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


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.


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.


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.



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

EPISD Bond moving along to benefit students

episd-carmenarrieta-candelaria-copyOn November 8th, the El Paso Independent School District received a significant vote of confidence from the community it serves. On that day, the voters approved a bond program that will fund a $668.7-million modernization of EPISD. The bond will help the District modernize most of its high schools, replace and fix outdated facilities and right-size the number of campuses EPISD currently operates. The bond also would fund a large technology investment at the middle-school level and provide money to help pay for security upgrades and new school buses.  In other words, the voters in EPISD felt it was time to invest in their schools at an unprecedented level.

I want to thank the El Paso community for the show of confidence it has given the District. We understand we have a hard task ahead of us as we work to complete the projects we communicated to the public. But we also know that we have assembled a team of dedicated, ethical and, best of all, highly prepared individuals who will help bring these projects to reality.

Throughout the informational campaign that preceded the election, we heard from many people who were aware of the needs the District faced and supported our schools in their effort to become better prepared to educate future-ready students. We want to thank these parents and residents for looking at the big picture and understanding that the investment that is about to be made into our schools will have a tremendous impact on the future of our neighborhoods and communities.

We also met individuals who expressed concern about the Bond, especially given the recent history of mismanagement in the District. We also wish to thank them for reminding us of the work that we need to do to regain the trust of everyone in El Paso. Under Superintendent Juan Cabrera’s leadership, EPISD has made strides in becoming a District that performs with ethics and character. We also have established new and improved policies and practices that create transparency in our operations so that the residents and taxpayers can feel more at peace knowing that their money is being used properly.

EPISD is moving forward with plans to begin the implementation of the 2016 bond. Already, our staff is working arduously to get a head start on the preparations that often come with the start of construction. The Board of Trustees has given the Administration up to 5 years to complete all Bond projects, and we intend to meet that aggressive timeline. As we await the selling of bonds and the selection of architects and builders, we know there is some work we can already be doing in house to help get those projects underway.

We also have taken three significant first steps in the implementation of the Bond Program:

  1. The Board of Trustees has approved the creation of the Bond Oversight Committee that will charged with providing an additional layer of accountability to each and every construction project. This committee — which will be made up of taxpayers and stakeholders who do not work for the District — will review documents, tour construction sites and provide key recommendations to the Board of Trustees.
  2. The Board of Trustees has entered into negotiations with the Jacobs Engineering Group for a contract that would manage all construction in the 2016 bond. Jacobs will help EPISD stay on time and on budget with all bond construction, and they also will help maintain an online tracker of bond projects that taxpayers and residents can review.
  3. The District has also approved the first issuance of the bonds in the amount of $200,000,000. These monies will move the bond program forward and allow the District to implement many of the short-term projects such as technology and playgrounds as well as hire the architects that will work on the brick and mortar projects.

As we head into the holiday season and reflect on the year that is about to end, I want to express my sincere gratitude to the EPISD community for the trust it has placed on all of us. We promise to keep you, and the 60,000 students in our District, on top of our minds as we push forward with the task of making EPISD a modern and future-ready school district.

Happy holidays! Have a wonderful break!

Carmen Arrieta-Candelaria

El Paso ISD

Deputy Superintendent

Finance & Operations

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!

See you at the polls. Vote!

It’s difficult to believe that we have completed the first two months of school and the end of the calendar year is fast approaching.

The 2016-17 school year already has been monumental. El Paso High celebrated its 100th anniversary. More than 18,000 high school students took the PSAT and SAT as part of a district wide college-readiness initiative. Bowie High School dedicated its gymnasium to sports icon Nolan Richardson. And, finally, the Board of Trustees called for a historic bond referendum.

Yes, it’s already been a busy year. We have amazing teachers and District employees who day in and day out stay focused on our No. 1 goal: ensuring the academic success of students in EPISD. As I remind myself and staff often, we exist only for that one goal — to help students succeed.

We have visited with hundreds of people over the last several weeks and participated in nearly 200 meetings aimed at informing our community about the vision for the future at EPISD. I am grateful and humbled by the many who want to be part of the renaissance at EPISD.

Of course, we have also heard from some who have expressed concerns. We value and respect their opinions. We have worked diligently to build a transparent district. Transparency includes maintaining an open dialogue with our community and being willing to hear all sides. It’s when we all come together to be part of the solution that will truly move forward and prosper.

We are humbled by the support of our community and thankful that the work that is being done by our teachers and students is not going unnoticed.

Some of the groups who have recently supported our efforts are:

  • The El Paso American Federation of Teachers and the El Paso Teacher’s Association, two groups that together represent the bulk of the educators in EPISD.
  • The Greater El Paso Chamber of Commerce, which represents the region’s business community.
  • The El Paso Firefighters Association Local 51, which represents hundreds of El Paso Fire Department employees and retirees.
  • The El Paso County Medical Society, an important group of healthcare professionals.
  • The Greater El Paso Association of Realtors, which represents real estate professionals in charge of attracting home and commercial buyers to our region.
  • The El Paso Times editorial board, the largest media company in the region.
  • Elected officials like Congressman Beto O’Rourke, State Sen. José Rodríguez, state Rep. Cesar Blanco and elected state Rep. Lina Ortega

I want to thank all of you for your hard work and commitment. Our community is taking notice of the transformation. You can be proud to wear the I AM EPISD badge. I know I am.

We urge the voters to learn more about the Bond and to head to the polls in an informed manner to cast a vote in this election. You can find more details about the Bond election on

See you at the polls!

Relationships: The Key to Success

The key to success is having strong healthy positive relationships. What is a “positive relationship”? It is the correspondence between two variables (Trochim, 2006). In our case, the variables are individuals who surround us at work and home. Those variables are coworkers, supervisors, spouses, children, parents, siblings, friendships, and students. Let’s stop and think of those we most value. Why do those stand out? Perhaps because they mean something to us. They add value to our life. High or low value between the relationship is the concept that differentiates between positive and negative relationships (Trochim, 2006). Within the social emotional spectrum lies the awareness of our emotions and relationship skills. We can also define those relationships who we prefer not to interact with often. We must work on managing our emotions and making healthy choices in what we say and what we do for those brief moments that may seem eternal.  All of us deal with others on a daily basis but in the educational field, the most significant individuals are our students.

We all want successful, healthy friendships that we can turn to when we most need them. We definitely appreciate relationships with significant others to share our lives with. We want to connect with our own children and ensure they can come to us in challenging as well as celebratory times. We want to count on our parents to be good listeners and have them to lean on when times are tough. We want civil gatherings at family reunions. We want to be invited to gatherings and we know who we would and who we wouldn’t invite to our own. Why, because relationships are important. They are the essence of our survival. We may survive on an island with a face painted on a ball but then again, we wouldn’t know for how long.

So let’s evaluate our relationships with students.

Students also need someone to turn to, someone they can share their everyday life with, someone to connect to in good times and in bad. They want someone to listen and someone they can lean on. While some have stability, many do not. Even those of us that do have it, need more of it. Building positive relationships with students will enhance their emotional, physical, social, and mental state, hence creating successful well-rounded lives.

Challenge yourself to enhance a relationship today. Add value to someone’s life and in turn, they will add value to yours.


Connie Loya

Student Success Coordinator

School Leadership Operations


View: Rita Pierson – Relationships