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Cotulla ISD’s new chief inherits designs for big changes
Bulldozers will arrive at Cotulla High School as early as June 2024 to begin demolishing buildings that will have served over 45 years as instructional space for local students.
The school district’s new superintendent, Dr. Ramiro Nava, was hired this year to take over the office formerly held by Supt. Ruben Cervantes and interim Supt. Dr. Jack Seals, and it is an office with an added feature.
Taking pride of place in the district administration building is a three-dimensional model of what the new $65 million Cotulla High School will look like, and Supt. Nava has taken a hands-on role in fine-tuning its design.
The new school was approved in a bond issue put to voters last year and will occupy the existing high school campus with few of the present structures surviving.
Although Supt. Nava acknowledges that while the logistics involved in building a school in place of one that is still in use may seem nightmarish, he and the board of trustees have established a set of construction stages in which portions of the new campus will be finished before the next is tackled.
Dr. Nava sees the project as signaling a door opening for hundreds of La Salle County children, as the new high school represents a 21st century approach to education.
Prominent features of the new school, he says, will be career and technology instruction facilities, a vast dual-purpose auditorium and dining hall, open-air spaces and breezeways, lounges where students can study independently or socialize, a two-story classroom building, and newly added security features.
He compares the overall design and aesthetics to those of a modern airport terminal.
The superintendent inherited the new school design from his predecessors but has taken it as his cue to promote new approaches in furthering the community’s educational reach. Agriculture, carpentry and metal shops will no longer be hidden at the back of the school. Performing arts will be at the heart of the campus. Technology instruction is integrated throughout. Green space and sunlight will prevail in and around classrooms, and grassy courtyards will afford the students a sense of openness in the same manner as colleges and universities.
Campus security will be paramount, Dr. Nava says, as the community expects the school district to protect its children from harm. A $5 million bond authorized this year has helped pay for fencing, surveillance upgrades and controlled-access vestibules at other campuses. The new high school will feature all of those aspects in its design at the same time as it includes covered walkways, outdoor seating and soaring windows.
“We are an educational institution that also does other things,” the superintendent says of the district’s approach to education. “At the high school level, we integrate career and college preparedness in all that we do. We want our students to understand that their high school education is the path to greater things.”
Nava agrees that while Cotulla ISD does much already in two key avenues toward preparing children for adult life, it does not offer any military readiness. Schools with an active reserve officer training corps (ROTC), he says, have recorded improvements in their students’ self discipline and self esteem, attentiveness, punctuality, sense of teamwork, zeal for self improvement and, principally, academic achievement.
“If we only attract ten percent of our students to an ROTC program, that is 35 students to start with,” he adds. “I believe there are already more than that in our district who are interested in a military option.”
The district expects to host an informational meeting for parents of middle school students after the Thanksgiving holiday to assess interests in an ROTC program and to begin talks on the possibility of launching the instructional option.
An application by CISD for a military program must be made to the US Department of Defense, which will in turn assess the district’s capabilities. After that, the school will determine in which branch of the military it will offer training.
“I see it as a win-win,” the superintendent says. “Cotulla has a long history of service to country. I saw that at our recent Veterans Day activities. We have many families whose members served in uniform.
“Students in an ROTC program would get to experience what the modern military has to offer,” he says. “There are competitions in other states, aeronautics and a NASA program… it provides them with other disciplines.
“We are not creating a pipeline into the military,” the superintendent says of a prospective ROTC program, “but this offers something that these kids need. If the board approves it, I’d love to implement it.”
Other options for career instruction, Supt. Nava says, may include cosmetology and culinary arts. To that end, the district expects to keep its Betty Avant Cafetorium and kitchens, should there be interest in additional vocational courses in future.
Nava stops short of guaranteeing that Cotulla ISD will immediately begin teaching a rake of adult careers to students who express the slightest interest.
“Literacy and math are still the focus and must always be at the heart of all education,” he says. “Academically, Cotulla ISD is presently strong. We are rated at a ‘B’ grade by the state. That’s a position from which we can improve, and core subjects are vital to that.
“We want to offer them the options,” the superintendent says of alternate courses, college readiness, dual credit and vocational training, “but if we don’t offer full certification or licensing to those who enroll, then we’re just teaching hobbies.”
Cotulla ISD is registered with a national teacher training program that Nava believes keeps staff current and abreast of changes in education.
“We are coaching up our teachers to be better at their craft,” he says of the continual training. “That includes observing, and increasing their effectiveness in pedagogy.
“This allows us to invest within the district,” Nava adds. “Teachers are the catalyst, and I champion that.”
The new superintendent believes community involvement plays many roles in education, but adds that current events call for added security for the children of La Salle County.
“We all have to be vigilant; it doesn’t cost anything,” he says. “We grew up in a time when the village mindset was prevalent, when everybody looked out for everybody else, and the community took care of its young. Today, after what we have witnessed in recent years, I believe we are coming back to a time when that has value. We are all learning that if you see something, you should say something.”
The superintendent has spent his first month on the job establishing connections with students and staff as well as with city and county governments and law enforcement. He believes those connections are strong and that a spirit of teamwork between the district and all vital components of South Texas life will usher in an era of success for the community’s children.
“My family and I are very grateful to the community for receiving us,” Dr. Nava says. “Everyone has been very welcoming. We offer them all a sincere thank-you. This is a working relationship, but it’s also a community bond.”
Traditional values, core-subject education, life and higher education preparedness, improved self discipline and a positive view of the future are wrapped up in the design for the new high school, and Supt. Nava hopes that historians will help with incorporating a commemorative feature of President Lyndon Johnson, former teacher at Cotulla’s Welhausen School in the 1920s, in the 21st century school.
“Everything that President Johnson did in his political career was founded in what he witnessed and learned here in Cotulla, from social programs to education reform,” the superintendent says. “We would do well to share that lesson with our children.”
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