By Tom Vander Ark and Emily Liebtag

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Across the street from Bowie High is a fence that marks the border with Juarez, Mexico. Known as the Segundo Barrio and located east of downtown El Paso, Bowie and its feeder schools serve a neighborhood known for its strong culture, vibrant murals and where movement between Juarez and El Paso is a daily way of life. Generations of families continue to live on both sides of the border in this community also known for its extreme poverty and poor performing schools. Teachers are challenged to meet the needs of children new to English and who have previously attended schools in Mexico. For many years, the school district focused on test preparation and strong discipline but few young people found high school relevant and even fewer achieved academic success.

However, the El Paso Independent School District (EPISD) recently announced that for the 2018 school year, they have “the most high-performing schools in their region” and are “third in the state for districts with schools earning all available distinctions given by the Texas Education Agency”. This may come as a surprise to some, (those who only remember EPISD for the years they endured a corrupt leadership team who falsified student test scores), but not at all a surprise to those who have been on the ground working to revitalize the school system for the past five years. The EPISD team has been diligently working under new leadership to better engage students, understand family needs and focus on real learning—not just test scores.

As a result, they have seen an increase in more active, student-centered learning AND in state accountability test scores. One of the efforts EPISD has focused on to help make these gains is a sustained partnership with New Tech Network, a national network of project-based schools. The partnership between the El Paso Independent School District (EPISD) and the nonprofit school support organization is the largest in the country and is a big part of their unfolding district transformation story.

We’ve followed the progress of this partnership, which is safe to say is a little network of its own, and synthesized their story. Check out their progress and learn about how they accomplished their results so far.

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Tom Vander Ark
Tom Vander Ark is author of Better Together, Smart Parents, Smart Cities and Getting Smart. He is co-founder of Getting Smart and Learn Capital and serves on the boards of 4.0 Schools, eduInnovation, Digital Learning Institute, Imagination Foundation and Charter Board Partners. Follow Tom on Twitter, @tvanderark.
Emily Liebtag
Emily is Director of Advocacy at Getting Smart. She believes every young person deserves a world-class education and partners with educators and education-focused organizations to try and help make that a reality. Emily usually is researching and reading about project-based learning, global education, teacher preparation and place-based education. Connect with Emily at @EmilyLiebtag.

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