El Paso IndependentSchool District(EPISD)Communication Issues and SolutionsBusiness Team 5:Amro HussienCarolina MesaMonica PenaKarla Perez11/12/2010
The El Paso Independent School District has a rich history of education and culture overits 100 years of existence. The EPISD has experienced a rapid growth since its introduction in1882 from the amount of elementary, middle, and high schools built to the number of studentsenrolled. The district has developed rapidly in the education processes along with the number ofdifferent programs that the district has implemented to help guide students towards success. TheEPISD’s mission statement states that, “The mission of the El Paso Independent School Districtis to meet the diverse needs of all students and empower them to become successful members ofa global community.” The EPISD is vested in producing a graduating student body that exhibits the mental,emotional, and physical maturity required in today’s productive society. This goal is achieved byinvesting in both faculty and students to create a nurturing environment that promotes a highlevel of academic success and personal growth. EPISD provides the resources and assets of theDistrict to create an exceptional environment for students. EPISD also believes that a goodenvironment where all the members work in the same team is fundamental for a meaningful,motivational, and successful education experience. The district is focused on devising ideas onhow teachers and students can help contribute by minimizing the negative impacts on theenvironment. El Paso Independent School District is located in El Paso, Texas, and it is the largestdistrict in the Texas Education Agency’s Educational Service Center- Region 19. The EPISDcounts with more than 63,000 students in 94 different campuses. It consists of a total of 11 highschools, 15 middle schools and 57 elementary schools. Also EPISD is the 10 th largest district inTexas and is the 61st largest district in the United States. EPISD produces about 9,000 jobspositioning as the largest employer in El Paso and it has an annual operating budget of $475million. The district has grown considerably over the years to about 253 square miles, and it iscurrently bordered by Texas-New Mexico state line, and the Ysleta ISD. They offer a widevariety of programs to get the GED and citizenship classes. They also offer some recoveryprogram for students that are in risk of dropping out of school, an occupational center, andseveral magnet schools. Besides the fact that it is a large district, there is also a rich history that accompanies it.In 1882, the newspaper had announced that, “$700 has been subscribed by the citizens of El Pasoin lands, money and all material for the purpose of erecting a public school”. At the start of thedistrict formation, O.T. Bassett was elected as the first president of the school district and MayorJoseph Magoffin oversaw the new school board. This was the beginning of a new mission thathad an intriguing plan for the future. In late 1883, El Paso which was a progressive city of 4,000experienced the first official public school open. The school at the time consisted of 200students. John Merrill was elected the principal of this school and he received $150 a month forhis duties. Anna Moore was the only teacher hired to work in the school at that time and shereceived a salary of $75 a month. There was a vast amount that needed to be accomplished. Lateron that year, the superintendent Calvin Esterly, signed a contract to give the students of El Pasothe opportunity to have a new, better, and bigger schoolhouse. In 1884, Central School was builton the corner of Myrtle and Campbell streets. In 1885, they expanded the institution with asecond floor that was added so they could establish their first high school.
