Writing this blog is fun when I can’t just pick one topic but have several “good news” items to share. This is one of those times.
Most important is the excitement over our first meetings about what’s known commonly by the bureaucratic-sounding name, “House Bill 5.” Here at HISD, we’re calling this “Plan Your Path” because it creates remarkable new, individualized opportunities for our students in high school and beyond.
Parents of current eighth-graders, who will be the first to graduate under this new system that personalizes learning with educational and career goals, will start learning about the ins-and-outs Monday. We’ve set the first two of 10 meetings from 6-7:30 p.m. at Reagan and Washington high schools. You can follow our @HoustonISD twitter that night to be among the first to know what’s being shared.
There’s a meeting in each trustee district and one at HISD headquarters (see the full schedule at www.houstonisd.org/planyourpath), and while attendance is a must for parents of the class of 2018, anyone is welcome.
Shout-outs are in order for two of our five early college high schools – those programs where you can earn both your high school diploma and an associate’s degree at the same time.
Our Houston Academy for International Studies learned it’s in the running to be a U.S. Blue Ribbon School, after being tapped by the Texas Education Agency (TEA). This unique school with a global perspective includes field trips, international travel and local internships.
And TEA informed our South Early College High School that it’s received an official “early college” designation. South is the only of our early college programs with a focus in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM)
Kudos to our College Readiness Department and to our high schools for staging an awesome Houston FAFSA Day on Feb. 20. We heard back from the U.S. Department of Education that 1,601 federal financial aid applications were received from HISD – that’s an increase of 159 percent over last year.
North Forest HS increased their applications by 400 percent, and the East Early College High School saw an increase of more than 1,000 percent.
College Readiness is still working to make sure every student who needs financial aid applies – which will mean more of our students going to college and more scholarship and financial aid offers.
It’s likely that by the time you read this, the Yates High School boys basketball squad will know the outcome of its state semifinal game in Austin, scheduled for Thursday afternoon, and whether they’ll be competing for the state title Saturday.
That outcome isn’t really important because team members are already champions in every sense of the word that matters. They’ve shown persistence and class and have helped galvanize their school behind them.
Yates’ consistency at reaching state is amazing, given the vagaries of high school sports with academic requirements and graduations. The squad made the finals in 2009, 2010, 2012, and 2013, winning back-to-back state crowns in 2009 and 2010.
Yates, you make us proud. Over and over again.
Choosing the best part of our annual State of the Schools luncheon is challenging – a bit like selecting a favorite child.
There’s the reward in connecting faces, smiles, and warm handshakes to the business, professional, and corporate entities and civic leaders who are so supportive of our everyday activities in HISD and who make such a difference to our children. Looking out at a ballroom packed with 2,000-plus fully engaged stakeholders who want to hear about HISD’s progress – and learn how they can continue to help – is deeply moving.
You could make a case for the role our teachers play. This year, it was a technological show-of-force by a group of our PowerUp teacher leaders, and an enthusiastic speech by Adrian Acosta, who teaches at the Young Men’s College Preparatory Academy. Adrian shared how wholeheartedly his students are embracing this tool that reinvents the classroom: He said that by having their laptops with them, his students did schoolwork from home during our recent “ice days.” Talk about anywhere-anytime learning.
The audience was in awe of Kaleigh Davis, a smart, spunky freshman from our new Energy Institute High School (and you can count me in her fan club). She dazzled with her poised explanation of this unique program that’s preparing her for a career in energy fields she didn’t know existed and which are now becoming her passion. She explained how EIHS students will give 150 professional presentations on projects they’ve completed during their four years at the school. Kaleigh has that skill mastered already.
Our JROTC youngsters from Westbury HS and North Forest HS were crisp and polished, and student musicians from Lanier, Marshall, and Johnston middle schools showcased enormous talent — certifiably. A subgroup of the Lanier orchestra just placed third in a statewide polka contest for high schools, the only middle schoolers to compete. And the Johnston Sinfonia has earned an invitation to play at Carnegie Hall April 14.
And there were the behind-the-scenes workers from Team HISD who spent months pulling it all together – the folks in Strategic Partnerships who build our strong relationships in the community, and the communications team who created a day to remember.
Every single person who appeared in or contributed to the State of the Schools event deserves credit for reminding our stakeholders of our quality and class. No way could I pick a “favorite child” out of this impressive group.
Another enduring relationship that HISD enjoys is with the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo. For more than a half-century, our students have benefited from generous scholarships and earned honors for everything from their prize animals to their artwork.
