Audience Erupts in "Fire Terry Grier" Chant as HISD School Board Closes Dodson, Saves Jones (Sort Of)

Categories: Education

Photo by Margaret Downing
Houston ISD's police force got to go into full alert at last night's meeting
Amid chants of "Fire Terry Grier," Houston ISD school board members and their superintendent retreated into a back room Thursday night while HISD police officers formed a protective barrier in the front of the room after audience members began shouting in protest about two proposed school closings.

After reconvening their monthly board meeting, trustees voted 5-4 (voting against were Wanda Adams, Paula Harris, Rhonda Skillern-Jones and Anna Eastman) to shut down Dodson Elementary and 6-3 (voting against were Harris, Skillern-Jones and Eastman) and to make over Jesse Jones High School into a magnet school where students from throughout HISD would take vocational courses and be able to get associate degrees.

The role of peacemaker fell to new trustee and former city councilwoman Jones. In her initial remarks, she told the room that they did not have the votes they wanted on the board to keep Jones open as a comprehensive high school. If they didn't accept the compromise plan to turn Jones into a magnet, the alternative -- and the initial proposal from Grier's administration -- would have been to shut down the comprehensive school at the end of this school year and use it as a swing facility in which to house students whose home schools were being renovated.

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HISD Won't Close Three Schools Thanks to a Presidential Pardon

Categories: Education

Photo courtesy HISD
Juliet Stipeche saves the day for three schools
Just like the turkey who gets a presidential pardon right before Thanksgiving, three Houston ISD schools have been taken off the chopping block by executive privilege.

Flexing her new HISD board president powers, Juliet Stipeche removed Nathaniel Q. Henderson Elementary, Port Houston Elementary and Fleming Middle School from consideration for the closure that was proposed by Superintendent Terry Grier's administration.

However, trustees will still be voting on whether to close Jones High School and Dodson Elementary at their board meeting on March 13.

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HISD School Closings: Would You Feel Better If They Called Them Repurposings?

Categories: Education

A superintendent who knows his message isn't a happy one
Today's 9th, 10th and 11th grade students at Jones High School could be allowed to finish out their high school careers at the school targeted for closure, if trustees adopt one of several options tossed around in a lengthy Houston ISD board workshop Thursday.

Houston ISD Superintendent Terry Grier proposed the idea in passing about halfway through the meeting and then with more detail at the end of the long meeting in which trustees and audience members were presented with 39 pages of PowerPoint and accompanying staff and superintendent explanation -- while trustees asked a lot of questions.

Yes, Grier still wants to close Jones (supporters of this shutdown in the administration, and on the board say they've thrown millions of dollars at the school, replaced all of the staff, put in new programs and still the desired academic progress isn't there and most kids don't want to go there), but said there might be an avenue for the present 9th, 10th and 11th graders to stay.

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Supt. Terry Grier in State of the Schools Speech Says Something in Arabic That We Couldn't Quite Catch, But E For Effort

Categories: Education

Photos by Margaret Downing
HISD Superintendent Terry Grier states his case on the big screen
More dual language programs in schools, increased diversity efforts including school staffing so that schools better reflect Houston as a whole, and a pilot program that would allow students whose parents move around a lot to name their home school and continue to attend it no matter what their new address is were some of the main initiatives announced at Houston ISD's State of the Schools event Wednesday.

With 2,000 guests in attendance in the fourth floor ballroom of the Hilton Americas Hotel, Superintendent Terry Grier in his fifth annual State of the Schools address continued to make his case that as head of Houston ISD he is charting a course of determination and innovation.

The Apollo 20 program that targeted - critics said stigmatized - certain low-performing schools was mentioned only in passing by Grier when he acknowledged that while they'd been able to narrow the academic equity gap in math using tutoring techniques at these schools, the same results weren't seen in reading scores (where there was no extra tutoring). This was a far cry from past years when Apollo was held up as a shining beacon for future success and millions of dollars were poured into its programs.

Now with the district contemplating closing at least one Apollo school - Jones High School - it seems the curtain is about to be drawn on that great experiment, although Grier did say in a brief post-lunch news conference that the lessons HISD learned (among other things:tutoring works) will be applied throughout the district.

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HISD Superintendent Terry Grier in Paris, Superintendent Who Knows When to Travel

Categories: Education

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Grier not here, but in Paris.
At last week's school board meeting as parents, children, teachers and politicians lined up to protest the Houston ISD administration's plan to shutter five schools, Superintendent Terry Grier was not at his usual place at the podium -- instead he was at the annual conference of the American Association of School Administrators. In Nashville.

