Originally posted 1/14/2017 in the El Paso Times.
By Juan Cabrera and Dori Fenenbock
The bell has rung in the new year for EPISD and there have never been more opportunities available to our students, teachers, and families. Looking back, we can be proud of the many accomplishments. Looking ahead, you can continue to expect bold, courageous leadership that has characterized this board and this administration.
With the guidance of the Trustees, EPISD focused on rebuilding infrastructure, balancing the budget and changing the culture. This is challenging, ongoing work necessary for laying the foundation for programmatic improvements in teaching and learning.
New governance policies were implemented to ensure absolute transparency with the public. District transformation has brought many new faces to EPISD and we have made it a priority to have an outstanding leader at every school. Regular internal audits are revealing improved systems and processes and fewer reports of previous concerns. We simply will not tolerate fraud, waste or abuse anywhere by anyone.
In the face of declining enrollment, we have demonstrated sound fiscal management by consistently balancing our budget and redirecting funds from district operations to classroom needs, while adding to our general reserves. As a result, before the issuance of our first tranche of bonds, our credit rating was recently improved saving millions in projected interest costs.
We are grateful to our community for the trust you have placed in us with the approval of a historic bond that will help us build new schools and produce better student outcomes. The bond projects will begin this year with the purchase of sorely needed busses, laptops for our middle schoolers, and athletic turf improvements. We will complete the design phase of our school rebuilds and consolidations. Construction will begin next year and be completed within the following 4 years.
Technology, so prevalent in our society, has not been adequately available in our schools. Classrooms need to better reflect modern career skills and workspaces. Every 6-12th grader will be provided a personal computer. Internet connectivity is being expanded throughout our schools and neighborhoods. Students and their families will have access beyond school hours to online global learning. Ongoing training is being provided to staff as the art of teaching and learning with technology continues to evolve. We also became the first district in Texas to implement teacher created digital textbooks, allowing us to eliminate costly, static textbooks.
As one of the first “Districts of Innovation” in Texas, regular investments in innovative programming are appearing across the district offering families more choices in new and improved learning options. Dual language programs have been implemented at all elementary schools. New Tech project-based learning is offered across the district and we have increased dual credit options as well as vocational certification courses We are committed to expanding more pathways to college and careers. Our teachers are encouraged and supported in creating active learning spaces while developing whole child, social and emotional growth.
This month, our district will take another bold step setting out specific, measurable student outcome goals we intend to achieve by 2021. We will be laser-focused on our graduates’ enrollment in university, community college, military or industry certification programs. We will be carefully monitoring and reduce our achievement gaps by feeder pattern, disability, special education and English language learners. We will increase literacy in 2 or more languages. We will develop and measure necessary life skills of critical thinking, problem solving, social and emotional intelligence, and responsible leadership and productive citizenship.
Education is changing and we must have the courage to change along with it. We will deliver on these promises. Our students will succeed. El Paso Independent School District is thriving.