As the trailrides converge on Houston, many of our schools have been celebrating our unique Texas culture with programs all week. Friday is Go Texan Day, and we’ll honor the coming of the rodeo and everything it provides to our region and our district by coming to work and school in our best western duds. So while you’re having fun showing off your boots, jeans, and bandannas, remember that you’re also honoring a great community “pardner.”
This may be the first time you’ve heard of “HB 5,” but I can assure you that it won’t be the last.
House Bill 5 is a package of education regulations passed by the Texas Legislature in its last session. We’ve seen some changes already this year – mainly affecting STAAR testing requirements that reduce the number of end-of-course exams needed to graduate from 15 to five. But it’s starting this spring that eighth-graders (the Class of 2018, for the record) will have to start considering some interesting decisions about their paths to graduation.
Simply put, HB 5 will require each incoming ninth-grader to select an academic plan, as well as “endorsements” – areas of focus. Those are business and industry, arts and humanities, public service; science, technology, engineering, and math; and a multidisciplinary option.
It’s only been a couple weeks since final details came down from the State Board of Education – and even now, some matters remain to be worked out. But HISD was prepared.
Just this week, the Board of Education was presented with a thorough plan from the administration, along with recommendations – to which the board is very receptive – that when districts are allowed choices between rigor and an easier pathway, HISD will choose rigor.
That means the “default” graduation plan will require a “Distinguished Level of Achievement” that includes the basic Foundation Plan of 22 academic credits, along with at least one endorsement which will add four credits. We’re also recommending four math credits, which must include Algebra II, and four science credits, which must include one advanced course. Students who struggle have a chance – with their parents’ approval – to opt out and get on the Foundation plan after their sophomore year.
You have an easy opportunity to start getting acquainted with HB 5 and to ask questions by visiting our new “Plan Your Path” website for parents and students at http://houstonisd.org/planyourpath.You’ll want to bookmark this and refer back often, since HB 5 is still something of a work-in-progress.
And there’s more. Parents of eighth-graders will receive an extensive mailer by the end of this month. We’ve also developed a multimedia toolkit and training for our principals, and parent leaders to be held soon, as well as a series of community meetings – one in each trustee district and one at HISD headquarters – that will be held in March.
Individual high schools will have information on their websites about their “endorsements” and specific courses in time for youngsters and their families to make decisions about where would be the best fit for their academic and career goals.
Most of the work in evaluating and choosing pathways will be performed online through Naviance, and you’ll be made aware by your campus of when that is activated.
I’m proud of the way Team HISD has pulled together to make this daunting transition as painless – and exciting – as possible. While HB 5 may be a tough transition for some school systems, our vast school choice options and move toward Linked Learning – uniting academic and career readiness – make HB 5 a logical fit for HISD.
The cost of attending college these days can be staggering. We’ve all heard the tales of crushing student loan debt being incurred by those seeking higher learning. You may know young people who have put their educations on hold to work and save money to move forward. Paying for school can be tough going.
What’s surprising is how many students don’t know about the vast amounts of financial aid available to them – the largest being the U.S. government. It gives out more than $150 billion each year in the form of outright grants, loans, and money for work-study programs that allow student to make money while still making an education their top priority.
We at HISD are making sure our students and their families know about these resources by having every high school participate in Houston FAFSA Day next Thursday, Feb. 20. FAFSA stands for “Free Application for Federal Student Aid,” and during the day, each campus will have special programs to create awareness of how filling out this one simple application can make going to college a reality.
That evening, from 6-8 p.m. at each school, staff and volunteers will be on hand to help seniors and parents complete the form. You’ll need to come prepared, and by going to http://houstonfafsaday.org/, you can find out the information and documents you should bring.
• Nowhere on the FAFSA are you asked for your grade point average, SAT score, or other academic measurement. That’s because they aren’t used in determining your eligibility for financial aid – only factors such as family income and any other resources are evaluated.
• Even though the FAFSA is for seniors, it’s not too early for any high school student and family to think ahead to how they’re going to pay for college. Some of our schools will be providing financial planning, and you can always go to the FAFSA4caster at https://fafsa.ed.gov/FAFSA/app/f4cForm?execution=e1s1 to estimate your eligibility for financial aid and to get tips on paying for college.
• Many colleges and universities use the FAFSA to determine their own financial aid awards. Once you’ve submitted it, they can access it with your permission, and you won’t have to worry about more applications.
Seeking financial aid can be a little daunting, to be sure, but we’re sure your campus FAFSA Day will help demystify the process and make you see how a college education is possible.
When the Houston Hispanic Forum created the first Career and Education Day (CED) 28 years ago, its focus was on keeping minority students in school by offering them an inspiring glimpse into the world of professions and higher learning.
