Teacher Mercedes Brissette couldn’t have imagined 10 years ago that the shy, but eager English language learner she welcomed into her Irvin High School classroom would one day become her peer.
What is really extraordinary, however, is that a decade after Zulema Estrada-Piña left Brissette’s classroom — and years after Estrada-Piña became a teacher at Lee Elementary on her own right — their paths would once again cross.
This time it would be as finalists for the 2018 El Paso Independent School District Teacher of the Year title.
“When I found out Zulema was a finalist, I was extremely happy. For me, that was like I’ve already won. This is my reward,” Brissette said. “I’m extremely proud.”
Estrada-Piña shared similar emotions. After all, she credits Brissette for sparking an interest in a career as a teacher.
“I remember how she made me feel in the classroom,” said the dual-language second-grade teacher. “For me to be honored at the same time blows my mind.”
Brissette and Estrada-Piña will be honored during the Teacher of the Year Celebration on Friday at the Centennial Banquet and Conference Center on Fort Bliss. The two are vying for the title of EPISD Teacher of the Year and the opportunity to represent the District in the Region 19 Teacher of the Year contest.
Both teachers said they’re thankful they’re not competing against each other, since they’re being considered in separate categories.
The two teachers reunited recently at Irvin to reminisce and talk about the honor of being Teacher of the Year finalists on the same year.
Brissette, who continues to teach ESL, remembers the bright-eyed Estrada-Piña well. When they embraced at their reunion last week, the tears flowed — an obvious display of their mutual admiration.
“Zulema was one of those students who would take the lead and those are the students you always remember,” said Brissette, a 22-year veteran of the classroom. “She was always willing to help in the classroom, always observing what was going on. She really wanted to succeed.”
Estrada-Piña recalls Brissette’s classroom as a safe haven and a positive place to learn and not be judged for making errors when speaking and learning a new language.
“She supported us and that made such a big impact,” said Estrada-Piña, who came to El Paso from Juárez at 13. “I go back to my students and I see me in them. I need to be give them what Ms. Brissette gave me.”
The admiration goes both ways, however. This is apparent when Brissette’s eyes dance with pride as she talks about her former student and current peer.
“This is the vision we have for our students,” Brissette said. “We never know when we might be teaching someone who will be a teacher one day.”
During a quick visit to Irvin, Brissette congratulated the 2008 graduate with a bag of gifts to commemorate her success and the admiration of the Irvin community. Inside was an ‘I love Irvin’ t-shirt and pens with the school’s mascot – reminders of her days at Irvin and her new role teaching future rockets.
“You are our little Rocket that we launched already,” Brissette smiled. “All the teachers are very proud of you.”
Story by Reneé de Santos | Photos by Leonel Monroy | Video by Raymond Jackson and Angel Dominguez/EPISD
An EPISD student who has worked effortlessly to improve her school and bring camaraderie and safety to her campus was named the 2018 Outstanding Youth Advocate of the Year by the National PTA.
Eleanor Schoenbrun, a freshman at Franklin High School, was given the award for being a powerful voice for change for children in education. She was selected from among hundreds of applicants from throughout the United States.
Schoenbrun was recognized for her efforts to improve a courtyard at Franklin in order to make it a safer and more welcoming place to gather during lunch. She secured the funding for the improvements by personally writing and earning grants from the Disney Foundation and generationOn, as well as the Franklin PTA.
“I am truly humbled and grateful to the community for coming through on this important project,” she said. Advocacy “has allowed me to be the voice for the voiceless.”
Thanks to her efforts, the Franklin courtyard is now a safe space for school events like pep rallies and band performances.
Schoenbrun received her award during the 2018 National PTA Legislative Conference in the Washington, D.C., area on March 13.
“Advocacy is critical to make a difference for education and the health, safety and wellbeing of our nation’s children,” said National PTA President Jim Accomando. “Eleanor exemplifies what it means to take action and be a voice for change for all children and schools.”
While in Washington for the National PTA Legislative Conference, Schoenbrun had the opportunity to meet with legislators and discuss her biggest concern in education: safety.
“I am working toward having a safe campus,” Schoenbrun said. “I want to make sure these legislators are backing up my work.”
Schoenbrun’s mother, Western Hills Elementary Teacher Lisa Schoenbrun, said her daughter does all the heavy lifting on her own.
“Eleanor has a gift for finding a niche in need and filling that void,” she said.
Eleanor Schoenbrun’s advocacy began at a young age. As a third-grade student, she founded Kans for Kids at Zavala Elementary. The program collects food for children who may not receive a meal outside of the school setting.
