The final draft for submission


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The final draft for submission

  1. 1. El Paso Independent School District (EPISD)Communication Issues and SolutionsBusiness Team 5:Amro HussienCarolina MesaMonica PenaKarla Perez11/12/2010<br />The El Paso Independent School District has a rich history of education and culture over its 100 years of existence. The EPISD has experienced a rapid growth since its introduction in 1882 from the amount of elementary, middle, and high schools built to the number of students enrolled. The district has developed rapidly in the education processes along with the number of different programs that the district has implemented to help guide students towards success. The EPISD’s mission statement states that, “The mission of the El Paso Independent School District is to meet the diverse needs of all students and empower them to become successful members of a global community.”<br />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 by investing in both faculty and students to create a nurturing environment that promotes a high level of academic success and personal growth. EPISD provides the resources and assets of the District to create an exceptional environment for students. EPISD also believes that a good environment 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 on how teachers and students can help contribute by minimizing the negative impacts on the environment.<br />El Paso Independent School District is located in El Paso, Texas, and it is the largest district in the Texas Education Agency’s Educational Service Center- Region 19. The EPISD counts with more than 63,000 students in 94 different campuses. It consists of a total of 11 high schools, 15 middle schools and 57 elementary schools. Also EPISD is the 10th largest district in Texas and is the 61st largest district in the United States. EPISD produces about 9,000 jobs positioning as the largest employer in El Paso and it has an annual operating budget of $475 million. The district has grown considerably over the years to about 253 square miles, and it is currently bordered by Texas-New Mexico state line, and the Ysleta ISD. They offer a wide variety of programs to get the GED and citizenship classes. They also offer some recovery program for students that are in risk of dropping out of school, an occupational center, and several magnet schools.<br />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 Paso in lands, money and all material for the purpose of erecting a public school”. At the start of the district formation, O.T. Bassett was elected as the first president of the school district and Mayor Joseph Magoffin oversaw the new school board. This was the beginning of a new mission that had an intriguing plan for the future. In late 1883, El Paso which was a progressive city of 4,000 experienced the first official public school open. The school at the time consisted of 200 students. John Merrill was elected the principal of this school and he received $150 a month for his duties. Anna Moore was the only teacher hired to work in the school at that time and she received a salary of $75 a month. There was a vast amount that needed to be accomplished. Later on that year, the superintendent Calvin Esterly, signed a contract to give the students of El Paso the opportunity to have a new, better, and bigger schoolhouse. In 1884, Central School was built on the corner of Myrtle and Campbell streets. In 1885, they expanded the institution with a second floor that was added so they could establish their first high school. <br />In 1883, EPISD was in charge of building the first public kindergarten class in the entire state of Texas. It was located at the current Central Elementary School/ and Alamo Elementary School, which celebrated its 110th anniversary in 2009. This makes the school the oldest operating institution throughout the district. El Paso High School was built with Reminiscent of Greek and Roman architecture, and it has become an important historical benchmark for EPISD as the oldest operating high school in El Paso. The high school has been operating since 1916 and is also listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Along with the history, the school district has had for many years indulged in several programs to better educate and sharpen the minds of students.<br /> The school district has communication processes that they implement between the students, parents, and the teachers but there have been complications in recent and past years that have not made some of the processes sufficient. Since recent outcomes have occurred, it has exposed several problems in the school district that need to be addressed. We have discussed the issues and have come up with specific solutions that would help eliminate the communication barrier between the interested parties.<br />The Current Communication Process in EPISD:<br />Currently the El Paso Independent School District has various strategies for communication of safety within the schools which needs some improvement. As communication about safety should start at an early age, we felt it was appropriate to talk to one of the Principals of an elementary school in the El Paso ISD. I had the pleasure of speaking with Ms. Calk, a Principal in the El Paso ISD. This will help understand what students are being taught to do at a young age and what is currently being done to protect them while in school. The question that was asked for the Principal to answer was, “What are the current procedures that are in place regarding communication to help minimize safety issues within the schools?” Ms. Calk answered by stating, “ We have letters that are sent out to parents, visitor passes are required at all times in the facilities, employee background checks are done, and references are called and questioned about the possible candidate to be employed by the school district.” She also stated that, “parent volunteers also go through background checks, students have access to administration and teachers, El Paso ISD website has a vast amount of information, phone message systems are in place, and there is constant mail that is sent out to employees when necessary. Ms. Calk stated, “Communication regarding the safety of the child needs to also start at home.” She gave the example of when a parent teaches their child to look both ways to check and see if there is no oncoming traffic before they cross the street. The parent needs to teach their child what to do if there are safety issues or concerns going on at school. She also stated, “The parent needs to ask what is out there and being offered in the schools to work together. If parents do not speak up about a concern they have or don’t request classes they want, the schools will not know an issue exists and will not be able to review it and try to resolve it.”