Originally published in the Las Cruces Bulletin in March 2018.
In February, Las Cruces Public Schools celebrated the fact that it had achieved the highest four-year graduation rate in the state.
Truly, it is an amazing accomplishment to be celebrated by every teacher, administrator, staff member, and district leader who all played their unique role in propelling the class of 2016-2017 across the finish line in record numbers. We, as a community, thank you all for the hard work, commitment, and passion that you pour into students every day to set them up for success far beyond their school years.
We, as a community, also have much to celebrate. A decade ago, an unprecedented group of community leaders set out to achieve this exact goal.
One of those leaders was Patsy Duran, a true legend in Las Cruces for her incredible contributions across this community, whom we lost in February. Patsy often was at the center of something significant, whether it was the leadership of the Memorial Medical Center Foundation (which became the Community Foundation of Southern New Mexico), the Greater Las Cruces Chamber of Commerce, or the Las Cruces Public Schools School Board.
It was during that time with Patsy at the epicenter of change when missions aligned, and a unique opportunity was born.
It began with conversation in the Chamber’s Education Committee about the need, “to do something about education”, because half of Las Cruces high school students were dropping out before they crossed the finish line. And those decisions carried devastating economic consequences for them, their families, and the community as a whole.
Patsy had many gifts, but one of her greatest was the ability to recruit people to become part of making community change. The conversation that began in the Chamber grew into a community-wide conversation through the Regional Education Initiative (REI) – with more than 32 leaders across the education, business, economic development, government and nonprofit worlds working to understand why students weren’t finishing and what could be done about it.
Employers expressed their challenges with a ready workforce. Educators expressed their challenges. Students expressed their challenges and what it was that either had prevented them from completion or what was posing a threat to their finishing.
Then, with everything out in the open and on the table, the members of the Regional Education Initiative determined to make the changes necessary to make the system work for students and to equip them for academic and economic success. Then, they formalized the conversations that would drive change across all the systems in a non-profit organization that would remain the table where shared commitment to achieving shared goals could be achieved – The Bridge of Southern New Mexico.
So here we are, 10 years later, and the goal number-one has been realized! This community did something incredible! Every member of the REI, the Bridge’s Board of Directors, the funders who have supported the work, committed partners across this community all have something to celebrate.
Congratulations to every parent and grandparent who supported their student’s success. Every community member who came alongside a student as a mentor. Every person in this community who personally took on the responsibility of helping a young person cross the finish line.
It’s exactly what Patsy would have wanted. Her community coming together to make powerful, positive change.
What an incredible legacy!