In 1883, EPISD was in charge of building the first public kindergarten class in the entirestate of Texas. It was located at the current Central Elementary School/ and Alamo ElementarySchool, which celebrated its 110th anniversary in 2009. This makes the school the oldestoperating institution throughout the district. El Paso High School was built with Reminiscent ofGreek and Roman architecture, and it has become an important historical benchmark for EPISDas the oldest operating high school in El Paso. The high school has been operating since 1916and is also listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Along with the history, the schooldistrict has had for many years indulged in several programs to better educate and sharpen theminds of students. The school district has communication processes that they implement between thestudents, parents, and the teachers but there have been complications in recent and past years thathave not made some of the processes sufficient. Since recent outcomes have occurred, it hasexposed several problems in the school district that need to be addressed. We have discussed theissues and have come up with specific solutions that would help eliminate the communicationbarrier between the interested parties.The Current Communication Process in EPISD: Currently the El Paso Independent School District has various strategies forcommunication of safety within the schools which needs some improvement. As communicationabout safety should start at an early age, we felt it was appropriate to talk to one of the Principalsof an elementary school in the El Paso ISD. I had the pleasure of speaking with Ms. Calk, aPrincipal in the El Paso ISD. This will help understand what students are being taught to do at ayoung age and what is currently being done to protect them while in school. The question thatwas asked for the Principal to answer was, “What are the current procedures that are in placeregarding communication to help minimize safety issues within the schools?” Ms. Calkanswered by stating, “ We have letters that are sent out to parents, visitor passes are required atall times in the facilities, employee background checks are done, and references are called andquestioned about the possible candidate to be employed by the school district.” She also statedthat, “parent volunteers also go through background checks, students have access toadministration and teachers, El Paso ISD website has a vast amount of information, phonemessage systems are in place, and there is constant mail that is sent out to employees whennecessary. Ms. Calk stated, “Communication regarding the safety of the child needs to also startat home.” She gave the example of when a parent teaches their child to look both ways to checkand see if there is no oncoming traffic before they cross the street. The parent needs to teach theirchild what to do if there are safety issues or concerns going on at school. She also stated, “Theparent needs to ask what is out there and being offered in the schools to work together. If parentsdo not speak up about a concern they have or don’t request classes they want, the schools willnot know an issue exists and will not be able to review it and try to resolve it.”I also had a chance to interview Bernice Zubia, Director of Communications for the El Paso ISD.We briefly spoke and she stated that, “There are times when a letter is sent out district wide andwhen maybe just one school will receive notification on an issue.” This means there are timeswhen there is some type of communication that needs to go out to every single employee of thedistrict and there are times when the issue is just specific to a single school, so just that one
school will receive a notification. She then went on to give an example of one letter that wassent out to one school. She used the Irvin High School incident when a teacher from Irvin wasarrested of a child pornography charge in September of this year. A letter was specificallycreated for this incident and sent home with each of the students to read and provide to theirparents. A visitor’s pass is always required when entering a school facility. This requires theindividual to go to the schools office and request permission from the staff by telling them whyyou are there and which student and/or teacher you are there to visit. This is an attempt toprevent uninvited individuals to roam the school without permission and disallowing anyonefrom doing any harm to students. Employee background checks are done for every applicant andthey will not get hired by the district if proven to have failed the requirements. Reasons whythey did not pass the background check are not disclosed for privacy reasons. References arecalled and questioned regarding the applicant. Parent volunteers also go through the sameprocesses and if they fail to meet the standard requirements, then they will not be permitted tovolunteer at the school. In the elementary schools, the students are taught that if they aremistreated in any particular way, they need to tell either a teacher or the counselor. The schoolalso meets with students to discuss safety communication topics. An example is thestranger/danger topic and how to respond to these instances. This instructs children to stay awayfrom strangers and what to say if approached by an individual who attempts to lure you in.Another example would be how to treat your family members. People in general, not justchildren, tend to disrespect their family. Besides this fact, yet they are very respectful and politeto strangers. This class shows the important values to children regarding how to treat theirfamilies at home. There are classes that teach children how to be respectful to each other. Itfocuses on how to respect the feelings and properties of others in their surroundings. Individual counseling is offered to all students who need advice for issues that are goingon in their lives. Issues can range from a student being bullied by his/her peers or any type ofpersonal problem that can occur at home. On the El Paso ISD website, it talks about howparental engagement program will be implemented at each level from elementary to high school.The objective of this program is to improve communication and