Hidalgo High School Hidalgo Independent School District Hidalgo, Texas

Hidalgo High School
Hidalgo Independent School District
Hidalgo, Texas
Profile for Learning Tour conducted on
Thursday, May 22, 2008
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Hidalgo Independent School District (Hidalgo ISD), located along the Texas–Mexico border,
serves approximately 3,000 students, of whom 92.2% are economically disadvantaged and
54.1% are of limited English proficiency.
Districts with such demographics historically have performed below average on state
assessments, but Hidalgo consistently performs at a high level. For nine consecutive years, the
district has achieved recognized or exemplary status in the state accountability system, and it has
met the federal adequate yearly progress (AYP) requirements every year since the inception of
the AYP system in 2002–2003.
In 2004–2005, Hidalgo High School was named one of the top three high schools in the state by
the National Center for Educational Accountability. In 2006, HISD received the HEB Excellence
Award as the best school district in Texas. In 2007, U.S. News and World Report rated Hidalgo
High School as the 11th-best high school in the nation and the best in Texas for providing
college readiness opportunities for all students.
Why we visited
These impressive accomplishments inspired us to visit Hidalgo ISD and Hidalgo High School in
particular: We were intrigued to learn what the district had done to achieve such success. From a
STEM perspective, we were interested in the high school’s Academy of Science and
Technology, which offers a rigorous science, technology, engineering, and mathematics
curriculum using the Project Lead the Way1 model.
The Academy of Science and Technology and the high school’s other academy, the Academy of
Human Services, have received funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to serve as
Early College High Schools. The Early College High School program enables all students to earn
free of charge both a high school diploma and an associate’s degree or up to two years of credit
toward a bachelor’s degree.
Project Lead the Way is a nonprofit education organization that has created a four-year course sequence
designed to introduce high school students to engineering and engineering technology.
Hidalgo High School: learning tour profile — September 2008 version
What we learned
Three features of Hidalgo ISD and Hidalgo High School stood out for us: the school’s cultural
expectation that all students will attend college, the involvement of the entire community in
educating children, and the relevance and rigor of the high school curriculum. Each feature is
described in more detail below.
School culture:
“We must make a significant connection to postsecondary education for every student,” said
Hidalgo High School principal Edward Blaha, articulating the districtwide commitment to
preparing all students to succeed in college. Hidalgo ECHS is the only open enrollment high
school in the nation to sign up every one of its students in the early college program.
To ensure that students are prepared for college, Hidalgo ISD starts early, with full-day
preschool programs for three- and four-year-olds. What these children learn in preschool is part
of a carefully planned, integrated curriculum designed with successful college completion as its
goal. The district employs an early-college-readiness facilitator at the middle school whose job is
to vertically align the curriculum from prekindergarten through high school. By the time students
enter the 9th grade, they are all on track to earn up to 60 hours of college credit in high school.
Dana Center senior staff member David Hill summed up the Hidalgo experience by saying, “In
Hidalgo, a community with a student demographic that traditionally predicts low academic
performance and high risk, students don’t just dream about going to college, they get ready and
Community involvement:
The high school does not shoulder the commitment to postsecondary education for all students
alone. A key component of Hidalgo ISD’s success is the involvement of the entire community—
students, parents, schools, businesses, nonprofits, and the area’s postsecondary institutions—in
the project of making college not just a goal, but a destination for all students. As Hidalgo mayor
John Franz put it, “We want a call for help to be a local call.”
This “local call” has resulted in partnerships between the school district and community
members to “ensure economic prosperity and a better way of life for our students.”
In 2002–2003, HISD created the Academic Leadership Alliance, a partnership with the McAllen
Economic Development Corporation, TechPrep of the Rio Grande Valley, South Texas College,
Region I Education Service Center, and local area businesses.
The Alliance was charged with finding innovative ways to connect business and education; it
soon developed the Career Pathways Program to increase students’ awareness of future
opportunities and help them see the importance of education to future success. The program also
sponsors three-week summer internships for teachers and counselors to sharpen their
understanding of how the knowledge and skills taught in schools are applied in business and
Hidalgo High School: learning tour profile — September 2008 version
industry. Teachers then spend another week revising their curriculum to align it more closely
with what they learned from their internships.
