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.
Sometime over the next two weeks, as a New Year approaches, it’s human nature to look back on this year and make resolutions for the next.
For us in HISD, the break between semesters of our academic year is the perfect time to reflect, recharge, and resolve to push even harder on our key initiatives.
We’re making strides with our Literacy By 3 work in the classroom and the growing Read Houston Read volunteer program, with the goal of having all students reading on grade level by the end of third grade. read more…
Last week, I talked about what the ideal 21st century graduate might look like, and this week, I got a chance to see some of them in action.
Thousands of our students are participating in an exercise called the Hour of Code through Dec. 14—and in doing so, they are developing many of the talents they will need to succeed after graduation. Writing computer code as a team teaches them how to work together, think through problems logically, identify solutions, and persist until they reach their goals—all valuable skills in the world and the workplace.
More and more, people are coming to realize just how important coding is in the Digital Age. That’s why I recently made a pledge to President Obama to increase the number of computer classes offered to our students, and announced a partnership with Code.org to ensure that students across all grade levels have access to computer science education.
Kolter Elementary School is already well on its way, after winning $10,000 for having every one of its students sign up for the Hour of Code. You can check out what some of our other schools are doing here. I think you’ll agree, it’s pretty impressive.
Starting soon, you’re going to be hearing about our vision of what qualities a 21st Century HISD Graduate should possess. This vision is a culmination of a great deal of thought and conversation among campus leaders, Central Office staff, and representatives from community, industry, and higher education.
Back when I graduated from high school in the late 1960s, our goals were generally to find life’s work that would offer some dignity and pay enough to raise a family.
We had to master the three Rs, but beyond that, there were essentially only two pathways from which to choose. If we were academically inclined, we moved on to college, which was much less competitive and costly in those days. Most young people, though, moved straight into the job market or into family professions or businesses.
I don’t need to tell you how that has changed in just about 45 years. The education and skills required to succeed — not just in your hometown, but on a global level — have become profoundly more complex.
Our new graduate profile will help connect our vision, our initiatives, and our work in HISD to launch young people who can think critically, lead, communicate, collaborate, and set and attain goals. Although our community is now global and our pathways have diversified, I find it interesting — and comforting — that this model graduate really reflects the same strong personal values and deep character that we’ve always prized in this country.