Texas Border Business –
Daniel P. King (BS ’76, M.Ed. ’77) believes in second chances. So much so that the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District (PSJA ISD) superintendent, along with a team of teachers, staff, and volunteers have gone door to door within their Rio Grande Valley school district to reach out to high school dropouts and convince them to return to high school and earn their degrees.
When King assumed the role of superintendent in 2007, the PSJA ISD – a border school district serving almost 32,000 students – had a school dropout rate of 18.7 percent, almost double the 8.8 percent state average. But due to King’s efforts and leadership, the dropout rate has decreased dramatically over the past seven years to 3.1 percent, significantly lower than the statewide average of 6.8 percent, according to the PSJA ISD superintendent’s office.
These statistics have garnered national attention, particularly with the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI), an international forum established in 2005 by the Clinton Foundation, a nonprofit organization founded by former U.S. President Bill Clinton. CGI convenes annually to implement solutions to the world’s most pressing problems.
For this year’s conference, June 13-14, CGI asked King to travel to Chicago, Illinois and share the work the PSJA ISD has accomplished by reconnecting with dropouts and giving them a new opportunity to complete their high school coursework, pursue a college degree, and obtain certificates and industry qualifications.
During the event, former U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton gave a special mention to the exemplary work of King and his effective expertise.
“Hear from practitioners like a school superintendent from the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, who started door-to-door counseling for young people in his district who have dropped out, and a new vocational training program to prepare students for good jobs,” Clinton said.
Under King’s leadership, education experts say the PSJA ISD has become a state and national model and has inspired state legislation (SB 975) in Texas in the areas of dropout prevention and recovery. At the CGI, King worked with a subgroup to help draft plans that would help other school districts within the United States and other countries improve their dropout rates.
King’s dedication to education began early in his life. As an alumnus from The University of Texas Pan-American, King said he started out having trouble picking a major but through the mentorship and guidance of UTPA professors such as Dr. Tom Semper, Buddy Baker and many others, he realized he wanted to enter a profession to help others.
“UTPA is a great part of my background and I feel it really prepared me for the work I do today,” said King. “The UTPA professors who inspired me motivated me to do the same.”
The transformative impact King has made locally as well as regionally and nationally stems from his modest philosophy on leadership.
“It is very important to recognize and build on the strengths that already exist in the community and to identify the biggest barriers to success and tackle those problems immediately,” said King.
The American Association of School Administrators named King, who has served 14 years as a superintendent for the PSJA ISD and the Hidalgo ISD, the 2013 Texas Superintendent of the Year.
“One of the things that satisfies me the most is that I have always known the strength, talent, and potential that resides here in the RGV,” King said. “For many years this area was seen as backwards but I have never believed that. It has so many unique possibilities and I see great leaders emerging all the time, I am pleased to see the RGV getting recognized.”