Public School Choice Rises From Connection with Community

Harlingen CISD Asked the Community What it Wants for Students –
The Answers Sparked a District Transformation and New Opportunities for All Students

Harlingen Consolidated Independent School District takes school choice seriously. In 2014,  HCISD began development of a five-year strategic plan to ensure the district’s educational offerings aligned with the needs of its students and community.

Public schools serve approximately 90% of Texas children, and it’s our responsibility to reinvent and redesign ourselves to serve those students well,” said Superintendent Art Cavazos.

HCISD’s redesign began with engaging more than 800 community members. Cavazos described the process: “We asked, ‘What are your highest aspirations for HCISD students? What are your biggest hopes for them?’”

“Their message was, ‘We want them to experience a great school district and get a quality education. We want them to be in the best position to take on the challenges of this world and to be globally competitive.’”

In addition to holding community forums and focus groups during the development of the plan, the district involved staff in the transformation process with HCISD design teams. 

Cavazos said it was critical to “define our ‘why.’ Why do we exist as HCISD? We exist simply to make certain that every child meets their highest potential. We exist to give them a quality education grounded on strong character. That’s the reason we show up to school every day.”

The robust strategic planning process resulted in a school choice portfolio available to every HCISD student. “Offering strategic choices and opportunities is the best way to engage families and propel students toward their college and career goals,” said Cavazos.

Students and their families make their choices based on unique needs, interests, and postsecondary goals. Elementary school options range from dual-language academies to a robust after-school chess program. At the secondary level, students can opt for early college high school, Harlingen School of Health Professionals, career academies, and comprehensive athletics, arts, and robotics.

For the district, the last step in the planning process was to ensure staff was invested in the HCISD’s choice and opportunity mission.

“We did not want staff functioning at a level of compliance,” said Cavazos. “By involving them and collaborating on a common language and set of goals, we moved from compliance to commitment.

It may seem like a lot of effort, and for HCISD, it was. But it was worth it for one reason.

“Harlingen is HCISD and HCISD is Harlingen. We belong to them and they belong to us. And if we engage them, they will champion our cause to create a vibrant and prosperous community as well. And they have championed it.”

Featured left to right: Senior Jacqueline Medina; seniors Christian Ingram and Colin Gilloon; seniors Marcos, Jackie, and Aaron, and junior Aviana Ayala.

Public School Choice: The Student Experience 

Harlingen CISD recognizes its students are unique. Some want to be doctors or dentists. Others plan to go into marketing or directing. Then, there are students like Jacqueline Medina, a senior and award-winning masonry student, who says someday she will major in construction management and oversee the construction of skyscrapers.

Christian Ingram and Colin Gilloon, both seniors, have been taking audio and video classes since they were freshman. They love the district’s new Media Arts and Communications Academy, where they use state-of-the-art production equipment to complete non-traditional schoolwork.

“We’re not just stuck in a classroom,” says Colin. “We’re able to go out in the district and do the things we need to do.”

Students at the Harlingen School of Health Professionals get hands-on experience in medical training, from instructors who have experience in the field. Being a District of Innovation as designated by the state, “What drew me here was the focus on medicine,” says junior Aaron Castillo. “There is this really unique teaching and learning style, which is different from what you normally get with lectures and sitting in class. It’s really helped me to excel.”

Meanwhile, 11th grader Aviana Ayala is gaining certification in high school toward becoming a professional firefighter. “We’re figuring out how the fire starts, how to put out certain fires, doing the bunker gear, and just learning everything about it before we do hands-on in our senior year.”

Even with the great variety of programs, academies, and educational settings, Harlingen’s core mission remains consistent — helping each student reach his or her greatest potential.

District Profile

  • Enrollment: 18,700
  • 75% Economically Disadvantaged
  • “Met Standard” accountability rating for all campuses
  • Above-average Graduation Rate

Learning Industry-Standard Skills in High School Classes

Sabrina Ramirez, a senior at Harlingen High School South, has been taking audio/visual classes since her freshman year. I have enjoyed every moment throughout the years and want to continue enjoying it after high school,” she said. After graduating from college, Ramirez plans to make a name for herself as a film producer. Harlingen CISD’s Media Arts and Communications Academy is giving Ramirez a jump-start on filmmaking, evident in the short video she produced about her principal who Raise Your Hand Texas sent to the Harvard Graduate School of Education for professional development.

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