Story by Andrea Cortez | Photo courtesy of National PTA
The Columbia Scholastic Press Association awarded Burges High School two of its top national awards for excellence in student journalism – a feat that’s almost expected year in and year out.
The Hoofbeats yearbook and Stampede newspaper earned Silver Crowns from the association for their 2016-17 editions. The Crown is the highest award the association gives to student publications.
And while Burges’ journalism department has received unprecedented rewards over the years, students and teachers at the school said it’s still an honor to be recognized for their work.
“Getting awarded never gets old,” said Patricia Monroe, Burges’ journalism teacher and the advisor for both publications. “It’s a reflection of the students’ efforts.”
Burges publications have received top national awards several times. Just last year, Hoofbeats received its 14 Pacemaker Award, considered by many to be the Pulitzer Prize of student publications.
Marcela de la Torre, the assistant editor for the Burges publications, said the recognition from Columbia Scholastic Press validates the hard work and priority juggling the staff made over the last nine months.
“All those Saturdays and late nights doing interviews and getting photographs were worth it,” Del la Torre said.
While teamwork is a great part of putting a book this important together, students saw their own individual gains. Senior Victoria Brown has been photographing for Hoofbeats for three years and has seen growth in her skills parallel to that of the yearbook.
“I’ve seen myself improve throughout the years,” Brown said. “This award is validating and shows others see my hard work as well.”
Monroe said her students will have a strong impact on journalism and knows their work is worthy of recognition. She encourages her students to enter their best work into competition.
De la Torre thinks that while the awards bring a sense of pride to the school, the true reward of the process of seeing the printed material finally hit the hands of its intended users: the students and staff at Burges.
“As a group or individually, we create things,” De la Torre said. “We created a book, but when people buy it, it makes us professionals.”
Story by Andrea Cortez | Photos by Leonel Monroy – EPISD
The team, lead by coach and 2017 EPISD Secondary Teacher of the Year Saul Ramirez, won two team and three individual national titles at this weekend’s U.S. Chess Federation’s National Junior High Championships in Atlanta.
Henderson won national championships as a team in two novice categories: Under 1,000 and Under 750. It earned a second place in the unrated team category.
Individually, three Henderson students earned national championships.
The individual winners are:
• First place in Under 1,000 Category: Saul Ramirez.
• First place in Under 750 Category: Alessandra Ruiz
• First place in unrated Category: Sebastian Gonzalez
The following Henderson students ranked nationally: Juan Ramirez, second place in Under 1,000 category; Carlos Palomino, seventh place in Under 1,000 category; Aime Argandona, 11th place in Under 750 Category; and Devante Aguirre, 24th place in Under 750 Category.
Staff Report April 5, 2018NewsComments Off on Irvin Art Student Tapped to Illustrate El Paso Children’s Book -‘Go Si El Paso’
Irvin High senior artist Kaelyn Monarrez, her fingers crusted with red, yellow and blue hues, purposefully smeared paint across her latest creation and obsession: a nautilus.
The attention to detail and use of vibrant bursts of color illustrate Kaelyn’s talent which most recently earned her a hefty check for her work crafting characters in a children’s book. The book “GO SI EL PASO” features her work most prominently with another 23 area student artists, who were selected for minor roles illustrating city landmarks.
The new bilingual children’s book will be unveiled at 3 p.m. Saturday at the El Paso Museum of Art.
“It feels a little bit on the unrealistic, like it’s in a dream,” Kaelyn said, while working on her nautilus in Karen Fortney’s art class at Irvin. “I get a little emotional. When I was little, I was already dreaming of being an animator or a storyteller in books.”
Kaelyn signed a contract with the publisher to earn more than $2,000 but with that came regular deadlines, character updates, touch ups and design changes. The teenager experienced the real-life expectations and demands required of veteran book illustrators.“Yes, I got frustrated at times and yes, I wanted to quit,” she admitted. “But at the same time, it’s like I love this job.”
She drew on friends, family and life experiences for inspiration to sketch out the three main characters: Estrella, Sunny and Seemore. She spent hours often late into the night, laser focused on finishing the designs and bringing to life her characters.
“The hardest part was staying, keeping up with the deadlines,” Kaelyn said. “I was forcing myself to meet the deadlines two weeks earlier than they were originally set.”
GO SI EL PASO is the brainchild of Ryan Jackson, a Coronado graduate, who now lives in Dallas. Jackson sought out a children’s book about the city last year when he brought his wife and young daughter to El Paso for their first visit.
“Everywhere we travel, we try to find a children’s book at the place we visit but there wasn’t one about El Paso,” Jackson said. “That was the starting point for the idea.”
