El Paso Adopts Active Learning with Plan That Powers Innovation

The El Paso ISD elected trustees officially turned the corner from a decade of test prep to a new era of “Active Learning” by adopting a strategic plan called EPISD 2020.
The local paper notes that the plan includes expanding dual-language education, adding technology and providing active learning environments and stronger support systems.
Goals include:

  • Raising EPISD’s high school graduation rate from 80% to 85% by 2021 and to 90% long term.
  • Increase the number of students who earn college credit from the current 2,862 to 3,500 by 2021 and to 5,000 long term.
  • Improve teacher retention from the current 90% to 93% in 2021 and 95% long term.
  • More than double the percentage of students in innovative learning environments from 20% now to 50% in 2021, then to 100% in the long term.
  • Double the number of students who have a laptop or mobile device from 18,000 currently to 35,000 in 2021 to 50,000 in the long term.

After a cheating and corruption scandal, the district was taken over by a state appointed board of managers in 2014. They appointed a nontraditional superintendent, Juan Cabrera. As a former teacher, a school district lawyer, entrepreneur and high tech executive, Cabrera said in his introduction to the community, “Education has been my lifelong passion.”

Setting Priorities

EPISD2020-banner1-690pxwAfter visiting most of the 94 campuses, Cabrera began restaffing district leadership. With a little facilitation from Getting Smart Services, Cabrera set four new priorities for the district:

  • Active learning
  • Great community schools
  • Community partnerships
  • Lead with character and ethics

After visiting Houston ISD and other leading districts, the leadership team shaped Power Up, a multiyear effort to improve student access to technology in support of a vision of Active Learning.
Rather than spending $10 million on quickly to be out-of-date science textbooks, the district developed a partnership with nonprofit CK-12 to develop open digital resources aligned with Texas standards.

Cultivating relationships

A year ago on a warm Saturday, we attended a community working session in El Paso led by deputy superintendent Ivonne Durant. She shares her vision for active and engaged learning with passion. She listened with patience. It was obvious that she values staff and community relationships.
Durant reflects, “Active learning is at the heart of what keeps our students engaged. Our leadership team is charting the course so that our talented teachers can have the support and guidance needed to propel our students to a successful future.”
Local roots in the bilingual culture of El Paso made it easy for Durant and Cabrera to embrace dual language as a district priority. A national leader in dual language, EPISD provides opportunities for students to achieve literacy and proficiency in English and Spanish.

Graduate Profile

Community conversations (like the one pictured below at Henderson Middle School) help shape a new graduate profile, with student learning goals that reflect broader aims, including an emphasis on social emotional learning (SEL), dual language learning, critical thinking and increased college and career readiness.
Screen Shot 2016-03-16 at 9.47.29 AM

Community Input

The district held over 50 community, staff and student input sessions that led to this new graduate profile and included the voices of over 2,000 participants. Together, the community focused on the question,

What do we want EPISD students to know and be able to do?

Responses to that question shaped the new graduate profile and focus areas of the plan.

Next-Gen District

Another focus of these meetings–and of the plan–was facilities modernization. Through planned school modernizations, strategic funding appropriation and technology updates, the goal is to ensure 100% of students benefit from innovative learning environments.

As a member of Digital Promise’s  prestigious League of Innovative Schools, EPISD is part of a national coalition of public school districts leveraging technology and forward-thinking teaching and learning practices.

Cabrera and his team know that the learning process continues to change for students, teachers and administrators. “Next-gen learning, which is blended, active and competency-based, requires new skills, new roles and a new mindset for educators.”
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Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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