Transformation of Low Performing Schools

The gamble seems to be paying off. Houston business leaders tour Lee High School, one of the schools in the Houston Independent School District in an ambitious project aimed at turning around low-performing schools. Pat Hernandez has more.


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Commotion in between classes is at a fever pitch at Lee High School in Southwest Houston. It’s not because because students are trying to avoid instruction. Freshman Frankie DiBanco says he can’t wait for the next class.

Students at Lee High School work intently“I actually makes me want to be here more often than I used to, like on the weekends. I actually think like, alright, I want to go to school. It’s boring at home. But when I’m at school, I actually have stuff to do.”

The renewed sense of educational enthusiasm at Lee and 8-other schools in the HISD is partly because of the Apollo 20 school turnaround project. Five days were added to the school year, on top of an extra hour every day. All 6th and 9th grade students will receive daily math tutoring. It’s part of HISD Superintendent Dr. Terry Grier’s plan to boost academic achievement.

“It’s really quite fascinating. The key, we believe, to school transformation is having quality teachers in every classroom and having a quality principal leading that school. When we started our turnaround efforts here, there was no question , we started looking hard for human capital, and Teach for America was an important strategy, it was an important part of our efforts to turn these schools around.”

New principals were put in charge of the participating Apollo 20 schools. Xochitl Davila says the new attitude toward education benefits students, many who come from homes where academics are lacking.

Lee High School principal Xochitl Davila listens to a Houston business leader
Lee High School principal Xochitl Davila (on right) listens to a Houston business leader observing a classroom, which is part of the Apollo 20 school program.

“Any 9th grade student that walks on to this campus, any 9th grade student, whether they’re first generation, whether they’re immigrant students, will receive the one-on-one attention with an Apollo fellow. And that’s the phenomenal part, is that they’re gonna get that one-on-one attention, and they’re getting the attention that they deserve and that they need.”

Business leaders are also interested in the turnaround, as these students represent the future job market. Jeff Mosely is president and CEO of the Greater Houston Partnership. He says credit goes to Superintendent Grier and his vision for excellence.

“This is phenomenal to see a turnaround, that the Houston Independent School District is literally performing before our very eyes, in a short amount of time. And the business community is committed to continue to support and to stand with Apollo 20 and the other initiatives that are coming from the trustees.”
Eleven schools will be added to the program next year for a total of twenty. A good portion of the 20-million dollar cost for the program comes from federal grants, but the district hopes to get help from private sources.

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