HISD Superintendent Casts Vision for ‘Becoming Great All Over’

HISD is moving to build modern campuses and equipping all students with the technology they need to succeed in the 21st Century

Houston ISD Superintendent Terry Grier used his fourth State of the Schools address Friday to thank voters for overwhelmingly supporting the district’s work to build modern, safe schools, and unveiled a plan to give students the technology they need to become graduates who contribute to Houston’s prosperity.

 “We’re here today to see the beginning of the future of education.  No longer can we think about education in the manner in which we experienced it.  It’s a whole new world and we are part of leading it,” Dr. Grier told a capacity crowd of 2,000-plus inside the Hilton Americas Hotel.

HISD student achievement reached record levels in 2012, and the district was rewarded by being named a finalist for the Broad Prize for Urban Education for the first time in a decade.  Those achievements include:

  • A 45 percent increase in the number of college-level Advanced Placement exams passed by HISD students since 2009
  • The highest graduation rate and lowest dropout rate ever for HISD under the modern accountability system
  • A $130 million increase in college scholarship offers to HISD students since 2009
  • Hundreds more HISD students scoring at the college-ready level on the SAT
  • Students in HISD’s Apollo 20 school turnaround program are progressing at the same rate academically as students in America’s best charter schools. Lessons from Apollo 20 are being implemented in schools across HISD.

“There is more to be done,” Dr. Grier said. “Our focus is on becoming great all over. It’s a powerful mindset that’s being embedded in every facet of our district.”

Board of Education President Anna Eastman told the crowd the district must do its part to increase the number of Texas children earning college degrees and certifications.  Only 22 percent of the state’s eighth graders currently do so, she said.

“I’m pretty sure we can agree that we want more for our schoolchildren,” Eastman said. “Quite simply, I believe this will ultimately be achieved by remaining true to key elements in this and former boards’ Beliefs and Visions: Schools must be empowered to develop and implement the methods that best achieve their unique and individual instructional goals.”

Four of HISD’s inspiring high school students shared with the audience their experiences in Houston schools.  Those speakers were: Liliana Martinez (Chavez High School), Darius Lewis (Kashmere High School), Phillip Omrow (Scarborough High School), and Stanley Sandoval (Long Academy).

Building and equipping 21st Century schools

HISD is already in the process of hiring architects and engineers for the dozens of school building projects worth $1.89 billion that Houston voters approved in November.  Those projects include new campuses for 20 high schools, Dr. Grier said.

“When we’re finished building, Houston will be the only urban school district in America in which every neighborhood high school is less than 20 years old,” Dr. Grier said. “When you combine these state-of-the-art buildings with great educators, we’ll have schools primed for greatness.  Classroom spaces designed to encourage collaboration and creativity, with teachers facilitating, not just lecturing.”

With new schools, more HISD classrooms will finally have the capacity to accommodate modern technology that teachers need to reach their students, Dr. Grier said.  The superintendent announced that the district is putting a plan together to eventually provide laptop computers that students in grades 3-12 can take home.

“I’m proud today to announce that we are working on a far-reaching plan that will close the digital divide that exists in our schools and community,” Dr. Grier said. “With anytime-anywhere learning our students would have the world at their fingertips.  We’ll make sure they learn the skills that complement technology so they aren’t replaced by technology.”

The non-profit HISD Foundation, which helped raise $16.8 million to fund Apollo 20, has committed to help raise money for the new HISD laptop initiative, Dr. Grier said.

Strengthening and expanding school choice options

In 2012, HISD expanded its portfolio of school choice options with programs tailored to meeting students’ 21st Century needs, Dr. Grier said.

“Students in the career academies at six neighborhood schools will graduate high school with an associate’s degree from Houston Community College, relevant job training, and professional certifications,” Dr. Grier said. “Students should expect that the professional certifications they receive from our schools will match employers’ needs – today and tomorrow.  Employers should expect HISD graduates to have the skill sets and attitudes to meet their standards.”

HISD plans to build on the success of these career and technical education programs by implementing the same practices at high schools across the district, Dr. Grier said.

The superintendent also announced plans to begin developing a new magnet high school focused on energy and technology, and a middle school version of the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts.

“We’re opening as many doors as possible for our students, giving them options and opportunities.  Whether students choose a path to college or a career, we’re making sure that they’re prepared,” Dr. Grier said.

Supporting great teachers

HISD’s commitment to placing a quality teacher in every classroom is the primary driver behind the strong gains in student achievement, Dr. Grier said.  He called on state lawmakers to restore school funding to a level that will allow Houston and other school districts to recruit and retain the great teachers that students need.

“We also know that the impact our teachers make to our community is not consistent with how they’re paid.  Hear me on this – this must change,” Dr. Grier said. “It’s time for the Texas Legislature to meet its constitutional obligation and adequately fund public education and the teachers who make our schools, and more importantly our kids, great.”

The superintendent concluded his remarks by thanking Houston residents for their strong support of public schools.

“HISD is moving in the direction of becoming great all over, and we’re moving fast,” Dr. Grier said. “I am confident that with the continued strong support of our school board, parents, and community, we will transform education and make Houston an international example of what is possible.  That’s what it will take to become great all over.”

Complete transcripts of the remarks delivered at the 2013 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 2012 Annual Report: Becoming Great All Over.

Chevron was the 2013 State of the Schools luncheon’s presenting sponsor, and Thompson & Horton LLP was the scholar sponsor.  Valedictorian sponsors were Andrews and Kurth LLP, ARAMARK Education, Bay-IBI Group Architects, ESPA Corp., Mercer U.S., Morganti, NATEX Architects, and Smart Financial Credit Union.  Proceeds from the event benefit the non-profit HISD Foundation.