Eagle Mountain-Saginaw Independent School District: Aspire!

It’s difficult to be the best you can be if you don’t know what that best is and who’s supposed to achieve it. The dedicated administrators, teachers, and staff at the 19 elementary, six middle, and four high schools within the Eagle Mountain Saginaw ISD focus on eliminating such self-limiting obstacles. As a matter of fact, the core challenge is to prevent them from forming in the first place. 

EMS is considered a medium-sized, but rapid growth, school district that focuses on the creation of a culture of excellence for its students and communities. One of their most vital guiding principles is the unwavering belief that each student is a unique individual with unique potential and, therefore, deserves personalized education and opportunities as a foundation for a lifetime of success.

The Aspire 2025 project is a meticulously designed and detailed program that pulls everyone – students, parents, community, teachers, administrators, and staff – into one, cohesive hub to implement the goals and to keep everyone on track.

“Everything is based on what we refer to as the ‘Three Pillars’ of the project,” said Dana Eldridge, a 30-year educator and Director of Career and Technical Education. Those pillars are Excellence in Academics, in Personalized Opportunities, and in Organizational Improvement.

“One of our integral functions is to help students identify their passions and their interests,” she said. “The next step is to provide them with the tools to explore and to develop those areas. We support them on their journey to finding out who they are as a person, along with their short and long-term goals. Everyone – students, community, and educators – must come together to move this plan forward. It’s our responsibility to take care of our students and our community.

“These are our core beliefs and we’re committed to holding to them,” Dr. Eldridge added.

The dedication and trained focus of everyone involved with moving the EMS plan forward is literally standard-setting for educational systems throughout the country.

“We’re about everyone and not just one person,” she said. “Each time we make a decision, we ask ourselves if it aligns with our plan and that plan’s focus. We must remember our students can do amazing things if we give them the opportunity and we give it in joy.”

Audrey Arnold has the Herculean task of providing leadership for all the EMS campuses. She realized at just 12 years old that her passion was to help children and teachers to live better lives. That’s what she’s done for 37 years and continues to do as Executive Director of Elementary Services for EMS ISD.

“Community is a huge part of what we do,” Dr. Arnold said. “We love it when parents come and have lunch with the students or just visit to see what’s going on.

“We have a program called Student Voice. Starting in the fifth grade, teachers nominate the students to participate. Teachers and administrators meet with Student Voice every six weeks for three hours, including lunch, to get feedback on various programs. There are also times when we bring students to meet with our District Leadership Team, giving them the opportunity to speak and to express themselves to adults. We take their input seriously and, sometimes, use it to modify decisions we’ve made.”

Theresa Parisi, Coordinator for Secondary Science, directs a great deal of her focus to the first pillar in the Aspire plan – Excellence in Academics. She uses 25 years as an educator for reinforcement.

“I’m definitely passionate about what we’re doing. My primary focus is to provide opportunities that allow and support students to explore a variety of avenues. One of our programs is STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics), where students do things such as design and re-design architectural projects. We have professional architects visit and explain how architecture relates back to the community,” Parisi said.

“Conversations about topics such as infrastructure and AI, which are part of real life, begin in elementary school,” Parisi said. “We want to expose them to different subject areas so they can begin identifying their passions. Maybe they’ll decide they want to attend a technical school or maybe pursue certification in a certain field.

“We all utilize a spirit of intentionality. Everything we do must pass the test of ‘Is it right for our students and for our community?’ Are we making sure we’re intentionally providing opportunities for the community to involve itself with us and vice-versa?”

Everything at EMS is done with the intention of setting up each and every student for sustainable success that will spill back into the community for years to come.

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