As Brownsville native Ruben Cortez Jr. prepares to take office on the State Board of Education, he says his election will give the Rio Grande Valley "a seat at the table and a voice on the board."
Cortez, 38, was elected to the state board in November, replacing Democrat Mary Helen Berlanga of Corpus Christi, the longtime District 2 representative who decided not to seek re-election.
Cortez, also a Democrat, will be officially sworn in Tuesday at Porter High School, where he graduated. His mother, Justice of the Peace Linda Salazar, will do the honors.
The Brownsville Independent School District is hosting the 2 p.m. ceremony in the Porter auditorium. Both Cortez and Salazar served on the BISD Board of Trustees
Enrique Escobedo, the BISD board president, said he supports Cortez being sworn in at Porter. He congratulated him on his election and said he hopes this will be the beginning of a long and positive relationship. Escobedo defeated Cortez for his seat on the BISD board in 2010.
"I reminded him, as I constantly remind my colleagues and myself, that even though we have so many high-profile issues, our main pursuit is to provide a quality education in a safe environment for learning," Escobedo said. "I hope this is the start of a good working relationship. I'm a firm believer in moving forward to attain our goals."
The state board's responsibilities include establishing public school curriculum in Texas, approving textbooks and managing the state's permanent school fund. The new board will hold its first meeting Jan. 30 in Austin. All 15 seats were up for election in November and new members will be sworn in at the meeting.
Right away, they will be asked to approve first reading of a new fine arts curriculum, which is "approved in preliminary form and ready to go," Cortez said.
The preliminary curriculum can be amended, and Cortez said he has been busy asking Valley superintendents "if they're OK with what we're asking them to teach."
He said he has been reaching out to Valley superintendents and school officials in an effort to give the region a voice on the board.
"The Valley as a region has been overlooked for too many years," he said. "My hope is that the Valley can be part of shaping the future."
Immediately, he is making appointments to the board's committee on Languages Other Than English. By year's end, the board will begin work on a new Career and Technical Education curriculum.
"I'm a strong advocate of starting CTE at the middle school level," he said. "We need to bring this down to the middle schools and get these kids ready with trades and apprenticeships and get them workforce ready"
Cortez has one year left on his term on the Region One Education Service Center Board of Directors in Edinburg. The board has requested a waiver from Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams to allow him to serve out his term while serving in his new position.
Jack Damron, Region One ESC executive director, said Cortez will bring a Deep South Texas perspective to the state board. Region One, part of the Texas Education Agency, stretches from Laredo to Brownsville.
"I can say Mr. Cortez is very much concerned with the successes of our students and that he will work hard to bring about the right kinds of decisions that will be beneficial for our kids," Damron said. "The good thing is that he has some very keen perspectives of the needs that exist within our schools and our communities. He is one who will definitely be outspoken for those needs. He will take a bold stance in advocating for our children and our schools."
Cortez's district includes the Valley counties and then follows the Gulf Coast through Corpus Christi and Victoria to Matagorda County, encompassing 17 counties in all.
"Board members don't have a staff and they don't get paid," Cortez said. "Going in, my resources are going to be Valley superintendents and Valley school board members. ... I've met with the superintendents in the Cameron County and Hidalgo County areas and I will work my way north."
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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