My Story: Closing the Gap with the “WIN” Approach

By Dr. José Espinoza
Superintendent of Schools
Socorro ISD

Taking Ownership of Student Achievement

Vulnerable children continue to be left behind academically.

Adequate progress isn’t being made to ensure the success of vulnerable children according to State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) exam scores, which indicate academic gaps persist among minority, economically disadvantaged students and their counterparts. In May 2012, Socorro ISD was no different, lagging behind the state in nine out of 17 STAAR exams administered to students in grades third through eighth. Unwilling to accept these statistics when I came to SISD in September 2012, I was determined to work hard and change this ever-present gap by inspiring Team SISD to “educate and treat our students as if they are our own children” and implementing new initiatives such as an intensive data-driven performance review, Operation College Bound, free breakfast for all students, and new technology-based learning platforms.

Two short years later in May 2014, SISD surpassed the state average in all 17 exams for the first time in 20 years – as far back as records could be tracked. Out of the 50 largest school districts in Texas, SISD was the only district with an over 90% minority and over 70% economically disadvantaged student population to achieve this feat. In May 2015 and 2016, SISD outpaced the state again in all 17 STAAR exams and by an even larger margin each year than the previous years.

Socorro ISD Superintendent Jose Espinoza is committed to educating and treating students as if they are his own.

WIN is a student-centered program created to help ensure all Socorro ISD students have the opportunities and support needed to achieve academic success. WIN is an acrostic that outlines the keys to winning in life:

W – Work Hard
I – I Can Do It Attitude
N – Never Give Up

In the WIN Academy, students who have not been successful in a “traditional” school setting will be able to gain two or more years worth of knowledge in a fast track, demanding, flexible education system.

While recognizing this success, I knew much work remained to be done since many students were still performing below grade level. I used my firsthand experience as a vulnerable child to design the WIN Academy. I researched best practices for improving student academic outcomes and found that Jaime Escalante’s legendary teaching approach featured in the 1988 film Stand and Deliver mirrored my own educational philosophy of high expectations for all students, regardless of ethnicity and socioeconomic status, and vision of excellence. The foundation of our WIN Academy is based on Escalante’s investment in his students and ‘ganas’ to overcome obstacles and succeed.

The WIN Academy provides SISD stakeholders with the most effective education system to help vulnerable children overcome the following obstacles and reach their full potential now and in the future: 

  • The obstacle of low self-esteem and lack of motivation due to continued academic failures is overcome by a winning approach. WIN is an acrostic that stands for Work Hard, I can do it attitude, and Never give up, which helps vulnerable children view themselves as WINNERS!
  • The obstacle of enrolling in school less academically prepared than their affluent peers due to poverty-stricken home environments is overcome by additional instruction and support provided in nine-hour school days on Monday through Thursday, daily double doses of reading and math, and tutorials on designated Saturdays and intersession breaks, which help vulnerable children catch up academically by gaining two or more years of knowledge in one year.
  • The obstacle of lacking additional instructional support due to parents’ low levels of education and/or lack of English language skills is overcome by teachers who loop with students for multiple years and support them as if they are their own children. Many teachers make themselves available after school hours to answer homework questions, which helps vulnerable children stay on the graduation track and thrive.
  • The obstacle of struggling to learn in a one-size-fits-all public education system that traditionally educates students in 45-minute school periods using textbooks is overcome by flexible, project based, and personalized/blended learning blocks using a digital curriculum, and student laptops, which help vulnerable children to not only succeed in the classroom but also be prepared for a globally competitive 21st century society.
  • The obstacle of low parent involvement due to parents’ lack of knowledge on how to assist their children in mastering the skills and knowledge necessary to thrive in a digital world is overcome by having a WIN Parent Academy that trains and motivates parents to become valuable Partners in Education. Parent participation in the WIN Parent Academy helps our vulnerable children obtain the support they need both at school and at home.
  • The obstacle of limited exposure to college and career awareness is overcome through a career component that educates children and their parents about available career opportunities and provides high school, college, and career excursions that will effectively turn their dreams of graduating from college and thriving in a career of their choice into reality.
The WIN Academy provides Socorro ISD stakeholders with the most effective education system to help vulnerable children overcome obstacles and reach their full potential now and in the future. Here, students work together to spell out the word WIN.

A Commitment to Support ALL Students

As superintendent of the Socorro Independent School District, I am committed to educating and treating our students as if they are our very own children by providing the support and resources ALL of them, including our most vulnerable students, need to thrive emotionally and academically.

The WIN Academy started at 10 schools in SISD during the 2015-2016 school year and was expanded this school year to six more schools. Team SISD already has seen success in WIN Academy student performance, attendance, and confidence.

Our WIN Academy was recently awarded an $800,000 grant by the prestigious W.K. Kellogg Foundation. We are grateful and honored to receive this valuable contribution that will further support our relentless efforts to ensure every student in Team SISD succeeds.

The reality is the one-size-fits-all traditional public education system does not meet the needs of all our students. As we implement the Every Student Succeeds Act, our WIN Academy has the potential to significantly impact education reform not just in SISD, but also nationwide.

With the support of the W. K. Kellogg Foundation and our entire community, I strongly believe we will close the achievement gap with a proven, successful WINning approach!

Read more about the Socorro ISD WIN Academy.

The reality is the one-size-fits-all traditional public education system does not meet the needs of all our students.

– Dr. José Espinoza, Socorro ISD Superintendent of Schools

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