cooperation between thecommunity, parent and teachers regarding all issues. Parent classes are offered, but very fewparents attend. At times, there are classes that have been offered and only up to three or fourattend. A major factor that has affected the ability of parents to attend these classes would be thehigh demand of attendance at their personal jobs. Parents also feel that it is unnecessary to attendthose classes discussing topics that they feel they have a strong foundation in. The schooldistrict has started to send automatic messages about events to parents’ cell phones. Thesemessages are sent from either the school or school district to the phone numbers the school hason file for the parents. These messages could be regarding any type of communication theschool or district may want to convey to the parents. Some of these messages are a reminder thatschool dismissal will be early due to parent/teacher conferences or it can be an invitation to allparents regarding a PTA meeting to discuss important topics regarding the children. Once theseinvitations have been sent, it becomes the responsibility of the parent to make the time and effortto go meet the teacher to discuss how their child is doing academically and to see if there are anyconcerns with the child. If there is no appropriate communication on hand, then the parent’schances of knowing about potential dangers become minimal. A teacher may want to bring theconcern up that lately your child has been quieter when then usual. This could be a sign of a
concern on hand and the matter needs to be addressed to the attention of the parent. Regardless,the major focus is that the communication needs to be there between the teachers, parents andstudents; which are the current challenges faced today.EPISD Current Communication Challenge Regarding Safety Issues and Sexual Abuse The El Paso Independent School District has had an overwhelming number of instancesregarding children safety and abuse for the past years that shouldn’t be the main focus of anyeducational institution. The issues have included students fighting on school grounds, drug abusein high schools, and unnecessary interactions between the student and the teacher. Although youmay here about these types of occasions in any school setting, the problem seems to be swellinglike an untreated wound. The EPISD has over 63,000 students in 93 schools ranging fromelementary to the high school level. A major weakness of the EPISD is their current lack ofsafety coordinators whom are able to prepare their employees in dealing with the students whena hazard, such as the few listed above, arise. Hence, a serious dilemma arises when schoolteachers are untrained. The Ysleta Independent School district, in comparison, has about fewer20,000 students than the EPISD. However, they have safety coordinators who develop andmonitor district wide safety programs, conduct accident investigations, and work closely with theprincipals and department chairs on developing safety procedures. The school district lacks anyreal responsibility towards the safety of their students. Not having appropriate procedures inplace allows for violence and abuse to occur on a regular basis. The concern arises when sexualinteractions between a student and instructor occur and go unheard of. That, in itself, allows us toquestion the safety of our children in any educational institution. A recent example involved a dance teacher from Irvin High School named MarcoAlferez. He was arrested in September 2010 for making child pornography in his own home andis suspected to have over 70 children as victims. The prosecutors claim that Alferez made videosdepicting these 70 children all of whom are believed to be in the El Paso area. Authoritiesconfiscated 12 VHS tapes and 107 8mm tapes from his house and the district found enoughevidence to fire Alferez after he was tried in court. The EPISD has a policy to perform criminalinvestigative background checks before employment. These background checks includefingerprinting and reference checks on all the teacher applicants before they get employed. Theyimplemented this policy before hiring Alferez and found that he had no criminal record. Thisbegs the question: how could parents and educational staff been more aware that this wasoccurring? What could have been done to prevent this instance? This prime example shows thatthere is a lack of safety and that changes must be implemented. It is significant to realize theessential role that a teacher has on our children’s lives and their development. In fact, thestudents are strongly influenced by the instructors because of the massive time spent with themfive days a week. If we cannot guarantee the security of our children from the teacher, who is tosay that, this would not happen again? I strongly believe that the real problem lies in not havingthe proper form of integrated communication between the parents, students, and the teachers.The EPISD has the PTA program which does attempt to have some form of communicationbetween the parents and their children’s mentors. For a majority of the schools in the district,especially elementary and middle schools, they host a Parent-teacher conference every nineweeks in order to discuss grades and to see how the kids are progressing. In essence, it’s a greatidea but the main issue with this strategy is that not all of the parents or guardians attend these
