In-Depth

4 Factors Behind Kashmere High’s Expected Passing State Grade

Houston’s Kashmere High School has been on the state’s list of so-called “failing” schools longer than any other school in Texas. But that’s expected to change this summer. Here are four reasons why.

Teachers and administrators at Kashmere High are focused on turning the school around this year and getting of the state's list of struggling schools.
Teachers and administrators at Kashmere High are focused on turning the school around this year and getting off the state’s list of struggling schools.

The Texas Education Agency keeps a list of schools that must improve academically or face tough penalties. The school that’s been on that “failing” list the longest: the historically black Kashmere High School in northeast Houston.

It hasn’t passed the state’s accountability system for over a decade. But that may change very soon. Before the summer’s over, Kashmere High is expected to finally get a passing grade.

That’s despite doubts by many, even its own students, that Kashmere could improve in time, as reading coach Shundra Mosley explained at a community meeting last fall. 

“She told me, she said, ‘Miss, why did you come here? We bad, miss. Kashmere’s bad. Why did you come here?'” Mosley said, recounting a conversation with a student.

And I had to hold the tears back and I had to swallow a little bit and let her know that Ms. Mosley has been known to turn bad into good but I can’t do that by myself. It takes all of us and what we’ve come here to do. I said all that to say, their confidence is low because of what they’re hearing,” Mosley said.

For at least the last two years, Kashmere’s students and teachers have heard that if they don’t improve, their school could be shut down — or the state could take over the entire elected school board of the Houston Independent School District, thanks to a law known as House Bill 1842. At least for Kashmere’s part, that threat appears to be waning.

But just like the school’s struggle has been years in the making, so has its turnaround. News 88.7 looked back at four key changes that have helped the school improve.

  1. More access to social services: In 2016, Kashmere High opened a new service center with the help of the group, ProUnitas. There students could find a food pantry, mental health services and other support. It’s since evolved to include more wrap-around social services for students at all the schools in the neighborhood. Helping bring in that support: alumni, churches and community leaders, like Keith Downey. “It’s not someone else’s responsibility, it’s all our responsibility,” Downey told News 88.7 last fall.
  2. Community Support: Downey helped create a community council four and a half years ago for schools in Kashmere Gardens. He said that there are ongoing social service needs in the community, especially after Harvey hit Kashmere Gardens hard. “A lot of our children are hungry and we want them to pass a test to see where a school lies. But if you’re hungry in the mornings, then can an adult pass the test if they’re hungry in the mornings?”

    The community council holds regular meetings with principals and social service coordinators to check how they are doing academically and what kind of support they need. Downey said the social services and community support have been critical for Kashmere students.

  3. Stable Leadership: Chris Ray graduated from Kashmere High School and now sends his daughter there. He said that within the last 10 years or so, he hasn’t seen a principal who’s lasted long enough to watch a freshmen class graduate as seniors — and that churn in leadership drags down improvement. And Ray noted that it takes time to develop improvement in education: “You take a year to figure out the problem. You take the second year to implement some things to help solve the problem,” Ray told News 88.7 earlier this year. “In the third year, those things that didn’t work, you go back and reinvest more problem solutions. And maybe the fourth year everything turns around.”

    Ray said that recent principals have brought stability and momentum. In 2015, Nancy Blackwell came out of retirement from the Aldine school district to lead Kashmere High. She made sure all teachers were certified and got others more training. But, as she told News 88.7  in 2017, they missed the state’s grade by just a few points: “Coming close hurts, but coming close doesn’t count,” Blackwell said. Then came Hurricane Harvey, prompting the state to give Kashmere a one-year break from its accountability system. 

  4. Consistency: Halfway through this past school year, Kashmere’s new principal Reginald Bush gave his prediction: “Consistency, consistency is the big piece.” In his first year, Bush has brought a military-style energy to campus. He’s put tutors in classrooms and encouraged students to join clubs. Along the way, they’ve celebrated small victories in ways students wanted, like fish fries and field trips, turning that doubt into confidence. “I think if we remain consistent, with the momentum that we have, there’s no doubt in our mind that Kashmere will receive distinctions this year,” Bush said.

Kashmere High will get its official state letter grade in August when the Texas Education Agency releases them. However, if the school barely passes, the pressure for progress will continue, because Texas will expect more improvement the following year. 

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Laura Isensee

Education Reporter

Laura Isensee covers education for Houston Public Media, including K-12 and higher education. Previously, she was a staff reporter at The Miami Herald and contributed to South Florida’s NPR affiliate. Her work has also appeared in The Dallas Morning News, Reuters and Clarín in Argentina. Laura has won awards for...

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