EPISD is ready to PowerUp!

Visitors to any of our schools this year will notice that things are different.

Sure, they will continue to see the region’s best teachers and employees working to give our students the best education possible. But they will notice that instruction is very different.

From simple things like student desk arrangements to major initiatives like EPISD Flex-books and the distribution of laptops for all of our high-school students, education at EPISD is changing in a very positive way.

This is all part of our strategic priority “Active Learning” and EPISD PowerUp, the District’s new initiative to transform teaching and learning to help create future-ready students. The transformation will include technology, active learning and other initiatives that will impact every student in every campus of the District.

Our teachers and campus administrators already are focusing on new and innovative ways they can incorporate PowerUp in their classrooms and curricula.

Teachers are now seeking opportunities to engage in critical thinking scenarios that align to traditional lessons. Students then will be given the tools and access to use traditional and digital instructional materials to complete assignments.

To help us facilitate PowerUp, EPISD is distributing laptops to every high-school student who does not want to bring their own device. This laptop distribution, which has begun and continues through mid-September, is a huge undertaking on behalf of our Blended Learning and Technology departments.

These laptops (and there are about 18,000 of them) will give our high school students the opportunity to fully engage in PowerUp and everything it has to offer. Through these machines, they will follow lesson plans, do research for projects, engage with other students and teachers for class assignments and access their textbooks either in school or at home.

Speaking of textbooks, our high school teachers have been critical partners in launching PowerUp. Teachers in all four core areas (English language arts, social studies, science and math) have come together over the last year to create digital Flexbooks that meet all state curriculum requirements, but also incorporate some of the EPISD-specific lessons we know will help make our students ready for their future plans. This means that high school textbooks were not only created by some of their teachers, they are also designed to meet their specific needs.

Better yet, these books are digital and available to every student via the internet or their district-issued laptop.

As you can see, Active Learning and PowerUp are ambitious initiatives that will have transformative effects on teaching and learning. We know this is a lot to ask from our teachers and administrators, but we also know that this is the right thing to do for our students.

We invite the EPISD community to join us as we PowerUp the 2015-16 school year and beyond. This is not a fad, this is the core of the new EPISD!

This will be our year!

A little-known song from the 1960s has been playing in my head since Saturday. “This Will Be Our Year” (which was recently covered by the Foo Fighters) is the perfect song for us in the El Paso Independent School Year as we kick off the 2015-16 academic year.

We welcomed about 60,000 students to school on Monday, and the start of classes went off without a hitch. Now it’s on to high quality teaching and learning for the rest of the year to make sure that every student in every grade has access to the best possible education. To help us there is our corps of teachers, many of whom gave up some of their well-deserved time off during the summer to receive the type of training that will help them be even more effective in the classroom.

New this year is the opening of the Mesita Early Childhood Development Center at Vilas. Mesita ECDC is the result of a merger between Mesita Elementary in the Kern Place area and the former Vilas Elementary in Sunset Heights. Mesita ECDC is now an innovative center for the education of some of the youngest students we have in the District. The partnership the District has with the University of Texas at El Paso’s College of Education will guarantee that the most innovative and up-to-date trends in early childhood education are being used.

The opening of Mesita ECDC was an exciting event for the students, parents and teachers who call the campus home now. And while some small construction is still happening, Principal Laila Ferris and her staff should be commended for pulling off the merger with a very quick turnaround timeframe and without incidents.

This year we also are celebrating the launch of New Tech High Schools at both Franklin and Irvin. The school-within-a-school concept will allow students to use project-based instruction to tackle every subject. These methods will help us further prepare students for modern college and work settings that require higher-level thinking. Irvin will have a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) focus, which will make the students at this campus particularly ready for college and the workforce.

Of course, a huge focus this school year will be EPISD Power Up, the new District initiative focusing on 21st century teaching and learning at all grade levels. Starting this week, we will begin issuing laptops to every high-school student in EPISD so that they can use them during school and even take them home in an effort to complete their assignments and further their learning experiences. Gone are the traditional textbooks students used in core subjects. They are now being replaced with EPISD teacher-created flexbooks that blend the state curriculum with EPISD-specific lessons aimed at providing better teaching and learning.

Power Up is much more than a technology initiative or a laptop giveaway. Teachers have been learning (and in many cases teaching other teachers) new strategies and approaches to lessons and assignments. Even classrooms will look different in an attempt to ready students for education in the 21st century.

Speaking of quality teaching and learning, I am ecstatic to know that Jefferson High School teacher and softball coach John Gable was not only named Region 19 Secondary Teacher of the year, he is also one of six finalists for Texas Teacher of the Year. We were able to surprise Mr. Gable on Monday at a first day of class assembly at Jeff. His passion and dedication to our students are obvious when you talk to him. His media interviews, too, are so full of life and sincere love for his profession. We wish Mr. Gable the best of luck as he moves forward. We’re looking forward to hearing the announcement of the winner in Austin on October 16.

Lastly, I would be remiss in not mentioning the EPISD community that came out to support the District and its students and employees this Saturday during the Penny Swap Election. The District owes you a heartfelt ‘thank you’ for overwhelmingly supporting the measure. More than 81 percent of the votes cast were in favor of the Penny Swap, and because of it our schools will be better off.

We see the support on the Penny Swap as a vote of confidence in the work our staff has been doing to implement honest and ethical practices in our day-to-day operations. We know we have some work to do to fully regain your trust, but we feel that we have made headway in getting there. Again, on behalf of the 60,000 students and nearly 9,000 employees in the District, I want to say: Thank You!

As you can see, this week has been an eventful one. If the rest of the school year is as wonderful as this first week, there is no doubt in my mind that 2015-16 will be our year!

If you’re curious about the song, here it is: