Tailgate greets new teachers

In an event unique to Odessa and possibly Texas, about 320 new Ector County ISD teachers were feted Thursday at the Odessa Chamber of Commerce’s New Teacher Welcome Tailgate.

Held at Ratliff Stadium, the tailgate featured 44 vendors and attendees were able to stay in their cars, traveling in two lines to pick up their swag (including breakfast), which came from a wide variety of businesses and nonprofits.

Renee Earls, president and CEO of the Odessa Chamber, said the tailgate started last year due to COVID and it was raining. This year, it was warm and sunny.

Despite the inclement weather last year, Earls said people enjoyed the welcome and it was a little more casual than the ones that were held in the Ector County Coliseum.

“It’s at historic Ratliff Stadium, which is a great tie-in to ECISD. The teachers have it pretty easy. They never have to get out of their car. So they drive up, they give them their big bag; they get a burrito for breakfast; Complex (Community Federal Credit Union) provides them with some great coffee. And then they literally just start cruising down the rows,” Earls said.

There were two lines this year to streamline the process.

“This is literally us rolling out the red carpet and just saying welcome to Odessa and showing our hospitality. We presented this event at a Texas Chamber of Commerce seminar about a month ago … Everyone has new teachers and we actually won an award for our event from last year, so we’re proud of that,” Earls said.

Former Superintendent Tom Crowe came to the chamber with the idea and it’s said that Odessa is the only place in the state that offers it.

Director of Communications Mike Adkins said approximately 320 teachers were hired this year.

ECISD still needs about 125 instructors, but that number fluctuates.

Roughly 60 percent of the teachers are from the area and 40 percent are from outside. There are about 40 international teachers this year from a variety of countries, a few of whom showed their flags as they went through the line.

Earls noted that representatives from across the district were in attendance to greet the new teachers, along with chamber staff and volunteers. There were 44 vendors.

Chamber Director of Operations Lynn Van Amburgh and Operations Specialist Carla Hartwig, start planning for the breakfast around February, Earls said.

Alejandra Canedo and Guadalupe Villarreal will both be teaching at Burnet Elementary School in the RISE program.

The Rapidly Improving School Effectiveness program, or RISE, is an initiative geared to bolster academic performance through efforts beyond those regularly offered, the district website said.

“With a focus on strategic staffing and student support, the RISE program identifies specific staff members who can best meet the individual needs of students at participating campuses, and then carries out a series of unique action steps to ensure that students’ academic, social, and emotional needs are met,” the site said.

Canedo said the event was a great welcoming experience and they felt involved and as though they belonged. She will teach special education and Villarreal will teach fifth grade.

“… We’re very happy to be here at ECISD,” Canedo said.

Nathan Todd will be teaching at Carver Early Education Center. He moved to the area about a year and a half ago from the Chicago area and now lives in Andrews.
He had previously worked for CIG Logistics.

“I have a 4 year old at home and I just I love that age group. … They’re like a sponge; they’re learning everything and that’s where they get their building blocks to move on and continue on with their education,” Todd said.

This will be his first full-time teaching position.

“I’m really excited about it. Well nervous, but you know, a lot more excited,” Todd said.

Superintendent Scott Muri said he is appreciative of the chamber and community coming out to support the new teachers.

“It’s a happy occasion; teachers receiving goodies and handshakes and words of welcome. It’s a great way to honor the profession and celebrate our new people,” Muri said.

He added that it’s important for him and the whole team to be out welcoming the new teachers.

“… This is ECISD welcoming our new teachers, but it’s also our community … I use a phrase we do this work together a lot … This is all of us. The system and the community coming together as one to welcome these new people on board, so that’s powerful. It’s important,” Muri said.

Sara Gutierrez, who will be teaching fifth grade reading at Blackshear Elementary, said the tailgate was exciting. She will be starting her 13th year of teaching and is from North Carolina.

“I love it,” Gutierrez said. “I was not expecting it to be this big. I moved from North Carolina and we don’t have these type of events over there. It just empowers me. It gives me the excitement to start teaching and feeling the support of the community. I’m just thrilled.”

Leslene Anderson of Jamaica was traveling in a car with teachers from her home country and Ghana.

Anderson said she went online and read about the district and wanted to be a part of it.

Anderson will be at Blanton Elementary, another at Burleson, two at Odessa High School and another going to Bowie Middle School.