Last spring, Jackson did a call for entries to seek out potential student artists for the bilingual children’s book, which centers around a character named Sunny who is unsure about her new desert town. She meets new friends and discovers El Paso’s uniqueness, culture and warmth.
“It promotes literacy and civic pride,” Jackson said. “El Paso is one of the least literate cities of its size. The need caught our attention. We wanted to create a book accessible to elementary kids to promote literacy and bilingualism.”
Jackson is donating 1,000 copies to first graders throughout the area. During Saturday’s unveiling, Jackson will honor three students with scholarships for the work designing the landmarks. The art teachers of the three winners also will receive grants for their classrooms.
“We wanted to engage as many people and create opportunities for as many as possible,” Jackson said.
A few yards away from Kaelyn sits sophomore Yesenia Ramos whose illustration of the Plaza Theatre will be featured in the book.
“I was surprised that I got picked out of all the entries,” she said. “I was smiling the whole day when I found out.”
Yesenia is looking forward to Saturday’s event.
“My family will all be there,” she said, grinning. “They are all very proud.”
Like Yesenia, Kaelyn was initially selected to design a landmark but her work caught Jackson’s eye and he knew she could do much more.
“She had a level of maturity and responsibility that enabled her to do the work and she had supportive parents to make it happen,” Jackson said.
Genetics plays a large role in Kaelyn’s talent. Both mom and dad are gifted artists: Dad Raul Monarrez, teaches art at Del Valle High School, and mom Blanca Monarrez is an in-home trainer for autism in EPISD, who’s first degree and love was art.
“We talked to her and were saying ‘this is a big opportunity for you and if they didn’t believe you could do it, they would have never offered it to you,’” Blanca Monarrez said. “When she started the process, she dealt with deadlines, having to scan everything on the computer, send it in to the company, make corrections. I was amazed of the things she was able to do.”
Kaelyn couldn’t officially unveil the characters she developed for the book. But a sneak preview of Estrella and her role as illustrator of “Go, SI EL PASO” is stitched prominently on her Irvin blue letterman-like jacket, which also features many of her art accolades and other accomplishments.
“I just want to tell my stories through my paintings and sculptures no matter what media I use,” she said. “I’m living the dream basically doing something like this so young already.”
Story by Reneé de Santos | Photos by Alicia Chumley – EPISD
***Editor’s note – The El Paso Heral-Post is a partner with ‘Go Si El Paso’
GO, SÍ EL PASO! is a not-for-profit project to create a children’s book that promotes childhood literacy, artistic expression, and cultural exchange.
It features artwork of distinctive El Paso, Texas landmarks created by local high school students in a city-wide art contest, and a narrative in English & en Español.
Join us at 3 PM on Saturday, April 7th at the El Paso Museum of Art. We will:
Unveil GO, SI EL PASO! – A children’s book about El Paso, Texas
Give away commemorative posters and sunglasses (while supplies last)
Have a meet and greet with The Amigo Man!
Award scholarships to students and classroom grants to art teachers
Display the original book artwork
Sell copies of the book (all proceeds donated to support local arts and community education)
The children’s book is written in both English and Spanish. About 1,000 copies of the finished book will be donated to first-grade classrooms at public elementary schools across the area, to municipal libraries, and to students in Juarez, Mexico.
High school art students from area districts competed to have their artwork featured in the book.
The project is supported by: Acceleron Learning, The El Paso Museum of Art, KVIA, KCOS-TV, The El Paso Herald Post, Entravision El Paso, Helen of Troy, Visit El Paso, Rocketbuster Handmade Custom Boots, Smith Chiropractic, Wet-n-Wild Waterworld, The El Paso Museum of History, and Southwest Retina Consultants, PA.
Guest Columnist April 4, 2018NewsComments Off on Girl Power: Female Team Members help Henderson Chess Team Qualify for Nationals
The Hornet Chess Team is headed back to nationals this week to defend their back-to-back title, and this year the girls are leading the way.
Henderson placed first in the JV and Novice divisions and earned the title of Grand Champion title at the 2018 Texas Scholastic Championship. Half of the 24-member team is made up of girls – a rarity among chess teams in the country.
“To my knowledge this makes them the first Latina students to win the state competition from El Paso,” coach Saul Ramirez said. “We are looking forward to competing at nationals again in Atlanta this Thursday.”
And while the boys helped the team qualify for nationals, Ramirez said the girls outdid the boys at state. They earned top awards in the individual competitions with eighth-graders Aime Argandona and Zahira Pichardo placing first in the Novice and JV divisions, respectively.
