I am EPISD!

I am ecstatic about the innovative and inspired work happening across the district!

Our I AM EPISD slogan is based on the premise that each of us should take responsibility for and own the positive change we want to see in the District. As Mahatma Gandhi said:You must be the change you wish to see in the world.

I AM EPISD is powerful because it is the signal that we are an organization that is empowering its leaders across every area of our district to shape its own future. Because we can each play a role in creating the new EPISD, we can each have a hand in creating the district we want to be.

From the innovative work being done to open New Tech Schools at Franklin and Irvin to the open dual language campuses across the district, along with the Mesita Early Childhood Center (not to mention all the creative ideas often shared with me), I am 100 percent certain we are heading in a very positive direction.

This past Saturday morning I had the pleasure of spending a few hours with inspired TEAM EPISD members working on reviewing the curriculum that is used in every campus in the District. We were also joined by community members and parents.

First, I want to thank all the individuals who have worked tirelessly on the CMSi analysis and planning. This work is important for us as we closely examine our Curriculum and Instruction organization to make sure it is properly aligned to best support schools and the teaching and learning in our classrooms.

Midway through our session, we transitioned to a strategic discussion regarding “what should our EPISD grads know and be able to do”. This was a thought-provoking and invigorating couple of hours as we tackled this question while considering what should be occurring in our schools and classrooms. This question elicited a couple of hours of inspirational discussion. Participants shared many great ideas about what is happening in our schools and how we might (or should) look in the future.

This spirited conversation encouraged me and others to start a larger community conversation on this topic. To that end, we will soon provide info and dates on upcoming community conversations which will be led by our teachers, administrators and community members. I look forward to seeing the results.

Below you will find a few pictures from our Saturday event. Enjoy.

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Durant’s Dialogue

Dear Teachers,

As a follow-up on the Active Learning Leader Dialogue detailing innovative support for the classroom, I would like to further contextualize our journey. Thank you for the many emails I’ve received giving our new direction approval. We have been very fortunate to receive mentoring from a myriad of experts in our quest to transforming our culture. Today I’m featuring Mr. Tom Vander Ark. He is the founder and CEO of Getting Smart, a mission-driven organization passionate about accelerating and amplifying innovations in teaching and learning. Mr. Vander Ark is a former public school superintendent and founding Executive Director of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation where he had an opportunity to provide two billion dollars of support to urban education. This amazing work sponsoring new and transformed high schools helped lift the national graduation rate from 66 percent in 2000 to 81 percent in 2012.

In support of our District’s new vision and focus on improving instruction, we have retained Mr. Vander Ark and his firm to assist us in developing our Strategic Plan. Because GettingSmart.com is comprised of life-long learners and contributors covering important events, trends, products, and publications across K-12, early, post-secondary education, we have been able to build innovative avenues for our students in EPISD. A couple of examples of this includes our flex-books in high schools replacing the outdated science hard copy textbooks, as well as the planning for creating two new Tech Highs at Irvin and Franklin.

Also, Tom writes a blog every day about what’s happening nationally. Here are a couple of examples from the last two weeks. I think you’ll find he’s on the same journey as we are—trying to figure out how to engage students from challenging backgrounds and provide powerful learning experiences that prepare them for their future, not our past.

Collaborative Culture Fuels Meriden’s Blended Success

What Should High School Graduates Know And Be Able to Do?

What is really important is that Active Learning is at the heart of what keeps our students engaged and that our Active Learning Leaders will be able to support you in moving toward that goal. This is our plan with our vision to improve the deficit findings and recommendations outlined in our CMSi audit report. A consultant such as Tom Vander Ark can and does ask good questions and provides some context, but our leadership team is charting the course so that our talented teachers can have the support and guidance needed to propel our students into a successful future.

We are EPISD! Active Learning is the vision to which Superintendent Cabrera and I are committed. We are learning with and from other Texas districts and are confident that we can create inspiring learning environments that work better for students and teachers. In closing, I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes, “Learning, especially for children, is and will remain a distinctly relationship-based enterprise, so organizational design and development will remain more important than education technology though most breakthroughs will combine both.”  (Tom Vander Ark in Smart Cities).

