When Donna ISD Superintendent Dr. Hafedh Azaiez took the helm as DISD’s leader, he accepted the challenge of pursuing a plan to move the district to the next level. At the top of his list was launching an Early College High School, a move that required support from the Texas Education Agency (TEA).

Six months into his role, his goal is now a reality. In February, TEA approved DISD’s stand-alone Early College High School proposal, paving the way for more advanced courses to become available for DISD students.

“We’re very excited about the designation of an Early College High School for Donna ISD,” Dr. Azaiez said. “It will help us fulfill one of our school board’s strategic goals which is to equip all our students with the knowledge and skills needed to succeed in college, enter the workforce or join the military.”

DISD will work with South Texas College to implement dual credit courses at the designated campus. Upon graduation from school, a student could earn up to 60 college hours. The hours may also be directed toward obtaining a bachelor’s degree.

“The great thing about the Early College High School concept is that our students will not have to pay to earn college credit hours in Donna,” Dr. Azaiez said.

Dr. Azaiez said Early College High School is intended to focus on students least likely to attend college by providing them the opportunity to obtain an associate degree while in high school.

“Many of our students don’t go to college because they can’t afford it,” Dr. Azaiez said. “That’s why we have committed in our strategic plan to provide higher education opportunities for our students who have to work immediate after graduating high school. This will allow our students to secure an associate degree while they’re in high school. This is just the beginning of bigger things for our students and our community.”

Planning for the new Early College High School will take place during the 2019-2020 school year with doors scheduled to open in 2020-2021. The district plans to begin with freshmen and then add more student to become a full-fledged high school over the course of four year.

“Our school board is very supportive of this decision,” Dr. Azaiez said. “They’re all very excited about it because they understand this will provide so many opportunities and choices for our students.”

Veteran’s Middle School seventh grader Alexa Cardenas Polanco will be a freshman when the Early College High School opens. She is excited and intends to take advantage of this new opportunity.

“My dream is to become a surgeon and an Early College High School will help me advance. I can get up to 60 hours of free college credit. This would help my parents a lot. They wouldn’t have to worry. I’m very excited about it.”

Dr. Azaiez said the location of the Early College High School and other details will be addressed during the planning stages. “Our staff and our community will be very engaged of any decision we’ll be making.”