“It’s exciting because we have never had a team like this,” Ramirez said. “We are very happy to have more girls on our team. We grew from only having one to having 20 to 30 girls on the chess team, with 12 on the travel group.”
Eighth-grader Aime Argandona loves being part of the chess team, especially since more girls have joined since she started.
“I like it very much. I feel very proud of the girls on the chess team,” she said. “This is my first first-place individual trophy. I felt very good about myself, proud of myself. I proved to myself I am capable. It’s not just the boys earning first place.”
Joining the chess team was dream come true for sixth-grader Dalilia Ibanez.
“Ever since I was eight-years-old, I wanted to play chess. I thought it was interesting,” Ibanez said. “When I was in fifth grade they brought us to Henderson for a tour. I saw the huge trophies, and I said, ‘I want to win one.’”
True to her goal, Ibanez scored ninth at state, bringing home her own trophy and helping boost the team’s overall score.
“I feel proud. It’s very cool to win a trophy,” she said. “I feel really happy to win because all those tactics and problems we have been doing the last six to seven months helped me to win.”
She feels empowered being part of a club that promotes the success of girls and boys, especially since chess is a very male dominated sport.
“I like it because we are girls and we are strong. We have to prove that we are good,” Ibanez said. “When we do our mini tournaments, the girls always win.”
Besides helping students practice nonstop, Ramirez finds other way to inspire the young chess players. Recently, he invited Woman International Master Ivette Garcia Morales to speak to the team. Morales, who is only 24-years-old, talked about her upbringing in Chihuahua and competing at the international level.
“I felt very honored to have a master chess player come to Henderson to talk to us,” Argandona said. “It felt really good because she talked to us about her life and how girls can go up in the world. Now that I got first place in state I know that I can get there like she did.”
Story by Alicia Chumley | Photos by Leonel Monroy | Video by Angel Dominguez/EPISD
Girls who will be sixth-, seventh- or eighth-graders next school year may apply. The school is free and open to any girl living in El Paso County.
Young Women’s Academy provides a focus on science, technology, engineering, the arts and math using the New Tech Network’s project-based learning techniques. Students also participate in extensive service learning and mentoring opportunities. Transportation is provided for EPISD students who are accepted into the Academy.
The school offers UIL sports and other clubs and organizations. Young Women’s Academy will add one grade level every year until it becomes a sixth- through 12th-grade campus.
To provide more information to potential students and their parents, the school is having two open houses from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. on April 4 and 11 in the school’s cafeteria, 2231 Arizona Avenue.
Staff Report March 27, 2018NewsComments Off on Franklin High Hosts ‘High School Nation’ Tour, Snags $30k Grant to Build Music Studio
Move over Lollapalooza and Coachella…Tuesday morning, Franklin High School was the home of one of the only music festivals to pay their hosts.
The High School Nation Tour stopped by Franklin to give students a two-hour music fest experience complete with musical stages, interactive booths and food vendors.
It was all part of a presentation by a national school arts program that picked Franklin as one of 25 schools nationwide to host the festival.
On top of top-notch music, art and fun, Franklin gets a $30,000 grant from High School Nation to create a music recording studio at the school.
The High School Nation tour is making its way across the United States to promote music, arts and sports at public high schools by giving students a positive musical experience on their own campus.
HSN Studios also provides campuses gear and software necessary to create a fully functional on-campus recording studio.
Students perfected their “nae nae” with singer Silento, as well as performances by up and coming artists Caroline Roman, Chocolate Punk and more. In addition to the main stage performances, students engaged in fun and educational activities, such as learning to play musical instruments or picking up information about the dangers of tobacco use from the Truth campaign.
Guest Columnist March 23, 2018NewsComments Off on El Paso ISD Boys get Leadership Training Through Project MALES
Boys from throughout EPISD put on their best duds and attended the Project MALES Middle School Leadership Summit on Friday in hopes of developing the qualities they’ll need to be successful in life.
Five students from each EPISD middle school were selected to participate in the daylong program that included sessions on leadership and character building.
“It’s important that we acknowledge that a lot of times we expect our young boys to be tough and be able to handle it, but they need mentoring just as much as anyone else,” Superintendent Juan Cabrera said in a taped welcoming video. “Everyone needs a mentor and a guide growing up to take the right path.”
Cabrera told the boys that just like them, he faced many obstacles during his childhood, but that through mentorship he was able to graduate high school and earn college degrees.
“I grew up in a single parent household. So, for me, having mentors was important and a lot of those for me were coaches,” he said. “They looked out for me and helped me as they were coaching me in sports but also outside of sports. That led me to become a mentor myself through Big Brothers, Big Sisters after college.”
