Welcome back EPISD family!

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Dear EPISD family,

Welcome back to the 2017-18 school year! I hope everyone had a restful and re-energizing summer and is ready to work hard toward academic and personal success.

This school year will be one the best yet for EPISD!  Our teachers have been back for a week, going through a series of trainings and workshops. Many also took personal time this summer to attend professional development opportunities. I am convinced that we have the best-prepared teachers in Texas!

There are many exciting new improvements this year. Many of our middle-school students and freshmen are already enjoying their new MacBook Air laptops that were purchased with 2016 Bond funds and distributed earlier this month as part of the PowerUp initiative.  Now, all 6th-12th-grade students at EPISD have a personal laptop or device. Our next goal is to get devices into the hands of all elementary-school students.

All laptops are programmed with free Microsoft Office 365, which includes Word, Excel and even a terabyte of cloud storage space. Parents, you also have access to this software. It’s another great resource provided to our EPISD students and families!

The District continues its expansion of the popular New Tech Network, which brings project-based learning to different campuses.  These programs allow students to learn using a hands-on approach to education, and the results have been amazing.  EPISD now has the largest network of New Tech schools in Texas and 2nd largest in the United States!

Our latest addition is the country’s first single-gender New Tech program at the Young Women’s STEAM Preparatory and Research Academy, which opens this year with 6th and 7th grade students.  The young women who make up the inaugural cohort of students have been busy this summer learning more about how their school will work and developing traditions that I am sure will last a lifetime. 

Andress High School this year introduces the International Baccalaureate curriculum.  For years, students from across the county have flocked to Coronado High for its intense and renowned IB academics.  We are now excited that Andress will give even more students the option of enrolling in this challenging and effective program.

The summer also kick-started Bond 2016 projects. In addition to the new laptops, you’ll see new turf at the high school football fields, new playgrounds at some elementary campuses and new buses on our school routes. School project committees are meeting regularly to begin design discussions for campus construction. I want to once again thank the voters of EPISD to supporting the bond and allowing us to modernize our schools to the benefit of our children and employees. Check out the website at episd.org for project updates.

Welcome back! We are so happy to see you again.  Let’s make this year the best year in EPISD history so far!

New teacher orientation sparks energy, inspiration

I spent the morning today with 100 of EPISD’s newest teachers. It’s been more than 20 years s

I spent the morning today with 100 of EPISD’s newest teachers. It’s been more than 20 years since I was in their shoes, but I still share their eagerness and excitement for the first day of school.

This group of educators — some new to the profession ad some new to our District — had great questions for me. I am excited to know they are joining our ranks.

I know our students are in excellent hands.

During my conversation with them, we spoke about many issues impacting new teachers. One subject that stood out was creativity in the classroom. I see myself as an outside-the-box thinker and I encouraged them to do the same as they plan their lessons. EPISD is the type of district that will give teachers the freedom to be creative in their classrooms.

Positive vibes are contagious. I hope the passion I witnessed today continues throughout the year.

I wish all teachers at EPISD good luck on the first day of school. Have a wonderful school year.

#DiscoverEPISD #IamEPISD

 

On National Teacher’s Day, I’d like to say ‘thank you’

EPISD is continuing Teacher Appreciation Week celebrations this week. Some schools celebrate the first week of May, while others celebrate this week. Either way, we can’t do enough to show teachers just how much they mean to us. So today, on National Teacher Day, I want to thank all of our 4,000 teachers and let them know that as the corner stone of our District, they are valued and appreciated.

Every day, principals, parents and administrators tell me stories about extraordinary work happening in our classrooms. I get to witness this when I visit schools and I have the privilege of stepping into a classroom. Teachers are leading the way in transforming EPISD into one of the premier school districts in the country.

From innovative teachers who find fun, impactful ways to reach students, to those educators who simply make a difference for being a big part of a kid’s life – our corps of teachers is second to none.

We have great examples of this throughout the District, too.

