PREMONT - With students in mind, superintendents and school board members of four South Texas school districts signed a resolution on Thursday to create a partnership known as the Rural Schools Innovation Zone (RSIZ).
This partnership will allow Brooks County, Freer, Premont and San Diego Independent School Districts to share educational services for their students.
“Superintendents talk to each other all the time...They talk about their challenges. They talk about their strengths. They talk about their weaknesses. You know one of their weaknesses that's out of their control is the simple fact that rural school districts can't do what they want to do because of size, because of funding, because of industry out in the area, because of the number of students they serve,” said Dr. Linda Villarreal with Ed Point. “So these four superintendents got together and started talking about how they are connecting high school, college and careers...From that dialogue was created the Rural Schools Innovation Zone.”
“In America, there isn't a zone that has four school districts...You have large districts who are creating zones within their districts, but there isn't one like (this),” she said.
The RSIZ is made up of the four founding members. This innovative shared governance model will allow for school-level autonomy and accountability while enabling collaboration and differentiation across the four high schools.
RSIZ's mission is to provide rural students high opportunities for post secondary success.
“We felt that students that live in rural communities should not be hindered or should not miss (opportunities) because they live in Premont, San Diego, Freer or Falfurrias...,” said Freer ISD Superintendent Conrad Cantu. “Let's all get good at something and share. We can bus our kids from Premont or Falfurrias to Freer or San Diego. In doing that we can create opportunities for our rural schools.”
Each RSIZ high school will have a specific pathway of focus.
Brooks County ISD's pathway will be career and technology education, Freer ISD will have health and science classes through its Medical Academy, Premont ISD will focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) courses and San Diego ISD will offer architecture and construction courses. Each pathway will be available to students regardless of which district they attend.
Each district currently has strong partnerships with Texas A&M University – Kingsville, Coastal Bend College and Del Mar College, which will provide additional educational instruction to their students.
“It's no longer about my student. It's no longer about your students. It's about our students...,” said Dr. Maria Rodriguez Casas, Superintendent of Brooks County ISD. “It's no longer about competing; it's about collaborating... Together, united we can do more.”
Over the next four years the RSIZ will be in a phase-in process. Villarreal and Dr. Sonia Perez of Ed Point, hope that over the years, additional districts, such as Benavides and Ben Bolt school districts could also join the RSIZ with their own pathways.