Community partnerships are vital to the success of any school district — and one of the partnerships I’m proudest of is the one we formed with the Sonima Foundation two years ago. Through it, about 25,000 students in 51 of our schools now participate in yoga-style classes that involve stretching exercises, relaxation techniques, and lessons about nutrition.
As a result of this program, participating principals have already been reporting positive changes on their campuses, including higher attendance, lower suspensions, fewer students dropping out, and more students earning their diplomas.
The curriculum is designed to minimize stress, reduce bullying and violence, and improve academic performance, but a side benefit is that students also build skills that they can use all their lives — such as self-control and conflict resolution —to overcome whatever obstacles they might encounter.
As a district, our goal is to reach about 97 percent (or 210,000) of our students with this program by the 2018–2019 school year. I am thrilled with the preliminary results of this partnership and look forward to seeing how it will continue to transform our students’ lives.
There’s been a lot of talk lately about HISD’s bond program and its need for additional funds to complete various construction projects.
The fact is that building new schools in today’s construction market costs much more than we — or any other school district in America — predicted in 2012. I explain why in an op-ed piece that appeared in the Houston Chronicle on Oct. 25. You can click here to read it.
As educators, one of our biggest challenges is getting students — particularly first-generation high school graduates — to think of higher education as an achievable dream.
One of the ways we do that is by opening their eyes to the possibilities through events like our Top-Tier College Night, which took place last week. I was excited to see many students take advantage of this opportunity to learn more about what some of the country’s most prestigious schools have to offer them, and how they could get there with the help of scholarships and other financial aid packages.
Students in the top 15 percent of their classes will have another chance to explore in-state options in a few weeks. Texas College Night is scheduled for Oct. 28 at the University of Houston, and I sincerely hope that all of our eligible seniors will attend. There’s a common misconception that for college to be accessible and affordable, you have to stick close to home, but that is often not the case. Many great schools offer academic and financial incentives to deserving students. But you’ll never get there if you don’t apply.
Being a school principal is simultaneously one of the most difficult — and the most rewarding — jobs an educator can have. As a former principal, I can attest to that. As campus leaders, they are charged not only with providing support to teachers and high-quality instruction to students, but also with managing budgets, handling discipline, overseeing staff, and representing their schools in the larger community.
Balancing all of these tasks can be quite a challenge, but we have 283 principals who do it every day. I am grateful to each and every one of them for their commitment to HISD, and for setting the tone of excellence that continues to inspire our students and teachers to reach for greatness.
Each fall, the governor of Texas designates October as “Principals Month,” in recognition of the critical role that these dedicated individuals play in our students’ success. This year was no exception, and I want to encourage everyone to take some time out before Halloween to say thank-you to the principals in their lives. It only takes a moment to express appreciation for a job well done, but the satisfaction of being noticed and validated for the hard work they do is something principals can carry with them always.
This week the HISD family faced an unimaginable loss. Two students — Janiecia Chatman, 14, and Mariya Johnson, 17 — died in a tragic bus accident on the morning of Sept. 15, and two other students and a driver were injured.
Dealing with death is never easy, and that is even truer when young people are involved. Nothing can prepare you for a shock of that magnitude. It is, quite simply, devastating.
Our hearts go out to the families and friends of the students who perished, and we ask you to keep them in your thoughts and prayers as they move through the grieving process.
This week, I had the opportunity to visit several schools and observe a few of our leaders in action. At HISD, we are blessed to have courageous principals who go beyond “keeping school” – they are improving school, supporting teachers, and setting high standards for all students.
New Principal Nancy Blackwell, a veteran Houston-area high school principal, is determined to improve academics through a culture of high expectations at Kashmere High School.
I saw active student involvement in lessons at Hogg Middle School, which is led by our 2015 PTA State Principal of the Year, Angela Sugarek. (One teacher, Mr. Wright, had every student in the class actively engaged in learning!) Ms. Sugarek and her administrators were in the midst of a calibration exercise – observing classrooms together, and then sharing what they saw.
Dr. Carlos Phillips, principal of Washington High School, is moving his campus toward higher academic achievement, working to meet the needs of his students.
And Memorial Elementary School Principal Maria Garcia, like many principals in our district, is starting the year with a few more students than she previously had. Our enrollment numbers are up from this time last year – and we’re excited to see the growth.
