Dr. Terry Grier commends “courage” displayed by HISD staff in the face of dwindling state support

Delivering his annual HISD State of the Schools address to a sold-out crowd of 2,000 today, Superintendent Terry Grier said the district took significant steps in 2011 toward raising the level of academic achievement at every campus and meeting parents’ expectations.

And while HISD lays claim to some of the top-performing schools in the nation, Dr. Grier said, too many of Houston’s neighborhood schools are not improving fast enough.

“We’re proud of the schools that reliably produce graduates prepared to excel in college and in the workplace. But we also know that too many of our schools don’t fit into that category,” Dr. Grier told the crowd of community leaders, educators, and business organizations. “We must be able to look every parent in the eye and tell them we’d be proud to send our own children to any school in Houston. That’s the kind of consistency I’m talking about.”

Dr. Grier was introduced to the audience by George Smith Jr., a senior enrolled in the aviation magnet program at Sterling High School. Smith just earned his pilot’s license last week.

“I look forward to a future where I am doing what many of you here today are doing, which is altering the lives of many youth and preparing them for a successful future,” Smith said. He thanked Dr. Grier “on behalf of the students at Sterling and all the students in HISD for making sure we have a chance at getting the best education at whichever school we attend.”

HISD has undertaken several initiatives in recent years that aim to correct the problem of uneven performance among the district’s schools. Those initiatives are paying dividends, Dr. Grier said. For example:

  • Efforts to improve the quality of teachers in every classroom have resulted in more than 90 percent of the district’s high-performing teachers returning to work each year, while less than half of the low-performing teachers return.
  • Expanding access to college-level Advanced Placement courses at every HISD high school has led to a 35 percent jump the number of AP exams passed by Houston students.
  • The Apollo 20 school turnaround program is producing results on par with the nation’s top charter schools.

HISD schools are also becoming safer. Since 2007, the number of crimes reported on Houston school campuses is down 9 percent.

All of this, Dr. Grier said, is a testament to the courage and hard work of HISD’s principals, teachers and staff at a time when the Texas Legislature has cut funding to Houston schools by about $120 million in just a two-year period. Those cuts have left HISD with 835 fewer teachers this school year and forced students to go without field trips, school nurses, librarians, art teachers, and P.E. coaches, Dr. Grier said.

“There is no other way to put it: 2011 tested you in ways you haven’t been tested before,” Dr. Grier said directly to HISD’s employees. “You didn’t let the state’s failure to adequately fund education distract you from your noble work. Instead, you rose up and led our students to unprecedented achievement.  I know everyone here joins me in applauding your courage in the face of so many challenges.”

HISD Trustee Michael Lunceford, 2012’s Board of Education president, said the district will continue fighting for the financial resources Houston schools need to prepare the city’s next generation of leaders. He called on the Texas Legislature to meet its constitutional obligation to provide all children with

“We want to partner with the Legislature to find reasonable solutions,” Lunceford said. “And we need them to partner with us.”

Despite weakening state support, HISD is moving forward on plans to bring consistently high academic achievement to every school, Dr. Grier said. Later this year, HISD will open its first Mandarin Chinese Immersion Language magnet school in Bellaire. On top of that, six Houston high schools that have had trouble attracting students from their own neighborhoods will soon offer career and technical education programs that offer valuable professional certificates in some of Houston’s most in-demand industries. Graduates of these programs at Booker T. Washington, Sterling, Furr, Kashmere, Scarborough and Long will leave high school with associate’s degrees from Houston Community College and poised to succeed at a four-year university, or to move directly into a high-paying career.

 Dr. Grier said these programs are being offered in direct response to demand from parents and students he has met while conducting Community Conversations at schools across Houston.

“I heard a common refrain: Keep our great magnet schools great. But do something now to improve our neighborhood schools,” Dr. Grier said. “Act now to give every child the tools to thrive in college and get a good job.”

Dr. Grier called on the community to continue supporting Houston schools the way they did in 2007, when voters approved an $805 million bond referendum to rebuild the district’s school buildings. Since then HISD has opened 16 new campuses and will soon open eight more. More than 100 schools have undergone significant upgrades as well. These projects are being completed on time and on budget, Dr. Grier said.

“I can tell you no other community shares Houston’s single-minded focus on doing right by all children,” Dr. Grier said. “A year ago, I said Houston ISD’s students were poised for greatness, if we would all pull together in a single direction. When every student’s success drives every decision we make, every school in our city flourishes. We have by no means accomplished all we must do. But we are making great progress.”

Complete transcripts of the remarks delivered at the 2012 State of the Schools luncheon are posted online at www.houstonisd.org/stateoftheschools. The website also features photos and video of the event, and a link to the HISD 2011 Annual Report: Driving Innovation. Transforming Education.

Chevron was the 2012 State of the Schools luncheon’s presenting partner, and ARAMARK was the event’s title sponsor. Proceeds from the event benefit the non-profit HISD Foundation.