meetings. Another issue that should concern the district is that a good amount of the parentsnever even bother to know who their children’s instructors are. How are the parents going toknow what is going on in their children’s lives if they do not make the upmost effort in gettinginvolved in the kid’s lives outside of the house? Hence, it is apparent that the EPISD has a poorchild development program that does not properly train employees about the hazards thatstudents face in the school environment. Some of the teachers do not possess the properknowledge and awareness to prevent child abuse. This weakness is where new procedures mustcome into play to safeguard our children’s future. Furthermore, another staggering issue is the excessive fighting that occurs in the highschools of the district. There were cases where students in Irvin and El Paso High went offschool grounds and fought each other while an audience observes and records for onlineviewing. The EPISD has zero tolerance for this kind of behavior and has four different levels toclassify misbehavior. Level 1 offense deals with the use of inappropriate language, level 2 is thepossession and use of tobacco products, level 3 deals with inciting a fight or in the act offighting, and level 4 deals with possessing a knife or firearm. Fighting in schools has a level 3impact and the EPISD deals with these issues by having them placed in alternate schools. TheRaymond Telles Academy enrolls high school and middle school students who are referred bythe El Paso County Juvenile Probation Center. The other alternative school that deals with thissort of behavior is the Juvenile Sentence Center/ Delta Academy who enrolls children fromelementary to high school who are from the probation system and have either violated parole orcommitted crimes. The district has strict policies on fighting and violence in their student code ofconduct which also covers student’s rights, student responsibilities, the scope of the districtsauthority, and expectations of student conduct. Their policies appear to be concrete regulatingthe punishments of students who act in this misconduct but what are the actions that can be takento avoid fighting in schools? The inadequate amount of security guards at these schools allowsfor the students to go to certain spots around campus and commit these violent acts of behavior.The children in elementary and middle school usually go to the outdoors with their peers, but thesupervision that takes place is not sufficient in these settings. Those security guards andadministrators cannot possibly see everything that goes on. There could be a group of studentswho commence in drug usage and bullying in areas that are not watched by administrators. Itmakes it almost impossible to catch all of the students who commit these behavioral acts. Someaction needs to be taken to help eliminate these factors from our school systems. High schoolstudents may find it satisfactory to go off campus during lunch hour to get under the influence ofmarijuana and cocaine. It is mandatory that the teachers and administrators get more involved tohelp ensure everyone’s safety and well being. It is vital that the children properly communicate with the teachers and parents. One ofthe possibilities as to why a child might not tell the parent that they got bullied at school is“ratting” out that person they are afraid of. The children need to know that they mustcommunicate with the parents and administrators when this occurs with a student or even when ateacher makes an inappropriate offense with false language. The school district must establishbetter plans and procedures to decrease the communication barrier. This would help preventsituations similar to the Marco Alferez incident from occurring. If at least one or two of thosechildren had spoken up, then this could have been disclosed much sooner and the damage couldhave been circumvented. The children are the medium in the communication process that isdetrimental for any future prevention of safety issues and abuse. Hence, the educational system’s
safety policies and preventative measures must be reconstructed for the betterment of ourchildren, their education, and our society.Solutions to the Communication Challenge: Safety issues will always be an important issue to address in all school levels andalthough many are currently being properly assessed, the real hardship begins withcommunication. We have outlined the current communication strategy, and exposed the currentcommunication challenge. The biggest question is how can the schools of the El PasoIndependent School District improve communication by removing barriers of communicationamong students, teachers, and parents? Constant preventive or corrective action methods are a striving goal for school officials inregards to school safety, yet the biggest challenge prevails in the actual communication. Gettingstudents to speak up in regards to sexual abuse or drug abuse is hard but getting school officialsto speak up is also very unlikely to occur as often as we wish. In a recent El Paso’s ChildProtective Service study (2009), it was found that the reporting philosophy of the schoolprincipal impacts on teacher reporting. Consequently, school principals avoid making reportsthat would produce scandals and that would otherwise jeopardize the maintenance of goodparental relations and school image. Every principal strives for those excellent TAKS test scoresand this is what has become the main focus for many school teachers as well. In potential unsafesituations, the communication of such activity remains undelivered. Basically, what needs to bedone to remove this communication barrier is to have principals encourage reporting rather thanbeing reluctant to the reporting of such events that would otherwise be seriously investigated.School principals need to provide more emphasis in this area and have this become a mandatoryduty for all school employees because at the end what you get are stories such as the “Alferez”case and Irvin High School making a front page headline in the newspapers. After much research with schools and talking to one School Board Trustee, I found outthat there are many good areas that schools are currently concentrating on in regards to schoolsafety. Unfortunately, this areas lack a major focus in communication strategies or the removalof communication barriers. The major concentration is mostly in areas such as videosurveillance, security systems and drug awareness for the students. It has been proven that veryfew actually concentrate on any mandatory teacher training that creates teacher awareness.Moreover, many don’t support preventive child abuse of sexual or violent acts that may beoccurring within the school grounds or at the children’s homes. The excuse is that teachers havepreviously obtained an extensive education. That education includes child behavior among otherissues mentioned, such as peer pressure. However, is it not true that teachers are mostlyconcerned and pressured about obtaining those exemplary academic scores from their studentsthan anything else? Consequently, teachers may neglect to observe and become aware of thestudent’s deep emotional problems created by the abuse that is present in their lives. Perhaps,
