HISD Gets Money to Reform Schools

The Houston Independent School District will use a $2.4 million grant to restructure four urban high schools. Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson has more on the re-design plans for the district.

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The grant money comes from a private organization called the Texas High School Project. The grant is split between HISD's Austin, Furr, Jones and Worthing High Schools. District Superintendent Dr. Abe Saavedra says these four schools started planning for the redesign last year with the hope of receiving this grant.

"A team from the Texas High School Project, consultants in essence, will be working with each of these high schools. Ensuring that their curriculum is aligned to the objectives, ensuring that there's involvement on the part of the community and outreach efforts, ensuring that we continue to use data in making decisions, ensuring also that in these large high schools that we are forming small learning communities."

This is one of the largest grants awarded by the Texas High School Project. The project is a $261 million public-private partnership. Texas Education Agency Commissioner Shirley Neeley helped facilitate the award.

"We want them to be college-ready. We know that today 90 percent of jobs require some post-secondary education. And we want to start early creating that college-going culture for every child. Whether it's a technical college, a vocational, community or four-year college or university or the military, we want them to have the skills to be prepared to graduate from all Texas high schools."

These four campuses will serve as a sort of test to see if redesign and reform will make a difference in academic performance and dropout rates. Houston Federation of Teachers President Gayle Fallon is frequently a critic of the district and often speaks out against many of HISD's initiatives, but not this time.

"You know the term reform, over the years because there have been so many changes, has taken on kind of a negative connotation with teachers. It's sort of 'what are they going to do to us now.' And what impresses me with this program is it's not what they're going to do to them, it's what they're going to do to help. And this is one of the few that I've looked at that answers a cry that teachers have consistently, which is give me the tools to do my job and give me the time to do my job and, even more important, give me the time to know my students."

Some of the grant money will also help pay for training for district officials as well as the Board of Trustees. If these four schools are successful, Saavedra says they will incorporate the new methods into other high school campuses in the district. Laurie Johnson, Houston Public Radio News.

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