Ideas in Action: Roscoe Collegiate ISD
Wednesday, January 3, 2018 | Sarah Hamshari
Key Takeaway: Offering higher education opportunities and career training in critical STEM workforce shortage areas to high school students dramatically improves their long-term outcomes.
Roscoe Collegiate Independent School District (RCISD) is an exemplary model of rural school transformation. Located in West Texas, the town of Roscoe has a population of less than 1,500 residents. In 2009, its high school transitioned from a traditional public school into an Early College High School (ECHS) to offer its students greater opportunities after graduation. In partnership with Educate Texas, a public-private initiative, the school pivoted towards relevant science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education in fields with shortages of qualified workers.
Cynthia Black, a teacher and instructional coach at RCISD, sums up how the school’s culture led to a successful transformation: “Even though we are so small, we don’t allow students to realize the hindrance of that. We don’t talk about that. We just talk about how we’re going to go out there and change the world.”
Dr. Gary Briers, a professor at Texas A&M University, says of Roscoe, “They have those high expectations of students, and those expectations are contagious. So, the students begin to have high expectations of themselves. Roscoe has been able to narrow the gap between aspirations and expectations, not by lowering aspirations but by raising expectations.”
The ECHS is one emerging public school model to address an increasingly competitive global labor market and the need for highly skilled workers. This model equips students to earn an associate degree by the time they graduate from high school, giving them a head start in higher education—both academically and financially. ECHS students are 10 times more likely to complete a four-year degree than a similar student with no college hours at high school graduation. Research also shows that ECHS students are projected to earn $250,000 more over their lifetime than other Texas high school students.
“They [former RCISD students] come back after that first or second semester at the university level, and they are just excited about how far ahead of the other students their age that they are,” said Black. “And they actually are being able to use the tools that we provide them with.”
RCISD is making higher education more feasible for its students, especially those from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.
“Not everybody is told that they are good enough to go to college, that they can do it if they want to. And the school doesn’t just talk the talk, it walks the walk,” says Jose Rangel, a former student of RCISD.
Jose is one of Roscoe’s many student success stories. He graduated in 2013 and is pursuing his doctoral degree in physical therapy. According to one of Jose’s teachers, “He just never let anything stop him. Low socioeconomic—he didn’t know that. He just made a goal, set his mind to it, worked really hard, and he’s achieving it right now as we speak.”
Recognizing the importance of giving its students a leg up in the competitive labor market, RCISD pursued and achieved designation as a T-STEM Academy in the 2012-2013 school year. It aims to bring real-world relevance to students and empower them to pursue careers in up-and-coming STEM fields. RCISD has instituted an innovative curriculum that uses technology, evidence-based practices, and group collaboration to enhance student learning.
To advance the objectives of its STEM instructional program and project-based learning approach, the district founded engineering and agricultural research centers. Students work on research projects tailored to the needs of the local economy, like studying how weather patterns affect crops, training in large animal veterinary sciences, or getting certified in drone flight to inspect windmills.
Propelled by the drive to have one of the best small rural schools in the state, Roscoe’s leadership reframed challenges as opportunities to find a solution—an attitude that has carried through to students, teachers, and the community. Roscoe’s ECHS has expanded local workforce development and revitalized the community, with more people moving to Roscoe simply so their children can enroll in the school.
RCISD set a goal that 90 percent of its students would graduate from high school with their associate degree by 2015. From one student earning an associate degree in 2010 to 92 percent of its graduating class doing so in 2016, Roscoe Collegiate not only met—but exceeded—its ambitious goals. The school has set its sights on a new target for 2020 that 100 percent of students will earn both an associate degree and their high school diploma.
Nelda Howton, an Educate Texas STEM Leadership Coach, says, “I work with 16 high schools around the state, and Roscoe has gone gangbusters ahead of all the others. Kim Alexander [RCISD Superintendent] really tackles any task—if it’s going to be good for our kids, then we are going to figure out how to do it. That attitude has sailed through the entire model.”
Early College High School and STEM Academy initiatives are pushing the boundaries of education. Schools like RCISD are giving a voice to students as they take ownership of their education and explore career paths in critical STEM fields.
Safal Partners conducted a case study of RCISD to serve as a model of school transformation for other schools, districts, educators, and administrators. We interviewed school leaders, teachers, board members, students, and community members to synthesize best practices and lessons learned. Read the full report here. To learn more about Roscoe Collegiate ISD, visit its website.
Image Credits: Roscoe Collegiate ISD