this is precisely the reason that students are incapable of reaching the expected academic goals.The need to assertively continue to educate teachers in this area as strongly as desired is actuallygoing beyond an unattended plan of action. The solution to this communication problembetween the teacher and the student is to implement additional child development programs.These programs would remain specifically mandatory for teachers and could occur on a regularbasis. Ideally, these programs would be designed to create awareness on procedures that alertteachers and that could be followed to prevent disastrous and detrimental situations that lead tothe student’s willingness to remain silent. These programs if well designed should create rapportand communication between the teacher and the student. In one interview with a teacher from the EPISD, the teacher addressed that they doconcern themselves in regards to the children’s safety at school. She stated that although shedisagrees with the behavior, she believes that some teachers or other staff members may hesitateto communicate issues like such because of the fear of potential law suits that could be broughtagainst them for wrongful accusations. Because many people find it difficult to believe thatanyone would sexually hurt or victimize children, many tend to deny that the problem exists andonce again the communication of that wrongful act goes unattended. It is only when scandalsarise that people become aware of the lack of communication that is currently in place. Insituations like these the communication solution is to advise all teachers and staff members thatif they make a report in "good faith," they have immunity from civil or criminal liability. Thebest tool to utilize here; is to provide yearly orientations for all school staff members in additionto related informative correspondence and emails throughout the scholastic year. Finally, in my research I also found that some barriers of communication also begin withthe student and the parents. An unstable emotional environment at home often times leads to thechild’s detrimental silence. It makes sense to think that a child that is being bullied or abusedsexually is not going to report the actions if that child is being neglected by his/her own parents.Often times, you find disassembled families going through a divorce. Also, many single parentsstruggle to divide themselves between their work and their children. Still many parents don’tunderstand that communication with their children should at all times be their top priority. Manyparents forget that our kids our growing up in a world of drugs, violence and abuse. Parentscannot depend on schools to provide all the safety measures merely because the violence, drugabuse or any other unsafe situation may be occurring on school grounds. Other parents are fullyaware about unsafe situations happening in schools grounds but unfortunately may not knowhow to come across with a strong topic such as “sexual abuse” without compromising their 6year old emotional well-being. To help parents accomplish this responsibility, the school couldaid the PTA to perhaps include a class for parents that teaches them communication strategies.There are many community outreach programs. Some of these programs are offered by nonprofitorganizations like AVANCE that could be considered an essential asset to implement in theschool’s PTA meetings. In fact these programs could be implemented on a designated Saturdayas part of a school communication awareness program for parents. In a conversation with a
program specialist for AVANCE, she stated that in order for any parenting program to be asuccess the parents have to begin when their children are born and develop a continuouscommunication routine throughout the remainder of their childhood. Programs like AVANCEteach parents the necessary tool to make communication in their families a successful venture.We must understand that children will not normally respond when they find themselves facing areal situation of drugs, violence or abuse unless we teach our children to speak. But, parentsneed to know exactly how to encourage their children to speak up and schools can be a hope inthe encouragement of issues like these. We have listed some suggestions on appropriate tools to focus and aid in the removal ofcommunication barriers. Taking action and implementing them is the next step. The problem ofcommunication has to be confronted at various levels. Schools are constantly working onpreventive issues such as drugs, violence, and abuse, but without the appropriate communicationbetween parents, teachers, and students all efforts will be a complete waste. Many schools arecurrently working hard on implementing ways to deviate wrongful behavior by students orteachers such as; thorough background checks on school teachers, installing security cameras,bringing a dog to the school campus to search for drugs, or holding PTA meetings to discussissues about improvements on student’s scholastic achievements. The El Paso IndependentSchool District has assertively implemented these excellent preventive measures to deviate theunwanted behavior but unfortunately more needs to be done in regards to corrective action whichhas to do precisely with the low communication among the students, teachers, and parents.Therefore, this is also about removing communication barriers and communicationencouragement! Much can be done to alter attitudes and conditions but the ultimate challengearises in removing those communication barriers so that our children, teachers and parents speakup among each other. The “Alferez” case is an example of the communication failure that existsin the EPISD. By implementing better methods of communication, parents and school officialscan simultaneously work together in adjusting the part where the system is still failing and stillallowing our children to be subjective to horrific acts in their lives. We are adamant that propercommunication and child safety should be a top priority for educators and parents.