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 A couple of examples of this includes our flex-books in high schools replacing the outdated science hard copy textbooks, as well as the planning for creating two new Tech Highs at Irvin and Franklin.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

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