UTRGV College of Education & P-16 Integration hosts Critical Issues Leadership Conference

By Jennifer L. Berghom

McALLEN, TEXAS—SEPT. 13, 2016— The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley’s College of Education and P-16 Integration this week is bringing together administrators from school districts across the Valley to brainstorm ways to better educate an ever-growing and diverse group of students, including English-language learners and students from low-income households.

“We believe that The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley is well-positioned to make a difference in the education of children all across the country,” said Dr. Roberto R. Zamora, assistant professor of Organization and School Leadership at UTRGV.

The college began its second annual Critical Issues Leadership Conference on Tuesday at the DoubleTree Suites by Hilton Hotel in McAllen. The three-day conference brings together administrators from local school districts and UTRGV faculty and administrators to discuss best practices to ensure greater student achievement.

Zamora, who kick-started the conference with his presentation, “Building Systemic Capacity for Transforming 21st Century Schools: Leadership Matters,” said the best way to create better places for students to learn and succeed is to bring educators together so that they can learn together and share ideas.
“The intent is to provide schools an opportunity to come together, but also for our faculty and our students, our doctoral students, to share with you what it is that we’re doing and for students to eventually share the research that they’re doing with our schools,” he said.

Educators spent the first day hearing from Dr. Patricia Alvarez-McHatton, dean of the college, and other UTRGV faculty and administrators. Attendees also participated in group discussions about best practices.

Area educators who attended the conference said they appreciated how UTRGV has reached out to districts to explore better ways to educate students from a variety of cultural, social, economic and other backgrounds, because they all need to work together to ensure the success of Valley students.

Dr. Filomena Leo, interim superintendent of the Weslaco Independent School District, said conferences like these help educators network and gain insight from one another. The conferences also provide educators the opportunity to take time away to think and reflect on what they and their colleagues are doing to best serve their students, she said.

“We want more students succeeding, more kids going on to raise their own personal aspirations, and that happens when the leaders create an environment for those leaders to exist,” said Leo, who has more than 40 years of experience as an educator and administrator and earned her Doctor of Educational Leadership degree from UTRGV’s legacy institution, UT Pan American, in 2010.

Edward Churchill, director of services for the Mercedes Independent School District, said even though the districts have unique qualities, they are facing many of the same challenges, and many of the students they educate hopefully will attend UTRGV, South Texas College and other area higher education institutions in the future.

“It’s a win-win situation for the districts and the community,” said Churchill, who earned a bachelor’s degree in history with a minor in reading from UT Brownsville in 1993. “We need to know that what we’re producing is what UTRGV needs. The stronger UTRGV gets, the stronger the caliber of student produced there, and then the stronger our economy gets at the end of the day.”

The conference continues Wednesday, Sept. 14, where educators from the Mission and Pharr-San Juan-Alamo (PSJA) school districts will share their experiences about being enrolled in UTRGV’s master’s programs. Conference attendees will also hear from officials from the Brownsville, Harlingen, Los Fresnos and Point Isabel school districts about initiatives they have implemented to improve student achievement, and from Dr. Francisco Guajardo, founding director of the B3 Institute at UTRGV who will discuss the vision for developing bilingual, bicultural and bi-literate students.

The conference concludes Thursday, Sept. 15, with school tours in the McAllen, Mission, PSJA and Valley View school districts.

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