Brownsville Schools Win Prestigious Award

The Broad Foundation will give the Texas district $1 million in scholarships for graduating seniors.

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Parent support. When Maria Rosa Navarro's daughter, Nora, arrived at Morningside Elementary, the girl didn't speak any English. Now, in the fifth grade, Nora moves seamlessly between the two languages. Teachers say the transition for kids like Nora would be more difficult without the encouragement of parents.

Having a strong parent outreach program has been central to the district's success. Teachers and staff members go beyond making home visits and calling parents every time their child is absent. They're also educating adults. Every week, schools offer parenting classes on everything from how to prepare a healthful salad to how to help a child read. Threatening weather on a recent morning didn't dissuade some 300 parents from showing up for a morning rally called by the district to get families to exercise. After running laps around the track in the district's only football stadium, the parents, mostly stay-at-home moms, moved to a gymnasium, where they danced to salsa music and worked out with medicine balls and jump ropes. District staff members stressed the importance of regular physical activity so they can lower their risk of diabetes.

But like the parent classes and school meetings, the rally was about building trust and empowering parents. "The parents are very eager," says Nicolas Serrata, a veteran kindergarten teacher. "They're always asking, 'How's my kid doing? Does he have any homework?'" Those questions seem to be leading Brownsville schools to all the right answers.