Anyone familiar with Odessa, TX knows that the city is a US leader in oil production—an industrial powerhouse in the center of West Texas. What they may not know, however, is that the local school district is leading the way with powerful initiatives of its own.
With the oil industry central to the culture of Ector County, its boom-bust cycle affects West Texas schools in more ways than one. Families move in and out of the county as opportunities in the oil sector ebb and flow, which means the student population in Ector County Independent School District (ECISD) fluctuates drastically. These interruptions in school can lead students to develop learning gaps that expand with every move.
What makes this school district unique, though, is these departing students are not only leaving school as their parents find new opportunities—they are leaving to start their own careers in the oil industry.
“A few years ago our district saw that students were being lured into the oil field at earlier ages and have started working quicker rather than staying in school,” says Lisa Duncan, who works as the Secondary Math Coordinator for ECISD. The challenge of keeping kids in school suddenly became more complex. The classroom experience now had to become more appealing to students without sacrificing their academic needs.
“How can we make kids more interested in education?” It was time for a change.
When Dr. Scott Muri moved from Spring Branch ISD to ECISD in 2019, he brought years of experience in the world of personalized and innovative learning. With high hopes and a vision for these West Texas students, ECISD joined regions like Chicago and New York City, becoming the first district in Texas to launch Teach to One: Math (TTO). In lieu of a traditional math classroom structure, middle school students at Bonham, Bowie, and Wilson & Young Middle Schools began experiencing math lessons tailored to their specific academic needs.
The implementation of TTO aligned with previously launched initiatives that have steered the district toward innovation in recent years. As one of Texas’ “Districts of Innovation,” ECISD is making significant strides to redefine academic instruction through pedagogical shifts in student experience. Jason Osborne, ECISD’s Chief Innovation Officer, and his department have been adopting and even creating their own cutting-edge programs designed to address the problem of student retention by enhancing their learning experiences.
The leadership team in ECISD has formed a united front to address the specific needs and pressures on students in the district. When it comes to Teach to One: Math, Dr. Muri’s previous experience has been key in identifying the ways this model could benefit students. TTO has enabled almost 1,200 West Texas students to experience math in an exciting and personal way. Students are learning at their own pace, filling in gaps as needed, but also recognizing they can go above and beyond the expectations set by grade-level standards.
“It’s interesting to see that they know what they need to do to be successful. They are really taking ownership of their own growth.”
The oil industry may present a future for some of Ector County’s students but likely not all. And as new energy sources become further entrenched in public policy, social consciousness, and the free market, finding new paths to long-term security and opportunity starts in the classroom. ECISD demonstrates that TTO is a tool that supports educators with an eye on the horizon, leaders who are concerned with their students’ success long after they leave the classroom.