A new education era has begun for a West Texas school district after a testing scandal to bypass federal accountability rules sent an administrator to prison.
Attorney Juan Eduardo Cabrera Jr. on Monday begins as superintendent of the El Paso Independent School District.
The El Paso ISD board of managers last week approved a contract with Cabrera. He previously was chief legal adviser and an executive cabinet member at the Eanes Independent School District in the Austin area.
El Paso schools haven't had a permanent superintendent since Lorenzo Garcia was suspended in late 2011. Garcia pleaded guilty to fraud in the scam and was sentenced to more than three years in federal prison.
The Texas Education Agency recently announced it would create a new investigative division amid the scandal.
Cabrera released the following open letter:
I greet you with a spirit of enthusiasm and optimism that the challenging days ahead will yield achievement, pride and promise for every one of us.
To the people of the El Paso community, I greet you with a heart filled with gratitude and dedication to helping each one of our children achieve academic success, and a strong commitment to restoring the public’s trust in the integrity of El Paso ISD and its employees.
Education has been my lifelong passion – a pursuit into which I was literally born. My father, mother and many family members are proud educators. After his teaching career, my father directed one of the first migrant education programs in northern California. I spent my formative years with my parents working with children and families in their pursuit of better lives through public education. As an educator I have worked as an elementary school teacher, migrant coordinator, after-school tutor, and treatment counselor, in low and high-performing school districts in wealthy and in economically disadvantaged areas of Texas and California. These broad and varied education related experiences, along with my corporate and legal background, have prepared me well to lead and serve our diverse community in El Paso.
Over the last few years, I have spent a lot of time in El Paso. My mother, brother and his children, along with many friends and acquaintances live here. I care about and understand the dynamics, interests and needs of this community.
As the school year begins, we still face a few challenges. Our task is to turn the page and move forward from our recent difficult past and take all El Paso ISD schools to a place where all our students can envision their bright futures and realize their potentials. I pledge to do that. I am unflinchingly committed to that goal.
We will learn from the mistakes of the past, but we will not dwell on them, except insofar as we make sure they are not repeated--ever. We will look to the future, and we will build on the many past successes of this great district. There is hard work to be done, but I am certain that EPISD employees have the character and values to forge a new path and “Get Better Every Day.”
As we move forward, together we will share in the pride and self-respect of knowing we are taking care of our children and we are headed in the right direction. We will face our tests head on, with our shoulders squared and our heads held high and we will celebrate our successes along the way.
There will be no drastic changes during the coming school year. Instead, we will do a lot of listening to our stakeholders, while we support our children and teachers and take what we have and make it better. We have a sound budget in place, and we have good teachers and principals in our schools. We will fill all empty positions with the best people we can find – people who are dynamic, intellectually capable and genuinely care about El Paso ISD and educating our children.
We will make sure every El Paso ISD school has a safe, secure, positive learning environment and a supportive atmosphere for teachers and staff. We will seek to challenge and help all of our students achieve new heights, harness the power of learning and be the best they can be.
We will also closely analyze why some of our students are not successful and put processes into place to correct those situations. We will strive to provide whatever is needed, be it more parental engagement; more help with academic basics; special programs or interventions, and we will also work with churches, nonprofits and other organizations to find solutions.
Many of our children struggle with personal challenges, such as our students who are economically disadvantaged or our students from Fort Bliss, whose parents serve in the military and are often deployed. We will work closely with our military partners and other communities to identify their unique needs and provide them with support and solutions.
Not everything has to be a big-ticket item; in many cases, a large dose of listening and caring are the missing link to a student’s success.
As Superintendent, I will employ every tool in my background for the benefit of El Paso schools. While we may still have to handle corrective actions to remedy past harms, I will work collaboratively with the Board of Managers to focus the majority of our time on positive improvements to the district.
I will utilize my teaching experience and my background with large and complex organizations to drive improvements in our systems, processes and organizational leadership. As we move forward, we will focus on transparency, truth and integrity in our operations and day to day work. EPISD belongs to the community and we will strive to assure everyone has a voice and that everyone has access to any district information they deem necessary to evaluate our work.
I will work at building strong relationships with the students, teachers, principals and staff of EPISD, and I will work tirelessly to help them be the absolute best they can be. I will also build relationships with city, business, civic, political, faith and community leaders to assure that EPISD is a strong contributor to the success of El Paso and the communities it serves.
Thank you for welcoming me and my family to this great city. We hope to get to know as many of you as possible in the coming weeks and months. As we move forward, we intend to immerse ourselves in this beautiful, friendly community and truly learn the rhythm of its heartbeat.
El Paso has long been our home-away-from-home – a warm, welcoming place to visit family and friends. Now, we are happy and excited to call El Paso home.