Despite the responsibility of being the oldest of his siblings, Cabrera learned to overcome and was the first in his family to attend law school.
“That was something that was important to me,” he said. “School was tough for me but having mentors on the academic side helped me focus on the importance of school work. Try to find someone you respect and look up to. Sometimes our peers don’t have the experience and the wisdom to help guide you through life so it’s important you find someone that can do that for you.”
The keynote speaker for the day was Vince Sheffield, EPISD’s deputy superintendent of administration. He spoke about Martin Luther King Jr.’s message of not judging a man by his appearance but rather by the content of his character.
He also outlined positive qualities for the students to follow, such as humility, compassion and trustworthiness.
“Your inner self is up to you and how you build it,” Sheffield said.
After the speaker, students were divided into groups with peers from other schools to attend five different breakout sessions. Each session focused on teaching social emotional skills through fun and engaging activities.
One session asked students to build a balloon tower, but each group was given a set of education presets. One group represented high school drop outs, so they had to build the tower without speaking and with one hand behind their back.
Terrace Hills eighth-grader Keanu Yoshida and his team didn’t let that stop them from trying, and although they came up with creative ways to blow up and seal the balloons, they could not compete with the other teams.
“It made me salty not being accomplish what we needed to do,” he said. “It was difficult, but we did our best.”
Seventh-grader Cesar Servantes’ group represented students who graduated from high school. His team could use their hands but not speak to each other.
“It put a different perspective on education,” he said. “It showed me the more education you have the easier life can be.”
The Bassett middle-schooler was recommended to join the program because of his grades.
“It has helped me a lot. When I have problems with my grades they help me out,” he said. “The coach helps tutor me. It has helped me become more engaged in school.”
MacArthur Elementary School teacher Gregory Myers appreciates the opportunity to build up students who need extra help.
“You can see how they become more confident being part of this program,” he said. “Even just coming here today and having another opportunity to learn.”
Story by Alicia Chumley | Photos by Leonel Monroy- EPISD
Staff Report March 19, 2018Local NewsComments Off on El Paso ISD Receives Top Honors in Public Financial Reporting Plan
The El Paso Independent School District received the Certificate of Achievement of Excellence in Financial Reporting, the highest recognition awarded by the Government Finance Officers Association of the United States and Canada.
“EPISD is committed to the highest standards of transparency and access to the public, and this award recognizes the work the District has done in its efforts to be responsive to the needs of the students, employees and taxpayers of El Paso,” said Carmen ArrietaCandelaria, EPISD’s Deputy Superintendent for Finance and Operations.
The Association recognized EPISD’s annual financial report for its accessibility to the general public. EPISD’s commitment to transparency in financial reporting has been recognized at the state and national level.
To earn the award, EPISD’s financial report was submitted to a panel of impartial judges that determined it exceeded its established high standards. Those standards include demonstrating a constructive spirit of full disclosures, a clear communication of the District’s financial story, and the motivation for potential users to peruse the document.
The award recognizes entities that went above and beyond in their comprehensive annual financial reporting commitments to the communities they serve.
Students from throughout the District went toe-to-toe earlier this week during the EPISD Spanish Spelling and Grammar Bee that ended after five nail-biting rounds with the correct spelling of the word inenarrable, or indescribable.
Wiggs Middle School sixth-grader Iker Pérez withstood 59 other competitors from 30 elementary and middle school campuses to win this year’s competition and qualify for the National Spanish Spelling Bee this summer in San Antonio. EPISD’s competition was held at the Chapin High School auditorium.
Iker outlasted runner-up Miranda Lara, an eighth-grader at MacArthur, after she misspelled the word brahmanismo, the Spanish word for the Brahmanism religion. Iker successfully spelled both brahmanismo and inenarrable to win the competition.
“Really exhilarating,” Iker said, when asked how he felt about winning.
He began participating in the Spanish Spelling Bee as an elementary student, going over words with the coordinator and developing a knack for determining where and if a word needed an accent. Iker’s regularly asked the pronouncer for a definition and a sentence to ensure he knew the origin of the word. This strategy paid off for the final words.
“One of the latest words, I didn’t know how to spell until they gave me the definition because it was mostly a religion,” he said referring to brahmanismo.
The two competitors spent more than five minutes going back and forth. Both missed words during the final rounds but were unable to secure the win by spelling correctly two consecutive words until the word brahmanismo came up.
“It was exciting but I was so nervous because he is very good,” Miranda said.
Guadalupe Pineda, a Polk Elementary dual-language teacher and the Spelling Bee coordinator, stood on stage watching both students trade words until the end.
