District will continue focus on literacy and student achievement
During HISD Superintendent Dr. Terry Grier’s address at the 2014 State of the Schools event, he reminded the sold-out crowd of the district’s successes, tough decisions and the work being done to transform schools into 21st-Century learning environments. He also announced several new initiatives, including the expansion of dual-language programs and a new diversity initiative, and unveiled a program that will address issues related to high student mobility rates.
Grier told the audience that research shows students who move more than three times before the eighth grade are four times more likely to drop out of school. Through a new program, dubbed “Home-Field Advantage,” the district will target areas in Houston that have high mobility rates and offer transportation to students, allowing them to make one school their home even when their families are forced to move often.
“Children need stability in their lives and that is exactly what this program is about,” Grier said. “When we can get our kids off to a solid start, we put them on the path to accomplishing great things.”
Grier was introduced to the audience by Renata Bolado Corona, a student at the Mandarin Chinese Language Immersion Magnet School, and Kennedy Garrett, a student at Wharton Dual Language Academy. The introductions were done in the languages the students are learning every day. Grier himself tried his hand at another language while discussing the exploration of an Arabic dual-language program and the launch of 14 new Spanish dual-language programs next year. If created, the Arabic program will be unique to HISD, to Houston, and to Texas. Grier also addressed the need to focus on diversity and multiculturalism through training at all levels, including principals and administrators.
“While we have incredible schools and programs that embrace the diversity that is our city and are truly preparing our students for the multicultural world they will face, we still have work to do,” he said. “It is no longer enough for our students to be able to read, write and do math. They also must be able to interact with everyone around them – not just those who look like them.” Grier told the audience that if HISD is able to leverage, nurture, and promote the belief that diversity is a competitive advantage, there will be no school district in the U.S. that can compete with HISD.”
The program will help HISD administrators and central office staff better understand how more diverse staffing across schools and departments – the type of diversity seen across Houston – will make the state’s largest district stronger.
Next year, HISD will continue to focus on initiatives aimed at addressing literacy. Grier stressed to the audience that although the district has seen gains in higher graduation rates and lower dropout rates, and increased Advanced Placement participation, more work has to be done in the area of literacy.
“Literacy is such an important issue – such a crucial issue for our students – that we have to keep it front and center, no matter the challenges involved,” Grier said. “There is no other option. Literacy is a cornerstone issue for HISD and for Houston.”
Two priorities for the district are: getting every HISD student reading at or above grade level by the third grade and focusing on personalizing student learning.
HISD Trustee Juliet Stipeche, 2014’s Board of Education president, said a child’s future should never be dictated by ZIP code or circumstance. She also called on citizens, elected officials, business leaders, and volunteers to work collectively to address inequity in education. “We must work on the opportunity for every child to learn in a safe, rich learning environment with excellent teachers and support staff.”
She also proclaimed Houston as a “can-do” city overflowing with hope, optimism and positive. “We need a careful balance of that hope and truth to make the right decisions and develop the sound policy for HISD students.”
Chevron was the 2014 State of the Schools presenting partner, and Thompson and Horton, LLP was the event’s title sponsor. Proceeds from the event benefit the non-profit HISD Foundation.
For the first time, a live Twitter chat was held during lunch using the hashtag HISDSOTS. It was kicked off with a “selfie” by Kaleigh Davis a student at Energy Institute High School, the nation’s first energy school.