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In summer, the real world becomes our classroom

2014 July 23
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by HISD Communications

We’ve been stepping up our programs in HISD to connect what students learn in the classroom to the real world, and this summer is providing rich opportunities for both teachers and students to stretch their imaginations and build new skill sets off-campus.

Our Linked Learning approach, which is about to go into effect at eight high schools and their feeder campuses, placed a number of teachers in “externships” in recent weeks. Teachers from Reagan High School, which will offer a Health Science pathway, explored departments at Memorial Hermann Hospital, while other instructors visited relevant workplaces in construction and environmental sustainability. read more…

Shaping our grads into learners, thinkers, doers

2014 July 16
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by HISD Communications

In our complex world, it’s not enough for educators merely to lead students through a set of graduation requirements. Our students’ lives don’t end with a diploma, and neither does our obligation to prepare them for life beyond high school.

And so, as part of the launch of our new Linked Learning approach blending academics with preparation for life, we’re going through a fascinating exercise to create a profile of an ideal graduate — one who is ready to move on to higher education, career, family, and community life with knowledge, depth, and integrity. read more…

Immigrant children need our expertise, compassion

2014 July 9
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by HISD Communications

The sudden influx of Central American children into the U.S. has sparked a national debate, a lot of political rhetoric, accusations, and alarm. As public educators in a city which will likely accept many of these youngsters, we must rise above the furor to remember this is a humanitarian issue involving children. And HISD stands ready to help.

We have deep experience dealing with children who have been suddenly relocated under traumatic circumstances. At the beginning of the 2005 school year, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, we registered more than 11,000 displaced youngsters. And with more than 900 students from Central American countries enrolled last school year, we’re knowledgeable about the educational and cultural issues involved in helping them integrate successfully.

That’s why we’ve been contacted by federal officials and are working with them, state agencies, and local officials and community organizations to respond to this unfolding situation. read more…

Introducing HISD Middle College campuses, not your average high schools

2014 June 24
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by HISD Communications

A big, comprehensive high school isn’t a good fit for everyone. We have students on each of our campuses – smart, well-behaved, capable and interested in going on to college or workforce training – who struggle with the traditional high school culture.

HISD is about to offer 300 of those students another option — two Middle College High Schools, located on small campuses of Houston Community College, who is partnering with us in this effort. One will be in Gulfton in southwest Houston, the other on the Felix Fraga campus, just east of downtown. read more…

Long process over, we’re ready for a budget vote

2014 June 18
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by HISD Communications

Thursday evening will see the culmination of perhaps our most important annual ritual, as the Board of Education votes on approving next year’s HISD budget. This follows months of careful analysis and planning from our financial office and weeks of review and discussions with the Board of Education.

Since we began our budget process, we’ve been very fortunate that the projections of our property tax base have improved, as the boom in home and commercial property values continues.

We’re proud of what we’ve been able to do through that good fortune and the skills of our very capable Chief Financial Officer Ken Huewitt and his team.

Under our final proposal, every teacher will receive a raise of at least $1,100. And depending on length of service, some teachers will receive as much as $3,300.

Starting teachers will ease closer to that magic $50,000 a year salary level – with $49,100 for first-year teachers. That makes us competitive with neighboring districts, which have recently upped their starting pay. More importantly, this is just the beginning of a longer-term plan to make our overall teacher pay scale more sensible.

We will also be presenting this evening an additional $29 per pupil pushed out to all of our schools this upcoming school year. This is in addition to $26 per-pupil allocation already approved by the Board in May. Combined, all HISD schools will receive an additional $55 per pupil next year – another solid step toward returning our schools to the PUA levels before the state cuts in 2011.

There has never been and will never be a budget in any public institution where everyone is happy with the results. Through the grace of a robust economy, the talents of our staff, and the insights of our Board and stakeholders, we think we’ve come as close to a fair and responsible budget as humanly possible.

Summer vacation? In HISD, these are busy prep months for next year

2014 June 11
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by HISD Communications

Whenever I encounter someone who thinks — because the school year runs from August through May — that we have the summer “off,” I have to chuckle. Summer is one of the busiest times for educators in general, and especially so for us this year in HISD. I thought I’d give you a little insight into what our summer “off” looks like around here.

On campuses, we have thousands of youngsters in summer school at all levels. They and their teachers — and the folks who serve meals and keep the A/C running and the bathrooms clean — are all hard at work. In addition, this summer we have special programs for all ages, from an Extended Primary Year program to give preschool through second-grade youngsters a head start on basic skills, to a TAKS recovery program that offers former students who never received a high school diploma a second chance to be tutored and pass that defunct but mandated test.

read more…

#EMERGEtour is summer journey to remember for HISD students

2014 June 4
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by HISD Communications

Summer travels are frequently enriching, but how many are life-changing? Visits to natural wonders, perhaps, or trips to religious shrines can have soul-searing significance.

