When we talk about diversity in HISD, our homeless student population of about 6,000 doesn’t always come to mind — but it has certainly attracted attention recently. That is both well-deserved and heartwarming.
This week, I had the honor — twice — of seeing a remarkable young homeless woman from Bellaire HS receive funds to make her college dream come true. Graduating senior Alisa Hamilton persists to succeed in school and to set and meet high goals — despite unspeakable circumstances that have left her to fend for herself without parents or a home.
I awarded her the $10,000 scholarship that came when the Council of the Great City Schools honored me last October, and Thursday, she received another $5,000 from the Children’s Defense Fund as one of five Beat the Odds scholars in the Houston area.
Last week on her broadcast, Ellen DeGeneres awarded $100,000 to Peck Elementary School and its principal, Carlotta Brown, who hosts HISD’s Homeless Education Office on her campus. The award — perhaps the largest in the show’s history — came via Target’s Thanks a Billion program and honored how Peck, Brown, and HISD offer sanctuary to homeless students.
By finding a home with us, they learn that — if they apply themselves — their circumstances are no obstacle to success. We inspire them, and they inspire us in return.
We’ve already held our salutes to student valedictorians and salutatorians and to our EMERGE seniors, going off to the best colleges in the U.S. This coming Sunday, at the fifth annual Cool To Be Smart celebration, seniors who have braved the most rigorous academic path will have a chance to win a new Toyota Corolla (generously donated by Smart Financial Credit Union) and other prizes.
The end of the school year is also when we take time to acknowledge those who make student successes possible. Friday night, HISD will hold its annual Celebration of Excellence to honor Teachers and Principals of the Year and Employees of the Month for the past year. It’s an opportunity to treat the best of our front-line staff to a red carpet evening.
I especially like the story of Jose Saenz, who will be one of the night’s honorees. He came up through the HISD teaching program at Austin HS, returned to teach history at the school, and is now Austin’s Teacher of the Year.
Others on Team HISD have been tapped for outside honors, like Bellaire HS teacher Michael Clark. He won $25,000 for his school and another $25,000 for himself when H-E-B gave him its lifetime achievement award. He used a chunk of that money to buy gift cards for his colleagues.
That really speaks to the collaborative nature of what we do. Each award recipient has colleagues and families who contribute to his or her success — and ultimately, to student success. Let’s give them all a round of applause.
There are certain people we should celebrate every day — not just on special holidays and weeks. Mothers, for one, deserve more than just the annual bouquet of flowers or box of chocolates many will receive this Sunday.
Teachers also deserve gratitude day-in-and-day-out. Still, it’s been nice to see HISD’s outpouring during Teacher Appreciation Week (and Teacher Appreciation Day Tuesday). We’ll toast all our Teachers of the Year at our Celebration of Excellence May 15, and you can vote for your “fan favorite” for special acknowledgment.
If you think about it, mothers and teachers have a lot in common. They’re nurturers, disciplinarians, mentors, and impart both core knowledge and life lessons. They get us ready to go into the world with a strong foundation of learning, skills, and values.
I hope you’ll take the time to view this video where many of our students expressed thanks to their teachers with a variety of sentiments, both touching and thought-provoking. It might make you think about how a teacher is making a difference in the life of your child, or about a special teacher who helped shape you into the person you are today.
And we hope it will remind you to say “thank you” every day.
Engagement is important to HISD year-round. We work hard to make sure parents feel connected to their children’s classrooms and teachers and that they become involved with their schools. We have committees to bring everyone, including parents, alumni, teachers, administrators, and staff, to the table on important matters.
For the third year, we’re extending our reach through a comprehensive “customer service” survey known as Your Voice. Your Voice is conducted by an independent research firm, and participation is done anonymously, with confidentiality guaranteed. Through about 40 questions (which should take 10-15 minutes), you are asked about everything from safety to teachers’ expectations to how parents are treated. You even get the chance to grade us on a scale from A to F.
We take Your Voice seriously at HISD. We study it as a district to see where we need to do better, and individual campuses use the results in formulating their required school improvement plans.
