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Valley Interfaith and School Reform

Organizing for Power in South Texas

By Dennis Shirley

Publication Year: 2002

Can public schools still educate America’s children, particularly in poor and working class communities? Many advocates of school reform have called for dismantling public education in favor of market-based models of reform such as privatization and vouchers. By contrast, this pathfinding book explores how community organizing and activism in support of public schools in one of America’s most economically disadvantaged regions, the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas, has engendered impressive academic results. Dennis Shirley focuses the book around case studies of three schools that have benefited from the reform efforts of a community group called Valley Interfaith, which works to develop community leadership and boost academic achievement. He follows the remarkable efforts of teachers, parents, school administrators, clergy, and community activists to take charge of their schools and their communities and describes the effects of these efforts on students’ school performance and testing results. Uniting gritty realism based on extensive field observations with inspiring vignettes of educators and parents creating genuine improvement in their schools and communities, this book demonstrates that public schools can be vital "laboratories of democracy," in which students and their parents learn the arts of civic engagement and the skills necessary for participating in our rapidly changing world. It persuasively argues that the American tradition of neighborhood schools can still serve as a bedrock of community engagement and academic achievement.

Published by: University of Texas Press

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

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pp. ix-x

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Introduction: COMMUNITY ORGANIZING IN THE RIO GRANDE VALLEY

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pp. xi-xxii

The frontier between the United States and Mexico—which until the Second World War was the site of relatively modest population migration— has in the postwar era turned into one of the most dynamic and heavily traversed national boundaries in the world. The explosive growth of Mexican-origin populations in the major U.S. metropolitan regions has wrought dramatic changes upon North America’s demographic, cultural, political...

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Chaper One: FOUNDING VALLEY INTERFAITH: The Origins of a Grassroots Organization

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pp. 1-23

The Rio Grande Valley of Texas has an unusually rich and complex history as a region of the United States. Wrested from Mexico as part of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, it has ever since beenmarked by alternating periods of contestation and accommodation with the dominant culture in the United States. For the first two-thirds of the twentieth century Mexican immigrants...

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Chapter Two: PARENTAL ENGAGEMENT AT PALMER ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

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pp. 24-42

As noted above, much of the early work of Valley Interfaith focused on improving conditions in the colonias, where concentrated poverty, poor housing conditions, and public health problems were most in evidence. Yet the problems of the colonias were scarcely contained within their geographical boundaries. Their impact was felt throughout all the Valley, affecting the ability of hospitals...

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Chapter Three: CONTESTED CHANGE AT ALAMO MIDDLE SCHOOL

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pp. 43-62

Palmer Elementary was the first school in the Rio Grande Valley to become an Alliance School and to capitalize on the resources offered by the new venture. Its progression within the network has been relatively frictionless, as teachers and parents have supported one another in joint relationships that aim to improve both the school and the community. Yet because of the smooth and gradual progression of its relationship with the community, Palmer...

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Chapter Four: TRANSFORMING SAM HOUSTON ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

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pp. 63-82

In the early 1990s Sam Houston Elementary School could be found in the heart of a barrio called La Paloma by its inhabitants in south-central McAllen, Texas. Although McAllen is a small city by most measures, Sam Houston’s immediate environment appeared very similar to the West Side of San Antonio or the East Side of Austin; tiny shacks packed with immigrant families alternated with more stable middle-class homes, and all kinds...

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Chapter Five: THE CHALLENGES OF COMMUNITY ORGANIZING AND SCHOOL REFORM

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pp. 83-106

In the last fifteen years Valley Interfaith helped effect a number of changes in the Lower Rio Grande Valley that have had a significant impact on community leadership, conditions in the colonias, and school reform. The Lower Valley remains a region of disproportionately high poverty, however, and even though improvements have been made in the colonias and in the schools that serve them, many challenges remain. While gangs might play a minimal role in the school cultures at Palmer, Alamo, and Sam Houston, they...

APPENDIX

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pp. 107-119

NOTES

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pp. 121-135

BIBLIOGRAPHY

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pp. 137-146

INDEX

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pp. 147-151


E-ISBN-13: 9780292796348
E-ISBN-10: 029279634X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780292777644
Print-ISBN-10: 0292777647

Page Count: 176
Illustrations: 1 map, 6 tables, 3 graphs
Publication Year: 2002

Series Title: Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long Series in Latin American and Latino Art and Culture

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Subject Headings

  • Community and school -- Rio Grande Valley.
  • Valley Interfaith (Organization).
  • Rio Grande Valley -- Social conditions.
  • Education -- Rio Grande Valley.
  • Educational change -- Rio Grande Valley.
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