HISD Seeking Grant for 8 New STEM Magnet Schools

The HISD Board of Education voted Thursday to move forward with a plan to compete for $12 million in federal grant funding to open eight new magnet schools emphasizing science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) instruction.

The measure passed with a 7-1 vote with Board President Anna Eastman opposed.

All eight new STEM magnets would be whole-school programs, meaning every student in those schools would benefit from an instructional approach that emphasizes a rich STEM curriculum.  They would offer field-based learning experiences, STEM expert lectures and demonstrations, robotics programs at the middle school level, work-based learning for high school students, distance learning, and dual credit coursework through local college partners.  Current magnet programs at existing schools included in the grant proposal have struggled to draw students and would be replaced with the STEM magnet.

Magnet schools are intended to provide families a wide variety of academically rigorous school choice options, while also promoting racial, economic, cultural, and geographic diversity.

Trustee Paula Harris said the STEM-focused magnets will strengthen HISD’s portfolio of school choice options and prepare more students at an earlier age to thrive in a 21st Century economy.

“We need more options when it comes to highly rigorous middle schools.” Harris said.  “Our goal is to increase the rigor, increase student outcomes, and increase options for parents.”

If HISD does not win the magnet grant, the district will review and modify the proposal in accordance with available resources.

Three of the eight new STEM magnet programs would be middle schools. They are:

  • The Engineering Academy at McWilliams Middle School
  • The Medical and Health Professions Academy at Ryan Middle School
  • A Technology Academy to be located at a middle school in the North Forest community

The remaining five STEM magnet programs would be offered at the high school level. They are:

  • The Green School at Furr High School
  • The Chemical and Process Technology Institute at Kashmere High School
  • The Energy Institute (location to be determined)
  • The Advanced Technology Institute at South Early College High School
  • The Advanced Technology Institute at North East Early College High School in North Forest

HISD’s grant application includes seeking funds to establish STEM magnets at two schools in the North Forest community.  One program would be located inside a North Forest middle school, and the other would be Northeast Early College High School.  Last week, Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams announced his intention to annex the current North Forest ISD into HISD effective this July.  The North Forest school board has the right to appeal that decision, but HISD is including North Forest in the grant application because the application deadline is March 1.  The North Forest schools would be removed from the grant if the proposed annexation does not occur.

 Board awards contracts for 2012 bond work

Also Thursday, the Board of Education authorized the district to negotiate contracts with eight firms on selected 2012 bond projects, including four schools and middle school restroom renovations.

HISD officials spent several weeks reviewing qualifications submitted by 85 architectural and engineering firms seeking to do work with the district under the 2012 bond program, which will build or renovate 40 schools across the district. The $1.89 billion bond program, approved by voters in November, will also fund middle school restroom renovations, technology upgrades, and safety and security upgrades.

To assist in the review and selection process, administrators solicited the expertise of professors from the University of Houston, Rice University, and Prairie View A&M University schools of architecture.

The HISD selection committee invited 36 firms to provide oral presentations. All firms, including those not invited for the presentations, will remain under consideration for other 2012 bond projects.

Listed below are the most highly qualified firms recommended for the selected projects:

  • Middle school restroom renovations: Robert Adams, Inc.; VCS; English & Associates, Inc.; and Courtney Harper + Partners, Inc.
  • North Houston Early College High School (new facility): RdlR Architects, Inc.
  • South Early College High School (new facility): Smith & Company Architects, Inc.
  • Waltrip High School (partial replacement and general renovations): Gensler
  • Worthing High School (new facility incorporating new 2-story classroom wing): Molina Walker Architects, Inc.

The firms were evaluated using several criteria, including experience, quality of services, and commitment to HISD’s stated goals for participation by minority and women-owned business enterprises (M/WBEs).

Six of the recommended firms are certified M/WBEs, which means they are at least 51 percent owned by one of the following groups: African-American, Hispanic-American, Asian-American, Native-American or women. They are: Robert Adams, Inc.; English & Associates, Inc.; Courtney Harper + Partners, Inc.; RdlR Architects, Inc.; Smith & Company Architects, Inc.; and Molina Walker Architects, Inc.

The two other companies, VCS and Gensler, are committing to contracting no less than 25 percent of their work to M/WBE consultants.  All are firms with a local Houston presence.

Overall, the board’s decision will ensure a 75 percent participation rate by M/WBE firms for this portion of the 2012 bond program.  HISD’s minimum M/WBE goal levels are 20 percent for all levels of purchasing and construction and 25 percent for professional services.

Administrators expect to bring forward more recommendations on bond projects to the Board of Education in the coming weeks.