At The Rusk School, parents felt it was sometimes difficult to speak with an administrator and said so on Your Voice. The school juggled front office duties to make sure an administrator was always available. Wheatley HS listened to comments about teacher communications and now requires all teachers to keep a calling schedule with parents. Safety concerns at Thomas Middle School inspired a volunteer Parents on Patrol program.
Your comment could be the next great idea at your school or at the district, but not if you don’t participate. Parents and teachers can complete the survey from May 1-30; students in grades 3 through 12 from May 11-28. We’re anxious to hear what you have to say.
“Special” doesn’t begin to describe the magic of “Special Olympics.” More than 2,500 HISD athletes — from preschoolers through high school — are set to compete in three Field Days, April 29, 30, and May 1 at Barnett Stadium.
This is the purest form of sport, done for the sheer joy of participation and for each athlete’s personal sense of accomplishment. Special Olympics athletes are exceptional in their perseverance and inspirational in their ability to create a spirit of inclusion and acceptance for those with intellectual disabilities, instead of limiting them.
This week, I recorded a video greeting for the HISD games with Whitney, an eighth-grader at Hamilton Middle School, who’s training for soccer and basketball competitions — and getting ready for high school at Reagan next fall. Her exuberance is contagious. She’s my new hero, and I told her so.
Tickets for the HISD Field Days are available, and volunteers are still needed. I’m proud that so many HISD staff members are helping, including entire departments. I was going to make my own pitch, but I can’t possibly be more persuasive than the words of the volunteer oath administered at the opening ceremonies.
I promise to give of the time in my life, so that Special Olympics athletes can have the time of their lives. I promise to support Special Olympics not just as an expression of charity, but as a form of respect for my fellow human beings. I promise to spread the word of volunteerism because in giving, I receive so much more in return. – Volunteer Oath
The graduation season began formally last week as we honored our top seniors at HISD’s annual Scholars Banquet, and it was rewarding to see tangible examples of how our work of the past five years is paying off.
The 96 valedictorians and salutatorians — and their classmates, who will stride across stages next month — have been both enriched and challenged by increased rigor, and so their achievements loom especially large. They’ve met the challenge of AP and dual-credit classes and programs such as International Baccalaureate, Early College High Schools, and Futures Academies to become college-ready learners armed with career awareness and skills. read more…
This is a great time of the school year, as we finish our year’s studies and prepare for what next year will bring – whether it’s promotion to a new grade and fresh challenges, a different school, or graduation and higher education or workforce training.
High-stakes testing and anticipating those changes also make this one of the most stressful times of the year, and that’s why it seemed fitting this week that we announced the expansion of a program that is helping thousands of our students cope with anxiety and challenges.
This health and wellness program uses yoga poses and breath-control exercises along with group discussions and nutrition and character education to help students reduce stress, sharpen their focus, and stay calm. In partnership with the Sonima Foundation, 14,000 HISD students at 26 schools are now improving their health — both physical and mental. We started the program this year at 12 schools.
Athletics and purely physical activity still have their place to teach healthy competition, perspective, and teamwork. But we’re excited about this new program that promotes the connection between a healthy body and healthy mind through lifelong wellness and a balanced life.
Wow, do our magnets attract! The figures are impressive — nearly 21,000 students (and their parents) filed 65,000 applications to HISD magnet programs last December, most of them online. This past Friday, they learned the results through a designated website and via email notification.
This exemplifies several leaps that we’ve taken in HISD. When I first arrived here more than five years ago, magnet reform was a high priority. We’ve taken steps toward accountability and equalizing funding — and the growing response and success of our online application and lottery process is a sign that we’ve become more equitable about getting the word out about our school choices and how to take advantage of them.
The magnet process doesn’t end here. Many of the schools will be staging “Magnet Signing Day” events to celebrate acceptances and commitments, and from 9 a.m. until noon on April 25, we’ll be holding a School Choice Fair at district headquarters, 4400 W. 18th St., to highlight programs at the many wonderful campuses which still have openings.
With the variety of offerings from kindergarten through high school — encompassing academic and career focus, international and language interests, arts, STEM, Montessori, and more — we’re proud to be able to match students’ interests and aptitudes to programs that will help them relate what they’re learning to their futures.
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.