- Associated Press - Thursday, October 13, 2016

ROBSTOWN, Texas (AP) - Mark Oliva’s Achilles’ heel is math, he said.

The Corpus Christi Caller-Times (https://bit.ly/2dMI62r ) reports the 18-year-old Robstown native was held back in fifth and ninth grade because of it, and that just made him feel inadequate. So he dropped out.

“Since I failed I didn’t feel like I belonged,” Oliva said of his time at Robstown High School.

Oliva, who’s enrolled at Robstown ISD’s Salazar Crossroads Academy, takes a different tone now. Up to three potential professions are in his focus: Welder, cosmetologist and dental hygienist. He wants to use a welder’s salary to legitimize and refine his skills with a pair of clippers and later look into pursuing a career in the dental field.

“Now I want to go to college,” he said.

The Robstown ISD board of trustees approved a $250,000 “second chance” campus Oliva credits for his renewed focus on school.

The Salazar Crossroads Academy serves students who have dropped out of district schools or who are at risk of dropping out. The academy opened in 2013 as part of superintendent Maria Vidaurri’s vision for the district. She was hired to lead the district of about 730 in 2013. The dropout rate for the district’s 9-12 grade students was 3.3 percent for the 2013-14 school year, according to state data. The state’s average dropout rate that school year was 2.2 percent.

“We reported to the board (Tuesday night) the district dropout rate is at 1.1 percent,” she said. “And we expect to it be under 1 percent by the end of this year.”

Daily progress monitoring for credit recovery at the academy, smaller class sizes, avenues to earn college credit and technical certifications, as well as a separate campus to streamline the services, have helped curb the district’s dropout rate, Vidaurri said.

This school year, the district hired the city’s mayor as the academy’s dean of instruction. Vidaurri said Mayor Mandy Barrera’s insight as a city official is essential in providing a profession-driven environment for students who may not want to pursue a traditional education. Some just want to get straight to work, she said.

“So we tell them, to get there you also have to get a high school diploma,” Vidaurri said. “The hook is potential careers and doing both hand in hand.”

The Salazar Crossroads Academy is a school of choice, its principal Lorean Ceballos said. The next step in improving educational attainment for the Robstown community is recruiting students who have been out of school up to eight years. She said plans are being ironed out for district officials to begin reaching out to student dropouts who are no older than 26.

“We want to be known as that second opportunity … that second chance that everyone needs at one point or another,” Ceballos said. “But not only that, we also want to be known as the campus that connects kids to postsecondary opportunities. That is graduating kids not only with a high school diploma but also with a certification. Being able to do that for these kids that otherwise are not being successful in the traditional high school setting, that’s what I want our trademark to be.”


Information from: Corpus Christi Caller-Times, https://www.caller.com

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