There’s Jill McGee at Mesita Elementary, who instills on her students the importance of learning in two languages and embracing the differences of students from different cultures. And we have Franklin High School’s Tom Davis, who makes it a point to come to most school board meetings and speak up on behalf of his students and fellow teachers.

Or there’s Pat Monroe at Burges High School, who for years has instilled in her journalism students the ethics and determination that it takes to turn a yearbook into a nationally recognized publication. And Saul Ramirez from Henderson Middle School, who turned his childhood passion for chess into a way of connecting with students in a way that is inspirational.

Of course, there are literally thousands of stories like these throughout our District and they all deserve recognition. Later this week, we will announce the winners of our Elementary and Secondary Teachers of the Year. These two individuals will represent EPISD and the 3,998 other teachers who work and thrive here.

And of course, they will represent the memory of Archie Duran, the Irvin High School teacher and coach who passed away last week as he was traveling back home from a track meet in Lubbock. His students and athletes spoke eloquently last week of the impact Coach Duran – and teachers everywhere in EPISD – have on their lives. It was a beautiful reminder that the work our teachers do matters.

So thank you EPISD teachers for being the foundation of the wonderful things happening in EPISD and El Paso. This community is sincerely grateful.

Community Comes Together to Honor A Hero

The El Paso Independent School District is in mourning after the passing of Coach Archie Duran, an Irvin High School educator who died early Sunday morning when the bus he and other track coaches and student athletes were riding was involved in a tragic accident.  Coach Duran was a beloved teacher and successful track and basketball coach who for more than a decade touched the lives of students and his fellow educators. His loss has been deeply felt by the Irvin, EPISD and El Paso communities.

As a District, we will continue to do everything we can to support not just the students and staff at Irvin, but also the Duran Family during these difficult times.  Coach’s wife, Maribel, is also a teacher in EPISD, and his children — daughters Ariana and Maribel Liseth, and son Archie — all either graduated from or are currently students in the District.  The Durans are truly an EPISD Family.

This tragedy has, however, brought us together. Students, teachers and administrators from every corner of El Paso have supported Irvin and the Durans. I want to especially thank the counselors at Irvin and from throughout the District who helped our students and teachers cope.

On Wednesday, the students and staff at Irvin organized a memorial for Coach Duran at the school’s Memorial Stadium.  Hundreds of people showed up to pay their respects and share stories about the man who always wanted to make sure his students were having fun while learning and training.  This wonderful event really helped some of us cope with the loss of a great educator, friend and family member.

I extend my gratitude to the principals, administrators, student activities managers and teachers from schools all over EPISD for offering whatever support they could — from balloons and water to student and staff volunteers. Your love and support meant a lot to Irvin.

I also want to thank the many businesses, neighboring school districts and individuals who have helped us honor Coach Duran:

  • Texas Sen. José Rodríguez for honoring Coach Duran on the floor of the Senate.
  • The Canutillo ISD Board of Trustees and Administration for their acts of kindness toward Irvin and EPISD.
  • Tents & Events for donating tents for the memorial.
  • Whataburger an Subway on Montana for donating meals to Irvin students, teachers and community members
  • Clear Channel for donating space in three of their digital billboards to honor Coach Duran.
  • University Medical Center and Del Sol Medical Center for their continued care of students and coaches.
  • Socorro and Tornillo school districts for offering their guidance and counseling resources.
  • Ysleta ISD student activities managers for volunteering at the memorial

There are many, many more individuals and organizations who have helped Irvin cope with their loss.  On behalf of myself and the Board of Trustees, we are grateful for your support. EPISD is stronger because of partners like you.

May Coach Duran rest in peace. And may his memory live forever at EPISD.

Partnering for Quality Options

In El Paso, we focus on engaged and active learning. We serve our diverse bilingual population with hands-on projects-based and technology-rich classrooms.

For the past four years, the leadership team in the El Paso Independent School District (EPISD) has been learning from the best schools in the country including the 200 New Tech Network schools.

Active learning requires a shift from traditional, teacher-centered classrooms. In making the shift towards more engaged learning for all students, we have learned several lessons:

Partners are important. One of the biggest and most transformative changes we have made is by partnering with New Tech Network. The nonprofit New Tech Network supports big blocks of integrated project-based learning and supports the creation of a positive student-centered school culture.

