready, whether it was through an Associate degree, additional dual enrollment hours, AP, TSI, industry certification: we were all working with that common vision of making sure students were successful.

This is not just a goal for one teacher or for the [Career Technical Education] department. It’s all of us in it together. So what can I do as Deputy Superintendent to ensure that Dr. Chavez, our CTE director, has whatever he needs to help his teachers to help the students, to inform the parents. It is not just one teacher by herself. The principal is right along there with them. The counselor needs to be right with them. The parent needs to be informed. So it’s a collaborative effort.”

Proactive, purposeful community engagement

“We start talking about CCMR early as middle and elementary, during open house, parent meetings, any opportunity that we have. And if, for example, a student is scheduled to take TSI and didn’t show up, a phone call is made personally from their counselor. We’ll open the doors and send reminders. That’s really important because then the parents are definitely engaged.”

Participation in rigorous advanced courses

“We offer the TSI for those kids [in 8th grade] that we feel are ready. We look at their STAAR scores in sixth and seventh and look at the history. And if they’re being very successful, we are offering English I and Biology for the first time in middle school. We want students to feel that we believe in them early on. So if we feel that they can be successful, let’s attempt it.

Our middle school area superintendent, she used to be a high school principal. So she knows exactly what it takes for kids to be TSI ready and what the needs are. So her focus is, I’m going to get more kids ready for TSI. That’s one of her goals this year. And in elementary we have ACT vocabulary words of the week. That language is going to help them to be more successful and confident in taking the TSI. And it’s not just the TSI. We want them to be successful in their ACT and SAT, if they so choose to take those entrance exams.

We never deny AP testing. We pay for AP testing. We pay for their dual enrollment, their textbooks, any field trips, wherever they need to go, giving them that college experience. We’ve never denied them. The money is being generated back through [outcomes-based bonuses]. We went from zero Associate degrees when we first got here to over 100 in two years. Once the vision was established and there was buy-in, there was no looking back.”

College Enrollment Brownsville ISD, graph chart.

College- and career-going exposure and opportunities

“We’re really big on industry certifications. Our Cummings building has specialized programs with the latest resources: state of the art robotics, cosmetology, welding, et cetera. And so our programs are designed to ensure that students get certified. Our teachers are expected at the beginning of the year to give us a list of students that they’re anticipating to get industry certified by the end of the year. And we follow up with them.

Because we have SpaceX, our students have an opportunity to go visit. We were one of the first groups that went to visit. No cameras were allowed. But our kids came back super excited because of the potential that is out there. And [Texas State Technical College-Harlingen] then gave us a tour of their facilities. They’re redesigning their welding program in order to meet the demands of SpaceX. [In] as [little] as 18 months, they can be earning $60-70,000. You teach the kids that, and they become hungry, because they’re excited for that particular program.

We also have a local college, Texas Southmost College, that assists us with any dual classes. We have a fabulous pharmacy tech program. Success breeds success. Once they get one certification, they’re like, “what else can I get?” Kids get excited for learning and want to get more.”

Real-time CCMR data monitoring to enable data-driven decisions

“We’re very goal driven. So the teachers know, last year we gave out 2000 certifications. What’s our goal for this year? And then every program will tell you, we’re gonna increase it by so many, not just a percent, a number. When you give a number, then you start putting names of students behind those numbers. Then it becomes real, and it becomes very genuine.

Every week, we get reports [of] where the kids [are] at. Some principals actually post them on our walls outside where all kids can see it by ID numbers. I’ve seen kids swarming during passing periods, rushing to see if they had met that extra point. They’ll get a different cord for every CCMR point that they’ve earned. And the parents are aware of it as well.

And the goals are all our goals. It was a team effort from the superintendent, the curriculum and instruction department, principals at the campus level, teachers, students, parents, all working collaboratively. If we don’t achieve them, the superintendent doesn’t reach his goals with the school board. So we have to be aligned in order to achieve success. Success comes with everyone pulling in this same direction. And we expect all our kids to get the best quality education and to be CCMR ready.”