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.
Before you give thanks next week with your family and friends and slice into your turkey, I hope you pause a few moments and consider with me our blessings in HISD. Here are a few of many that I am counting:
HISD has long been a leader when it comes to offering students innovative options. In 2003, we brought the early college high school concept to Texas, and in 2012, we opened the Mandarin Chinese Language Immersion Magnet School.
Administrators often talk about how education is a joint effort—it takes everyone in a particular community to make it work. Public school districts can’t do it alone, so parents, community volunteers, business partners, and other concerned individuals must also occasionally lend a hand.
This week, caring citizens across Houston—some of whom also happen to be our employees—began demonstrating their commitment to Houston’s children by helping HISD first-graders develop a love of reading. They are volunteering through the district’s Read Houston Read initiative, which is part of the Literacy By 3 movement. read more…
Over the next month, HISD’s families have the enviable task of school shopping during magnet awareness activities, which start Saturday with the annual School Choice Fair and opening of our online magnet application process.
We have specialty programs from elementary through high school, such as fine arts and STEM. There are Montessori and Vanguard gifted-and-talented programs, all sorts of international schools, college prep, and career-focused academies. Simply put: You can leave HISD with a diploma and a two-year degree, a second language, virtuoso-level skill in the arts, or a jump on a career in law, medicine, energy, retail, culinary arts, or a number of booming technology fields. read more…
The tradition of giving an apple to the teacher goes back to frontier days, research shows. It was a simple, symbolic way of honoring hardworking souls who frequently wrangled more than 50 youngsters of widely varying ages in a one-room schoolhouse.
Today’s teachers face a different set of complexities, and the way we reward their excellence has also changed. In HISD, we’re striving to be competitive in pay and benefits to make sure we have an effective teacher in every classroom, and we offer attractive opportunities for professional development and leadership growth. Our ASPIRE awards have put millions of dollars in bonuses into the hands of teachers whose students show measurable academic progress.
November is officially the big month for school-shopping in HISD, with our School Choice Fair and application period opening on Nov. 1, Magnet Awareness Week Nov. 3-7, and open houses and other activities throughout the month.
Something important happened this week that helps ensure the integrity of those magnet programs. It’s our annual magnet review, which is board policy, and it’s part of the magnet school reform process that we’ve been driving for the past five years.
Robert Crowe is a gifted HISD videographer who is ordinarily a man of few words. His memorable images and skillful editing usually do the talking for him, but he gets fired up when discussing how the major perception with which he walked into district headquarters to start work five years ago has changed drastically.
Teaching is only one part of what HISD does, Robert says far more eloquently than I: Our educators must deal with the problems of our nation and the world. We cope daily with hunger, poverty, adult illiteracy, threats to health and safety, global politics, and so much more. He understands that sometimes a passing grade is an achievement, a semester of perfect attendance is a miracle, a parent attending a teacher conference a milestone.
Which brings me back to Robert’s storytelling. We’ve talked and written much about the success of our EMERGE youngsters — promising, hardworking high school students who frequently face the challenges I’ve mentioned, yet persevere to achieve. Through EMERGE, we’ve been able to take dozens of HISD students who ordinarily might have reached a dead-end and sent them to Ivy League and Tier One colleges, often at no cost to their families.
Recently, we released Robert’s “Story of Edgar,” the tale of Edgar Avina, who with the help of teachers who saw his promise and EMERGE mentors who guided him, has made his way from a barrio mobile home to DeBakey HS to Yale University. It’s a tale that shows what happens when we believe every young person is capable of success, and they have the inner drive to meet those high expectations.
Another wonderful EMERGE feature made its official debut this week, too — the EMERGING Voices blog. In their own words, EMERGE college students and current seniors navigating their way through the college application and admissions processes are telling their stories. They’re talking about things like homesickness, networking and organizing, memorable teachers, and the realization that many are spending their last year with their families before moving onto to higher education and careers.
Even U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan took note of the blog, which features Edgar’s tale, tweeting Wednesday: “Great that the @HoustonISD EMERGE program is helping underserved students reach top colleges.”
Any young person or adult has something to learn from the stories of Edgar and other EMERGE fellows, who are willing to work hard and dream big — turning obstacles into stepping stones to a future beyond their most vivid imaginations.