HISD is in the middle of creating a profile highlighting the qualities and skills our graduates should possess to be competitively “global” – ready to function in this increasingly complex world. Among others, the characteristics we’ve identified are leadership, communications, and critical thinking skills.
Our HISD Student Congress — of students, by students, for students — has a jump on meeting that profile. The congress blossomed from senior Zaakir Tameez’s project last spring at Carnegie Vanguard HS, with an initial group of high school juniors and seniors from Bellaire, Carnegie, Lamar, and Yates high schools, to a districtwide group today representing more than 30 of our high schools.
Through our multi-pronged PowerUp initiative, HISD has become a national leader in digital learning, and it’s exciting to be sharing what we’ve implemented about anytime-anywhere, personalized education.
Before the board of trustees meeting Thursday, students from 41 of our schools will show new ways of learning at a Digital Learning Expo in the lobby of HISD headquarters. We’re one of only four districts in the U.S. invited to present at the national Digital Learning Day Teaching and Learning Conference in Washington, D.C. Friday, to help demonstrate what “future-ready schools” look and feel like. The following week, we’ll be highlighted among Education Week’s “Leaders To Learn From” at that magazine’s national conference in D.C.
The best thing about powering up digitally is that learning doesn’t have to stop because you’ve left the classroom, because there’s ice on the highways, because you have the sniffles — even because it’s spring break.
The STAAR English end-of-course exams will be administered at the end of March, and, they’re among five tests every Texas high school student must pass to graduate. In HISD, thanks to PowerUp and our HUB, students who need that extra boost can take our own district-created multimedia tutorials any time they want.
Creating these tutorials and helping students earn their diplomas is just the latest way we’re showing digital leadership.
Every day, you can find examples in HISD schools of how community partners are enriching our students’ lives. Let me give you two from the past week.
This is National Read Aloud Month, and it’s always kicked off on Dr. Seuss’ birthday with Read Aloud Day, which was widely celebrated around HISD. At Walnut Bend ES, Dr. Seuss’ books came to life for pre-kindergartners and first-graders as Thing 1, the Cat in the Hat, and other characters visited. They were dedicated volunteers from the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation and Phillips 66, both major supporters of HISD’s Read Houston Read program which coordinates hundreds of mentors who read with our first-graders every week.
Houston’s diverse cultural life enriches all of us and adds depth and vibrancy to how we educate students in HISD. That doesn’t just happen during Black History Month (which is just ending after a successful array of programs) or Hispanic or Asian Heritage Months or through our relationships with organizations representing these ethnic groups.
Year-round, HISD has a strong partnership with the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo, which reminds us of a different sort of cultural roots. Friday is Go Texan Day, when most of us pull on our jeans and boots to mark the day the trail rides slowly roll through the urban landscape into Memorial Park.
Some of those rides will stop and let our students pet the horses, peek into the chuckwagons, and give them a dynamic lesson on the history of our state.
While we enjoy the early Texas culture through the parade, the barbecue cookoff, the entertainment, and creatively deep-fried foods, we in HISD should remember how the HLS&R helps our students through its phenomenal scholarship program, youth livestock auction, art competitions and more.
We’re proud to call them “pardner.”
When I was in elementary school, we laboriously wrote our book reports longhand. Now, students at Herrera Elementary School are creating illustrated book reports on their tablets using programs such as iMovie, Animoto, Prezi, and Roxio. You can see for yourself how engaged these young people are in a story and video posted here.
During the entire month of February, we are asking all of our teachers to try something new in their classrooms using digital resources and to share what they’re doing by posting on social media using the hashtag #HISDdigital. That’s how we discovered that first-graders at Piney Point Elementary are learning coding every Thursday, Davis High School students are creating videos to teach their teachers how to use web tools like Blendspace and EDpuzzle, and Energy Institute High School students are collaborating on a new Touch Table. See pictures of those students and more digital learners here.
I am proud of HISD’s efforts to get students college-ready. We’ve increased availability of rigorous AP classes, offer SAT tests on students’ own campuses and online SAT prep for free, and are continually expanding the EMERGE program that is sending underserved scholars to the nation’s top colleges and universities.
Getting students ready and into colleges is just part of our job, though, and so there’s a comprehensive program at HISD to help families figure out how to afford college. Our new FAFSA/TAFSA website is loaded with information about the federal forms for financial aid that are the basis for the awarding of billions of dollars in scholarships and grants. For Spanish-speakers, we’ve prepared a half-hour financial aid broadcast with our partners at Unimas 67 at 6:30 a.m. on Feb. 15, and Univision 45 is hosting a FAFSA/TAFSA phone bank to answer questions from 5-7 p.m. on Feb. 18.
The biggest push, though, is HISD FAFSA Day on Feb. 19, where each HISD high school will focus on financial aid and offer help for students and parents to complete the FAFSA and TAFSA.
Last year, our seniors received record scholarship and financial aid offers of $255 million, and with all these efforts, we’re hoping the Class of 2015 will be even more successful at both entering and affording college.
Twentieth-century education is dusty history — no more three Rs, slide rules, and cookie-cutter schools. HISD’s core instruction now includes computer coding and foreign language. Basic equipment means laptops and digital curricula. Our new schools are being customized to each learning community’s needs.
Now well into the 21st century, we’re setting our sights even broader. With the recent creation of an Office of Global Education, HISD has taken our vision worldwide, pulling together a number of world-view programs and initiatives under one umbrella.
My annual first-day-of-school visit last August was to Shearn ES, and what I saw there inspired me to move forward aggressively with an important program — dual language instruction. Kindergarten youngsters — some of whom were experiencing their first day in a classroom — were being engaged completely in Spanish. Next door was another class of kindergartners, speaking all in English. At midday, the classes traded off and switched languages. All over the school were signs and colorful tidbits about cultures in two languages.
January is School Board Recognition Month. This is the perfect opportunity to acknowledge the hard work these dedicated elected officials put in every day to represent our 215,000 students throughout HISD – as well as parents, teachers, and staff. It’s a tough job with no pay, long hours, and plenty of spirited debate on complex topics. As the governing body for the district and the voice of their constituents, they oversee spending, policy, and district initiatives.
Although trustees are most visible at their monthly Board of Education meetings, they are constantly doing work in other ways – with workshops, agenda reviews, hearings, constituent meetings, and at dozens of school events. Their dedication and professionalism are at the core of our success as a district.
After 30 years as superintendent in eight school districts, I can tell you I have the utmost respect for this HISD board. We all are working toward the same end: to bridge gaps, set expectations high, and give our students every opportunity to exceed those expectations so they can flourish in college and careers of their choosing. Please join me in thanking the board members for their service and for representing HISD.
The New Year has just started, and throughout HISD, we are already working hard toward the next school year. Teacher recruitment is a major focus of that push.
We’ve learned that the earlier we recruit new teachers, the better the candidates. We want the finest crop of graduates, as well as veterans, looking to work in an innovative and diverse district in an immensely livable city. Especially, we’re seeking thoroughly bilingual, biliterate teachers who can be part of the expansion of our dual language and other international programs — with the ultimate goal of every HISD student graduating with proficiency in two languages.
One of the most rewarding programs helps us “grow our own” teachers, so to speak. HISD’s Alternative Certification Program, part of the Effective Teacher Fellowship, is bringing a diverse group of committed new aspiring teachers from non-educational backgrounds to the district.
The deadline to apply for next year is Jan. 31, and there’s a meeting Jan. 15 (with pizza!) to learn more. If you know of anyone who might be considering the classroom, encourage them to check it out — see the right-hand column here for an invite — and enjoy a slice on us.