Robert Carreon

Robert Carreon joined Teach For America as a 2003 Rio Grande Valley corps member, where he taught world history at Jimmy Carter High School in La Joya, TX. After three years in the classroom, Robert joined the Teach For America - Rio Grande Valley staff as manager of teacher development and strategy and then as program director, supporting 20 corps members in leading their students to academic gains. Robert became the region’s executive director in 2008 and is a graduate of Washington University in St. Louis.

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(Image credit: Tsahi Levent-Levi)

For the past three and a half years, I have been spending my time in close partnership with two of our Rio Grande Valley school districts—IDEA Public Schools, an open-enrollment public charter, and Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD, a traditional school district—as part of a federal Investing in Innovation (i3) Race to the Top grant. Our goal has been to create new and improved systems in the human-capital work of each institution, and we’ve learned a lot about what it takes create an effective partnership between public school districts and an education non-profit. (In fact, one of my colleagues in this work, Audrey Hooks—Houston ’02—contributed to a Huffington Post piece that shares some of these lessons.)

And as we’ve come to the final year of the i3 grant, we have begun to expand our collaborative network to other districts in South Texas. This has led to the establishment of a human-capital professional learning community. Our PLC kicked off in October 2013 to provide opportunities for participating districts to come together, share best practices, try new things, learn from each other, and build connections with professionals doing similar work. Given the many cross-institutional conversations happening as part of RGV Focus (a regional “collective impact” initiative),we felt this was an opportune time to engage in formal discussions focused on lessons learned. The main takeaway? No single institution has all of the answers all of the time, and discussing our work with colleagues has been critical in thinking about our systems and processes.

This weekend is the Network for Public Education (NPE) Conference, where there will be a number of workshops and panel discussions on education.  We hope participants will engage in many constructive conversations about how to improve education in this country. A panel discussion on Teach For America will also be on the agenda for the conference. Unfortunately, we were not invited to participate.  Had we received an invitation, here is what we would have shared:

A student with Gabbie Capriles, Manager, Teacher Leadership Development; and corps member Francisco Lara, RGV '12.

Student voice and perspective, largely absent from so many of our national conversations about public education, is increasingly critical to the work that we are taking on in South Texas. Over the past three years, our region has worked to engage our students in direct programming—called the Student Leadership Fellowship—that seeks to grow and develop them into leaders. This focus has been a relatively recent one for me, and one that was long-due: when Teach For America re-articulated its core values during its twentieth anniversary in 2011, I realized that student proficiency is only one measurement for success, and that it was necessary to dedicate time to the leadership skills of students in pursuit of transformational change.

McAllen, TX (Photo: flickr)

There's been some recent press about South Texas that would paint our community as a place without much to offer– and a place where it's very hard to survive. Last month, Brownsville was named the poorest city in America and McAllen, the other major city that bookends our region, is just two rows down in the list. Then, on November 9th, the Washington Post ran a story titled “Too Much of Too Little,” which detailed the confluence of factors affecting the health of our population, includinghigh rates of obesity and diabetesand a reliance on government subsidies.

Unfortunately, some of this may be true – but there’s also a lot that is tremendous about the region I call home. For me, the hard part about reading these stories is that they cannot accurately capture the full diversity and richness of experience in the South TexasI’ve come to know. There is no arguing that the data that the stories put forth is of concern, but there are other stories happening in South Texas that I must share.

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