PHS keeps its name and adds a new one
By RICHARD MARK GLOVER
PRESIDIO – Presidio High School will keep its name after a unanimous vote Tuesday night by the Presidio Independent School District Board of Trustees.
The vote also sanctioned a new division of the school called the William Soza Early College High School, which will operate under a recently signed memorandum of understanding with the University of Texas of the Permian Basin in Odessa.
“It will soon be possible for our students to earn a diploma from Presidio High School and knock out two years of college,” said school board president Carlos Nieto.
Most of the college classes available to PHS students will be web-based instruction and comprise a broad spectrum of disciplines, including English, engineering, sociology, kinesiology, psychology, finance, chemistry and education. Freshmen through seniors are eligible, provided they pass a college entrance exam. Already 72 PHS students are qualified.
“We are not a social welfare institution that just produces jobs, although we are the number one employer in Presidio,” Nieto said of the school district. “We are primarily an education facility. Our students are second to none. This year alone we’ve had a 100 percent graduation rate; we sent three students (Presidio rocketry team members) to the White House to meet with President Obama, and had our students present at the Smithsonian Institute (a presentation that netted a real science project designed by three Presidio High School class of 2012 graduates to hitch a ride on the International Space Station in September).”
The school name issue cropped up when trustees voted in December 2011 to rename PHS in memory and honor of the late William Soza.
Soza, a Presidio native and PHS grad who attended the University of Texas at Austin, went on to a successful career as a Certified Public Accountant, creating a large accounting firm in Virginia. He was awarded the Hispanic Businessman of the Year by the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in 1998 for establishing one of the largest, successful, and most-profitable minority-owned accounting firms in the country. He also helped charter a bank. Soza died in 2011 at age 75.
He never forgot his high school alma mater and awarded hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarships to PHS grads over the years. His crowning jewel are four-year full scholarships to UT Austin, his collegiate alma mater.
His widow, Suzan Soza, and his family have established a $1 million endowment for the school, so the Soza scholarships may continue in perpetuity.
Nieto told the International on Wednesday he believed he had formed a positive consensus to rename the school when four former Presidio school board presidents, representing about 40 years of school leadership, gave their approval to the name change: Daniel DeAnda, Rosendo Hernandez, Richard Joachim, and Mario Vargas.
The outcry from current and former PHS students and some retired and current Presidio educators, took issue with that initial decision.
The result of Tuesday night’s decision was a win-win situation, Nieto said: PHS remains and a new school-within-a-school will honor Mr. Soza.
In other matters Tuesday evening, the Board of Trustees also voted unanimously to keep the tax rate unchanged.
“Even though we lost $1.25 million in funding from the state, we’re biting the bullet,” Superintendent Dennis McEntire said.
The school board also recognized a number of people for their service to the school, including Brewster and Presidio County game wardens Zach Moerbe, Matt Bridgewater and Andrew Banda for their service leading PHS students in the one-day Desert Operations Class in July. Topics covered included first aid, map reading, temporary shelters and vehicle operation.
“This is the first and I hope not the last year of this program,” said Nieto. “These are our partners in protecting and realizing the value of nature.”
Steve Kanetzky of S. Kanetzky Engineering was recognized for not only acting as the lead consultant in the summer renovation of the high school but leading a four-day tour of PHS students to Austin and San Marcos where they visited a number of sites, including the engineering departments at the University of Texas and Texas State University.
“They had a broad exposure to engineering,” said Kanetzky.
Kanetzky is also working on the 20KW solar power station that will be built at the elementary school later this year. The high school already produces up to 25 percent of its energy needs with a 75KW solar power station commissioned in 2011.
Mandarin Chinese language instructor Wei Hong Yin was introduced at the board meeting. He will teach Mandarin at PHS this year and is sponsored by the International Institute of Education. He is the only Mandarin Chinese instructor from China teaching in Texas.
“We’re bringing the Chinese language to our school to prepare our students for the future,” said Nieto.
The board also approved unanimously a $1/hour raise for all custodian and food service workers at PISD.
The board approved a one-year pilot pre-kindergarten program. The class will begin at the pre-k wing of the elementary school this semester and is available to all 3-year-olds who will turn 4 by December 31, 2012.
Concerns about the federally mandated Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) scoring system of No Child Left Behind was addressed by ninth-grade Academy Principal John Schaefer.
“It can’t happen,” said Schaefer, regarding the 2014 reading and math requirements of a 100 percent passing rate.
AYP requires that 100 percent of students pass the reading and math tests in 2014. At present, according to Schaefer, only 44 percent of Texas schools made the AYP benchmark in the 2011-2012 school year. That number is expected to drop further this year as the requirements become more stringent.
The irony at PISD is that the PHS class of 2012 had a 100 percent graduation rate, and the Texas Education Agency currently rates the district, the middle and high schools as academically acceptable and the elementary as a recognized campus.
“All our scores have gone up,” said McEntire, who stressed that the district’s academic excellence would continue to be pursued.
Reporter Robert L. Halpern contributed to this report.
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