HISD OKs plans to im­prove 27 schools

Strug­gling cam­puses have failed to meet state’s stan­dards

Houston Chronicle - - CITY | STATE - By Shelby Webb

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.”

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