In 2007, Las Cruces launched an unprecedented public-private community initiative. Leaders from multiple business sectors, elected and city officials, Mesilla Valley Economic Development Alliance and representatives of both Chambers of Commerce worked in partnership with all levels of the area’s educational community. Superintendents from Las Cruces, Gadsden and Hatch Public Schools, as well as presidents of Doña Ana Community College and New Mexico State University joined the team. The group committed to sitting together at the same table to solve the same problem and improve the future for youth and the community.
The work was incubated in the Education Committee of the Las Cruces Chamber of Commerce, which became the Regional Education Initiative (REI). REI brought a similar composition of leaders together to analyze existing conditions and identify best practices that could be employed to significantly reduce the drop-out rate in Las Cruces.
Two years of research included industry analysis, academic analysis, focus groups, a workforce survey and GAP analysis. The REI group concluded that no shared vision of success existed among the educational entities or the community. The high school drop-out rate was high, and not consistently tracked. Students didn’t see the value in continuing their education and dropped out for a variety of reasons. Students also felt no connection with an adult who would encourage them to continue their education and explain the value of staying in school.
Best practices research revealed where the greatest success could be found: Smaller learning communities; knowledge that could be applied to “real world” jobs; workforce opportunities through career and technical education; and collaborative efforts between education, business and economic development. While some pieces and parts of best practices were employed in the community, those weren’t occurring at a scale that made a significant impact.
REI formed The Bridge in 2009 to facilitate collaboration across sectors and to support implementation of best practices that advance education and engage youth in the workforce. Since then, The Bridge continued working to build on the success of the Early College High School and the close partnership between education, economic development and business sectors. Leaders from the board of directors have stepped into other leadership roles statewide, helping bring innovation and success to scale, forge policy and continue to build the strongest pathways for student success.