Recognizing the tremendous importance of parental involvement in children’s education and the
need to provide educational opportunities for parents, HISD has established parent academies at
all seven of its school campuses. These academies offer parents classes in English language
skills, cooking and nutrition, parenting skills, computers, and arts and crafts. Parents may also
enroll in a Workforce Academy; a College Entrance Exam Academy; and certification, two-year,
and four-year degree programs.
The district also has strong partnerships with local higher education institutions, including the
University of Texas–Pan American, South Texas College, and Texas State Technical College,
which give students, faculty, and parents easy access to higher education courses. The district
has a plan in place to have all of its teachers earn master’s degrees and helps pay tuition for
teachers enrolling in postgraduate courses. Since Hidalgo High School does offer college credit
to its students, having faculty with master’s degrees means that college-credit courses can be
taught at the high school. Teachers for those courses earn a $500 stipend per course.
Bridging the schools and the larger community is the Hidalgo ISD School Board, which has won
two national awards in recognition of its dedication to Hidalgo students. The Board has been
instrumental in implementing the two Gates Foundation Early College High School grants, and it
oversaw the renovation of the high school campus to reflect a college environment. The board
also developed and funded the plan to have teachers pursue advanced degrees.
Relevance and rigor:
“If we can help every student connect to the content of the course,” said Principal Blaha, “they
will be successful.” Relevance is the driving force in curriculum planning at the high school: If
students can see that what they are learning is relevant to their lives and and futures, they will be
more engaged and persistent in learning. With a relevant curriculum in place, another key
component of Hidalgo High School’s academic program—rigor—follows.
The commitment to relevance begins with biliteracy for all students. Hidalgo ISD, with its
proximity to Mexico, recognizes the importance of the Spanish language and Mexican culture to
the region’s economy and identity. The dual-language program emphasizes the importance of
English and Spanish, ensures that students are proficient in both languages, teaches cultural
appreciation, and increases self-esteem among students, their families, and the larger community.
The program follows the 50–50 model, in which instruction is delivered in both languages to all
students through 7th grade.
In 2005, Hidalgo ISD received two grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to
establish two Early College High Schools. The district established The Academy of Human
Services and The Academy of Science and Technology, both housed at the existing high school
campus. The programs of study at both academies were developed with the South Texas
economy and its job opportunities in mind. The summer internship program for teachers helps
maintain the alignment between the academies’ curricula and the skills and knowledge needed to
Hidalgo High School: learning tour profile — September 2008 version
flourish in the regional economy. The academies’ curricula are thus highly relevant to the
professional world graduates will enter.
Students entering the 9th grade choose the academy in which they want to enroll. To ensure that
they make the right choice, the Career Pathways Program offers career-related counseling to
students in elementary school. The district creates an environment in which students are
encouraged to explore their interests and skills. As students get older, they receive more
intensive career counseling so that by the time they enter high school, they can make an educated
choice about which academy to enroll in and what course of study to pursue. The Career
Pathways Program offers another way of ensuring relevance in students’ educational progress.
The academies provide a rigorous program of study, offering 14 Advanced Placement courses
and 23 dual-enrollment courses that allow students to earn both high school and college credit.
Every student has the opportunity to earn 60 college credit hours while in high school. The 60
hours can culminate in completion of entry-level apprenticeships, certification in various fields,
or two-year associate degrees. These hours can also be transferred to a four-year institution.
The Academy of Science and Technology partners with Project Lead the Way to offer its preengineering curriculum all four years of high school. Project Lead the Way uses project-based
learning to teach advanced math, science, and technology skills as well as project management,
presentation skills, problem solving, and teamwork.
Who is Hidalgo High School?
Hidalgo High School enrolls 850 students—99.7% Hispanic, 0.1% white, and 0.2%
Asian/Pacific Islander. Since 2006, all entering Hidalgo High School students have enrolled in
the Early College High School program. The instructional staff include the principal, three
assistant principals, a dean of instruction, three guidance counselors, and approximately 80
teachers. Districtwide, 13% of Hidalgo ISD’s teachers have master’s degrees; the high school
teachers have an average of 11 years of teaching experience.
Sources of funding:
Hidalgo High School is funded by a combination of grants and district resources. The Bill and
Melinda Gates Foundation awarded the district two grants to fund the high school’s Academy of
Human Services and the Academy of Science and Technology.
Hidalgo High School: learning tour profile — September 2008 version