Jim Nelson, Executive Director, AVID Center
Many of you know that I grew up in Odessa, Texas, practiced law there for many years, and began my adventure in public education as a School Board member there in 1984. When I became AVID's second Executive Director in 2006, AVID had no presence in Odessa. Since 2007, that has dramatically changed. In 2007, a team from Odessa, including administrators and members of their Education Foundation, visited AVID sites in McKinney and Richardson, TX. One of the foundation's board members, Colin Sewell, was especially instrumental in bringing AVID to the Ector County school district (which encompasses Odessa). They began the program in all eight of their secondary schools that fall, and later added 23 of their 24 elementary schools.
In 2009, the President of the University of Texas branch in Odessa (UT Permian Basin) approached us about implementing AVID on his campus. Dr. David Watts was very concerned about the attrition rates at his growing campus. He was particularly concerned about the failure of too many students who had finished in the top half of their graduation classes to continue their studies beyond the freshman year. His inspirational leadership, and doggedness, led us to implement AVID postsecondary on his campus that fall. It has proven to be a leader of our postsecondary efforts. Additionally, the Chamber of Commerce created a committee to carry college readiness as a focus of their efforts to improve the educational advancement of the students from West Texas. In other words, AVID quickly came to be a community-wide effort. It is now part of their educational DNA and remains strong in spite of budget cuts.
On April 14, I returned to Odessa to attend the annual AVID student celebration. It was held in the UTPB gymnasium and was attended by more than 1,000 AVID students, their parents and families, and supporters from throughout the community. The gym was packed! Like many of these events I have attended in the last five years, it was part celebration and acknowledgement of work well done, and part pep rally. I was overwhelmed and thrilled.
They honored 63 graduating seniors, all but one of whom is going on to college. The other student is joining the Air Force and hopes to become a pilot. Many of the students plan to attend UTPB or the local community college (Odessa College). Odessa College, by the way, is joining the AVID family this fall. These students who are staying local will have access to continuing support. Nearly all of the graduates will be the first in their family to attend college. They are the vanguard of hundreds, and hopefully, thousands, who will follow.
I've always been proud to be from Odessa (as is my wife), but never more proud than that evening. All of our work, and theirs, was on display in the bright faces of these young people. My old friends are making a difference in ways even they cannot imagine, and I want to thank them for their commitment, dedication and love for these students.
It was good to go home.