Seniors and Alumni Sparkle at Garza Early College H.S.

There is a shiny glimmer of hope in urban education and I saw it with my own eyes at Trinidad Garza Early College High School.  Long title…but very innovative program.  It’s a joint venture of Dallas Independent School District and Mountain View College.  Students go to classes year-round and have the opportunity to earn college credits — as much as a two-year Associate’s degree –along with a high school diploma.

Continuing on to a four-year degree is less daunting.  Students already have a taste of the academic rigor that will be required.  And they don’t need to fund the cost of a full baccalaureate program — just a couple of years.  This is a winning proposition and upward path for families in low socioeconomic circumstances.  The school motto:  College Ready, Career Ready, Life Ready.

Students at Garza are 85 percent Hispanic and 13 percent African American, 86 percent of them are eligible for free/reduced lunch and 27 percent are limited English proficient.

Did I mention award-winning?

  • 2012 winner of Excellence in Urban Education Award from National Center for Urban School Transformation
  • Silver Level – U.S. News & World Report, Best High Schools
  • Ranked #6 in  Top High Schools of North Texas by Children at Risk Association
  • A Texas Honors Circle Campus –  Texas Comptroller citation for fiscal accountability + academic performance
  • Garnering $2.7 million in scholarships and grants

I met principal Dr. Janice D. Lombardi at the kick-off of the Big Read Dallas program featuring the school’s step team, then ran into her again at a Communities Foundation event where Garza student Jonathan Gonzales was an articulate and impressive panel member.

Lombardi is a dynamo with a big heart — a performance-driven, metric-savvy administrator who is passionate about her purpose and the students, families and faculty she serves.  She is a turnaround maestro with young people who were previously underperforming.

The teaching approach at Garza considers the whole student: behavior, academics, strengths and weaknesses. “We have a culture of learning and college readiness here,” she notes. “Our instructional emphasis is effort-based; working hard does matter.”

Lombardi invited me to speak on campus as keynoter for Senior Leadership Week.  What an experience!  Parents, grandparents and other family members came for a special breakfast and morning of presentations.   Translation services and headsets were offered.  It was a celebration of milestones and hope for the future.  The class of 2013 has a 100% graduation rate — with 46 out of 90 also earning a full Associate’s degree.

My favorite part?  The alumni who returned to share advice and encouragement.  Nine amazing examples of the Garza product  – juniors and seniors in four-year colleges, including UT/Dallas, SMU, University of North Texas.  19-20 years old.  Poised and polished.

Their messages were meaningful — not only for the new graduates, but for any of us who engage in lifelong learning and pursuit of dreams.  Some very good reminders!

  • You can accomplish what you set out to do.  Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
  • Aim high!  Why not?  You will progress in steps.  Some forward, some backward.  But keep going.
  • Don’t compare yourself to others.  You are unique to yourself.  Do your best on the path that is right for you.
  • Learn time management.  Accomplishing everything you need to do is not easy, especially if you are working while you are completing your studies.   It takes organization, self-knowledge and discipline.
  • Take care of your health.  Beware of burnout.  Eat properly.  Get enough sleep.  Recalibrate when you need to.
  • Network!  Knowing others is the key to growth and identification of new opportunities.  Add to your circle of friends, mentors and advisors.
  • Get out of your comfort zone.  If you only know people like yourself, you are limiting your options.  Learn how people behave and how things work in different environments.
  • Watch for opportunity and be ready!  By actively engaging in new relationships and new situations, you will learn about jobs, school projects, scholarships or internships.
  • Surround yourself with those who share your values and vision.  Do NOT get drawn into the wrong crowd.
  • Make good decisions for yourself and your dreams.
  • Risky and reckless behavior can have a derailing and irreversible effect.  YOLO-You Only Live Once is a dangerous outlook.
  • Love your family.

Lombardi and her team are changing lives.  Isn’t this what public education is all about?

copyright 2013 Nancy Keene All Rights Reserved

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  1. Yes, THANK YOU for your keynote speech. The students and their parents were so attentive to your message! You had an impact on their thinking and you added dimension to their world view!

  2. What a really good article I enjoyed your visit and encouraging talk on communication thank you!!!

Copyright © 2012 Nancy Keene