Written by Jonathan Adams and Frank Garza
For two years, Enrique Ruiz, Jr., Principal of Premont High School, made gradual changes in the school district, reducing truancy, increasing test score performance and trying to focus on their financial problems.
In spite of these changes the school is still hanging on by a thread, and may still be closed by the Texas Education Agency (TEA). The only hope, Ruiz said, is for TEA Commissioner Michael Williams to allow Texas A&M University-Kingsville and Premont to work in partnership to further improve the performance at Premont.
Dr. Steven Tallant, President of TAMUK, confirmed the University was approached for help.
“We were asked (by Williams) to work with them in a collaborative partnership and help them do better at educating their students,” Tallant said.
Williams has yet to make a decision to close down Premont High School or allow the partnership to come to fruition, Tallant said.
“I think if we really want public and higher education to be the most efficient possible, we need to work together,” Tallant said.
State Rep J.M. Lozano (R-Kingsville), a Premont graduate, has requested this and other items to help “save” Premont.
“A community without a school is a community without a soul. I’ve slowly watched Premont deteriorate. Crime has gone up and the economy is worse than it was in 1998,” said Lozano.
Lozano said it was his job to reverse that. The first step is to save the school. After that, Premont can focus on bringing jobs back to the town.
“In 10 to 20 years, there will be oil drilling in Jim Wells County. Premont needs to hold the line right now until we get to that point,” Lozano said.
If the school were to shut down, though, the city would die in about two to three years. It’s one of the main employers in the city, Lozano said.
“It’s sad that [closure] is even an option. The closest school district is La Gloria…but they can’t afford to take Premont students…Falfurrias can’t because there’s a school district between them, so they would end up having to go to San Diego.”
But Lozano said he would not let that happen. He went to the Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Michael Williams and Chancellor John Sharp of the Texas A&M system and asked them if there was something that could be done for Premont ISD.
“Texas A&M-Kingsville has the brainpower and the people that are willing to donate the time and resources,” Lozano said.
TEA is still waiting to see what proposal is going to be brought to the table by TAMUK, said Debbie Ratcliffe, Director of Media for TEA.
“Between now and the rest of the school year, the Commissioner will have to make a decision to close the school or give it another year,” Ratcliffe said.
According to Ruiz if the proposal follows through, the schools would be in more of a partnership.
“I believe this partnership will increase attendance and give the students something to look forward to,” Ruiz said.
Ruiz also said he hopes the partnership will give TAMUK the opportunity to inform the high school about what incoming freshman are weak at.
The partnership will not include monetary assistance. President Stephen Tallant said the idea is to be more advisory based.