Awarding the 2017 Escalante–Gradillas Prize for Best in Education—an update
Trustees Cynthia Najera and Hector Gonzalez join Dr. Espinoza in receiving the combined grand prize of $20,000.
Great teachers and school leaders change the lives of young people. You may even have your own story of an educator who changed your life for the better.
The Escalante-Gradillas Prize for Best in Education is The Best School’s way to celebrate the legacy in education of Jaime Escalante and Henry Gradillas. Their collaboration in an East Los Angeles high school helped classes of students from which little had been asked find their inner mathematics genius. The film Stand and Deliver recounts their success with doing more with less, asking more of their students(and getting it), and working around excuses to find solutions. In the process these legendary educators helped their students achieve mastery of their studies, find direction for their educational futures, and gain a better chance at a fulfilling life.
My blessing is being the one who awards trophies and cash prizes to the men and women who exemplify that same spirit of educational excellence found in teacher Escalante and principal Gradillas.
During a whirlwind week of December 4–8, I visited Tampa, Philadelphia, and El Paso to present this year’s winners with their winnings and to witness firsthand the difference they are making in the lives of the next generation.
Socorro Independent School District, El Paso, Texas — Dec. 8, 2017
“Tomorrow’s Leaders Learning Today,” part of the student-created mural in the Socorro Independent School District Service Center, where Dr. José Espinoza received the 2017 Best in Education Prize.
The Escalante–Gradillas Prize for Best in Education is so named because of the impact both Jaime Escalante and Henry Gradillas had on education and on the synergy of a school administrator and a teacher working together. We’ve had nominees who are principals. We’ve had nominees who are teachers. But we’ve never had a nominee who had the big picture view over both. Never had one who was making a difference from the very top down, from the district to the schools.
That is, until Dr. José Espinoza of the Socorro Independent School District (SISD) in El Paso.
And part of what caught our eye is that long before our prize, he was championing the educational philosophy of both Jaime Escalante and Henry Gradillas, not only in his writings, but also to all the people who benefit from his leadership.
Espinoza, in short, embodies the prize. And it’s why he’s our 2017 winner.
And WIN is what he’s about, as the celebration of his win brought together those involved in the “school within a school" he fought for in El Paso, the WIN Academy for the most at-risk students in the SISD. And like so much of what happens in this district just a stone’s throw from the Mexico border, with so many students and families battling to make a life here, the effort to overcome is shared.
“This award event was awesome. It meant a lot to our community and our school district,” said Espinoza. “We had parents, the kids, principals, teachers, board members, business leaders, the University of Texas–El Paso, El Paso Community College, Region 19 Service Center, the media—it was nice to see so many here. That way, everyone can hear and see what we teach as a model: We achieve success as a team. This is a team effort. A team award. It puts Socorro ISD on the map.”
WIN Academy students, principals, and SISD trustees gather to cheer José Espinoza.
Not that people aren’t noticing already, for instance Texas state legislators asking how it’s possible that this district is getting so much accomplished and doing it with less money, with nods to making this district and its leader the model for districts and superintendents across the state.
It’s the kind of leadership people want to endorse, and most of all, the many gathered December 8.
In line with the team mentality, plans for the money will benefit others.
“Everything is going to go back to the students,” Espinoza shared. “One student in the WIN Academy is going to receive $5,000.” Espinoza then told the heartbreaking story of the student for which this is intended—and it’s a much deserved help. Others can enter a merit and essay contest to win a scholarship. “Seniors from each of our high schools would apply to receive $1,000.”
Over the course of the ninety minute presentation event, Team SISD shared a video “love letter" to Dr. Espinoza featuring many who were instrumental in helping him become the kind of visionary leader for which the Escalante–Gradillas Prize for Best in Education is intended. Many in attendance wiped away tears, all the proof one needs that this is a man, a district, and a team that has come a long way together and is continuing to change the lives of students who might otherwise fall through the cracks of the system.
Superintendent José Espinoza of the Socorro Independent School District in El Paso, Texas, shares before the many gathered to celebrate his winning the 2017 Escalante–Gradillas Prize for Best in Education.
“When I was in high school and then started college, I didn’t know what I wanted to do, what profession I wanted to get into. But I did know this: I want to be in a profession where I help people,” Espinoza shared. “And what a better profession than to help children? No matter what the future holds, I still want to be involved in education.”