<br />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 and when maybe just one school will receive notification on an issue.” This means there are times when there is some type of communication that needs to go out to every single employee of the district 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 was sent out to one school. She used the Irvin High School incident when a teacher from Irvin was arrested of a child pornography charge in September of this year. A letter was specifically created for this incident and sent home with each of the students to read and provide to their parents. <br />A visitor’s pass is always required when entering a school facility. This requires the individual to go to the schools office and request permission from the staff by telling them why you are there and which student and/or teacher you are there to visit. This is an attempt to prevent uninvited individuals to roam the school without permission and disallowing anyone from doing any harm to students. Employee background checks are done for every applicant and they will not get hired by the district if proven to have failed the requirements. Reasons why they did not pass the background check are not disclosed for privacy reasons. References are called and questioned regarding the applicant. Parent volunteers also go through the same processes and if they fail to meet the standard requirements, then they will not be permitted to volunteer at the school. In the elementary schools, the students are taught that if they are mistreated in any particular way, they need to tell either a teacher or the counselor. The school also meets with students to discuss safety communication topics. An example is the stranger/danger topic and how to respond to these instances. This instructs children to stay away from 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 just children, tend to disrespect their family. Besides this fact, yet they are very respectful and polite to strangers. This class shows the important values to children regarding how to treat their families at home. There are classes that teach children how to be respectful to each other. It focuses on how to respect the feelings and properties of others in their surroundings. <br />Individual counseling is offered to all students who need advice for issues that are going on in their lives. Issues can range from a student being bullied by his/her peers or any type of personal problem that can occur at home. On the El Paso ISD website, it talks about how parental 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 the community, parent and teachers regarding all issues. Parent classes are offered, but very few parents attend. At times, there are classes that have been offered and only up to three or four attend. A major factor that has affected the ability of parents to attend these classes would be the high demand of attendance at their personal jobs. Parents also feel that it is unnecessary to attend those classes discussing topics that they feel they have a strong foundation in. The school district has started to send automatic messages about events to parents’ cell phones. These messages are sent from either the school or school district to the phone numbers the school has on file for the parents. These messages could be regarding any type of communication the school or district may want to convey to the parents. Some of these messages are a reminder that school dismissal will be early due to parent/teacher conferences or it can be an invitation to all parents regarding a PTA meeting to discuss important topics regarding the children. Once these invitations have been sent, it becomes the responsibility of the parent to make the time and effort to go meet the teacher to discuss how their child is doing academically and to see if there are any concerns with the child. If there is no appropriate communication on hand, then the parent’s chances of knowing about potential dangers become minimal. A teacher may want to bring the concern 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 and students; which are the current challenges faced today.<br />EPISD Current Communication Challenge Regarding Safety Issues and Sexual Abuse<br /> The El Paso Independent School District has had an overwhelming number of instances regarding children safety and abuse for the past years that shouldn’t be the main focus of any educational institution. The issues have included students fighting on school grounds, drug abuse in high schools, and unnecessary interactions between the student and the teacher. Although you may here about these types of occasions in any school setting, the problem seems to be swelling like an untreated wound. The EPISD has over 63,000 students in 93 schools ranging from elementary to the high school level. A major weakness of the EPISD is their current lack of safety coordinators whom are able to prepare their employees in dealing with the students when a hazard, such as the few listed above, arise. Hence, a serious dilemma arises when school teachers are untrained. The Ysleta Independent School district, in comparison, has about fewer 20,000 students than the EPISD. However, they have safety coordinators who develop and monitor district wide safety programs, conduct accident investigations, and work closely with the principals and department chairs on developing safety procedures. The school district lacks any real responsibility towards the safety of their students. Not having appropriate procedures in place allows for violence and abuse to occur on a regular basis. The concern arises when sexual interactions between a student and instructor occur and go unheard of. That, in itself, allows us to question the safety of our children in any educational institution. <br />A recent example involved a dance teacher from Irvin High School named Marco Alferez. He was arrested in September 2010 for making child pornography in his own home and is suspected to have over 70 children as victims. The prosecutors claim that Alferez made videos depicting these 70 children all of whom are believed to be in the El Paso area. Authorities confiscated 12 VHS tapes and 107 8mm tapes from his house and the