HARLINGEN — It’s a new campus.

That’s what all the fuss was about earlier this week when Harlingen school board members met with administrators from the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.

Students, faculty and staff waited in anticipation.

“Mr. President and board members,” began Superintendent Art Cavazos.

“It’s with great honor that I recommend that you consider and approve the resolution before you to allow the superintendent and the administration to work hand in hand with the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley to build a brand new campus here at HCISD.”

Everyone applauded as the board agreed to build a new Early College High School at the corner of Hale Avenue and Camelot Drive. The City of Harlingen has donated the land where HCISD and UTRGV will build the new $14 million state-of-the-art campus. Both entities will split the cost.

HCISD will pay for its half with Tax Ratification Election funds.

“This is in line with our strategic financial plan which is part of our TRE,” Cavazos said. “This has made it possible, as we open opportunities and choices for our kids, to pay this in cash.”

Cavazos said Thursday’s resolution is the first step in a 2-1/2 year process.

“It’s going to take us about a year to design and then a year to build,” Cavazos said.

The new facility is expected to open in August 2021. It will replace the current facility at 2510 Pecan St.

Cavazos and UTRGV President Guy Bailey congratulated each other on their hard work, and they thanked the school board and administrators for their support.

“What’s happening today is the future of Texas,” Bailey said. “The partnership we have, what we’re doing moving forward as institutions, is where the future is.”

The resolution was signed by Cavazos, Bailey, Harlingen School Board President Greg Powers and Patricia Alvarez-McHatton, dean of the College of Education and P-16 Integration.

Cavazos thanked Bailey, McHatton and other UTRGV representatives for attending the event.

“We couldn’t do it without you and all your folks, so thank you so much,” he said. “Thank you for taking the time to be here with us.”

HOW IT STARTED

“It’s been about a year in the making,” said Veronica Kortan, HCISD administrator for organizational development.

“Our partnership with UTRGV started about four years ago when we did the STEP-UP program,” she said.

STEP-UP is a program in which UTRGV students who are planning to become teachers spend a whole year as student teachers instead of just one semester. The program was first implemented at Lee Means Elementary and later expanded to the Dr. Abraham P. Cano Freshman Academy.

“We started the ECHS in 2007, we adopted our Strategic Plan in 2014, passed our TRE in 2015 and brought our robotics to scale in 2015. This year we opened our STEM Squared Preparatory Academy. We’re actually bringing it all together to have one big UTRGV campus to service all the pathways that we currently have.”

Recently, HCISD and UTRGV signed a letter of intent to work toward the development of a high school to medical school program at the Harlingen School of Health Professions.

“I think a lot of that is going to continue with our traditional program that we have at HSHP,” she said. “Our high school to medical school program will continue to push forward with that as well with the intention of having our first cohort in the fall.”

SCHOOL BOARD REACTION

It’s a one-of-a-kind, said Harlingen School Board Member Javier De Leon.

“This partnership that is occurring, it’s not happening anywhere in the State of Texas or in the nation,” he said. “UTRGV and a school district getting together, working together, not thinking about competing but collaborating, how powerful is that? That’s the future, collaboration.”

School Board Member Bobby Muniz spoke about making dreams possible.

“The difference between a dreamer and living the dream is action,” he said. “The future is happening now. We say the future of the Valley but it really is the future of Texas. We talk about this every day, the ripple effect. We have no idea how big this ripple effect is going to be, but it’s going to be tremendous.”

School Board Member Belinda Reininger abstained from voting because she’s a professor at UTRGV. However, she commended the board on its move.

“We know that education is the gateway to a vibrant economy and vibrant futures,” she said. “This historic day is creating that.”

Board Member Gerry Fleuriet was unable to attend the meeting, but Powers read a statement from her.

“This proud moment is both a culmination of strong positive steps leading to the partnership and such a fantastic birthing of a new era of opportunity for our students,” she said. “I cannot wait to watch these unfold.”

Powers made special mention of the ECHS students and STEM Squared students in the room.

“Students in the audience today, remember this day, because you will be the recipients of this incredible opportunity that’s going to be offered by this new facility,” Powers said. “Some day you’ll look back at the opportunities that haven’t been offered before and this is a new exception. It’s the primary goal of every member of this board that student success is our top priority.”

STUDENT REACTIONS

Students from ECHS and STEM Squared Preparatory Academy seemed to understand the gravity of the event, even those who didn’t plan to attend the new school.

“I think it’s amazing for the kids that are going to be able to use it,” said Azucena Nazar, 16, an ECHS sophomore who will graduate before the new school opens.

“It’s going to give them a lot of opportunities,” she said. “They’re very blessed to have such amazing people to lead them in the community.”

Christopher Heiskell, a seventh grader at STEM, seemed excited about the new school.

“I don’t plan on attending ECHS but just the fact that there are opportunities for those who do plan on attending there is pretty cool,” he said. “I know a lot of people who are planning on attending there.”

Gabriela Cerda, a seventh grader, is planning to attend HSHP with the intention of becoming an orthopedic surgeon, but still the news impressed her.

“HCISD is growing bigger and bigger, which is just great,” she said.

The world seemed to have become much bigger for students like Nicholas Cook, 13, who is planning to attend the new ECHS.

“I find it really interesting and like it’s going to open up a whole new pathway for some students,” said Nicholas, a seventh grader at STEM Squared.

“They didn’t really have much computer science and engineering opportunities before now,” he said. “I am into the engineering and computer science courses. I think it’s going to open up a whole new opportunity pathway for me.”

FOUR CAREER PATHWAYS AT ECHS

Academic Core

Engineering

Computer Science

Aspiring teacher

ABOUT THE CAMPUS

The new Early College High School will have four pathways, said Veronica Kortan, administrator for organizational development for the Harlingen district.

“One of them is for the academic core,” she said. “But we have an engineering pathway, a computer science pathway and an aspiring teacher pathway.”

She said the district already has course offerings in these areas but the new school will offer more.

“It’s about having more opportunities and choices and that’s exactly what we’re doing today,” she said.

Most of the college courses at the new ECHS will be taught by local UTRGV professors, said School Board President Greg Powers.

“By taking these college core courses during their junior and senior years and meeting certain standards,” he said, “these students have a direct pathway to the education, the engineering and the computer science departments at UTRGV.”

The school will prepare students to take on important challenges, said Superintendent Art Cavazos.

“If you think about the students that will walk those hallways and learn in those classrooms, we live in a very complex world,” he said. “They will inherit this world with some very complex issues. My highest hope is that from this very new campus will come some folks that will solve these complex issues.”