Donna ISD to launch early college high school

The Texas Education Agency this week approved Donna Independent School District’s plan to open an early college high school as soon as the start of the 2020-21 school year.

The anticipated early college high school “is one of the strategies (to) increase the number of students who are going to be college, career and military ready,” said Donna ISD Superintendent Hafedh Azaiez.

Texas, beginning in 2004, allows districts to designate early college high schools to increase college readiness and access for students, according to information provided on TEA’s website. Currently, the Rio Grande Valley has the highest concentration of the schools, which operate in conjunction with neighboring universities or colleges.

The district plans to work with South Texas College to implement dual credit courses at the additional school in Donna.

“This will allow them, while in high school, to get an associate degree” by the age of 18, Azaiez said. “This is just the beginning of bigger things for our students and our community.”

Early college high schools target students “least likely to attend college” by offering them the ability to obtain an associate degree and high school diploma concurrently. Upon graduation from the school, a student would have earned 60 college hours.

The hours may also be directed toward obtaining a bachelor’s degree.

“A lot of students … sometimes don’t go to college because they cannot afford it,” Azaiez said, noting Donna ISD committed in its strategic plan to provide higher education opportunities for its students, who at times have to work immediately after graduating high school due to financial constraints.

Students enrolled at the early college high school, however, will not have to pay to earn college credit hours in Donna.

The Donna ISD board, before the start of the 2020 school year, will likely decide where the school will be located. The district may temporarily use an existing building to house the early college high school, according to Azaiez.

“We are very excited,” he said. “Our staff and our community will be very engaged and supportive of any decision we’ll be making together.”

The early college high school will begin with freshman students, likely in 2020. The district will then add more students to become a full-fledged high school over the course of about four years.

“Our board is very supportive of this decision,” Azaiez said. “They’re all very excited about it because they understand this will provide so many opportunities and choices for our students.”