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computer instruction to
classes on healthcare and
stress management for
parents, mostly mothers,
of Hilley students.
“This is not just
a school effort, it’s a
community effort,”
Durant said, explaining
the importance of
involving parents in the
school’s work.
The special programs
and extra equipment are
important, but perhaps
equally important to H.D.
Hilley’s success is the
belief that every student
in the school is capable of
learning, if provided with
encouragement and the
tools to do so.
That is the basic
message of the El Paso
“We believe all
students can learn at
higher levels, given
the opportunity,” said
M. Susana Navarro,
executive director of the
Collaborative. “We put it
in moral terms—all of us
are morally obligated to teach all students.”
That is also the belief of President Diana S. Natalicio of the
University of Texas-El Paso, whose strong commitment to the
Collaborative is a major reason for its success.
“This is a very critical piece of our mission because our
student population is primarily drawn from this region,”
Natalicio said in an interview. “Eighty-five percent of our
students come from El Paso County schools.” (Another eight
or nine percent cross the border every day from Juarez, paying
the same tuition as Texas students.)
“Some years ago, I came to the conclusion that there was
very little sense in pointing a finger of blame at anybody
for the inadequacy of the preparation of students coming
out of the high schools when, in fact, we were preparing a
majority of the teachers who were teaching in those schools,”
she continued. “It made a lot more sense for us to try to take
ownership and be a stakeholder in educational achievement
at all levels. That’s what we set out to do, and we were very
fortunate that Susana Navarro entered the picture here about
that time.”
After several years as director of the Achievement
Council, a California organization that works to improve
educational opportunities for minorities, Navarro returned
to her native El Paso in 1991 when her husband, Arturo
Pacheco, was named dean of the College of Education at
Texas-El Paso.
At first, Navarro thought of starting an independent,
community-based organization similar to the Achievement
Council, but she was persuaded by President Natalicio to base
the effort on the Texas-El Paso campus. Today the El Paso
Collaborative for Academic Excellence has a staff of 25 and an
annual budget of about $5 million, with most of the money
coming from the federal government and from the Pew
Charitable Trusts and other private foundations.
Natalicio chairs the organization’s board of directors,
which includes superintendents of the three participating
school districts, the president of El Paso Community College,
the mayor of El Paso and other business, civic and religious
In the three participating school districts, two-thirds of the
children come from low-income families and half enter the
first grade speaking only limited English. The Collaborative
works with 142 schools in the three districts, intensively with
about 80.
An early task was to organize “leadership teams” in the
first group of schools that agreed to join, and lead them
through three-day seminars, during which the message was
pounded home that “all children can learn, given the chance,”
said Alicia Parra, deputy director of the Collaborative.
The teams included teachers, counselors and
administrators but no school could participate if its principal
were not part of the team. “The principal has to be on board if
the school is going to make real change,” Parra said.
“I think these seminars were a turning point,” she
added. “We were able to personalize education in the minds
of teachers and principals. We told them, ‘This is your
opportunity to create a school you would send your own child
The Collaborative continued the leadership team seminars
for three years and also added “subject matter institutes,” at
which Texas-El Paso faculty members and outside experts
worked with school teams to improve instruction in math,
science, reading and writing.
The Collaborative does not promote any particular
curriculummaterials but does insist that these be “standards-
based,” and the standards are spelled out in the detailed wall
charts that hang in every participating classroom.
For instance, in science, one of nine competencies that
fourth graders are expected to master is the ability to “use
hand lenses, binoculars, microscopes, thermometers, cameras,
computers and other instruments for scientific investigations,
observations and experiments.”
In mathematics, one of six fourth-grade standards is to
be able to “recognize typical patterns in number relationships
and begin to express them symbolically” and “apply these
algebraic skills to analyze problems, using developmentally
appropriate mathematical representations.”
“All students can learn at higher levels, given the
opportunity,” says M. Susana Navarro, who runs the El
Paso Collaborative for Academic Excellence.
“This is not just a school effort, it’s a
community effort.”
—H.D. Hilley Elementary School Principal
Ivonne Durant