Back to School in El Paso: District and New Tech Expand Partnership

On the first day of school we followed El Paso Superintendent Juan Cabrera on school visits including several of the nine EPISD schools that belong to the New Tech Network.

Young Women’s Academy

As a second year middle school, the Young Women’s STEAM Research & Preparatory Academy is alive with ideas. EPISD board member, Mickey Loweree, appreciates how girls empower each other. She said her daughter Marlow is thriving at Young Women’s and that all the girls are more likely to dive into a tough STEM problem in the single gender environment.

“They jump in and lead,” added Loweree. “They don’t worry about what they look like.”

EPISD Board member Mickey Loweree and Principal Cynthia Ontiveros

Young Women’s is the first single-gender academy in the New Tech Network. It will become a 6-12 school as the middle school it shares the building with is phased out.

The New Tech model features integrated team-taught project-based blocks. In preparation for opening a New Tech school, EPISD takes down walls and creates combined classrooms. Glass walls (see above) add natural light and transparency to the environment.

First day students work on cultural norms at Young Women’s Academy

Brown New Tech

On the first day of school, the Cheer Squad met new students at the door of Brown New Tech. While the principal met with parents, students started the day (as they do every day) in circle time where teachers check in with learners and reinforce shared norms: share the air, actively participate, challenge your comfort zone, use meaningful communication, be supportive and respectful, show pride.

7th graders start day one in Circle Time with Mr. Limon

In its third year as a member of the New Tech Network, Brown teachers are skilled project facilitators. On the first day of school, sixth graders (below) were already preparing for an integrated  science and art project using new Macbooks. The district’s 1:1 initiative, Power Up, which started in high school, added middle schools this year.

Hart New Tech

Starting with grades 3-5, Hart New Tech became the first is first dual-language school in the  New Tech Network and just the second New Tech elementary in Texas.

Dual language programs are available K-5 in all 58 El Paso elementaries and in nine middle schools and six high schools. A unique competency-based partnership with UTEP supports the district’s expansion of dual language learning opportunities.

Hart Principal Angelica Negrete (below) said teachers appreciated the chance to visit other New Tech Elementaries including Katherine Smith in San Jose and Napa Junction near Napa. They also visited Manor New Tech near Austin and nex+Gen Academy in Albuquerque.

Hart New Tech Principal Angelica Negrete and Superintendent Juan Cabrera

East of downtown El Paso in a lower income Hispanic community, Hart New Tech sits on the Mexican border and next to Guillen Middle and Bowie High School, also members of the New Tech Network (just the sixth K-12 New Tech feeder pattern in the country). Some students walk across the border every day to attend the three schools.

The New Tech approach has its advantages for dual language students when learning a second language said Scott Gray, New Tech Network coordinator for EPISD. Students with varying abilities in English and Spanish work collaboratively to learn and build their language capacities.

“They tend to succeed because they’re building context,” Gray added. “They are taking ownership of their learning and tying what they’re learning to real world problems and solutions.”

Gray works closely with EPISD’s nine New Tech campuses and has been tracking data that shows New Tech students tend to outperform their traditional classroom peers nationally and within EPISD. He also said attendance rates are dramatically higher for students in New Tech programs.

Oso New Tech

In its third year, Oso New Tech serves 9th, 10th, and 11th graders on the Bowie campus.

Celeste Cano (@celestecano0422) teaches Algebra, one class not in an integrated block. It is taught as problem-based course where tasks are one or two days rather than two or three weeks. In the first two years of the school, Oso algebra results were the best in the district.

Skeptical at first, art teacher Mauricio Olague heard about teaching integrated projects at Oso New Tech at Bowie High and decided to give it a try. He teaches a unique art and biology mash up and loves the new challenge of team teaching. As a lifelong resident of the neighborhood, he sees this high engagement approach motivating students and preparing them for what lies ahead. (listen to Olague and Cano describe their first two years in this podcast).

In their first three few years, New Tech schools in El Paso have achieved district leading academic results. They exemplify the “ active learning” at the heart of the district’s strategy. They have rejuvenated teacher’s careers and created quality options for families across the city. It looks like they are off to a good start for the new school year.

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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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