The list is quite impressive: ranked number 16 in the nation on Newsweek‘s “Beating the Odds” list; earned seven stars on the state accountability assessments, the highest number of distinctions available; and named a 2012 National Excellence in Urban Education Award winner. Now, Trinidad “Trini” Garza Early College High School can add National Blue Ribbon nomination, which is awarded to the top national schools that help close the achievement gaps among students, to its list of accolades.
While school leaders say they appreciate the accolades, nothing trumps the work the teachers and staff do each day to empower students and prepare each of them to succeed.
“Garza ECHS has a culture of achievement and a culture of kindness,” Principal Janice Lombardi said. “Our culture provides non-threatening conditions where students, parents, and faculty become lifelong learners; the outcome is that each individual’s learning curve is exponential. There is no punishment for taking academic risks, no systemic anxiety about failure.”
As an early college program, Garza students have the opportunity to earn their high school diploma while earning up to 60 credit hours toward an associate degree. Most of the students are the first in their family to attend college, a huge accomplishment for a school that demographically sits in an area where about 10 percent of the population has a college degree.
The school takes great pride in its ability to take students from all walks of life and help them achieve by giving them clear expectations and ensuring that each classroom has a highly-effective teacher who considers their work more than just a job.
“If you get into teaching for anything other than it being a calling, you’re in the wrong profession,” AP Calculus teacher Travis Smith said. “These students are too important for anything less. This not a fallback career for us, it is a calling.”
Smith left an engineering job at Texas Instruments seven years ago and has never looked back.
“Could I be making a lot more money for a lot less work? Absolutely,” Smith explained. “But every time the light comes on for one of my students, and they finally understand the concept I’ve been working with them on, I get paid.”
Earning a National Blue Ribbon nomination is a huge accomplishment, one that is creating a lot of excitement in the community.
“The entire community of learners at Garza ECHS—from teachers to students to parents—is so excited to have been nominated,” Lombardi said. “Our school’s collaborative efforts to change the lives of students through many opportunities has been recognized as one of the best, and for that we are both proud and humbled at the same time—proud of our accomplishments and humbled by the work that we have left to do.”
Harry Stone Montessori is the second district school nominated for the award. The U.S. Department of Education will announce the winners of the 2015 National Blue Ribbon School designation later this month.