HISD OKs plans to improve 27 schools
Struggling campuses have failed to meet state’s standards
Houston ISD trustees voted Thursday night to approve campus turnaround plans for 27 of the district’s struggling schools as it seeks to avoid a state takeover or school closures triggered by low performance at some of those campuses.
The turnaround plans focus on campuses that have been categorized by the state as “improvement required” for between one and eight years, 10 of which could trigger a state takeover of the district if their academic performances do not improve this school year on standardized tests.
However, the district refused to provide copies of the plans to the news media in advance of the meeting and did not publish them with the board’s meeting agenda materials. Some details, however, were presented by three principals.
As part of its turnaround plan, for example, Wheatley High School added eight new teachers and all of its core-subject teachers are now bilingual certified. At Woodson PreK-8, a new leader-
ship team hosts monthly teacher/parent meetings and has started parental empowerment initiatives including GED support and workshops on how to help students with homework.
For Kashmere High School, the turnaround plan submitted Thursday was the second it has sent to the Texas Education Agency. The first was denied this summer, forcing district and school officials to come up with a new structure.
Nancy Blackwell, principal of Kashmere High, said a good chunk of the plan focuses on students who are identified as needing help in certain subjects. For reading, about 33 percent of Kashmere’s 723 students are far behind grade level.
“Most of them are ninthgraders; that’s just the way the situation is,” Blackwell said. “With a massive intervention plan, they will have 530 minutes a week in English, reading and writing. In math, about 230 kids we have in intensive math recovery classes.”
The school also now has a bilingual parent liaison, two college-go labs, a parent conference center, home visits and an initiative to train teachers in counseling.
“We’re trying to motivate them to get to school and stay in school,” Blackwell said.
Kashmere High School’s turnaround plan could determine the fate of the entire school.
The Texas Education Code states that if the TEA commissioner, currently Mike Morath, does not approve of a campus turnaround plan within a two-year period, he must either close the school, have it partner with a charter or nonprofit, or take over the entire school district.
Kashmere High’s second turnaround plan is due to the TEA by Oct. 20.
But TEA spokeswoman DeEtta Culbertson said Kashmere is in a “transition year” due to new accountability statutes. Morath has more discretion and can wait until August 2018 to take action, the spokeswoman said.
“I can’t speak to what the commissioner may or may not do,” Culbertson said. “I do know it is very rare for the commissioner to require a closure midyear on a campus unless there is a health and safety issue.”
Despite the importance of these turnaround plans, none of them were publicly available before Thursday’s board meeting.
Trustee Anne Sung said she was given printouts of the campus plans on Monday, and Trustee Anna Eastman got copies on Friday. Kashmere High School’s turnaround plan alone is 42 pages and uses small type.
When a Houston Chronicle reporter last week asked for two of the turnaround plans, he was told they were not available because they were in “draft form.”