This week, 93 HISD juniors and seniors are on the #EMERGEtour, a journey that promises to change their lives. These bright and engaged students who are part of our EMERGE program come from low-income homes where frequently no one has ever dreamed of going to college. Yet they’re guests this week at nine of the nation’s most prestigious Ivy League and Tier One campuses — Harvard, Yale, MIT, Tufts, to name a few.

Few of these young people have ventured far from Houston, have ever been on a plane. They have now, but more importantly, they’re allowing their imaginations to soar. By the time they’ve ended their tour, seen what dorm life is like, and heard from current students who came from homes like theirs, they will understand that if they continue to apply themselves, these elite schools are within their reach. Sixty-four members of HISD’s class of 2014 are living proof, on their way this fall, most with full financial aid that can total around a quarter-million dollars for four years.

Within one day, after hearing from “first gen” college students, our EMERGE youngsters had new insights.

“My parents, as typical as immigrant parents can get, just nod their heads whenever I bring up a single detail about college,” wrote Humza Baig. “They have nothing to offer me but their love and support. I learned today that is enough.”

“It was nice to relate to someone who had to push instead of pitying themselves,” said Brittany Blain. “Stories of first gen students can be gritty and tough, but I hope one day to give advice to those in my shoes, too.”

Another HISD EMERGE tour is planned in July. Through next spring, we’ll be following the seniors as they blog about navigating the college application process. And this time next year, we expect they’ll be planning for a new journey — very possibly to one of the campuses they’re visiting this week.

Student achievements give us reason to be proud

2014 May 29
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by HISD Communications

Humility is an admirable trait, but sometimes it’s hard to avoid bragging. The end of the school year, when student achievements are front-and-center, is one of those times.

First, there’s the news that the class of 2014 has smashed the record for scholarship and financial aid offers — more than $233 million, and counting. The goal set by our College Readiness folks had been $200 million, and that seemed pretty bold, when you considered last year’s stellar total was $185 million.

That’s a testimony to the hard work of our students and our own hard work to increase rigor, offer more AP classes and SAT tests on campus with free online test prep, and to make applying for financial aid and scholarships easier by having a FAFSA Day at each high school.

These efforts are paying off, literally and figuratively, for our students.

There are so many young people who could be singled out as the school year winds down, but let’s give a shout-out to Natalie Nichols, a fourth-grader at Helms Elementary School in the Heights, who was brought to our attention by her math teacher, Tonya Vetter. Ms. Vetter is understandably proud of this young adopted child from Guatemala.

She tells us Natalie has had a great year in her reading and math scores, culminating in a perfect score of 2008 on her STAAR math course. She didn’t miss a single question. I have a feeling we’ll be hearing even greater things from Natalie.

The culmination of our school year is always the joy of seeing our seniors in bright caps, gowns, and smiles as they cross stages across our city to receive their diplomas and move onto the next phase of their lives. There will be 42 of those inspirational ceremonies in coming days.

To those graduates, dream big and never give up. To the rest of our students, enjoy a safe summer — read lots of books — and we’ll see you again in August.

New budget offers short- and long-term gains for our teachers

2014 May 22
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by HISD Communications

We value our teachers in HISD, understanding that they are the foundation of our district. That’s precisely why we have been working hard this budget season to find the money in a tight budget environment to better reward our teachers for their hard work and contributions to the district.

Currently, we are working on a proposal that would add $20 million to next year’s budget – all of which would go directly to teacher salaries. And while that sounds like a lot of money, for a district our size, it’s really only a drop in the bucket of where we need to be. That fact needs to be crystal clear to everyone.

read more…

We’re making it ‘Cool To Be Smart’ with celebration, prizes

2014 May 15
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by HISD Communications

Knowledge is its own reward – but sometimes it’s nice to provide extra incentive to motivate our students to pursue the most rigorous academic pathway.

That’s the thought behind Cool To Be Smart, a program I brought with me to HISD, which rewards high school students taking a strong schedule of Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate or dual credit courses with a special celebration and prizes each May. This year’s edition will be presented Sunday, May 18.

The big payoff is a brand-new car, given to a graduating senior who is chosen by drawing. But this year, our College Readiness Department had the idea that it would be nice to include sophomores and juniors who are taking that rigorous coursework, too. They don’t get a chance at the car, but they can qualify for iPads, Google Chromebooks, and gift cards. The College Readiness team members – who are both cool and smart – also figured it wouldn’t hurt to have the underclassmen realize that they could win the car soon, if they keep up the challenging work.

Peer pressure can be strong on teens, and the idea that being a good student isn’t cool – sometimes having to forego an outing with friends to hit the homework – was around even before I was in high school. In a sense, we’re really rewarding character and discipline in this program, as well as our students’ academic strengths.