District looks at education redesign

HARLINGEN — They’ve created the academies.

They’re offering more than 40 certifications for Harlingen students to earn while in high school. The district has created specialty schools like the School for Health Professions.

Now the next step in accordance with the Strategic Plan is a redesign of the middle schools and elementary schools.

That’s why the district’s Innovative School Design Team traveled to the Dallas–Fort Worth area late last year.

“We saw the different models that exist out there,” said Joseph Villarreal, assistant superintendent for secondary education. “By different models I mean school within school models, where you have a certain group of kids and you have a STEM Academy, but it’s a school within a regular school.”

The Design Team first met to brainstorm ways to enhance educational opportunities for the youngsters, Villarreal said.

“After we did that, we decided to formally and informally survey parents, students and community members about what they want to see in our K-8 schools,” he said.

First, of course, came the standard answers — for their children to be challenged, to be excited about learning, and to have a safe and supportive educational environment. Nothing new there.

But they asked the district to turn it up a little, increase the challenges, raise the stakes, so to speak, and make it even more exciting.

And, more classes in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) fields.

The tour of schools in the Dallas-Fort Worth area built on those answers.

“The visit really opened our eyes to the many possibilities of an innovative school,” Villarreal said. “We were able to see, first hand, the benefits students reaped from attending such a school.”

The visit exposed the team to various models.

They also visited magnet schools, another model. As they visited various school models they considered the question, “What would work best Harlingen?”

It’s the same question they’re considering now.

“It would all start with the elementary level and build itself up,” Villarreal said.

“Obviously, everything is still in the works.”

SOME OF THE SUGGESTIONS

– Fine Arts Academy – This could be a magnet school for elementary or middle schools specializing in the fine arts along with the academic core.

– STEMM – Science, Technology, Engineering, Math and Medicine. “We’re adding another M which stands for medicine. At the high school we have our Harlingen School for Health Professions. But how do we bring that to the elementary? So we expose them to Science, Technology, Engineering and Math and Medicine at the elementary level and then they decide what path they want to follow,” Assistant Superintendent Joseph Villarreal.

– International Baccalaureate Program – For elementary schools and working up. This program consists of courses with a more global perspective

– Virtual Academy – an online school. This would provide the same coursework but it would be done on a computer. This would address the needs of home-schooled students as well as others.

— Assistant Superintendent Joseph Villarreal

“We’ve already redesigned some of the high school experiences. We have specialty high schools, and we have the academies that are doing well. So now the focus needs to be put on the elementary and middle school areas as part of the Strategic Plan.”