As the protests continue to build -- no surprise here; school closings however necessary they might be are never a popular item with the public -- Grier has left town again.

In the tweet sent out yesterday, Grier mentions the district's new program to put laptop computers in the hands of thousands of kids. He's doing this from Paris (not the town in Texas, either).

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HISD Board Votes to Continue Eliminating Teacher Jobs Through RIFs While HFT President Says Process Is Being Abused

Categories: Education

It used to be that RIF had a good connotation - standing for the much appreciated nationwide program Reading is Fundamental.

But starting in 2011, RIF has meant nothing but a pink slip to Houston ISD teachers. That's the year the district started its Reduction in Force process that unlike the more traditional form of dismissal - as in you are a lousy teacher - didn't have to be for cause. Instead, if principals found themselves unable to make budget or if they wanted to concentrate on another area of expertise, they could tell a staffer that he or she (and his or her skill set) was no longer needed.

At last night's HISD school board meeting the issue came up again when two items came up before the board to allow the RIF process to continue for employees with both continuing and term contracts. New trustee Wanda Adams, saying she was alarmed by the literacy crisis in the district (yes, it's now important again and if you'd like to know what we wrote about it last year check this out) wanted to exempt librarians from any RIFs.

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Teacher Accused of Molesting 10-Year-Old Student

Categories: Crime, Education

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Disturbing allegations.
Police arrested Roman Zalasar, 54, a first- and second-grade teacher at Tijerina Elementary School, for allegedly molesting a ten-year-old boy who was a student in his class.

The boy told police the abuse occurred between mid-October and late November of last year. According to reports, the boy said his teacher fondled him twice and kissed him several times.

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UPDATED: Five HISD Schools on the Chopping Block (Unless a Successful Argument Is Made Why This Shouldn't Happen)

Categories: Education

Photo by Margaret Downing
HISD's Mark Smith gets ready to explain where students will be heading when they hit the road.
Three elementaries -- Dodson, Nathaniel Q. Henderson and Port Houston -- Fleming Middle Schools and Jones High School will be closing their doors to their students if the Houston ISD school board agrees with administration proposals spelled out in a press conference this morning.

All the schools fell prey to plunging demographics -- they don't have enough kids -- and while there are indeed other HISD schools that don't reach the desired enrollment standards the district has established (400 kids at an elementary, 750 at middle schools and 1,000 at high schools) the five selected in this round are also blessed/cursed with being close enough to other HISD schools that can absorb their student bodies.

In addition, Billy Reagan K-8 has been such a smashing success that the district says it has to rezone around it because it needs to send some of the overflow of kids to other nearby schools.

As usual, administration officials said nothing was set in stone and announced a series of community meetings at the schools named in the proposal. Not only students and their parents but teachers and other school personnel will obviously be affected if the changes go through.

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Textbooks Continue to Burn Holes in College Students' Pockets

Categories: Education

Photo by Michael McCullough
Three years ago while attending Lone Star College, I spent about $130 for a human-relations book and when I was ready to sell it back, I just knew I was going to get back at least $100. They told me they would give me $60. That's it, I thought? I could only imagine they sold the book for $120 as used the following semester.

I don't want to mention how many times I had to scrape up some change to buy a book for my communications class and never used it. That poor book is in the back of my closet somewhere just collecting dust.

I find myself a part of the student body in this war with textbooks. Last Monday students gathered at a press conference in front of the University of Houston North Campus Bookstore to hear results conducted by the TexPIRG Education fund. The survey revealed that the growing costs of textbooks are placing a huge burden on students who are already on tight budgets and wrestling with high tuition costs.

The survey also showed that 65 percent of students decided against buying a textbook because it was too expensive. Almost half of those students said the high cost of textbooks determines the number of classes they take each semester.

"This isn't necessarily a university problem, said Sara Smith, program director at TexPIRG. "It's more of an issue we see with textbook publishers."

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The Conservative Thought Police Hits Kansas

You ARE In Kansas

One of conservatives' favorite rhetorical tropes is to criticize the "liberal elite." Birthed largely by Barry Goldwater and George Wallace, it was perfected by Nixon. Spiro Agnew, Nixon's attack dog/Vice-President made references to the coastal elite, a red-meat line in his speeches. Necessarily included in the liberal elite were university professors. And it remains an article of faith among conservatives today that university professors are effete liberal snobs who thought they were better than you. College students who are conservative, for example, are praised for their efforts in battling liberal academics. Indeed, in the right-wing fever swamp blogosphere, our universities are run by tenured Marxists and the PC thought police.

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