Skip to content

Persistence = success in HISD’s Race to the Top

2013 December 18

We received a very welcome holiday present this week — $30 million from the U.S. Department of Education in its coveted and highly competitive Race to the Top funding. That “race” has been a lesson in persistence for us in a number of ways.

When the program was first started, the State of Texas opted out – so we couldn’t even apply. With persuasion, Education Secretary Arne Duncan saw the need for districts like ours to receive funding for innovative, personalized programs that could serve as models for education across the nation, and two years ago, he made funds available directly to districts or groups of school systems.

We applied last year and didn’t make it, but that didn’t stop us. This year, we were one of only five – out of more than 200 – applicants who won funding this week, and the only urban district to win. Now we stand to receive about $6 million a year over the next five years to advance our transformational Linked Learning model.

I like to describe Linked Learning as a zipper on a jacket that meshes together, equally, our college readiness focus with an important career awareness starting in elementary school. In middle school, youngsters explore aptitudes and life interests, and in high school, rigorous academics are combined with a focus on career academies.

In the beginning, Linked Learning will be brought to eight high schools – Furr, Eastwood, Reagan, Chavez, Milby, Westside, Lee, and Sterling. Eventually it will be a part of every elementary, middle, and high school in HISD. We would have gone forward with our model even without the federal funding, but the $30 million will enable us to Race to the Top with Linked Learning as more of a sprint than a marathon.

We see this win as an acknowledgment by the Department of Education of the work we’ve done, even with our vast size, to personalize learning for each student — and their belief in the model we’ve outlined to advance our 21st Century Learning forward toward the next century.

I said in the beginning that this was a lesson in persistence, and I want to tell you about something we can all learn about that virtue from our grants manager, Annetra Piper.

The Race to the Top application was due to the Department of Education right in the middle of the federal government shutdown in October, but we were told in no uncertain terms that the deadline must still be met.

Ms. Piper personally delivered the application packet to FedEx and paid an extra $8 to make sure it would be delivered on the morning of deadline day instead of cutting it close to the afternoon deadline. She diligently tracked the packet’s progress online – and when it showed that the delivery had not been made because no one was there to receive it, she hit the phones. She made sure there would be someone at the Department of Education waiting, and let FedEx know they were carrying $30 million and needed to turn around that delivery man fast.

Even with a strong application for a worthy program, we could have been left in the starting blocks of the Race to the Top without Ms. Piper taking the baton to the finish line. That’s a performance worthy of a gold medal.

Comments are closed.