New Ector principal ready for challenge

Cynthia Rodriguez always knew she was called to help people, but it took her a while to settle on how.

Now the principal of Ector College Prep Academy, an Ector County ISD in-district charter school, Rodriguez has found her niche.

She has been in education for 19 years, including her first year at Presidio ISD, but she started off working for McDonald’s for 17 years, then going to the police academy and emergency medical technician school.

Fast food, police officer and EMT didn’t seem like the right career paths for her family. She finally decided to go to college to become a teacher.

She earned a bachelor’s degree in history and master’s in educational leadership, both from University of Texas Permian Basin.

Education was the right career for her so she could be off with her children at the same time, she said.

She and her husband, Angel Rodriguez, have three children. He is the assistant principal at the Alternative Education Center.

“It took me a little longer than most to get the bachelor’s degree. It took me seven years to get it. … And I tried lots of things before I finally decided I had to go be a teacher. I went to the police academy first. The very first time I stepped foot into college, I was in the police academy. I took the state test, passed it and decided this is not the right job for my family. I kept going, went to EMT school, decided that’s not the best job for my family either. And I finally convinced myself after those two programs, you’ve got to go to school to be a teacher if you want to be the best parent for your kids,” Rodriguez said.

She didn’t always want to be a principal.

“I love working with curriculum and instruction and I never thought that I would stop being an instructional services director (and) move up to associate principal, but I did … I learned something new every day doing that and I also got to see how that tied to what I was doing as the instructional services director for two years. I also got to see other things that the principal has to do. And then when the opportunity came available for me to apply for the principal position here. I thought, I’m going to do this because I already know the building. I already know the campus. I already know the parents; the community. And I felt like this campus needed someone that already knew them and knew what they needed, so that they’re not starting over fresh, as this campus has had to do a lot. And I was encouraged a lot to apply by Mr. (Mitch) Gehrig, who was the previous principal. And he said, Cynthia, you need to do this. You’ve got to do this; you’re ready. I took the plunge …,” Rodriguez said.

Ector College Prep Academy was previously operated by Ector Success Academy Network. The CEO/Superintendent was Robert Bleisch.

The school will now be operated by Third Future, a charter school network based in Colorado. The contract with Ector Success Academy Network was not renewed by the Ector County ISD Board of Trustees in January because the campus did not meet its goals.

“I’m excited. I think it’s going to be a great year with a … fabulous team and a fabulous new charter,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez will have 115 staff members and is expecting 1,452 students this year, which is about what the school typically has.

About 44 of those 115 are returning from last year. Because the school changed operators, people had to reapply for their jobs, but they could also be transferred to other campuses in the district.

So far, Rodriguez said, she has received positive comments from students and staff.

Ector also hosted summer school and once students found out it wasn’t just reading and math classes; that they got to take DYAD classes, they were pleased.

DYAD classes offer “worldly experiences that economically disadvantaged kids normally wouldn’t get.”

“We hire experts from the community and they come in and they teach things like Taekwondo, photography, piano, spin class, … theater (and) many, many other things that kids normally wouldn’t get to do because parents can’t afford to pay for it,” Rodriguez said.

During the normal school year, DYAD classes are held twice a week for 90 minutes. Students can change their DYAD classes in the second semester.

Improvement is the ultimate goal, but there are indicators of success as well laid out by Third Future such as growing staff capacity to provide the highest quality instruction.

Parents can start dropping off their students at 6:30 a.m. Before school care runs from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. and after school care is from 4 to 5 p.m.

“There are programs for them that they can do from 4 to 5 if they choose to, unless they’re in athletics and then they go straight to athletics at 4 o’clock,” Rodriguez said.

That hour also will bring together all the band members, for example.

“During the day the band director will have classes that are just sixth grade, or just seventh grade, or just eighth grade. They won’t be mixed, so from 4 to 5 he’s going to have the opportunity to have all his band together … That’s one example,” Rodriguez said.

They will have fine arts and mariachis. Theater will be a DYAD class.

“We’re going to have it, but it’s not an elective. So the electives that we’re having this year are band, mariachi, dance, choir, art, fitness and fitness and physical education,” Rodriguez said.

The difference between the elective and the DYAD classes are that the students have electives every day for an hour. For those DYAD classes, they do (them) twice a week for 90 minutes.

School starts Aug. 4 and ends June 3.

“We actually have more instructional days. The district will be off the whole week of Thanksgiving and we’re just going to be off Wednesday Thursday Friday,” Rodriguez said.

She said the reason more instructional days are on the calendar is that it’s imperative.

“… The kids need it. It’s essential and we want our campus to be successful. And because of COVID, we need even more,” Rodriguez said. Teacher contracts are 203 days with Ector, whereas they are shorter with other campuses in Ector County ISD. “our bell schedule is not the same as the district, so our sixth and seventh graders their bell schedule is eight to four. And then our eighth graders their bell schedule is 7:30 to 4:30.”

Teachers who were with the previous charter had to reapply for their jobs under Third Future.

Knowing the school and the community will help her and everyone connected with the school, Rodriguez said.

“I think it’s going to help the parents because we know what they’ve been through and we know what the students have been through, and it helps them with us … still having admin here that already knew the other charter. …”

She said the interventions will be handled during the school day.

“Third Future schools only have three rules. No disrupting the learning environment; no disrespecting adults; and no bullying,” Rodriguez said.

Nicole Gabriel, director of instruction and operations for Third Future, said the organization’s campus at Sam Houston Collegiate Preparatory Elementary in Midland has been very successful.

“One of the expectations of this charter school is that every child shows one year and eight months of growth on the NWEA MAP (Measure of Academic Progress) exam. And so I know that Sam Houston reached that goal,” Gabriel said.

Third Future’s other schools in Colorado have also shown success.

Gabriel said the ECISD school board approved Third Future to operate an in-district charter, but Third Future has its own board.

Gabriel will split her time between Sam Houston and Ector.

The Third Future Schools-Texas Board includes Conrad Coleman, president of Midland; Vice President Michael Williams, former Texas Education Commissioner, who is from Midland and lives in Arlington; Dorothy Reyes, treasurer, Odessa; Sarah Arabadi, board member of Midland; Martina Van Norden, board member, resides in the Metroplex.
Gabriel said they will meet with the ECISD central office, as they do with Midland ISD, to give updates.