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RGV FOCUS: A Decade of Change, A Future of Progress

May 17, 2023

Over the last decade, about half a million students in the Rio Grande Valley have been better prepared for postsecondary programs and employment facilitated by RGV FOCUS, a collaboration with Educate Texas.

In 2012, education, business, and community leaders from across the Rio Grande Valley had a clear vision for student success in the region. They knew it would take all facets of the community partnering together to ensure students received the education they needed to achieve meaningful careers and lives. The result was RGV FOCUS and una d├ęcada de cambio.

The vision, stories and collaboration behind RGV FOCUS 

Educate Texas Managing Director Chris Coxon clearly remembers a call in late 2011 from RGV native and longtime educator Alma Garcia, who was making headway on implementing the early college high school model at scale in the Valley and felt that a collective impact initiative could support the model and advance the region. 

“She saw the pressing need for a systematic, region-wide approach - vs. district by district - to improve education from cradle to career in her home, the Valley,” said Coxon. “She was willing to do whatever it took to make it happen.” With the help of Educate Texas, anchor funding from the Greater Texas Foundation, and a hard-and-fast commitment by education, community, and business leaders across the four counties within the Rio Grande Valley, the RGV FOCUS initiative came to life. 

Traci Wickett, former President & CEO at United Way of Southern Cameron County and an early education and workforce trailblazer, recalls being part of the inaugural RGV FOCUS leadership team. “We quickly recognized that we were so much stronger together than we were separately - and the danger of working in silos,” said Wickett. 

She points to sharing accountability across organizational boundaries and normalizing the use of data “not as a weapon, but as a flashlight” as two of the most important practices the team learned and adopted. 

Wickett, Coxon, current RGV FOCUS Director Rebeca Lopez, and many other involved leaders call out specific educational strategies and relationships that were core to raising up a region that, at the time, was the lowest performing in the state. However, all agree that progress wouldn’t have been possible without alignment and the “strategic glue” provided by RGV FOCUS. “Systemic change doesn’t happen without someone analyzing outcomes data and determining the strategies that will drive the most impact - and those strategies have to work at scale, from the smallest districts, like La Villa, to the largest, like Brownsville,” said Coxon. 

Dr. Daniel King, Executive Director of the Region One Education Service Center and Former Superintendent of Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD, was involved with RGV FOCUS from day one. He points to many “big wins” across the ten years, including markedly increasing RGV FOCUS completion rates and a 4 county-wide agreement between high schools and higher education institutions about what would be deemed “college ready.” 

While much progress has been made, Lopez says the focus is now on ensuring students in the Valley have exposure and access to career pathways, internships and work-based learning experiences, as well as supports for postsecondary persistence and completion, that will allow them to pursue a career with a living wage after high school.

King agreed and said, “RGV FOCUS has definitely had a good impact. I think we all agree that now, post-COVID and with many leadership changes, it’s important to revisit, refresh, and reenergize the program. Should the program change in any way? Are we still measuring the right things? A decade in, it’s a good time to reflect.” 

Wickett adds, “The challenge now is to keep the fire burning with the same intensity it has been for a decade. We won’t be seeing the same degree of change and we’ll be going for the more difficult wins. But we’ll continue to move the needle if we use data as our guide and keep people working together.”