ECISD facing vouchers, talent searches

Feb. 4—Personnel quests, possible vouchers on the horizon and the bond committee at work, there's a lot going on in Ector County ISD.

Recently, some top executives have left ECISD for Midland ISD. Superintendent Scott Muri said they are promotion opportunities for talented people in the district.

"When you are looking around and trying to find talented people in your own organization, you're going to search everywhere. Even Russell Tippin (president and CEO of Medical Center Hospital) took our human resource person. That's where Stacey Ashley went to," Muri said.

"We've done some good work and it's gotten some folks some recognition," he added.

Their talents are valued and these are promotion opportunities, he said.

"To me that's great," Muri said.

Now the search is on.

"Our folks are going to come from somewhere, too. That's one opportunity we have in this area, beyond just education, is finding talented people," Muri said.

He added that you hear similar things from the oil and gas industry and you see the help wanted ads in the area.

"Everybody's looking for quality people, so we just have to continue to do a good job of attracting people to our area, but also cultivating our own talent," Muri added.

When people come from elsewhere they may leave the Basin fast.

"Sometimes that happens. When you find a talented person and ... you bring them into your organization, you want to leverage them and their abilities for as long as you possibly can," Muri said.

"Certainly you want your culture and climate to hold on to them. In education, one of the things that helps us hold on to great teachers are the parents and the way moms and dads take care of their child's teacher. Believe it or not, that makes a difference in whether or not teachers stay is just how they're treated within our own community, by our own people."

"Certainly compensation is something we have to pay attention to. We're the highest paying teacher district right now and that certainly helps us attract people to our area, but ... (they) don't have roots, that can be challenging; moving to a different part of the of the state or the nation and you don't have family or friends. ... We want to be their work family, too. It's making sure people have connections. At the end of the day ... you want to take advantage of (talented people) as long as you can, but talented people can cycle through opportunities. Everybody recognizes the talent," Muri said.

The committee to formulate a recommendation to the ECISD Board of Trustees met for the first time last week. It consists of 150 people from across the city and district and includes parents and students.

"We had a great meeting last week (Jan. 26). A lot of really good, healthy engagement. I was probably most impressed by the parents and the students that were there and how actively engaged they were in conversations at their tables ... That work will be happening for the next six months, so that will keep us busy," he added.

Muri will be giving the State of the Schools message March 2 updating the community on the progress of the school district.

"That's a big deal," Muri said.

Recently, the district organized an 8th Grade Course Fair where middle school students got to see what was available at the high schools.

Four school board members are also up for election May 6. So far, incumbents Tammy Hawkins, Position 6, Dennis Jones, Position 7, and Donna Smith, Position 3 have filed. Dawn Miller has filed for Position 1, currently held by incumbent Carol Gregg. The filing deadline is Feb. 17.

"I thoroughly enjoy the seven members of our Board of Trustees. They've done an exceptional job over the last three and a half years that I've been here; incredibly supportive, deeply engaged, care deeply about the kids that we have in this community. They also are not agenda-driven as a board," Muri said. "Their agenda is children and that's a wonderful trait to have as a trustee ... to serve because you care about kids."

"I think at the end of the day when our trustees are running they are able to stand on a solid foundation of success. That will certainly help them. We have a good team of eight right now," he added.

The Texas State Board of Education Friday reversed a previous vote by removing its recommendation to the legislature opposing private school vouchers. Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick have said they are all in for vouchers.

"I think, as a system, we certainly couldn't support anything that takes public school dollars away from public school kids. We have a responsibility to advocate for the 33,500 students that we serve, so anything that's going to cause harm to them, we would certainly be in opposition to that," Muri said.

He said there seem to be different words mixed in with the voucher discussion these days.

"I think when you use the word voucher, it certainly paints a clearer picture; and in many minds that's a bad word because it removes public school dollars from public schools, so other words have been thrown in the mix that are perhaps a little bit more palatable. That has created ... a different kind of conversation for people. But at the end of the day, what's important for us as a local school district is that we do everything we can to protect the kids that we serve. Anything that's going to cause harm to our students, then we certainly need to be vocal about that. I think our parents in our community expect us to defend our children just like we expect parents in our community to defend kids as well," Muri said.

One of the words being substituted for vouchers is choice.

The Texas Tribune will host a live conversation on school choice Feb. 16 in Austin.

Four leaders in Texas education, including Muri, Laura Colangelo, executive director, Texas Private Schools Association, Michelle Smith, executive director, Raise Your Hand Texas, Randan Steinhauser, national school choice director, Young Americans for Liberty, and Brian Lopez, public education reporter for The Texas Tribune, will be discussing "School Choice: What's Right for Texas."

The Tribune event is set for 8 a.m. to 9 a.m., free and in-person, at the Tribune's Studio 919, at 919 Congress Ave., on the sixth floor.

It will also be livestreamed at and available for on-demand viewing afterward at

Muri added that ECISD is a district of choice as it has 14 choice schools, formerly known as magnets.

"Last year, we did a choice survey among all of our parents to find out what ... other options do they want. ... That's where our middle year program for IB (International Baccalaureate) came from," he said.

Parents also wanted more science, technology, engineering, art and math options.

"The STEM Academy is now a part of us, again, another way to provide more choices and options for families. I think that's the power of public schools is to continue to provide the right choices and options for the families that you serve. Those should continue to iterate over time as society continues to evolve; so should the choices that we provide for moms and dads," Muri said.

On a separate topic, he said all the human capital work ECISD has done will continue, even though Executive Director of Talent Development Ashley Osborne has moved to MISD.

"All of that human capital work that we're doing is critical and we have to continue with all of that work because" it has proven effective, Muri said.

ECISD also lost Chief Innovation Officer Jason Osborne to syGlass, a software firm whose software "allows you to view your data in its actual 3D or 4D (over time) form through virtual reality," its website said.

He said the position is undergoing reevaluation.

"We have not posted any positions in that area as we reevaluate what's going to be the most effective use of that role," Muri said.

Asked if they were going to do away with the Innovation Department, Muri said, "It's not doing away. It's anytime you know, you have a vacancy you always want to reevaluate it and (figure out) how could we make things better?"

"We have two positions in human resources and we have an EDL (executive director of leadership opening). With all of those, is there something that we could do to make it more effective? I think that's our opportunity. ... Sometimes organizations don't do that, so you miss out on an opportunity to level up because you hire the same; you do the same. We don't want to do that. We want to be better. I think that's also one reason we failed a change in education is because we just continue to do the same thing; so learn and become better," Muri said.

The use of artificial intelligence in education has sparked a lot of chatter on social media. Muri said it's not being talked about enough.

"There are tiny conversations here and there, but we're not talking about artificial intelligence enough. It is going to be a game changer in education. ChatGPT is teaching us that already. So how do we as educators ... harness the power of artificial intelligence, knowing that (it's) a reality today. But tomorrow, there'll be a whole other iteration of that. How do we equip our kids with the tools and skills they need to positively leverage the technology, rather than misuse the technology because (there) are already conversations about banning ChatGPT from schools. That's not going to happen. We might ban it from the school, but the kids can go home and use it. So how do we help our kids use these powerful tools in constructive ways rather than destructive ways? That's our opportunity," Muri said.