“Having a Spanish Spelling Bee is important for our District because we are a dual language district, and we want to promote the Spanish language among our students,” Pineda said. “The Spanish Spelling is a way to support and move dual language to the next step and show that it really works.”
Story by Reneé De Santos | Photos by Leonel Monroy | Video by Angel Dominguez/EPISD
The El Paso Independent School District reminds residents that the district is still taking school name nominations for four of the consolidated campuses that are part of the 2016 EPISD Bond modernization program.
Members of the public will be able to provide name suggestions for consideration for the following four campus consolidations:
• Bradley/Fannin Elementary
• MacArthur/Bonham PK8
• Morehead/Johnson PK8
• Terrace Hills/Collins PK8
Applications will be accepted until March 19. Applicants must use the school name nomination form (attached below) and submit it via email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “Nomination for (School Name).” Additional documentation may be submitted along with the form.
Each campus will form a school-name committee to review and rank name suggestions using EPISD Policy CW (LOCAL). The EPISD Board of Trustees will make the final decision on school names using the recommendations from the school-name committees.
Applicants should consider the following guidelines when submitting name suggestions:
1. A school may be named after an individual that has made exceptional contributions to public education, preferably to the District or society.
2. The individual must represent exemplary human qualities or serve as a model of excellence for the students who will attend the school. 3. The individual shall not be an employee at the time of consideration or selection of the name.
4. Diversity shall be given consideration in selecting a school name.
5. Names of geographic areas, landmarks or academic-educational functions also may be considered.
For more information please contact Gustavo Reveles Acosta at email@example.com or 230-2563.
Guest Columnist March 7, 2018News, VideosComments Off on Video+Story: Albertsons Celebrates Store Renovations with Checks for EPISD Schools
Albertsons celebrated the re-grand opening of its Kern Place store in grand fashion Wednesday morning giving $9,000 back to El Paso High, Wiggs Middle and Mesita Elementary – their neighborhood stores and community partners.
The El Paso High cheer squad and drumline and Wiggs Middle cheerleaders kept the event festive as the store introduced its new look and contributed $2,000 for each campus, as well as $3,000 for the El Paso High band and $2,000 for the cheerleading squad.
Albertsons gave nearly $70,000 back to the El Paso community during Wednesday’s event.
“We believe partnering with our local schools is important for many reasons,” said Lori Raya, president of the Southwest Division for the Albertsons Companies. “One, the students are our current shoppers, our future shoppers and maybe future employees. We believe if we can donate back to our local schools, we are also donating back to students’ education and really helping people aspire to reach their dreams. If help we can do that, and help make better for one student at a time, that’s what we want to do as a company.”
El Paso High principal Mark Paz welcomed the partnership, acknowledging that the store is an easy trip from the campus for students and staff to shop, buy supplies and pick up sushi and Starbucks.
“We’ve had a fantastic partnership with Albertsons for many years,” Paz said. “We appreciate Albertson’s reaching out to us to be part of their re-grand opening event. We were able to bring our band, our cheerleaders and some key student representatives to receive this generous award from Albertsons.”
Wiggs principal Tim Luther joined with Paz and Mesita assistant principal Marcela Duran to accept their checks during a brief ceremony outside the store. The three joined with their students to pose with their oversized checks before they cut the ribbon.
“It’s another amazing event that Albertsons put on for our community,” Luther said. “They have been generous to us in the past and they continue to work with us and our El Paso High feeder pattern. We can’t say thank you enough for everything they’ve done for our community.”
The contribution to the three campuses also included two pallets of school supplies.
“We feel like every student should have everything they need to go to school and study and be successful and have all of the necessities and utensils to participate to be able to do their homework and turn in that paper that they are very proud to turn in,” Raya said.
In December, the Albertsons Foundation contributed $44,000 back to EPISD campuses and organizations during the re-grand opening celebrations at the Redd Road and Kenworthy stores.
Story by Reneé De Santos | Photos by Leonel Monroy | Video by Angel Dominguez/EPISD
A few months back on a local blog, the blog author and guests wrote and responded with some indignation about a local school district hiring a “marketing firm.” “Why would a school district need a marketing firm?” they asked with annoyance.
“Surely this money should be spent in the classroom! This is an outrage!” Grumble. Grumble. “Oh, and by the way the superintendent makes too much money and all administrators need to be fired.” Grumble. Grumble.
