El Paso Times
This week marks the end of my presidency at El Paso Independent School District Board of Trustees. We dug ourselves out of a very deep hole and our future has never been brighter. I would like to share with you what I have learned working closely with these six trustees and Superintendent Juan Cabrera over the last two years.
EPISD is like no other school district. We inherited extraordinary circumstances: declining enrollment, audits and investigations by outside agencies, all seven trustees taking office with no experience, and damage done to the reputation of our district and our city.
The trustees have volunteered thousands of hours to rebuild EPISD. Our superintendent works tirelessly and is passionately committed to the success of our children.
Only two years ago, the state controlled a failed school district, and today, EPISD is recognized by the same agency, the Texas Education Agency, as one of the most innovative districts in Texas. The prestigious Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which directs billions of dollars toward educational reform, counts EPISD among the top 10 of 16,000 districts in the country. Here is why.
Our district’s leadership is continually investing in teachers, technology and programs while staying focused on our students’ achievement.
We trimmed our budget. EPISD lost 5,600 students in four years, approximately $30 million in revenue. We responded by cutting $33 million from expenses and this year cut an additional 7 percent, $7.5 million, from central administration. We improved our credit rating, saving millions of taxpayer dollars directed to debt service.
The voters overwhelmingly supported two referendums: one accessing $14 million in additional state revenue with no tax increase; and an historic bond to improve the safety, security and quality of our schools. I was proud to lead this effort and nothing could more strongly demonstrate your confidence in our leadership.
We prioritized teachers. We added $38 million in salary increases and $6 million in stipends to offset the rising costs of health insurance. We invested millions more in stipends for dual language, fine arts and athletics instructors.
We infused our schools with technology. All high school and, beginning this fall, all middle school students will have an personal laptop they keep as long as they are enrolled at EPISD. For many students, this is the first computer in their family home.
Elementary students have access to iPad learning devices. Digital flexbooks are replacing textbooks, saving millions in annual textbook purchases. This fall, every high school will have makerspace innovation labs with computer-assisted design programs and 3D printers.
We introduced innovative programs. We have six New Tech project-based learning schools across the district (watch the film “Most Likely to Succeed” to be inspired by this learning philosophy). This fall, we open the first and only Young Women’s STEAM New Tech Academy in the country.
International Baccalaureate was expanded from Coronado (there for 18 years) to Andress. Franklin added a STEAM magnet and nursing program with the new Texas Tech Teaching Hospital at Providence West.
Dual language was expanded to all elementaries (58) and will be in all grades in all schools by 2025.
We added free Pre-K for 1,500 kids. Our open enrollment summer school serves 10,000 students to prevent the summer slide. We provide “free breakfast” for most schools, subsidized by federal programs.
We built community schools to improve family engagement and wraparound services. We added the summer DREAMS program as a gateway to Silva and STEM programs. We started Girls who Code and Ted-Ed clubs.
Thank you for supporting a bold and courageous new direction. Our nearly 60,000 students deserve it. Our parents appreciate it. Hardworking teachers and staff depend on it. Our community will continue to thrive because of it.
Dori Fenenbock is a member of the El Paso Independent School District Board of Trustees.