district found enough evidence to fire Alferez after he was tried in court. The EPISD has a policy to perform criminal investigative background checks before employment. These background checks include fingerprinting and reference checks on all the teacher applicants before they get employed. They implemented this policy before hiring Alferez and found that he had no criminal record. This begs the question: how could parents and educational staff been more aware that this was occurring? What could have been done to prevent this instance? This prime example shows that there is a lack of safety and that changes must be implemented. It is significant to realize the essential role that a teacher has on our children’s lives and their development. In fact, the students are strongly influenced by the instructors because of the massive time spent with them five days a week. If we cannot guarantee the security of our children from the teacher, who is to say that, this would not happen again? I strongly believe that the real problem lies in not having the 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 communication between 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 nine weeks in order to discuss grades and to see how the kids are progressing. In essence, it’s a great idea 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 parents never even bother to know who their children’s instructors are. How are the parents going to know what is going on in their children’s lives if they do not make the upmost effort in getting involved in the kid’s lives outside of the house? Hence, it is apparent that the EPISD has a poor child development program that does not properly train employees about the hazards that students face in the school environment. Some of the teachers do not possess the proper knowledge and awareness to prevent child abuse. This weakness is where new procedures must come into play to safeguard our children’s future.<br />Furthermore, another staggering issue is the excessive fighting that occurs in the high schools of the district. There were cases where students in Irvin and El Paso High went off school grounds and fought each other while an audience observes and records for online viewing. The EPISD has zero tolerance for this kind of behavior and has four different levels to classify misbehavior. Level 1 offense deals with the use of inappropriate language, level 2 is the possession and use of tobacco products, level 3 deals with inciting a fight or in the act of fighting, and level 4 deals with possessing a knife or firearm. Fighting in schools has a level 3 impact and the EPISD deals with these issues by having them placed in alternate schools. The Raymond Telles Academy enrolls high school and middle school students who are referred by the El Paso County Juvenile Probation Center. The other alternative school that deals with this sort of behavior is the Juvenile Sentence Center/ Delta Academy who enrolls children from elementary to high school who are from the probation system and have either violated parole or committed crimes. The district has strict policies on fighting and violence in their student code of conduct which also covers student’s rights, student responsibilities, the scope of the districts authority, and expectations of student conduct. Their policies appear to be concrete regulating the punishments of students who act in this misconduct but what are the actions that can be taken to avoid fighting in schools? The inadequate amount of security guards at these schools allows for 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 the supervision that takes place is not sufficient in these settings. Those security guards and administrators cannot possibly see everything that goes on. There could be a group of students who commence in drug usage and bullying in areas that are not watched by administrators. It makes it almost impossible to catch all of the students who commit these behavioral acts. Some action needs to be taken to help eliminate these factors from our school systems. High school students may find it satisfactory to go off campus during lunch hour to get under the influence of marijuana and cocaine. It is mandatory that the teachers and administrators get more involved to help ensure everyone’s safety and well being.<br />It is vital that the children properly communicate with the teachers and parents. One of the 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 must communicate with the parents and administrators when this occurs with a student or even when a teacher makes an inappropriate offense with false language. The school district must establish better plans and procedures to decrease the communication barrier. This would help prevent situations similar to the Marco Alferez incident from occurring. If at least one or two of those children had spoken up, then this could have been disclosed much sooner and the damage could have been circumvented. The children are the medium in the communication process that is detrimental 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 our children, their education, and our society.<br />Solutions to the Communication Challenge:<br />Safety issues will always be an important issue to address in all school levels and although many are currently being properly assessed, the real hardship begins with communication. We have outlined the current communication strategy, and exposed the current communication challenge. The biggest question is how can the schools of the El Paso Independent School District improve communication by removing barriers of communication among students, teachers, and parents?<br />Constant preventive or corrective action methods are a striving goal for school officials in regards to school safety, yet the biggest challenge prevails in the actual communication. Getting students to speak up in regards to sexual abuse or drug abuse is hard but getting school officials to speak up is also very unlikely to occur as often as we wish. In a recent El Paso’s Child Protective Service study (2009), it was found that the reporting philosophy of the school principal impacts on teacher reporting. Consequently, school principals avoid making reports that would produce scandals and that would otherwise jeopardize the maintenance of good parental relations and school image. Every principal strives for those excellent TAKS test scores and this is what has become the main focus for many school teachers as well. In potential unsafe situations, the communication of such activity remains undelivered. Basically, what needs to be done to remove this communication barrier is to have principals encourage reporting rather than being 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 mandatory duty 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.