Being a blog that mostly caters to angry-at-local-politics folks, or people that are just angry in general for having to pay any taxes at all for anything, the echo-chamber cacophony of agreement crescendoed into a roar of annoyance and outrage. Soon, every response was based on agreeing the blog entry itself, with little or no reflection or critical thinking. Anyone trying to counter the argument was immediately branded a suck up, a traitor, or insulted as being “out of touch.”
Rational discourse was not welcome there. No need to respond if you disagreed or had an alternative point of view. The collective minds of the blog mass was already made up. The responses to the blog post went something like this:
“If those schools would just do their jobs, they wouldn’t need a marketing firm!”
“If the schools are losing students, so be it. If they were any good, they
wouldn’t be losing anyone!”
“They didn’t need marketing firms in my day! And look how well I turned
“Get off my lawn! And fire the superintendent!”
“Yeah, I agree with everything he just said. Ditto!
As EdChoice put it in an article about education marketing: “Shame on schools for trying to get students in their classrooms! Everyone knows those students should just show up, sit down and learn regardless of whether the learning environment is right for them.”
The original kernel of the blog post was actually a good question: “Why would a public school district would want to hire a marketing or “branding” firm?”
Actually, if you dive just a little bit deeper into the topic, “marketing” is not such a bad idea especially in these days of school districts that are under attack from a variety of forces: private schools, home schoolers, angry politicians, but mostly privately owned charter schools. For a public school district to hire a marketing firm to make sense however, you have to think critically about WHY a district would want to market it’s services. It comes down to the reason ANY business or organization would want to market itself: Getting more customers.
In many school districts across the nation, educators are faced with a multitude of forces aligning up in ways that school districts in the past 60 or so post WWII years probably would never have had to think about. Those include:
Loss of students:
In public schools, the students in the seats are the way that the schools make their money. More students mean more money. Less students mean less money.(link)
Think of students like a business thinks of customers. One district in the city has been losing students at the rate of about 1000 per year due to several reasons including major demographic changes in the city. As the oldest school district in the area, the base population is getting older and moving away from the city center towards the outskirts of town where the newer houses, stores, entertainment, and parks are.
Those “outskirts” also are home to other schools districts. Families moving to newer neighborhoods are moving away from the district. Older folks just don’t have babies plain and simple. The post WWII baby boom which fueled the rise of large urban school districts has given way to suburban sprawl and the relocation of younger families to less expensive outlying communities.
Legislative processes fighting against public education:
In the past, there was a strong bipartisan legislative ethic that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, to give it a Star Trek spin. Recently in Texas, along with quite a few mainly Republican, Tea Party controlled states like Kansas and Wisconsin, the legislature has decidedly become anti-public education. The needs of the well heeled few and corporations are becoming more important than the many.
A recent Texas Tribune article sums up the ed funding battle this way:
“The funding challenge facing districts like Kelton, as well as the unique pot of money they are set to lose in three months, stems from decisions by state officials made over a decade ago. In 2006, the Legislature compressed tax rates by a third, after the Texas Supreme Court ordered them to alleviate the high property tax rates in local school districts. They also created a state aid program to make up the extra revenue districts lost by lowering tax rates.”
In their Tea Party fueled fervor, the Texas legislature (along with MANY other GOP controlled state legislatures) has cut funding for students, cut taxes that paid for education, added funding for charter schools, made raising taxes much more difficult than in the past, and generally have decided that public education is not the investment in the future as they once viewed it, although the vast majority of them are products of the exact public school system they say is “broken.”
The idea of the collective good in education has gone on life support and with it, equitable funding. Districts are left with trying to pull funds from an ever increasingly smaller pot. Rich districts in rich suburbs of Houston and Dallas thrive, while those in the Valley, along the Rio Grande and rural areas have to try to succeed using an increasingly smaller pot of funds to draw from.
Charter schools, no matter what anyone might say otherwise, take funds from public schools by taking students from public schools. (Books have been written about whether charter schools are academically better or not, but in terms of simply sucking money from traditional public school districts, they are poison.) A student that goes to a charter school takes their funding with them.
In El Paso, not only brick and mortar but online charter schools will dig into the “butts-in-seats” funding that is the life blood of public education. The math is simple: If a student is attending an online school, or another school outside your district, you don’t get money for that student.
Charter schools, many backed with not only public funds as well as private funds, can afford to market themselves and have done so aggressively using professional marketing firms, also know as “branding firms.”
How does a school district fight back against demographic changes, a hostile legislature, and a new opponent that does not have to play by the same rules that you have to?
One way would be to just sit back and think that the issue will correct itself over time and go away. This is a poor strategy, much like allowing your opponent to run up the score in the first three quarters thinking you will be able to outscore them in the fourth.
