HISD Considers Closing Historic School

Because of budget restraints, the Houston Independent School District is considering closing several schools with low test scores and dwindling enrollment. One of those schools is near the University of Houston in the Third Ward.

***After this story aired, HISD removed Ryan Middle School from the closure list.

I interviewed Ryan Middle School principal Michael McKenzie at the start of the school year two years ago. It was his first week on the job and he was planning to change the culture of the school. Boys were to wear ties and expectations for everyone were high.

This is what he told me:

“If you’re a young lady, you’re coming to science class, it’s about science. It’s not about the boy you have a crush on. We also have morning ritual which is the students come in in the morning and they are addressed by me the principal in terms of behavior expectations.”

Mckenzie’s first year would also be his last. Not everyone liked the changes he made and there were a number of accusations leveled at him by teachers. Mckenzie quit after a year.

Now the district is considering closing the school due to low enrollment.  Ryan has less than 300 students now, compared to  more than 800 ten years ago. Many families that live in the area send their children elsewhere.

This is Dallas Dance, HISD Chief Middle School Officer.

“I’ve had several conversations with many community leaders and several parents, and I think everyone will agree that something needs to be done. There is no way we can ethically and morally leave 275 kids in a building when we know that they’re not getting the best educations that we ought to be providing them.”

But despite the worsening situation at Ryan there is resistance by some community members and parents.

In a similar case, the entire North Forest School District was deemed to be in such bad shape that the Texas Education Agency wanted to close it and merge it with other districts.

But in that case the community and politicians fought back so much the state backed down. Yet everyone, including politicians, say education must be improved.

This is state Representative Harold Dutton:

“The simple reality is our schools are failing our children. At the end of the day, you arrive at a conclusion that something needs to happen to cause the achievement levels at all of our schools to go up.”

Two years ago, HISD started the Apollo 20 program. The worst performing schools would get tutors for struggling students. Students would also have longer days and attend class on Saturdays. HISD says the program is working, others disagree.

Regardless of the results one thing you can’t accuse the district of is sitting back and doing nothing.

This is HISD’s Dallas Dance:

“We knew we had low performing schools. And we knew we had four high schools that the state was going to be taking over, we had five middle schools that during the 2008-2009 school year  that were unacceptable, and what do we do with those schools there? And so we knew we had to do something bold and transformational if we were going to change it. Again, not everyone is going to agree with that.”

If Ryan Middle School is closed, the plan is for it to reopen as a specialized school that’s open to everyone in the city, like the Debakey School for Health Professions. Debakey happens to be the highest performing school in HISD.