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Your guide to the 2021 SISD School Board Election

El Paso Matters wants to help you navigate the 2021 Socorro Independent School District Board of Trustees election.

We asked candidates from every district race a handful of questions to help you decide who you want to represent your district.

We sent questionnaires to every candidate and reminders when we didn’t get responses by the deadline. We asked candidates to limit responses to 100 words. Responses are lightly edited for grammar and to fit the word count.

Which seats are up for election?

The District 2, 3, 4 and 5 seats are up for election this year.

Not sure if your trustee position is up for election? First, go here to find which precinct you live in. Then determine which SISD district your precinct is in by referencing the map below.

District 2

Who’s running for this seat?

William Carrasco is a licensed social worker.

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Jack Duncan Jr.’s occupation was not listed on his ballot application.

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Veronica Esparza is a retired educator, who worked as a teacher and counselor.

Cynthia “Cindy” Najera has been a trustee since 2010.

What grade would you give SISD’s COVID-19 response? What would you have done differently?

William Carrasco: I would rate SISD a B+ in responding to COVID-19. Many families were concerned that the feedback they were asked for was not applied in decision-making. The PPE provided to teachers and staff was minimal. The district was not prepared to meet the technology needs of all students.

Jack Duncan: Did not submit a questionnaire

Veronica Esparza: As far as I know, the district has done its best to implement safeguards that would make its community feel adequately protected. In an effort to satisfy the CDC guidelines, I’m sure, there are thermometer stations & plastic shields throughout the district & even on campuses.

Cynthia Najera: I feel that Socorro ISD deserves an A+ for our COVID-19 response. It has been inspiring to see everyone with Team SISD come together to do what is best for our students, employees, and community. Socorro ISD has done an outstanding job of continuing instruction and operations during the COVID-19 pandemic. We have had to work through challenges and the constraints and directives from government officials and TEA to keep our district moving forward. We need to advocate for local flexibility to make decisions that are in the best interest of our students and staff in matters such as mask mandates, standardized tests, and others.

How should SISD address COVID-19 learning loss?

William Carrasco: The district needs to reduce the number of assessments given in order to increase the instructional time. They must also train teachers in a variety of methods and resources for closing learning gaps. This can be done by looking at the teachers who have done well and applying their teaching methods.

Veronica Esparza: In order to effectively address the learning loss, all school campuses for all students and teachers need to be re-opened. Many students are not equipped to self-learn at home.

Cynthia Najera: We have systems in place such as interventions, benchmarks, support systems, tutoring, intersession classes/camps to provide extra support and instruction. Our amazing and dedicated teachers are prepared to provide additional support for students who may need it.

How do you view Superintendent José Espinoza’s performance in the years since he joined the district?

William Carrasco: I appreciate that every high school now has an early college component; I know this was one of his initiatives. Overall, he has helped make SISD a top choice for teachers and students.

Veronica Esparza: Did not answer the question

Cynthia Najera: Dr. Espinoza has done an outstanding job of leading Socorro ISD! His vision of treating and educating each child as if they were our own has led to amazing academic accomplishments for our students, making sure they are prepared for college and career opportunities. Dr. Espinoza has strived to unite our district with teamwork and collaboration. We have Achieved Success as a Team through his dedication, work ethic and leadership. Dr. Espinoza has taken our district to the top which is evident in the A rating from TEA and Post-secondary readiness distinction and so many other accolades achieved by our students and staff.

How can SISD retain students amid the growth of charter schools and other schooling options in El Paso County?

William Carrasco: SISD needs to provide the best option for all students.

Veronica Esparza: In the interest of competing with other educational options, class sizes need to be addressed and teachers need to have comparable assistance within the classroom for the special needs population. Offering Trade specialties and life skills classes is a plus.

Cynthia Najera: Socorro ISD provides free pre-k, free college courses, advanced academics, career and technical education programs, fine arts, athletics, extracurricular and so many more opportunities for our students and staff to succeed. Keeping our parents and stakeholders informed of these opportunities for our students is vital to retaining our students and their families.

How should SISD approach issues of equity?

