Education leaders experienced the best of EPISD last week

This past weekend, EPISD played host to dozens of national education leaders from urban centers as far away as Boston and San Francisco who participated in three days of meetings, workshops and even a movie screening, all having to do with the future of public education in America’s largest cities.

The boards of both the Texas Urban Council of Superintendents and the national Council of Great City Schools held meetings in El Paso as part of an invitation from EPISD to visit our wonderful district and our city. I am honored to represent EPISD on both organizations and was happy to have welcomed these leaders to our amazing city.

The Texas Urban Council – which is made up of the largest urban districts in the state – organized a series of workshops for superintendents and administrators, all of whom share similar challenges. EPISD was well represented in these workshops that touched on issues such as advanced academics, dual language, human resources, strategic planning and state legislation impacting schools, specifically focusing on the upcoming 2017 session.

As part of the Great City Schools, and the Texas Urban Council visit, EPISD helped organize a half-day Texas Tribune symposium on urban education at the University of Texas at El Paso. The symposium on Friday featured a keynote conversation with new Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath, as well as sessions lead by education experts and the superintendents of large districts like Cleveland Metropolitan, Austin, Houston, and Kansas City Public Schools.

Hundreds of people attended the symposium. In fact, the Texas Tribune event was officially sold out, which is not a common occurrence.

The three-day visit by the urban educators ended on Saturday with leadership meetings and a screening of the award-winning education documentary “Most Likely To Succeed” at the beautiful El Paso High School auditorium. Hundreds of people – from community leaders, parents and students to teachers and principals – joined us to watch the thought provoking film.

As you can see, the week was filled with events meant to discuss the future of teaching and learning in schools that serve large urban centers like El Paso. The conversations we had during the three days were enlightening and helped us consider and discuss options as we move forward in our efforts to close achievement gaps and create better opportunities for our students.

I was heartened by the response El Paso had to the visit. Many educators and administrators participated in one or more of the events that were organized this week, and nothing made me prouder than to have superintendents from throughout the state and the country compliment the level of discourse happening in our city and school district. More than once this week I was approached by leaders from the largest districts in the country and told that we had a top-notch staff and a progressive, innovative school district.

I couldn’t agree more. What this weekend showed education leaders in cities like Houston, Dallas, Milwaukee, Washington and San Francisco is that El Paso is at the forefront of change in education. This week introduced our school district as a leader in supporting students and driving innovation and as an entity that will be setting trends.

Thanks again to each and every EPISD staffer who made this week a reality. Because of your hard work, dozens of educators will travel back to all corners of our country impressed by the hospitality of our city and the quality of teaching and learning in our district.

Way to go EPISD! We are EPISD!

Documentary shows the power of active-learning education


For several weeks now, we have shown high-school students throughout EPISD the trailer to a documentary about the power of public education.  In a little under three minutes, the trailer tries to tell the story of a school in California that has adopted a different approach to learning — one that gives students the freedom to learn in different ways and teachers the opportunity to be innovative.

“Most Likely To Succeed” didn’t play in any large multiplex theater. It didn’t earn any Oscar nominations.  You probably have never even heard of it. But the movie is powerful — a must see for students, educators, parents and those individuals who feel schools can be so much more than just four walls with a chalkboard and desks.

The movie will take you through the innovative approach a school in San Diego took to systematically shake the way the vast majority of public schools operate.  That old system was established in the 1800s and doesn’t suit the needs of our students anymore.  Watching this film has left audiences not just hopeful for the future of education, but also empowered to do something about the state of their own public schools.

I invite you to come experience “Most Likely To Succeed” during a special screening of the film being held at 5 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 23, at the El Paso High School auditorium.  Tickets are $5 at the door, and proceeds will benefit the EPISD Education Foundation that helps give students scholarships and teachers classroom grants.

To learn more about the event follow this link. Hope to see you there!

Ivonne Durant: Happy New Year TEAM EPISD!

I hope that the break provided you an opportunity to get some rest and you are now rejuvenated and ready to give 100% to our children. The spring semester is a critical time for us as we prepare for state testing. The sum of our work is certainly more than testing, but testing is our way to communicate to our community and state that all is well with learning in EPISD. Thank you for coordinating intervention groups, providing additional support, accelerating the learning for those students who are doing well, and simply being diligent to ensure that every student has a great outcome for testing.

It is our goal to provide you with the support you need to continue to make 2015-2016 the best year EPISD has ever had. As hard as it is to believe, we are already looking ahead to 2016-2017. We have a unique opportunity in front of us as we explore becoming a district of innovation. It has been truly exciting to have such positive support from our school community. Thank you for your dedication. As our Superintendent has stated, our goal is to remove barriers and give us the freedom to support our students at the highest levels. We will need each of you to be thinking about what these possibilities are for our district as we brainstorm how to get better at getting better. As an example, how awesome would it be to be able to start school a week earlier in August and get out in May? If we become a district of innovation, we could take advantage of this opportunity. This exchange of 5 days would even help to balance the number of days each semester. Keep this in mind as you w ill soon have an opportunity to give feedback about the proposed 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 instructional calendars.

The possibilities are endless and the potential is great. The best is yet to come in EPISD and I am so glad that you are part of it! Do keep an eye out for the calendars as they get posted on our website so you can examine, discuss at your campus, and then vote for your choice. I especially want to thank the many people from DEIC, our teacher organizations, and the Principal Leadership Team, who have given time and effort to provide meaningful input.

Ivonne Durant