Valero Energy awards $8.4 million to SAISD

SAISD received an $8.4 million grant on Wednesday morning from the Valero Energy Foundation, providing college exposure, acceptance and completion focus for SAISD students. (Photo, Christina Acosta)

The San Antonio Independent School District, through the SAISD Foundation, was awarded a five-year, $8.4 million grant, from Valero Energy Foundation (VEF) on Wednesday.

The grant will fund the district’s “Pipeline for College Success” program, a San Antonio initiative and first for the state of Texas focused on increasing the number of students who enroll in and complete college. The district is expanding its role to ensure that more students visit college campuses before applying, and through the critical first year and beyond.

SAISD Superintendent Pedro Martinez had this vision to keep track of these students after viewing the model from the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) San Antonio, a network of free, open-enrollment, college-preparatory public schools dedicated to students in underserved communities. He decided it was time to push the district’s 2400 students to a similar track to not only get into schools around the state, but also across the nation.

“When I saw what KIPP was doing, I realized few districts in the country are tracking their students to college,” said Martinez. “They track them for years and I thought we have to do it for our district and envision that I have, so we started this pilot at Jefferson. [With this grant, students] can reach their dreams.”

The new Pipeline for College Success program will be instrumental in helping the district achieve its five-year college goals, which call for having 80 percent of graduates attend college, with 50 percent attending a four-year institution and 10 percent enrolled in a Tier-One university by the year 2020.

The grant fund began this school year, allowing the district to provide for two new College Bound Advisors at all seven comprehensive high schools to: increase the focus on college readiness; increase the number of students going on to attend two-year and four-year colleges and universities; triple the number of students who are able to participate in college tours; and establish an office that tracks SAISD graduates through college completion.

This new grant will be used to add 14 full-time College Bound Advisors to support seniors at each of SAISD’s seven traditional high schools, with SAISD funding an additional college bound advisor for each of its four non-traditional high schools.

“This is a historic announcement for San Antonio and Texas because it features a unique collaboration between SAISD public schools, KIPP charter schools, and Valero. They share one common goal: educate and equip students for success,” said Joe Gorder, Valero chairman, president and chief executive officer and VEF chairman.  

The funding follows a $3 million Valero grant in 2015 to KIPP San Antonio Public Schools for their KIPP Through College system (KTC), with a portion going to support a collaboration with SAISD to share best practices and improve student college-completion rates. The partnership began with a pilot program at Jefferson High School to adapt elements from the KTC system and includes ongoing professional development for counselors and advisors at all SAISD high schools.

State Rep. Diego Bernal (TX-123) talk to high school students about their future plans. (photo, Christina Acosta

State Representative Diego Bernal (TX-123) lauded the accomplishments SAISD achieved to make higher education crucial for the future of students. He would like to see these students move forward and come back to the city on the rise.

“I’m one of the folks that believes that education is the key to everything,” said Rep. Bernal (TX-123). “Once you add education, it affects everyone. We are providing more opportunities for the kids and they are holding up their end of the bargain by wanting more. This new grant reveals the best of what we have to the country.”

The new advisors will be dedicated to juniors and seniors and ensuring they are bound for success after high school. This will free up existing college-readiness counselors at each high school to focus on students in earlier years and ensuring they are engaging in college-readiness activities.

Funding also will be used to create the Postsecondary Support Office, which will be staffed by two alumni support coordinators to track students through college. The office will be dedicated to supporting students after high school graduation to encourage college completion.

To help ensure more students see college as part of their future, the district will use grant money to cover the cost of annual college visits across the country for 250 students – significantly increasing the number of high-achieving students who are able to participate in a proven, successful program.

Aspiring to be a physician with a degree from Rice University, this is the opportunity 16 year-old Jude Tovar, a junior at Highlands High School, was waiting for. Before the program, Tovar was planning to go to a lower income school without any help from the school’s college resources. However, with the grant, Tovar stated to La Prensa that his future has exceeded his and other students’ expectations.

“Its very beneficial because in the long run it benefits our future. This grant is very good for us whether we decide to go to college in state or out of state. The more money we have, the better programs we can get into to ensure that we have a future,” said Tovar.