HISD’s “magnetic” personality is on proud display these days. After a series of magnet awareness events – including a packed School Choice Fair and a series of community meetings and campus tours – our magnet school application period is in full swing.
This year, we’ve added an online application process, and at last count, this convenient option has attracted more than 23,000 applications.
You have only until December 20 to fill out the forms and submit them either online or directly to schools. (Remember there’s additional paperwork involved, so you don’t want to wait until the last minute.)
Holidays bring out the best in our extended HISD family, with the warmth and generosity we see every day bubbling over this time of year. Thanksgiving is a unique part of our history and cultural traditions, and I was touched last week by how one celebration in HISD especially reflected the holiday’s historic spirit of sharing, gratitude and inclusion.
Las Americas Newcomer School is an HISD middle school in southwest Houston that reminds us that our city — and district — are a gateway for immigrants. Its families – some of them political refugees — come from 32 different countries. For many, this is their first chance to learn English or experience the gift of a formal education that we know as a right. They practice a variety of religions and cultural traditions — but Thanksgiving has not been one of them – until now.
St. Luke’s United Methodist Church’s Gethsemane Campus, guided by the kind heart of Mireya Ottaviano, provided a traditional turkey feast with stuffing, cranberries and pumpkin pie for 130 students and their families from the HISD newcomer community at Las Americas. The gathering also served as a “Welcome to America” celebration, with welcome bags full of goodies for each guest.
The celebration was more than just a shared feast to broaden their palates. It was a reminder for all of us of the historic reasons for that first Thanksgiving and the opportunity to see our blessings through the fresh vision of others who have known hunger and oppression.
My wish is for each of you to enjoy the warmth and traditions of Thanksgiving. One of the many blessings I hope you’ll consider is the diversity of our HISD family, the breadth of experiences and backgrounds that give us not only a broader understanding of the world but of ourselves, as well.
Parent involvement, or let’s be honest — “mom” involvement – was pretty routine in bygone days. There were one or two solemn report card conferences each year, clapping hands at pageants and performances, attending an occasional PTA or PTO meeting, and sending a platter of freshly baked cookies on special occasions.
Across the nation, school districts marked National Parent Involvement Day Thursday because engaging parents is no longer such a simple matter. Single parent households, both parents working long hours, language and cultural differences, and other daily challenges make connecting with children and their schools a much tougher proposition for most moms and dads.
There’s an impressive “school choice” story to share with you today from Sharpstown International School, which is a grade 6-12 HISD magnet that emphasizes global citizenship. More than 130 countries are represented in the student body, and they speak more than 90 languages – with the majority fluent in Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, Arabic, Urdu or Farsi.
SIS is one of those shining examples that HISD is able to use when we talk to parents grappling with the decision to choose between public and private schools, worrying about the notion that maybe that a school with a specific focus doesn’t offer enrichment programs up to the levels that they would find elsewhere.
It’s not often that our schools go head-to-head with private schools, but recently, the stellar student musicians from SIS competed with their counterparts from about 20 of the Houston area’s finest private schools at the Association of Texas Small School Bands regional audition in Sealy. The result: 15 SIS musicians earned seats in the regional band – the highest number from any school — and performed in concert last weekend at Houston’s Kinkaid School (which, incidentally, placed 14 musicians in the band). Loi Lao, an SIS ninth-grader who has been playing the clarinet for only two years, has been chosen to compete at the state level in January in Waco.
Congratulations to all these young people and to their band directors, Kelly Brunson and Troy Morris. And thanks to SIS for adding another example to our bragging rights about the overall excellence of our focused school options. That’s music to our ears.
For teachable moments, living history is the best kind. We must turn to books and other media to learn about the rise and fall of great civilizations and our own Revolutionary forefathers. But each year, Veterans Day reminds us how much history we have in our own midst.
It’s wonderful today to see how HISD schools are making the most of this chance to learn about patriotism and sacrifice from those in their own families and school communities who have served our country in uniform.
The array is touching: Lyons ES hosting veterans on campus from as far back as the Korean Conflict and staging their own USO-style show, our JROTC stalwarts performing flag ceremonies, youngsters from Windsor Village ES reading letters they’d written to veterans as part of a special salute sponsored by the Houston Astros, a concert scheduled tonight at Lovett Elementary – to name a few.
We hope you’ll use lessons from this very teachable holiday in your own home today, too, and every day – to share reminders about love of country – and that freedom must be earned and treasured through commitment and sacrifice.
If you’re like I am, even if you were a dreamer as a young person, your vision of where technology would take us in our lifetimes was probably limited to the gadgets of science-fiction movies or the promises of two-way wrist radios and picture phones from the comics.
That’s what makes our rollout of PowerUp so exciting. Youngsters you might imagine to be jaded by smart phones, video games and the ability to watch movies and TV on their computers at will – along with their teachers and parents – are truly embracing this program that will bring every student at 11 high schools their own laptop to use in class and take home to continue their learning. In all, 17,000 students’ learning will be transformed by mid-January, and eventually, every student will be part of PowerUp.
For three of the schools – the Young Men’s and Women’s College Preparatory Academies and Energy Institute High School – Christmas came in October, as they received their laptops, forming the pilot for the one-to-one laptop initiative that’s a key component of our commitment to 21st Century Learning and digital transformation.