Schools can’t succeed without a great principal, and principals need our support. I’m very proud of the work being done across our district as we wrap up our second week of school.
I ignored the pain in my knees as long as I could – probably longer. I stopped taking the stairs at work. I avoided sitting in low chairs because getting back up without wincing became impossible. But then, reality set in. I scheduled the first of two knee replacement surgeries that my doctor has been urging me to get for years. On Monday, the first day of school, it will have been three weeks since my surgery. The recovery has been rough, and it looks like I won’t be able to walk the halls with principals as they welcome our scholars to the 2015–2016 school year.
But that’s okay. I know that with hard work, and the support of my family, friends, and caregivers, I will soon be stronger than before. I know that with this temporary pain comes great long-term gain. It’s the same way with running a school district. If we want things to get better, we have to be willing to endure some short-term hardship.
A few days after I went under the knife, we learned that HISD had earned an overall rating of “Met Standard” from the Texas Education Agency and 29 of our schools had earned the maximum number of distinction designations for their top performance throughout the 2014–2015 school year. We also learned that students in too many of our schools are struggling to meet the high expectations we have for all of our children.
This marks the start of my seventh school year in HISD, and I am proud of the hard work we have put in to make sure every student graduates equipped to succeed in life. We’ve made tough decisions and we aren’t afraid to endure short-term pain for our children’s sake. In Houston, we know that ignoring problems won’t make them go away.
On Monday, when our students take their next steps along the road to academic improvement, they won’t be alone. The dedicated principals, teachers, and support staff that make up Team HISD will be right there with them, giving them an encouraging boost any time they stumble. Like those students, let’s all keep our eyes focused on that day in May when we’ll walk across the graduation stage on legs made stronger through a little bit of pain.
HISD received some great news earlier this month — this year’s senior class surpassed last year’s in the amount of scholarships and other financial aid offers received by a whopping $10 million.
That figure is a real tribute to our counselors, college access coordinators, and other College Readiness team members, who work so hard throughout the year to keep graduating seniors focused on the very important tasks of completing applications and meeting deadlines.
Building awareness of existing opportunities is half the battle, so it’s exciting to hear about the innovative ways our staff are finding to motivate their students, and the determination our seniors show in applying for every possible funding source available to them.
Hearing their stories makes it easy to see why some of our schools have boosted their totals so significantly from last year to this one. Our college-readiness efforts are paying off, and I applaud Team HISD for this year’s achievement and look forward to seeing what we will accomplish together in 2016.
Last week, we recognized nine employees for helping to spread the word about HISD’s new Service Excellence initiative. Launched last year, it was designed to give everyone working under the Business Operations umbrella a clearer understanding of why their daily interactions with people matter — and how they can make those encounters even more positive.
So far, more than 5,200 employees have been trained on the initiative from the Police, Transportation, Nutrition Services, and Business Assistance departments, and our goal is to have the remaining 1,800 (most of whom are in Construction & Facility Services) trained by the end of the year.
One of the most exciting aspects of this initiative is the sense of connectedness it builds. The training reminds participants that no matter whom they come into contact with — whether it’s a fellow employee, a parent, or a member of the community — when it comes to the business of educating children, we are all on the same team. And everyone deserves kind, courteous, and respectful treatment.
Another academic year has come and gone in HISD, but that doesn’t mean our work takes a vacation.
Summer school has been in session since early June, and that means thousands of students are still in class learning every day, and hundreds of educators, campus employees, and the other support staff who teach those children and keep their schools clean and comfortable have been on the job as well.
Many of our teachers are also back in the classroom as students, expanding their knowledge base by completing professional development courses on districtwide initiatives such as the PowerUp HUB or Literacy By 3. Others are taking trips to faraway lands through programs like Fund For Teachers, such as Bellaire High School English teacher Matthew Olsen, who is exploring Vietnam to enrich his lessons on a war memoir set in that country.
Construction projects are also moving forward all across the district, and even our police force took time out this month to develop its officers’ skill sets, by offering a Law Enforcement Summit at one of our high schools. Many members of Team HISD take time off during the summer months, and I wish them safe and happy holidays. But I am also excited to see the many preparations under way, and I look forward to seeing what we can accomplish together in the coming school year.