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Harlingen High School South principal Fernando Reyes attended an institute at the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Principals’ Center this summer as part of the 2017 Raise Your Hand Texas-Harvard Leadership Program.

He was one of 110 school leaders across Texas to be chosen to participate because of his potential to affect significant change at his campus, district, and throughout the region.

Reyes attended the Closing the Achievement Gap: Strategies for Excellence with Equity Institute taught by Ron Ferguson, Adjunct Lecturer on Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School from July 10-14.

“I’m so appreciative for Raise Your Hand Texas and the opportunity to attend the Harvard Leadership Program,” said Reyes. “I finally have a true understanding of why there is such a disparity in academic performance between different groups of students. This program presented us with new strategies to meet the challenge of responding effectively to racial, ethnic, and socio-economic differences.”

Guided by the adage, “students don’t care what you know until they know that you care,” school leaders explored different methods of reaching students such as improving teacher engagement with underperforming students, creating peer-to-peer support for achievement, and involving families in raising achievement.

Along with gaining a wealth of knowledge from Harvard professors and graduate students, Reyes had the chance to network with principals around the country who are facing similar challenges.

“We saw examples and met with principals whose underprivileged group is performing almost or just as well as the affluent group. It can be done, and that’s what we’re learning,” he said.

Reyes is eager to implement what he learned for the benefit of students at Harlingen South.

“Here in the Rio Grande Valley, the gaps in performance are mostly due to socio-economic factors. At Harlingen South, we have made significant strides in that area of our performance and have increased scores by at least 50 percent. We are very proud of the progress we’re making,” he said. “We owe it to our kids, and we owe it to our future to keep growing and moving the bar up. He [Ferguson] challenged us to move the entire student population in the right direction.”

Reyes and fellow attendees will meet again in February to discuss their progress and what methods are working with their student population.

Raise Your Hand Texas, a nonprofit advocacy organization, sponsored principals across the state to attend training at the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Principals’ Center. The center offers a variety of professional development programs designed to empower and inspire school leaders.

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