<br />After much research with schools and talking to one School Board Trustee, I found out that there are many good areas that schools are currently concentrating on in regards to school safety. Unfortunately, this areas lack a major focus in communication strategies or the removal of communication barriers. The major concentration is mostly in areas such as video surveillance, security systems and drug awareness for the students. It has been proven that very few 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 be occurring within the school grounds or at the children’s homes. The excuse is that teachers have previously obtained an extensive education. That education includes child behavior among other issues mentioned, such as peer pressure. However, is it not true that teachers are mostly concerned and pressured about obtaining those exemplary academic scores from their students than anything else? Consequently, teachers may neglect to observe and become aware of the student’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 actually going beyond an unattended plan of action. The solution to this communication problem between 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 regular basis. Ideally, these programs would be designed to create awareness on procedures that alert teachers and that could be followed to prevent disastrous and detrimental situations that lead to the student’s willingness to remain silent. These programs if well designed should create rapport and communication between the teacher and the student.<br />In one interview with a teacher from the EPISD, the teacher addressed that they do concern themselves in regards to the children’s safety at school. She stated that although she disagrees with the behavior, she believes that some teachers or other staff members may hesitate to communicate issues like such because of the fear of potential law suits that could be brought against them for wrongful accusations. Because many people find it difficult to believe that anyone would sexually hurt or victimize children, many tend to deny that the problem exists and once again the communication of that wrongful act goes unattended. It is only when scandals arise that people become aware of the lack of communication that is currently in place. In situations like these the communication solution is to advise all teachers and staff members that if they make a report in "good faith," they have immunity from civil or criminal liability. The best tool to utilize here; is to provide yearly orientations for all school staff members in addition to related informative correspondence and emails throughout the scholastic year. <br />Finally, in my research I also found that some barriers of communication also begin with the student and the parents. An unstable emotional environment at home often times leads to the child’s detrimental silence. It makes sense to think that a child that is being bullied or abused sexually 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 parents struggle to divide themselves between their work and their children. Still many parents don’t understand that communication with their children should at all times be their top priority. Many parents forget that our kids our growing up in a world of drugs, violence and abuse. Parents cannot depend on schools to provide all the safety measures merely because the violence, drug abuse or any other unsafe situation may be occurring on school grounds. Other parents are fully aware about unsafe situations happening in schools grounds but unfortunately may not know how to come across with a strong topic such as “sexual abuse” without compromising their 6 year old emotional well-being. To help parents accomplish this responsibility, the school could aid 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 nonprofit organizations like AVANCE that could be considered an essential asset to implement in the school’s PTA meetings. In fact these programs could be implemented on a designated Saturday as 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 a success the parents have to begin when their children are born and develop a continuous communication routine throughout the remainder of their childhood. Programs like AVANCE teach 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 a real situation of drugs, violence or abuse unless we teach our children to speak. But, parents need to know exactly how to encourage their children to speak up and schools can be a hope in the encouragement of issues like these. <br />We have listed some suggestions on appropriate tools to focus and aid in the removal of communication barriers. Taking action and implementing them is the next step. The problem of communication has to be confronted at various levels. Schools are constantly working on preventive issues such as drugs, violence, and abuse, but without the appropriate communication between parents, teachers, and students all efforts will be a complete waste. Many schools are currently working hard on implementing ways to deviate wrongful behavior by students or teachers 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 discuss issues about improvements on student’s scholastic achievements. The El Paso Independent School District has assertively implemented these excellent preventive measures to deviate the unwanted behavior but unfortunately more needs to be done in regards to corrective action which has to do precisely with the low communication among the students, teachers, and parents. Therefore, this is also about removing communication barriers and communication encouragement! Much can be done to alter attitudes and conditions but the ultimate challenge arises in removing those communication barriers so that our children, teachers and parents speak up among each other. The “Alferez” case is an example of the communication failure that exists in the EPISD. By implementing better methods of communication, parents and school officials can simultaneously work together in adjusting the part where the system is still failing and still allowing our children to be subjective to horrific acts in their lives. We are adamant that proper communication and child safety should be a top priority for educators and parents.<br />