This article originally appeared in the Friday July 26, 2019 issue of the Progress Times.
The La Joya Independent School District is working to ensure that every student registered remains registered.
During a special called meeting held at noon on Wed. July 24, 2019, the school district board of trustees listened to a presentation of the Student Retention Plan, District-Wide Attendance Plan, District Emergency Preparedness Plan and Student Recruitment Action Plan for the upcoming school year. The student retention plan, lead by Superintendent Gisela Saenz, was presented by Assistant Superintendent for Student Services Ricardo Villarreal.
“The purpose of the student retention plan is to prevent and reduce withdrawals as well as improve ADA (Average Daily Attendance) enrollment in our school district,” Villarreal said. “The office of Student Services and campuses will implement tasks that support and encourage student retention, as well as prevent and reduce withdrawals.”
Monitoring of the plan will be done by the Student Services department and campuses on a daily basis. All schools in LJISD will be establishing committees to develop goals and an action plan, and will meet regularly to review data, statuses and progress.
Villarreal said they would be using effective approaches to address student needs immediately, including hosting student/family conferences, gauging the parents in the district’s decision-making process and making school events more open to parents.
“This is all to make for a better working environment for our staff and better environment for our students and parents,” Villarreal said. “Everybody wins.”
The office of Student Services and campuses intend to identify appropriate activities that would promote retention and improve school culture. The retention plan also involves a documented multi-step process (withdrawal protocol) for campus and central administration to follow in the event that a parent attempts to withdraw their student from LJISD in order to provide potential solutions.
Each step is taken when parents/students are continuing to pursue withdrawing from LJISD.
Step one is that prior to the withdrawal of a student, a parent/family conference will be conducted by a supervisor or assistant principal (if a supervisor or assistant principal cannot attend, a counselor will meet with the parent).
“During this conference, the reason for withdrawal will be discussed,” Villarreal said. “The administrator will attempt to solve any concerns with students in school; all efforts should be made by the school to retain the student.”
Step two is similar – if a parent is still pursuing withdrawal, the campus principal will meet with the family to solve their concerns. Step 3 involves the office of Student Services to assign personnel to the case, and a central office staff member and the campus principal will meet with the family to attempt to solve the issue.
Step four states that if a student is withdrawn at this point, the rest of the exit interview record is completed by the campus and placed in the student’s permanent record. Step five is that the principal must report the outcome of the withdrawal conference the following day to Villarreal, and will send a copy of the documented exit interview and parent conference forms to Villarreal via email.
Step six says that documentation will be kept at the school and Student Services department, and the reports will be presented at every principal’s meeting. If a student is withdrawing because they are moving, the process will conclude after step one.
“This is a new initiative that Dr. Saenz asked us to embark on, and we’re going to do that with full strength,” Villarreal said.
Board Vice President Alex Cantu said the trustees were excited about the retention plan.
“At least we’re going to hear the feedback and see exactly what is going on,” Cantu said. “And we may be able to retain more of our kids if we actually know what’s going on. I think it’s going to be very effective.”
During the public comments, Marcela Silva, who has worked for LJISD for 25 years, spoke on the legacy of Dr. Alda Benavides, the former superintendent of LJISD. Silva said that some sort of commemoration of Benavides by district employees should be put on by the district.
“I humbly request that the board consider recognizing and giving tribute to Dr. Benavides in our general assembly for the legacy that she left behind,” Silva said. “Her countless [efforts] and I could go on and on for more than three minutes – about the accomplishments that Dr. B has given this district; she is La Joya.”
Silva said she felt that the district needed closure.
“We need to give that tribute of everything that she’s done for us,” Silva said, saying that she met Dr. Benavides’ mother at a church mass and the 92-year-old woman asked why her daughter was “let go.”
“I didn’t have an answer for her,” Silva added. “So this would be an awesome way of showing how much we appreciate everything that she did for this district, for me. She built many relationships throughout the district.”
In the Business and Finance part of the meeting, the school board approved a contract for services for Performance Services Incorporated (PSI) and did not go into details about what the contract entails.
PSI has had contracts approved within the district as well as the city of La Joya, and has attempted to get a contract passed in the Mission Consolidated Independent School District and with the city of Mission to install water meters and reduce energy costs. The plan for the city of Mission, which has not been approved by Mission city council, would cost $17.7 million.
The LJISD board of trustees unanimously approved the contract with PSI.