Jaime Escalante – Educational Hero
Many of you may remember the movie “Stand and Deliver” starring Edward James Olmos as Jaime Escalante, a Bolivian immigrant who taught calculus to inner city kids in East L.A.’s Garfield High School from 1975 - 1991.
Before becoming an educator in America, he worked many odd jobs, taught himself to speak English and had to earn another college degree. He had taught many years in Bolivia but essentially started over when emigrating to America.
Garfield High School had it’s accreditation threatened because of the poorly performing students, but instead of dumbing down his classes, he challenged his students to learn advanced placement calculus.
Escalante encouraged his students by telling them that they could control their futures with the proper education. He promised them that they could land jobs in computers, electronics, and engineering if they would take the time to learn math.
“I’ll teach you math and that's your language. With that, you're going to make it. You're going to college and sit in the first row, not the back because you're going to know more than anybody.” he told his students.
The number of students passing the calculus exams continued to grow and Escalante became an educational hero to not just Garfield High’s disadvantaged students, but to teachers and administrators across the country that would sit in on his classes.
• • • • • • •
Dori Fenenbock — educational zero
Dori Fenenbock’s current run for Congress is no fluke. Not a post-midlife crisis revealing itself as a dream of becoming a mover and shaker in Washington. I believe its part of a plan thats been germinating in Dori’s head for quite some time.
It’s my guess that her side trip into El Paso’s educational landscape was just part of a bigger plan and the eventual passage of El Paso’s record-breaking, student-shafting, taxpayer-gouging, educator-disrespecting $670,000,000 EPISD bandaid of a school bond was the perfect entry to her eventual political resume.
It’s hard to lose when you manipulate hundreds of thousands of people into believing something is “for the kids”. This con (along with half a million in El Paso Rising PAC dollars) worked like a charm for Fenenbock, Superintendent Juan Cabrera and Susie Byrd (who has ambitions and ulterior motives in helping Veronica Escobar, her close friend and Dori’s main political competition, into Congress.)
• • • • • • •
Dori Fenenbock is the dictionary definition of a politician.
Opportunistic. Disingenuous. Calculating. Manipulative.
My opinion, but judge for yourself after you read this.
She began her quiet bid for Congress by running for EPISD’s Westside District 7 school board seat and won on a warmfuzzyfeelgood campaign highlighting the students and teachers as the solution to rehabilitating a wounded EPISD.
“I personally feel that good schools are made by people, the teachers, the parents and, most importantly, the children—not the buildings,” she said during a campaign meeting at Austin High School.
That in retrospect, was a very disingenuous statement in light of the fact that she along with Superintendent Juan Cabrera and Susie Byrd passed El Paso’s most-expensive school bond that had everything to do with “the buildings” and massive infusions of tax payer dollars to rebuild, renovate and reintegrate them. It was “for the buildings” in short, not the kids who continue to struggle and fall through the educational cracks or their educators who only recently finally received a paltry raise after several El Paso Times columns reporting on superintendent Cabrera’s regular financial windfalls and bonuses.
She parlayed her school board seat into a position as the EPISD board of trustees president which is where she really went to work working over the public. Here, with the help of Cabrera and sympathetic media outlets like El Paso Inc., Fenenbock went about creating the impression that the new board and superintendent were raising EPISD up from the smoldering ashes left by ex-superintendent and ex-con Lorenzo Garcia.
Nothing like a near billion dollar EPISD bond that rebuilds schools, hands out free I-pads for every backpack, turfs many a football field, buys shiny new buses and prevents dangerous mold from killing students to make El Pasoans believe that they were educational gods come down from the heavens to save our schools. El Paso Inc. even declared Fenenbock and Cabrera Citizens of the Year. Of course they did, because they are a business publication that measures success by dollars. The more, the better.
This bond passage was political gold for Fenenbock because she also thinks like a businessman and politician…and manipulating the citizenry to sacrifice their hard earned money for personal agendas is what politicians do best. (See my part 1 Educational Heroes and Zeros: Dee Margo for another businessman who hasn’t a clue when it comes to public education –
• • • • • • •
During her brief commitment to EPISD as Board President, she seemed much more interested in protecting Juan Cabrera and all his fiscal screwups. You could say she was Cabrera’s personal damage control guru. Whenever Cabrera was knee-deep in financial foolishness, there she was on camera or in print trying to justify Cabrera and his phenomenal raises, bonus vacation and sick leave days or his medical issues* that justified his first class airline tickets.
* Cabrera apparently shot himself in the foot at some point in his life which was his excuse for insisting on first class travel.
The “tone-deaf twins” as I like to refer to the two, spent more time jetting around the country attending cutting edge training sessions and esoteric educational seminars than they did attending to the immediate educational needs of El Paso’s campuses.
A teacher or student had a better chance of seeing a live chupacabra eating the school guinea pig than catching either of them walking the halls of EPISD.
Speaking of tone-deaf, remember the big winner of EPISD’s bond? It was Coronado High School which is the recipient of a $73,000,000 complete re-do of its campus.
Both Fenenbock and Cabrera’s children were students of CHS at the same time the bond was being promoted. They had absolutely no problem with this obvious conflict of interest. That smacks of entitlement.
