A parent at Johnson Elementary School kisses her son good-bye as he starts the school year.

El Paso ISD’s District of Innovation Year Kicks Off

First-day jitters and smiles filled the hallways of the campuses that welcomed back students to start the 2016-17 school year — the first for EPISD as a Texas District of Innovation.

The El Paso Independent School District was the second district in the state — and the only in El Paso — to receive the designation of Texas District of Innovation during the summer. The distinction will mean that EPISD will have much more local control over the way students learn and teachers carry out their lessons.

As a District of Innovation, EPISD will set the pace for forward-thinking and future-ready instruction. During the first day of school, however, the focus was on welcoming back the students and starting the year off right.

At MacArthur Middle School, a swarm of students in red polos and khaki pants ventured into school this morning ready to start the school year.

“We are really excited because we had a lot of transfer students that came in to our campus,” interim principal Mercedes Bauerkemper said. “Everything went smoothly this morning from pre-k through eighth grade. Everyone was in class by 8 o’clock so that’s exciting because we don’t want to leave anyone out.”

Eighth-grade student Adrian Martinez settled into class shortly after reading the school announcements.

“I should be in bed still. I’m not a morning person … but it’s been fun,” said Martinez, the National Junior Honor Society president. “I’m looking forward to being at the top of the school and focusing on grades. I got to get good grades for high school because that’s when it starts getting real.”

MacArthur, EPISD’s only elementary/intermediate campus, is being proposed to combine with Bonham Elementary School as part of the upcoming bond election. While the focus today at the campus was starting the new year, Bauerkemper explained that PreK-8 model gives parents comfort in knowing their child will remain at the same school through eighth grade.

Coronado High Principal Angela Henderson welcomes back students on Monday morning.
Coronado High Principal Angela Henderson welcomes back students on Monday morning.

“It allows parents and students the opportunity to build relationships with teachers and the campus as they continue from elementary to middle school,” Bauerkemper said. “It gives us a better community feel because they are with us a longer period of time. I think with that we get to service the students better.”

At Ross Middle School, the new school year also got off to a smooth start.

“The first day has been excellent,” principal Jason Yturralde said. “We have had great student attendance and students have transitioned from their elementary schools well. It’s been great — a lot of passion and excitement today.”

Ross also has the bond on its mind. Yturralde said during the summer, parents visited the campus inquiring about the potential rebuild of the campus.

Across town at Canyon Hills Middle School, a capacity of 150 sixth graders became the first cohort of the Cobra New Tech program. Each year, the program will grow until it reaches all three middle school grade. It will then feed to the Rocket New Tech program at Irvin High School.

“New Tech is a revolution in education,” said Michelle Cervantes, a New Tech teacher there. “It allows student to collaborate and to build confidence. It also allows them to believe in three dimensions that we truly believe in which is trust, respect and responsibility.”

Cervantes calls it an amazing opportunity for Canyon Hills students.

“This will help them build their communication skills, make connections with the community and with each other and help the school become a better place,” she added.

Sixth-grader Isaiah Caban is psyched about his New Tech classes and looks forward to group collaborations.

“It’s going to be a lot more fun,” he said. “The teachers are excited. The students are excited. Everyone’s pumped up to be in New Tech.”

See more photos of our Back to School coverage.