Nearly 1,000 parents came to Sam Houston High School recently to learn about good digital citizenship, and additional meetings are going on at participating high schools. That’s parental involvement!
HISD’s Curriculum Department is developing planning guides, online resources, and digital strategies that will increase student engagement and encourage collaboration. Outside the classroom, students will be actively researching, evaluating, and interpreting information, as well as connecting with other students and staying in touch with their teachers.
HISD will continue to collaborate with Mooresville Graded School District in North Carolina, which saw their graduation rate jump 33 percent when they gave a laptop to every student in grades 4 through 12. They also saw end-of-course exam scores rise 20 points. HISD leaders from all 11 PowerUp schools will visit Mooresville later this month, and in December, Mooresville representatives will come to Houston to work with the three HISD high schools that already have their laptops.
PowerUp is about more than a new tool – it’s about changing the learning environment. Teachers become facilitators rather than presenters, and students have access to real-time knowledge. This is a districtwide effort with far-reaching effects for every student in HISD. I’m in awe, and you will be, too. It’s way cooler than a two-way wrist radio.
Students learn their best when schools and parents team up to give them all the support they need in the classroom and at home.
HISD is committed to making sure parents have the information they need to support learning at every stage of a child’s education, from preschool years to graduation. The district has a school-readiness program that helps parents prepare preschool children for academic success. Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters (HIPPY) provides instructors who visit HISD parents once a week and teach them strategies for preparing preschoolers to start school. This program helps close the achievement gap and gives students the basic reading skills they need before they set foot in school.
HISD’s Family and Community Engagement website has valuable resources to assist parents in becoming effective educational partners and advocates for their children. Parent activities that directly benefit students include visiting their school frequently, meeting and staying in touch with their teachers, and being active in the PTO or PTA. At home, parents should establish a quiet place for their child to study and do homework, make sure they get plenty of sleep, and set limits on video games and similar activities. It’s also a good idea to set goals, discuss the importance of being in school every day, and encourage children to do their best work.
When families and schools work together, the result is children who are successful in school, have a positive attitude toward education, and graduate ready for college and a career.
As National School Bus Safety week draws to a close, I want to personally thank the dedicated men and women who not only drive the district’s nearly 1,000 school buses, but who work to keep our kids safe and our fleet in top working order. Every day, HISD school buses transport more than 30,000 students and travel more than 70,000 miles.
To educate our students and our community on bus safety, HISD Transportation Field Safety Investigator Curtis Harris, who is also a local musician, created a music video that has received more than 17,000 hits on YouTube. Performers in the video include students from Yates High School, Peck Elementary, and the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. Check out their dance moves in this fun after-school project:
Choice, not chance, determines our students’ destiny, and one of the things that makes HISD great is that we are a district of choice. That means our students are free to attend any school in the district, as long as they meet the requirements and go through the application process.
There are many different schools in HISD. Our students can earn associates degrees at five early-college high schools, essentially getting two years of college for free. Specialty magnet schools include the High School for Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice, DeBakey High School for Health Professions, Carnegie Vanguard High School, and the newly opened Energy Institute High School.
Visit our School Choice web page to learn more about your options, or, if you prefer to meet face to face, come to the School Choice Open House on Nov. 2 at Northwest Mall. Representatives from HISD schools will be there to answer your questions.
There are also School Choice Fairs going on at elementary and middle schools right now, so come out and get your questions answered. Once you’ve narrowed down your choices, visit the schools you are considering during Magnet Awareness Week the first week in November. See for yourself where your child might be learning, and meet the principal and some of the teachers.
As William Jennings Bryan said, “Destiny is not a matter of chance; it is a matter of choice.” We at HISD are proud of the variety of schools in our district, and we are committed to providing parents and students with the information they need to make the right choice.
I had the opportunity this week to speak at the Future@Now Texas summit near Dallas on the topic of preparing Texas students for digital learning, and the timing couldn’t have been better. As a nation, we have a long way to go to implement digital-age instruction in the classroom, but I’m proud of the fact that HISD is out in front, with programs like the PowerUp Initiative, leading the way in the digital transformation that is destined to change an awful lot about how teachers teach and how students learn in the very near future.
The digital revolution is already here in a lot of ways, but big educational institutions by nature can be slow to change, and even skeptical of newfangled ways of doing things. A lot of teachers and principals want more than just an “expert” opinion about how technology is going to revolutionize learning. They want to see it in action, they want to know what they’re getting into, and they want the support and professional development necessary to make sure they’re as ready as their students are to make the most of 21st-century learning.
So that’s what we’re doing. We’re starting PowerUp in 11 schools this year. A handful of those students (at schools like the Young Women’s College Preparatory Academy and the Energy Institute High School) will be issued their laptops starting in the next few weeks, with other campuses following in January. And the teachers at these schools are already training so they can be leaders and examples for their students. Because, in the end, the technology isn’t the ultimate answer — it’s a tool, and it’s how we choose to use it and what we choose to do with it that will make all the difference.
It should come as no surprise to you that 21st-century learning isn’t really the wave of the future – it’s the wave of the present. We’ve been working hard, doing our “digital homework,” and ensuring that we have the necessary supports in place to make this transition work. It’s an experiment, but it’s a controlled experiment, and it has the potential to reap huge rewards for our kids as we seek to prepare them to succeed in a world that’s already here, all around us.
I can’t wait to see what we learn – and how we learn it – as this transformation moves ahead.