While Coronado High and the by-and-large wealthy and powerful parents of it’s students were flush with tens of millions in rebuilding cash, Cabrera and Fenenbock continued to allow Bowie High School and it’s students to languish in educational poverty and neglect.
Not a penny went to helping this perennial EPISD punching bag. EPISD continued a dysfunctional pattern of placing and yanking new and interim principals on a yearly basis, which created an atmosphere of instability among both students and educators. This brought on a walkout and mini-protest by students who found a voice and let EPISD know they weren’t going to take it lying down. Watch my video here on that event –
EPISD also decided to place their school bus depot on Bowie property by removing some baseball fields so they can park 80 buses.
Bowie is located in an area that has non-stop semi-truck traffic which physically and neurologically affects students over time. Adding that kind of bus traffic on a daily basis only exacerbates these issues that EPISD has long ignored and continues to do so.
Class racism at it’s worst on display by El Paso’s educational zeros.
This is how educational zeros like Dori Fenenbock, Dee Margo and Superintendent Juan Cabrera fail to lead. They cause more damage to the cause of local education in the name of self-interest and political agendas than one can imagine.
• • • • • • •
The decision to move EPISD out of the Boeing location and purchase a building near downtown rather than take advantage of huge amounts of acreage belonging to EPISD off TransMountain is another stunning example of financial stupidity bordering on criminal. The old multi-story building off Stanton street is costing EPISD $3.2 million and will require at least $30 million to retrofit and update according to estimates.
“It’s important for the district that we build our offices at the center of our district,” Fenenbock stated.
Tell me, how does Fenenbock justify moving the EPISD headquarters with 800 employees from the airport location where they had access to 250,000 square feet of employee offices, security, maintenance space, storage, the planetarium (kiss this El Paso educational institution goodbye), and 800 parking spots…into a building that has only 80,000 square feet and a fraction of the parking spots?
Dori Fenenbock is the sister-in-law of one of the owners of The Meyers Group, an out-of-town development corporation that is lusting to cash in on downtown real estate bonanzas. This is the group that originally was going to build those upscale twin tower monstrosities in the Coronado area and have recently decided to build in downtown according to their spokespeople. They were never really serious about the Coronado location, that was just a smoke and mirrors ploy to get residents riled up so they could eventually get it done in downtown with little opposition.
This is the group of investors that is restoring the Camino Real Hotel into a high-end hotel with state and city tax incentives totaling $32 million. These are taxes we don’t receive to build a better El Paso. Corporate welfare. Incidentally, they are also trying to wrangle several million from the County for their project.
The Meyers Group will only benefit from the EPISD move to the periphery of downtown as will all the other downtown investors and special interest that our mayor and city council caters to.
Opportunism and family connections rears it’s ugly head again.
• • • • • • •
Educational zero Dori Fenenbock squawks a big talk about committing herself as a Congresswoman but if her brief tenure as EPISD board president is any indicator, don’t expect real commitment to average citizens. Talk is cheap, and she is one to talk but not deliver whereas Educational Hero Jaime Escalante stood and delivered.
She is running her congressional campaign with the same degree of in-your-face manipulation and fog machine rhetoric that she employed to pass the EPISD band-aid bond.
Remember how Fenenbock, Cabrera and Byrd used El Paso icons to grandstand for their bond agenda? They paraded El Paso Educational Heroes Rosa Guerrero and Jefferson’s Teacher of the Year John Gable in front of every news camera they could find to drive home their “It’s for the kids” lie. And it helped win them the bond.
Fenenbock’s most egregious and unforgivable charade is her run for Congress as a Democrat. That is disingenuous opportunism at it’s lowest. She has a documented history of voting almost if not entirely Republican. Her campaign is being financed primarily by right wing Republican donors who are at odds with the Democratic ideals of most El Pasoans. A PAC that is supporting her run is being subsidized by a hardcore right wing organization.
As with the bond, she understands that if she uses the right language and gets her photo ops with the right individuals, she can get apathetic and ignorant voters to pull the lever in her favor.
• • • • • • •
This is what separates Educational Hero Jaime Escalante from educational zero Dori Fenenbock…he understood and empathized with the community in East L.A. and fought for them at a cost to his own person. He invested time and effort over the years into the kids at Garfield High. He made a difference in the quality of their education and in the low self-esteem that plagued the school. He gave scores of students the tools necessary to rise above their circumstances and succeed in life.
Fenenbock on the other hand, beats a hasty exit halfway into her educational term after having done what she set out to do…pass El Paso’s record-breaking, student-shafting, taxpayer-gouging, educator-disrespecting $670,000,000 EPISD bandaid of a school bond.
EPISD gets some shiny new schools and buses, I-pads and ceiling tiles, cushy turf and refrigerated AC.
Meanwhile, El Paso’s border students remain at risk because of El Paso’s educational zeros Dori Fenenbock, Dee Margo and Superintendent Juan Cabrera’s fundamental lack of understanding towards their unique challenges, in particular the language and literacy issues that plague them.
They can tout their superficial and questionable accomplishments at EPISD but if the quality of education and support for educators continues it’s freefall into the educational basement of America (Texas is #43 and dropping), it is all just a continuation of the mediocrity that has defined EPISD leadership for decades.
• • • • • • •
Don’t miss a post, get on my James No Bond email list.
Fill out the contact form at