Debbie Guillen – PEIMS Coordinator & Registrar
Debbie Guillen, Dell City ISD's PEIMS coordinator and registrar, has been a full-time district employee since 2017. But she began substitute teaching here 15 years earlier, and always had her sights on a full-time position. This Dell City native loves her job – which puts her natural computer skills to good use – and she says that working at the school she herself attended, alongside coworkers who were once classmates, is deeply satisfying.
Guillen – along with fellow front-office staffers Susie Estrada and Adriana Sanchez – is one of the first people a visitor to the Dell City School sees. Visitors will notice she's often intently focused on her work. That's because the work she does is complex, detail-oriented – and critically important to the school.
“I can now say that I'm getting the hang of it,” Guillen said, “that I'm feeling more comfortable, more confident in my work – after this many years. But I never gave up – that's the big thing.
“And a little stress is good, too,” she adds. “I like to keep my mind engaged.”
PEIMS – the Public Education Information Management System – encompasses all the data that school districts in the state are required to report to the Texas Education Agency. That includes various forms of student information – demographics, attendance, discipline, grades and test scores, graduation plans and more – as well as other information related to school operations.
And the state funding the school receives depends on the accuracy of that reporting – especially attendance data.
“There's a lot to it,” Guillen said, “and it's hard to categorize, because it's a little bit of everything. But that's how the school gets our funding, depending on what I enter, so it's a huge responsibility.”
The TEA doesn't allow districts to settle into a routine with PEIMS – state authorities modify the reporting format and add new requirements each year. Guillen submits data to the TEA several times a year, and she works with staff at the regional Education Service Center to ensure those submissions meet the requirements. In addition, in her role as registrar, Guillen registers new students, and provides other schools with records when a student transfers.
Guillen's front-office desk puts her at the center of the action at school. She says she sometimes wishes she could “chit-chat” more with the parents and other visitors who stop by each day – but she tends to get into a groove with her work.
“I don't mean to ignore people,” she said. “I'm just busy. And once I start working I like to get it done – I don't like leaving stuff halfway. So I can be there for hours just focusing on my work.”
But the affection and fun she shares with her coworkers – her “comadres” – is impossible to miss. That connection is especially strong – and amusing – with school Secretary Susie Estrada. Guillen and Estrada were in the same Dell City High graduating class, and can push one another's buttons in the way only old friends can.
“We poke at each other,” Guillen said, “and try to get on each other's nerves – but it's in a joking way. It breaks the ice, because sometimes we're too serious in there.”
It's all-hands-on-deck at a small district like Dell City, and school staffers are often asked to take up responsibilities they didn't expect, and to learn on the job. That's certainly been the case with Guillen's work here. But persistence, stubbornness and a determination to find her own way have been defining features of Guillen's life.
Guillen was raised in Dell City by her grandparents – who themselves were founding members of the community. They arrived in the area in 1950, and farmed near Salt Flat. The historic flood of 1966 destroyed Guillen's grandparents' farm – the flood inundated their home, and the couple was evacuated by helicopter and taken to the community center, where, with others who'd been exposed to the dirty floodwaters, they received vaccinations. Guillen's grandfather later went to work for the county.
Amidst other challenges and responsibilities, Guillen said her grandmother was “always there for me when I needed her.”
Guillen married her husband Luis at 15, and two years later, as a junior in high school, was pregnant with her first child. She thought about dropping out – but, at the urging of a school staffer, she reconsidered. It was a turning point.
“I thought about it,” Guillen said, “and I said, 'I'm not quitting. I'm going to stay in school.' And I did, and I graduated. I've never been a quitter.”
Successfully finishing her high-school career wasn't easy. Guillen's grandmother helped with childcare during the day after her son Donovan was born. But in her last years in high school, Guillen was working with the school's janitorial staff after school and in the summer, and balancing school and homework with the duties of a mother and wife.
“It was a lot,” Guillen said, “but I've never given up.”
In the years that followed, Guillen combined work with raising a family. She was trained as a certified nurse's assistant, and provided home care to elderly Dell Citians. She worked in a cafe, and spent three years as a staffer at Rio Grande Electric Coop. Her daughter Natalie was born six years after Donovan. Guillen said she loved the Rio Grande Electric job – and left because of childcare challenges. That's when work at the school called to her – with two children in school, she knew she could combine working here with her family life. Ten years after Natalie, Guillen had her third child – Luis, who's now a Dell City High freshman.
Guillen started substitute teaching at the school in 2002. She was less than 10 years out of high school herself, and said she could connect well with the students. Guillen said substitute teaching was a great pleasure.
“I felt that I was helpful,” she said, “and I really enjoyed helping the kids.”
Her aspiration was to get a full-time position at the school. That opportunity finally came in 2017, on Halloween Day, when she was asked to come aboard as a full-time teacher's aide. Guillen was thrilled. The following February, she was offered the PEIMS position.
Guillen accepted the challenge – and it was a steep learning curve. In her first months on the job, Guillen often stayed at school till 8 or 9 o'clock at night, working to get up to speed on PEIMS. She knew how important it was for her to get it right – and the pressure, along with the frustrations of navigating a new system, almost brought her to tears more than once – “but not quite,” she said.
Guillen could turn to Education Service Center staff for guidance as she trained herself in PEIMS – but for the most part, she found her own way. That's the way she likes it.
“I had to research it myself and call people,” Guillen said. “But mainly I tried to figure out myself, because I don't like asking for help too much. I've always liked to do things my own way, and to be independent. I've been that way since I was a kid.”
And while learning PEIMS might have been daunting, the work also suits her interests and her skills. Guillen has always been computer savvy – computer programming was a career she envisioned as a young person. She had a personal computer long before most of her friends and neighbors – and she enjoyed spending free time exploring it and learning various programs. Her knack for computers, and for teaching herself, has been a great asset in her work at the school.
“That's how you learn,” Guillen said, “by trying stuff, by figuring things out on your own. I've learned my own tricks and shortcuts – and that's helped a lot in this job.”
Every Dell City School staffer wears multiple hats – and that's true for Guillen. She's not just a front-office staffer – she also frequently covers classes when teachers are out.
As the years have passed living in Dell City, Guillen said she's only come to appreciate her hometown more.
“I love small towns,” she said. “I go to El Paso, and I can't wait to get back. I don't like the noise – I like the peace and quiet. There's nothing to do in Dell City, but I don't mind. I don't mind staying at home. So I think I'll be here forever – I hope to be.”
Guillen has a shy and quiet side – and she said her job is helping to draw her out.
And she finds the enduring connection she was with the school and the people here, the lifelong continuity, to be moving. It brings a deep satisfaction to her job.
“I remember being in these classrooms,” Guillen said, “sitting in these same chairs when I was in high school, these orange chairs... and it's touching. What's the word I want to use? It's gratifying. Being a part of something – I think it's awesome.”
She has no plan and no desire to leave the school.
“I love my job,” Guillen said. “I can say it after all the struggles, that I enjoy what I do. As long as they'll have me, I think I'll be doing it until I retire.”
Thank you, Ms. Guillen, for your hard work and for everything you do for Dell City ISD!