We started with two New Tech schools in 2015:

Each of the new schools will be about 400 student academies on the campus of a comprehensive high school. They are schools of choice with lottery-based enrollment.

This year we opened four more New Tech schools:

We are excited to announce that in the fall of 2017 the list of New Tech schools in EPISD will grow. The EPISD Young Women’s Academy will be the first New Tech single gender STEAM focused school in the country. We also will have a New Tech campus at Guillen Middle School.

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The learning space really matters. Active learning requires students have an engaging and innovative space to learn in. Students should be excited about where they go to school. We have remodeled some of the EPISD existing structures and are rethinking our learning spaces. At Cobra New Tech at Canyon Hills Middle School, one of the newest New Tech Network additions in EPISD, the wing includes two large classrooms and one work conference room for targeted lessons. Upgrades include a double broadband network, whiteboards and media stations for group work. “Students will be able to use this media stations to work in groups within the classroom,” teacher Jayne Pynes said. “They can hook their laptops up to the station and work on anything from podcasts to project presentations.” Students also will have access to digital cameras and printers, among other technology, in addition to their own individual laptop computers.

Teachers are ready for change. Teachers want more innovative methods and models. They want to be excited about where they work. At Cougar New Tech in Franklin High School, teachers like Dan Leeser are able to design their own projects for students but also learn from and adapt projects from other New Tech Network teachers. He admits that the shift required him to take some risks, but that EPISD has been ok with lesson experimentation and supports this change.

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As a staff, we are going to continue to learn and expand how we implement active learning across the district. Active learning is what our students want and need to be ready for whatever path they choose in their futures.

 

Active Learning Requires Innovative Spaces

A few years ago, there were a lot of traditional classrooms in El Paso with low level test prep activities in a low-tech environment.

When you visit El Paso classrooms today, you are much more likely to see active learning–engaged students doing challenging work, often in two languages and using the latest technology.

With the recent passage of a $668.7 construction bond, El Paso students will have the opportunity to learn in modern facilities that reflect our active learning vision. We are thankful for El Paso voters and for their confidence in our vision and ability to provide all students innovative spaces to learn in.

Here are a few ways active learning spaces differ from traditional classrooms:screen-shot-2017-02-12-at-7-06-56-pmAll students deserve modern facilities that are more reflective of what you see on the right-hand side. Active learning requires that students have space to work, build, iterate, communicate and ultimately have learning experiences that are not pre-planned.

Active learning is already alive and well in El Paso classrooms. Teachers like Jill McGee, 2016 El Paso Elementary Teacher of the Year, support that active learning is really helping with student engagement and performance. In the video below, she shares how she has worked to implement these ideas in her classroom.

Teachers are receiving support from coaches and our district partner engage2learn, who is working to help us implement active learning. One of the first examples of new learning spaces in El Paso are the six New Tech Network schools. We took down walls in existing school buildings to create big classrooms for integrated project work. Students and teachers express how much they like teaching & learning in these spaces.121316_chapin-villages_067_copy

Another example of how EPISD is providing students space for active learning is through Project Lead the Way. Students at Chapin High School were asked to create a winter wonderland village resembling the Victorian age. The students said scratch that, let’s use what we have been learning in our six Principles of Engineering classes and make modern, innovative and sustainable winter wonderland villages.

Students created the villages entirely out of recyclable materials. Daniels-Sherman, magnet coordinator, said that students had to incorporate engineering principles that they were learning about such as, “circuitry, architecture, creativity and design.”

I’d argue if they weren’t in a classroom space that encouraged them to see endless possibilities and where they felt they had the tools to do so, they might not have felt so compelled to create such innovative projects.

The spaces where we ask students to be active learners is almost (if not equally) as important as the ideas behind active learning itself.

This blog was published on the Getting Smart website. You can read it by clicking on this link.  Follow Mr. Cabrera on Twitter @jecabrera12