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

Embracing the Border Economy

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El Paso is 300 miles west of what east Texans call “west Texas.” El Paso and Juarez Mexico straddle the Rio Grande (or Rio Bravo, depending on what side of the river you are on) wrapping around the 7,000 foot peaks of the Franklin Mountains, the southernmost point of the Rockies. With Las Cruces New Mexico, the combined international metropolitan area is home to almost three million people and is the largest bilingual-binational workforce in the Americas, perhaps the world.

The El Paso Independent School District embraces our geographic location as an asset and a benefit to students as future employees in our increasingly global and connected economy. The fact that El Paso has a border economy where people and goods move freely back and forth has strengthened the EPISD commitment to help students develop global connections and communication skills.

We want students to understand and be prepared for life and work in a global economy. Like Nogales in southern Arizona (highlighted by the US Chamber of Commerce), we’ve embraced dual language, students supports and improved college and career readiness.

Dual language and career readiness isn’t just a border town issue. We all live in a border economy. Multilingualism should be seen as an asset the way it is seen internationally—and we need that mindset in the U.S. if we are going to stay globally competitive. As Parag Khanna notes in his new book Connectography, “Mega-cities compete over connectivity more than borders.” Communication, trade and connections in most jobs traverse borders and define our personal and professional relationships.

Powering Up to Connect Students

Three years ago, we set four new priorities for the district: active learning, great community schools community partnerships and leading with character and ethics.

We held community conversations to update our graduate profile including five learning goals, most notably including bilingual communicators and socially and emotionally intelligent individuals.

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After visiting Houston ISD and other leading districts, our leadership team shaped Power Up, a multiyear effort to improve student access to technology in support of a vision of Active Learning.

Leveraging the Border Economy

Beginning last year, we provided every high school student with a laptop for use at school and at home, as well as collaborative tools for teaching and learning. Using open content helped pay for our digital conversion. We partnered with CK-12 Foundation to replace high school science textbooks with free, electronic texts. Working with a team of teachers, the district created textbooks for high school science and math classes.

Many of our students speak Spanish at home. Many of our schools offer two-way dual language programs that help English speakers learn Spanish and Spanish speakers learn English. Dual language programs are not just an equity issue, they’re an economic development issue.

We also believe that being able to communicate in another language is far more powerful if students are also able to use language to get along with others and establish positive relationships with each other. Social emotional learning is at the crux of our communication skills development with students. Employers want bilingual employees that also have relationship skills.

We will continue to embrace El Paso as a great place to live and learn, especially due to the fact we have a border economy.

Academics restructure will help students and teachers

Hello EPISD Family,

We have exciting news to share! We are restructuring our Academics and Innovation teams to improve their support for our schools and students.

Why?

Simply, we are striving to assure we meet every core academic need, while also innovating to keep our schools at the forefront of 21st Century learning. We believe this reorganization will meet these goals and also provide greater focus and support.

Our district has many systems which require ongoing implementation and continuous improvement to assure effectiveness. An example of this is curriculum. C & I is responsible for ensuring all teachers have access to a viable curriculum which ensures alignment with state standards. Our C & I team conducts continuous reviews to ensure alignment as well as professional development for teachers on accessing and using the curriculum.

At the same time, EPISD is also engaged in the work of innovation, which involves researching, planning, piloting, and monitoring of new programs, initiatives, and resources.   An example of this is New Tech, a program which is in the early stages of implementation and requires support and guidance for new ways of teaching, grading, and collaborating.

In order to support both types of work, innovation and sustain current systems, Academics & Innovation has been divided into an Academics division and an Innovation division. Dr. Tamekia Brown will lead the Academic division as Interim Chief Academic Officer while we post the position, and Karen Blaine will lead the Innovation division as Chief Innovation Officer. This new structure will allow us to continue to innovate the student experience while ensuring that day to day operations are efficient and effective.

Additionally, Special Education Services, currently led by Interim Assistant Superintendent Anthony Tomasheski, and School Leadership Operations, currently led by Ray Lozano, will now be under Academics & Innovation. Special Education Services will report to Academics and School Leadership operations will report to Innovation. More details about the division of responsibilities is illustrated in the charts below.

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Departments under each area have been shifted to align decision making and work flow. As an example, learning in two languages in an active learning environment is the district’s direction. As such, all leaders for connecting languages, curriculum, and active learning will report to the Executive Director of Academics. Similar decisions were made with other areas. The shifts in people and programs will result in the renaming of several departments so that the name reflects the scope of responsibilities. We hope this also will help ensure better support.

EPISD is a large organization, but it exists for only 1 purpose, to improve schools. Our goal is to ensure that our service to schools and students is fluid, makes sense, and fully maximizes all of our resources and that is our commitment to you!

Let us know if you have any questions. Please send your questions and comments to academics@episd.org

Thank you, El Paso!

Thank you, El Paso, for this momentous and historic win for our community and the children of EPISD!

Last night, you took a bold step forward with us in trust and partnership in acknowledging that it’s time to leave the past behind and focus on our future.   This decision is a vote of confidence for the work that is being done in our classrooms by our teachers, devoted staff and Leadership — all with the common goal of improving the quality of education and quality of life in El Paso.

Because of your support, EPISD will continue the work of transforming our instructional platform and modernizing our learning environments to help students reach their potential.   Over the last three years, the work of rebuilding our schools has been our primary focus.   Now the work begins anew as we see this vision take shape in the form of new and improved schools.

We thank the El Paso community for embracing our vision. Thank you, to the Board of Trustees for taking this courageous step.  We are committed to continuing with transparency and community involvement. This has been a bedrock principle for this Board and Administration.

Now let’s get out there and get to work!