Although the audience and purpose have long since broadened, perhaps at no time in its more than quarter-century of existence has the CED been more relevant to young people, their families, and to Houston’s continued economic strength in energy, health, technology, and the arts.
In its last session, the Texas Legislature mandated that school districts require high school students to create Personal Graduation Plans that establish their educational and career pathways.
Even before that, HISD was steadily increasing its emphasis on combining college readiness with career awareness. Next year, thanks to a $30 million award in the federal “Race to the Top,” we will embark on an ambitious and innovative “Linked Learning” model that will transform the way we teach from kindergarten through high school. While meeting the growing academic rigor required to succeed in our global economy, students will learn about career possibilities from the youngest age. At each level, they will broaden their explorations of professions, and in high school will choose a personalized path with dazzling opportunities for focused study that will transport them into college and career.
The Career and Education Day is a one-stop location for families to expose their children of all ages to dozens of colleges and universities, as well as local businesses and corporations – complete with willing educators, students, and professionals who are anxious to share their excitement about higher education and careers. The event runs from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday at the George R. Brown Convention Center.
HISD’s College and Career Readiness Department – and our remarkable EMERGE program for low-income, high-achieving high school students – will also be on hand to provide information about college, testing, interviewing, and financial aid. You may walk away with all kinds of ideas about where you can get a quarter-million-dollar education at no cost, with a college who wants you and is prepared to offer you the support needed to earn your degree.
The event is free, so the investment involves only time. The chance to set youngsters’ dreams for the future in motion – as they say in the commercial – is priceless.
Talk about an “effective teacher” — one third-grade class at Scroggins ES has the best bilingual instructor in the U.S.
Maria Elena “Malena” Galan found out last Friday that she had been chosen Bilingual Teacher of the Year by the National Association of Bilingual Educators. She’s worked her way up the ranks – first the Houston honor, then Texas’ best, which put her into the national competition.
Ms. Galan herself had limited English skills when she came to the U.S. 21 years ago and uses her own experiences to help connect to her students and their families. She studied English at HCC and became a HISD teacher through our Alternative Certification Program.
This quote from her final NABE application says so much about her passion for what she does: “Sharing knowledge is powerful, but having the ability to share that knowledge in two languages is twice as powerful.”
She’ll be honored at the NABE national conference in San Diego next month. We’re filled with orgullo – deep pride – that she’s a member of Team HISD.
Another source of button-bursting pride each year is the MLK Jr. Oratory Competition, in which some breathtakingly eloquent HISD fourth- and fifth-graders compete to honor Dr. King’s legacy.
The 18th annual tournament, sponsored by the law firm of Gardere Wynne Sewell, will have its finals Friday at the historic Antioch Missionary Baptist Church of Christ downtown. The topic is thought-provoking: “If Dr. King were speaking at a March on Washington today, what would he say?”
For our coaches in HISD, winning is about a lot more than racking up points and titles. Reagan’s head varsity coach, Stephen Dixon, is a perfect example of that.
Yes, he led the Bulldogs to their first district title in 54 years. Yes, he was in the finals for the Touchdown Club’s Coach of the Year honor for the Houston area this week. But Coach Dixon’s real accomplishment – that of all our coaches – is in creating pride and a spirit of success that can spread throughout an entire school community. Dixon’s boss, HISD Athletic Director Marmion Dambrino, thinks Dixon’s accomplishment at Reagan is a model.
“What’s going on at Reagan High School needs to be going on at each high school,” she says. “When you have 1,101 kids transferring into your school from nine other high schools, there is a reason.”
Reagan’s title after a more than a half-century improves not only the athletic programs, but all other programs at the school, as well, says Dambrino: “Teaching and learning take place in an atmosphere that is positive for kids and one that they enjoy.”
Dixon not only put in overtime at Reagan, but visited and went to games at the middle schools in Reagan’s attendance zone, building relationships with students, parents, and other coaches. He’s received media attention this year, but the Reagan community knows that building a winning team, and an increasingly engaged school community, was a four-year process. “Success” – in the standard definition – actually started in 2012 when the Bulldogs made the playoffs. It was a preview of coming attractions for this season.
HISD knows the importance of our coaches – and we have some of the best around – as teachers, mentors, counselors to our young women and men. They make sure their players meet academic standards, mindful that sometimes, athletics are what’s keeping an at-risk student in school. They impart valuable life lessons about grace in victory and dignity in defeat, about collaboration, dedication and persistence.
The influence of a great coach, like Stephen Dixon, reaches outside the locker room. We all feel it.