That strategy rarely works. As poor a strategy as it may seem, it is one that many school districts seem to think is viable. Do nothing. Just teach. It will all be fine.
The problem is that while you sit back and do nothing, your competition is advertising about how good they are, with slickly produced ads that beckon parents to give that shiny new charter school a chance.
Consider this ad for Odyssey Charter Schools:
Slick, modern, and tempting. Ads like that are done, for Charter schools, by marketing companies, or branding companies. One should ask, why is it okay for charters, who use public funds, to create marketing, but not for public school districts?
One study in Pennsylvania found that charter schools spend on average, $48 per student per year on advertising.
IDEA Public Charter Schools are in the El Paso area.
They are not shy about advertising:
Another way is to create a series of strategic moves that by themselves seem disparate, but when put together make a cohesive plan to bring students back into the district.
The first step is, of course, to have a strong academic program, and to provide services to students that might not be found elsewhere. In El Paso for instance, the EPISD is addressing that issue by bringing in several programs that are unique to the area: International Baccalaureate schools at the middle school level, as well as becoming the largest New Tech High district in the US. The district is also becoming a 1:1 in all secondary campuses, among other things, like having a dual language program at all 54 elementary campuses across the city.
Another step is to allow students from anywhere to come to your district. This is called “open enrollment” and it allows students from anywhere to enroll. Surprisingly enough, in Texas, public schools default to a “closed enrollment” model where students only living in the boundaries of the school district are allowed to attend.
A district has to declare itself “Open Enrollment” to allow other students to attend. Once you have good academic programs in place (that is the most difficult and takes the most time by the way), and you have declared yourself an “open enrollment” district, the students will just start piling into your schools right?
Like any business, you need to advertise. You can have the best product in the world, but if no one knows about it, no one will buy it.
You no doubt have been in a business that has great “word of mouth;” that mystical advertising method where people tell their friends who tell their friends who tell their friends about it. That is a great strategy at first, but after a few months, that business, if it relied solely on people telling their friends how wonderful it is, probably is on financial ropes and is headed for disaster.
They have to advertise some other way, otherwise they will fail. The “build it and they will come” mentality for business and now public schools only works in the movies with ghost baseball players and Kevin Costner.
An article in Forbes Magazine stated exactly why school districts need to market themselves:
“For generations, the thought of a school district hiring outreach help was anathema. Especially during the Baby Boom, educators had one constituency to court: parents. With half the homes in many communities having school age children, the need to fund public schools was obvious. Now, however, it’s not unusual for many districts to have fewer than 30% of households with children in the public schools. Losing their core parental constituency has forced school boards and administrators to embrace social media and move beyond traditional newsletters to explain their value to the broader community.”
That is exactly why school districts need to market themselves. What is the point of creating modern learning spaces, having great academic programs, and not telling your larger community or people looking to move into your area about it?
And telling your community is more than just sending out tweets and posting on Facebook. It is an entire broad based strategy that encompasses every type of media available; something marketing firms do.
The educational landscape has changed. And with it, the need to tell the community about their services has changed as well. School districts can no longer afford to be in a passive role when it comes to marketing their wares.
The idea of marketing education is not a new one. Public universities have been marketing their programs for years and no-one bats an eye.
Here is an example of my local university marketing it’s athletic programs:
Even publicly funded community colleges, market themselves because they know that they are in competition with tech and trade schools as well as with universities:
As an article in Public School Review stated last year:
“Ultimately, the trend towards public school marketing signals an important recognition on the part of schools that students and their families have choices, and they are increasingly able to have a say in their own educations. In a prescient 1999 report on privatization in education, the MacKinac Center for Public Policy noted that “in an era of expanded educational freedom, families must now be treated as customers with choices and not as captive audiences.”
Families must be treated as customers with choices and not as captive audiences.
Public schools, if they plan on growing, or even just staying where they are, must advertise and market themselves, like any business. Advertising requires marketing, and good marketing requires hiring people or companies with those exact set of skills. School district are mostly made up of educators, not marketers.
Large scale marketing is a separate set of skills that most educators or school districts, simply do not have.
The irony of all this, especially on the blog that I mentioned earlier, is that those same angry anti-everything commenters will be the first to say something to the effect that “school districts need to be run like businesses.” When a school district does EXACTLY that, the same angry readers get even angrier.
Marketing is no longer a “nice to have.” It is a “need to have” for public school districts. To think otherwise would be a fool’s errand.
Author: Tim Holt is an educator and writer, with over 33 years experience in education and opines on education-related topics here and on his own award-winning blog: HoltThink. He values your feedback. Feel free to leave a comment. Read his previous columns here.