William Carrasco: Equity needs to be approached with transparency, knowing the community, celebrating the cultures of all students, following the site-based decision making framework to give parents and families a voice, and investing in special programs so that all students have the same opportunities.

Veronica Esparza: The district is adhering, as such: The Socorro Independent School District does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, disability, or age in its programs, activities or employment. SISD adheres to all Title VI Regulations prohibiting discrimination, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, as amended, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Cynthia Najera: We strive to keep checks and balances across the district to always be fair and equitable. Ensuring educational resources, facilities, nutrition, athletics, fine arts, and technology are available for all students in our district. Bond 2017 has helped us to make sure we provide construction and improving facilities for all students.

District 3

Who’s running for this seat?

Fancy Adams works for The Princeton Review’s Instructional Development team and is a parent of an SISD student.

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Ricardo Castellano is a retired El Paso police lieutenant and parent of an SISD student.

Angelica Rodriguez is Director of Special Education at EPISD and has been a trustee since 2010.

What grade would you give SISD’s COVID-19 response? What would you have done differently?

Fancy Adams: B-. Remote instruction is successful when all parties are given resources, training, and materials needed. I would have advocated for the need to allocate funding for tech supplies and resources, such as stipends for high-speed internet, pen tablets, and tech support staff to assist families outside of school hours. Tools as well as professional training would have made teachers and students more successful. The district’s in-person instruction plan helped the most vulnerable students; however, hourly employees were not reliably given alternative assignments. I would have worked to assign transportation to deliver meals at bus stops and trained paraprofessionals in tech support.

Ricardo Castellano: Did not submit a questionnaire

Angelica Rodriguez: I would give SISD an A. I believe we have done an outstanding job in our response to COVID-19. Unfortunately, we did not have a say in some decisions due to the mandates that came from the Texas Education Agency, but based on the things that we did have control over, our superintendent, administration, teachers, and staff went into high gear. Meal distributions, laptop distributions, hot spots were ordered and distributed. PPE was ordered and distributed to staff working at campuses. Our teachers, administrators and staff did an incredible job in reaching out to students and making sure students remained engaged and provided support when needed.

How should SISD address COVID-19 learning loss?

Fancy Adams: We cannot address learning loss until we help students with their well-being and sense of security. There needs to be an overhaul of discipline procedures for students at the district level, identifying underlying issues rather than punitive decisions based on behavior. Campus initiatives should foster security and acceptance for students who are likely facing upheaval in other aspects of life due to COVID-19. Hiring additional counseling staff or social workers to identify at risk students will help identify students and families who need to be connected to community partners to meet basic needs. Then, we can focus on bridging gaps.

Angelica Rodriguez: I believe we as a district will need to plan for any and all remediation and support that students may need due to COVID 19. This may include social emotional health support in addition to academic support. This could look like tutoring, extended instruction, additional counselors etc., and being able to compensate our teachers and staff to provide that support. As a board, we will need to plan the budget accordingly in order to provide these additional services that may be necessary. I am confident that our dedicated teachers and staff will continue to address all our students’ needs as they always have.

How do you view Superintendent José Espinoza’s performance in the years since he joined the district?

Fancy Adams: Superintendent Espinoza has reframed the district into a growth mindset with a strong focus on technology and career exploration and opportunity. The expansion of dual credit programs and learning academies is a huge win for our community. The amount of technology driven programs offered in the district left many behind still during the pandemic, which was disappointing, and we can learn from that experience by better preparing teachers with essential tools and training that can be utilized in person and through remote instruction.

Angelica Rodriguez: Dr. Espinoza has done an incredible job in our district. He has promoted a true team mentality and achieving success as a team. He has been instrumental in our fight against charter schools moving into the area trying to recruit our SISD students. He paved the way for Stand and Deliver event where teachers, administrators and staff spoke to parents in the district to let the community know about the Endless Opportunities that SISD has to offer. He expects everyone to educate and treat every child as if they are our own. He has received numerous accolades, and has always given credit to the teachers, administrators, and staff every step of the way.

How can SISD retain students amid the growth of charter schools and other schooling options in El Paso County?