 

Ivonne Durant, Deputy Superintendent
Academics and School Leadership

EPISD in DC to discuss reauthorization of critical federal legislation and pending state legislation

I traveled to Washington on Friday March 13 to attend the Council of Great City Schools State and Federal Legislative Conference. EPISD is one of 67 urban public school districts on the Council and this annual legislative meeting is critically important to us because we want to be sure we have a voice in and understand legislation and policy at both the state and federal level.

During the weekend conference, we were informed that the President had selected 8 Sups and 3 school board members to personally visit the Whitehouse and discuss the “state of affairs” in urban school districts and the re-authorization of No Child Left Behind.

I can’t imagine anyone keeping their cool when they get an invitation to the White House to meet the President of the United States. I was excited for the District to have a seat at the table, but most of my enthusiasm came at the chance to share the EPISD experience at such an important level.

During our meeting with the President we spoke about federal funding for programs that impact our neediest of students. The federal entitlement funds we receive are critical in our efforts to bring equity to education and close the achievement gap between students of low economic resources and their wealthier classmates. I’m happy to hear the President agrees that we need more entitlement funding and that he opposed efforts to cut it.

The President was also interested in our opinions in other topics and I was eager to share with him the history of what high-stakes testing did to EPISD. Using the cautionary tale of our District’s darkest periods, I expressed my concern that state and federal governments are relying too heavily on standardized testing. I understand and welcome the notion that Districts should have a system of accountability to the public (we will not run from that), but the current testing system is stressful for too many students and teachers — especially in areas with high concentrations of poverty and areas where our underserved students do not have help at home to grow in their academic careers. Less and more meaningful accountability measures will allow teachers to engage in active learning and more enjoyable engagement with students and will remove a mountain of stress for many of our kids.

All 11 school leaders who met with the President and U.S. secretary of Education Arne Duncan on Monday were members of the Council of the Great Cities Schools, a group of made up of superintendents and school board members from large, urban school systems. We represent a large number of American students who live in our urban cores, and these students face specific issues. As the only member present who came from the U.S.-Mexico border, I felt it was my responsibility to also share with the President the unique challenges kids in our schools face day after day. It was a very positive day for EPISD and I was proud to represent all of Team EPISD.

Because of each of you and your efforts to make EPISD great, we are being recognized nationally for our cultural and systematic improvements and I can assure you the best in yet to come.

Thank each for all you do to support our students and families!

The future is bright and each of you will play a part in building a district in which we can all be proud.

Below are some videos and photos from the meeting with the President.  I hope you enjoy.

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Links to stories about the meeting:

Navy Rear Admiral Visits El Paso High

El Paso High School served as the background of a homecoming of sorts right before the district started its spring break, and I was lucky enough to be present for it.   U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Samuel Perez, a native of our wonderful city, conducted an Executive Engagement Visit to the region on March 4-6 and El Paso High was happy to host one of his stops.  
 
These Executive Engagement Visits are an effort from the U.S. Navy to reach out to the community and answer any questions they may have about serving our country.
ADM Perez met with several students to talk about careers in the military and how the Navy is making a difference in not just defending our country but moving it forward. He stressed to the students that in order to succeed, they needed to have ganas. He even joked that ganas is such a strong word in Spanish that it takes three words in English to describe it: Drive, Determination and Desire.  
 
On top of this visit, ADM Perez and I had the opportunity to sit down one-on-one to discuss science, technology, engineering and math in the Navy, as well as other topics that could help the District create a greater understanding of the Navy among youth of El Paso.

I truly appreciate the candor of the conversation ADM Perez and I had, and I am grateful that the Navy has established these visits to help us find even more ways to mutually benefit from one another. 

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Andress Eagles remind us of the prideful Northeast communities

What a great sense of community I was lucky enough to witness Thursday at Andress High School! Truly, we as a District and as an entire city should be proud of the work the boys in Coach Jim Forbes’ Eagles basketball team have done this year. The boys will play in the UIL 5A Regional Semifinals on Friday against the Fort Worth Dunbar Wildcats in Snyder, Texas.  This is the second year in a row that Andress has a respectable streak in the basketball playoffs.

Students and teachers gathered on The Quad at Andress to bid farewell to the team on Thursday morning.  You could tell that the send off was appreciated by the boys and the coaching staff.

But what is more telling of the send off is the level of pride that the community of Andress — both on campus and off — has shown as they’ve rallied behind the team.  I feel lucky to be a part of this District and I’m honored to be given the opportunity to share in the pride and celebration at Andress.

Good luck to Coach Forbes and the team.  Go Eagles!