Board unanimously approves creation of HILZ campuses at six HISD high schools

The HISD Board of Education on Thursday unanimously approved a plan to draw students back into six neighborhood high schools with strong Career and Technical Education programs.

The Board endorsed the plan after hearing from several parents who voiced support for the strategic investment that will strengthen community high schools.

Students at Furr, Kashmere, Long, Scarborough, Sterling, and Booker T. Washington high schools will be able to enroll in the newly created Houston Innovative Learning Zone (HILZ) programs beginning this summer. By the time these students graduate high school, they will have earned a college associate’s degree and valuable career certifications to help them immediately land lucrative jobs in some of the region’s most in-demand professions.

The programs are specifically tailored to meet the current and future needs of Houston’s thriving industries, which include the fields of medicine, shipping, energy, manufacturing, and computer technology.

“I want to thank the administration for thinking through this,” said Board President Michael Lunceford. “Wood shop doesn’t work anymore. You have to think outside the box and I think this is the program that’s going to do that.”

Superintendent Terry Grier said the plan is the product of innovative thinking.

“This is the future of vocational technical education in this country,” Dr. Grier said. “It’s great to work with a Board of Education that has clear, great vision. … I also want to say ‘Thank you’ to Houston Community College. There is a lot of pressure on them to help us get this right and I believe they’re up to that challenge.”           

HILZ graduates will leave high school with certifications that Houston employers seek when filling high-paying job vacancies. HILZ graduates will also have 45 to 60 hours of college credit, which  will transfer to articulated programs at Texas universities, positioning HILZ graduates for success in a four-year college if they choose to forego an immediate career.

A minimum of 15 hours of college credits earned by HILZ graduates will come in core courses and will be transferable to any public Texas university.

The HILZ programs will be located at high schools that have substantial building space available for neighborhood students who have chosen to attend other HISD schools by taking advantage of the district’s open enrollment policies. Nearly 1,600 students live in neighborhoods served by the six HILZ campuses, but currently attend schools elsewhere.

“HISD’s strength lies in school choice and competition,” Dr. Grier said. “But for true choice to exist, students and their parents must trust that all neighborhood schools offer the same level of rigor as other HISD schools. This necessary investment in our neighborhood high schools shows that HISD is committed to ensuring that students don’t have to catch a bus across town to get a good education.”

Nearly $5 million in startup funds will be invested in the six schools over a four-year period. About $1.5 million of the cost will be covered by federal funds specifically designated for vocational education programs. The schools will eventually serve a combined total of 1,200 students a year at a cost of roughly $135,000 per school.

HISD’s increased focus on Career and Technical Education is already paying off for many students. The number of industry certificates earned by HISD students reached 15,160 in 2010-2011. This is nearly four times the number of certificates awarded to HISD students a year earlier, when 3,881 were issued.

Such programs are a significant component of HISD’s overall dropout prevention strategy. By offering a diverse catalog of courses and programs tailored to the specific interests of all students, HISD has seen its dropout rate reach its lowest level since Texas adopted the stringent national dropout reporting guidelines.

In addition to taking the standard core courses required of all high school students, HILZ students will take courses taught by college professors using a blend of face-to-face and online instruction. Each HILZ school would offer a technology-rich college atmosphere. In addition, these schools would aggressively pursue partnerships with businesses that match their instructional themes.

Click here for information about the six HILZ campuses.