Fancy Adams: Remote instruction has opened a new opportunity as some students are thriving in this format. Offering a new remote academy, where teachers receive comprehensive training and supplies to enthusiastically teach online in a collaborative manner with students will give families an additional option. This will keep families from opting to homeschool to keep their children out of school. Exploring an opportunity to open a Young Women’s leadership academy would also create a competitive option to other districts in the area. Students crave options and expanding vocational education opportunities across all high school campuses will retain students as well.

Angelica Rodriguez: Continue to provide the endless opportunities that we have offered to our students. Continue to treat every child as if they were our own. Continue to share this information with parents so that parents and our community members are aware of all the opportunities that SISD has to offer for the students. We need to keep abreast of all the legislation that includes information on charters and let our legislators know how we feel about that. We cannot control where and when the charter schools will pop up, but our legislators can. We need to continue to advocate for our school districts and our funding.

How should SISD approach issues of equity?

Fancy Adams: SISD does approach equity in a satisfactory way, yet there’s always room for improvement. Students within the district may apply for academies at schools away from home campuses that serve their personal interests and ambitions. Expanding opportunities to students by growing programs at additional sites will open more spots for interested students. Those programs are also serviced by amazing teachers. The district’s teacher retention rate is averaged at 9 years, and by promoting tenured teachers to leadership positions at different campuses, that wealth of knowledge can impact students across SISD and help newer educators mix their education with seasoned approaches.

Angelica Rodriguez: We need to continue to ensure that all our students have the same opportunities for learning, participation in athletics, fine arts, extracurricular activities, early college high school, Career and Technology programs, etc., across the district. We have an early college program at all our comprehensive high schools and various academies, such as Synergy, Health Occupations Academy, IB, to name a few. Any SISD student, regardless of the high school they attend, have the ability to apply to attend any of our academies offered in the district. We also continue to improve and make upgrades to campuses and facilities, to ensure our campuses and facilities are equitable across the district.

District 4

Who’s running for this seat?

Paul Guerra is a territory manager for Insco Distributing and parent of three SISD students. He was first elected to the board in 2010.

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Jaime Martinez is an instructional coach.

What grade would you give SISD’s COVID-19 response? What would you have done differently?

Paul Guerra: I would give SISD an A for their response on COVID-19. Reason being SISD did an awesome job adjusting on instruction and operations during the pandemic. The laptop distribution started right away and by the end of April over 31,400 of our students had devices, by the end of June over 37,000 and by Sept. we had issued 100% devices to students and teachers in need. Keep in mind we had over 100 plus employees, transportation employees, clerks, librarians, counselors, teachers and administrators working on distributing the laptops.

Jaime Martinez: Declined to submit a questionnaire

How should SISD address COVID-19 learning loss? 

Paul Guerra: SISD is continuously working together to ensure that all our students succeed. In SISD our dedicated teachers and principals have benchmarks, tutoring, intersession classes in place where they can identify and provide extra support and instruction so our students may continue to succeed. By having these systems in place they can address any learning loss that students may have experienced. 

How do you view Superintendent José Espinoza’s performance in the years since he joined the district?

Paul Guerra: I would rate Dr. Espinoza’s performance an A. He has been with SISD since 2012 which is unheard of for a Superintendent to last this long in a district. Since he has been here he has implemented the WIN Academy at 19 campuses. Other programs are the Dual Language Academy and the Early College High School Program in every high school. SISD technology has been providing laptops to incoming freshmen. Free Pre-Kindergarten and 3-year old for all. In 2017 passed a $448.5 million Bond and in 2019 SISD was the first and only large district in the El Paso region to earn an “A” grade in the Texas Education Agency accountability ratings.

How can SISD retain students amid the growth of charter schools and other schooling options in El Paso County?

Paul Guerra: In SISD we have dedicated teachers, counselors, SCE-I coaches, instructional support staffteachers aides, assistant principals, principals who go above and beyond everyday and who are highly qualified and effective in their roles as educators. SISD we did a Stand and Deliver effort that resulted in 3,000 of our employees reaching out to over 10,000 households in a single day. This event helped SISD  maintain and strengthen their enrollment and helped keep the charter school from reaching their targeted enrollment.

How should SISD approach issues of equity?

