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Arturo Pacheco, dean of the University of Texas-El Paso College
of Education, says it will take years to break down the barriers
between K–12 and higher education.
In addition to
providing schools
with math and
science mentors,
the Collaborative
has launched a
campaign to improve
student reading and
writing skills in its
member schools.
to be, ‘El Paso schools are not very good and UTEP produced
most of the teachers, so UTEP must be the source of the
problem.’”
M. Susana Navarro replied that many Texas-El
Paso professors have been involved but that academic
research sometimes is not compatible with the goals of the
Collaborative.
“Academics are thoughtful and careful—that’s not the
speediest process,” she said. “We are after systemic change. We
think the schools need to be changed. We think we know how
to do it, and we want to do it as quickly as possible.”
In any case, with the university president and other
top administrators strongly committed to the work of the
Collaborative, its critics tend to be circumspect.
“I wish I could say that everybody was absolutely,
deliriously happy and marching to the same drum,” President
Natalicio said, “but I think there is a sufficient number of
people who are committed at this point that we are making
the progress we would like to make.”
It is difficult to determine howmuch of a role working
on public school problems plays in faculty tenure decisions at
Texas-El Paso.
“Not everyone would agree with this statement, but I
believe we have built public school work into the tenure
guidelines in the College of Science,” said Jack Bristol, former
dean of the college. “Teaching and public service are now
given much more emphasis.”
But Ralph Liguori, professor of mathematics and president
of the faculty senate, disagreed. “The Administration has
been trying to build in (more credit for) teaching and public
service,” he said, “but the easiest thing to
quantify is still research.”
“We are certainly working on changing
the faculty evaluation criteria, trying to
inject some flexibility into the process,”
Natalicio said. “Not everybody has to teach
prospective teachers, and not everybody has
to be committed to that particular role of the
university, but those who are committed to
it should be rewarded.”
Some educators doubt that the El Paso
success can be duplicated elsewhere. They
note that the Collaborative operates in a
geographically isolated part of the country,
with a largely Hispanic population and with
unusually strong support from the local
university.
But Navarro scoffs at what she called
“red herrings.”
“The kind of poverty we have here, you
don’t see in most urban areas,” she said. “If it can be done here,
it can be done anywhere.”
Kati Haycock, president of The Education Trust, a
Washington-based organization that has been encouraging
partnerships between K–12 and higher education around the
country, thinks “the lessons are clearly transportable.”
“At some level, El Paso has had an easier task because
the environment is not as complex as, say, Los Angeles
or Chicago,” Haycock said, “but some things have been
harder. They’re dealing with a porous border and a low-
wage economy that employers like, so there’s not as much
community demand for higher achievement” as there might
be elsewhere.
Few doubt that in the ten years Natalicio has been
president, and in the six years of the Collaborative’s existence,
El Paso-area schools have made remarkable progress, and
the mission of the University of Texas at El Paso has changed
significantly. Teacher training, and helping the local schools,
are now at the core of the university, not somewhere on the
fringe.
But there are plenty of words of caution.
“Higher education and K–12 are two very different
worlds, with very different cultures,” warned Dean Pacheco
of the College of Education. “We’ve got to talk to each other
for a number of years before we start hearing what the other
is saying.”
Said Jack Bristol, “If you look at the data, clearly we’re
doing something right, but it will be several years before we
know if our new teacher preparation efforts have paid off.”
But those who run the El Paso Collaborative for Academic
Excellence are pleased with the results so far. “We have a long
way to go,” said Alicia Parra, the deputy director, “but in a
community such as this, that never went anywhere, we have
been able to move people.”
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