El Paso and New Tech Network: District Transformation in High Gear

At eight middle and high school sites and growing, the New Tech Network (NTN) cohort has emerged as a powerful force within the El Paso Independent School District, modeling both adult learning and engaged student learning. Since the first two New Tech academies opened in El Paso in 2015, hundreds of students have enrolled to be a part of this new school model focused on providing students with deeper learning experiences.

The diversity within El Paso calls for hyper-local contexts to create authentic and engaging schools, and each of the New Tech schools have achieved that in their design. While each site has slight differences, such as the unique Young Women’s STEAM Research and Preparatory Academy (a one-of-a-kind all girls NTN school) and Hart Elementary (which in the 2018-2019 school year will be the first dual language NTN elementary school), there is consistency in mission and design.

The Model

The New Tech model is based on four design principles (see below) and features integrated Project Based Learning as the primary method of teaching and learning. El Paso New Tech campuses, many located on larger middle and high school campuses, are early in implementing these principles and have already learned that this type of teaching requires an adult mindset shift and a commitment to developing a strong culture of learning for everyone in the building.

  • Culture That Empowers ─ By making learning relevant and creating a collaborative learning culture, students become connected to, engaged with, and challenged by their school, their teachers and their peers.
  • Teaching that Engages ─ Through project-based learning, teachers become curriculum designers and students learn to be collaborative problem solvers.
  • Technology that Enables ─ Through a technology-rich environment, teachers and students create, communicate, access information and experience self-directed learning.
  • Outcomes that Matter ─ New Tech Network learning outcomes also measure collaboration, written and oral communication and the development of student responsibility for their own learning and agency.

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Indicators of Success

The New Tech Schools are in the early stages of implementation, with the first two high schools now in their third year. Positive changes are evident everywhere. Students at New Tech campuses in El Paso are outperforming their peers on traditional measures of achievement, and also (and maybe more importantly) show signs of increased engagement and growth aligned to deeper learning outcomes. One of the most encouraging indications that change aligned to a whole school model has the best chance at affecting lasting change is that El Paso teachers in New Tech schools report feeling more excited and committed to their craft.

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What’s Next

We are both proud of these early results, as the Superintendent of this district and as the President of NTN, but we are now more than ever committed to seeing these gains on every campus. Change in a large district like EPISD takes time and sustained commitment. It also takes buy-in from everyone, not just from us. The strong support for the New Tech work from classroom educators and administrators is based on a shared vision for our learners.

We are enthralled that our original reason for embarking on this New Tech journey — to engage students in their learning and give them the best opportunity to succeed in life, career and/or college — is proving to be successful. We know that starting change initiatives is, in many ways, the easiest part of transformation. We want to remain vigilant and committed to continuous improvement.

Ensuring all students in EPISD experience learning environments that help them thrive, be it through career-focused education or project-based learning, is top of mind for us. EPISD is well on its way, and these assessment outcomes are one of the many pieces of evidence.

For more, see:

Juan Cabrera is Superintendent of the El Paso Independent School District. Follow him on Twitter: @jecabrera12

Lydia Dobyns is President and CEO of New Tech Network. Follow her on Twitter: @LydiaDobyns.

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