Paul Guerra: SISD approaches equity to all students with fairness regardless of their social or economic status across the district. We did see equity gaps as far as access to technology with no internet service in the area, parental support and in order to close these gaps we must continue to invest in systems and programs so our students can succeed.

District 5

Who’s running for this seat?

Pablo Barrera is a retired Border Patrol agent and parent of four SISD students.

Gary Gandara works for AAT Trucking and was first elected to the board in 2013.

What grade would you give SISD’s COVID-19 response? What would you have done differently?

Pablo Barrera: It’s been handled poorly. From making it seem all teachers were going to get vaccinated by Immunize El Paso to where students have been without devices for more than half the school year. Why did SISD think it was a good decision to bring back to school in September/October during the height of the pandemic here in El Paso? Safety is paramount! In our community there is many households with multigeneration families living together. I feel SISD leadership is disconnected from our stakeholders. SISD needs to give teachers and students an option to return to the classroom or remain online without any repercussion or retaliation.

Gary Gandara: All employees went over and beyond, working seven days a week, 40+ hours to come up with ways to continue to keep safety as a priority for everyone. One of the biggest challenges we came across was the electronic devices as well as internet for the students that did not possess one at the time. Yet again as a team we were able to come together and find a solution and we did. By the end of April 2020, 68% of students had electronic devices. By the end of September 2020, 100% had devices issued to them. I would grade SISD District with A.

How should SISD address COVID-19 learning loss?

Pablo Barrera: First and foremost we need to know that teachers and parents will need to work very hard to make up learning loss. Standardized tests are shown not to be a reality of a measuring of learning. Teachers have the true capability to make recommendations based on the student’s educational needs.

Gary Gandara: The systems that SISD have in place like tutoring programs, bench marks, interventions, and camps are being used to identify the non-face-to-face learning.  Being able to count with our counselors, assistant principals and principals, gives the opportunity for us to see where the loss is. SISD has done an amazing job keeping the students engaged and getting the support that is needed during this time. Face-to-face learning is back up and running, and that was what most believed to be the learning loss to many. We are excited to see the positive changes.

How do you view Superintendent José Espinoza’s performance in the years since he joined the district?

Pablo Barrera: His performance has gone down over time. He had an initiative in 2015 to have computer devices for every student. The pandemic revealed that SISD used taxpayer money improperly. Not being able to properly equip students with computers for every student. Teachers along with students have struggled with technology. In early last year, 29 students did not graduate with proper requirements. Dr. Espinoza was happy that 99.7% graduated, but I am sorry, one student’s education is too much to make that kind of mistake. I am glad the majority of those students were addressed, however that is a big discrepancy.

Gary Gandara: Jose Espinoza I believe has maintained the district at a high standard, keeping SISD as one of the top districts in the region, since he joined in September 2012. His dedication and his willingness to work with others has proven great results in the districts. For example, being named as and receiving a recognition for Superintendent of the Region in 2016 isn’t an easy job to do, but when someone leads the district by example, it is well recognized.

How can SISD retain students amid the growth of charter schools and other schooling options in El Paso County?

Pablo Barrera: We have to continue with the hiring of great teachers and community minded administrators. We must prove to parents by actions through various forms that public education is the only option.

Gary Gandara: Simple, we continue to fight for public education. Being a part of the Stand and Deliver Walk, we were able to reach out to our community members and stakeholders to inform them of the positive opportunities in public schools. For example, early college programs at all our high schools as well as dual-credit opportunities, and our free pre-kinder/Head Start for 3 year old’s, half a day, and full Pre-K for all 4-year-olds.

How should SISD approach issues of equity?

Pablo Barrera: Transparency, honesty, integrity.

Gary Gandara: SISD already has a system that seems to be helping and working with all socioeconomic status. This includes free programs at the high schools like the early college, that helps save money for parents and students by graduating in cases with an associates degree. Free and reduced lunches are in place at every school as well. WIN Academy, which was introduced in 2015, gives the students who are struggling in a traditional educational setting more one-to-one time with the teacher who loop with the students for multiple years.

Other election resources:

Reporter: Molly Smith

 

Design and audience: Michaela Román