HISD Lures Teens With Twilight

Categories: Education
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Note: School may still suck
Not to be too damned cute about it, but as everyone knows, it isn't only vampires who come out at twilight.

The Houston ISD is more than aware that it has a healthy cohort of high school kids who just can't seem to make it to early morning classes. Last year, it tried an "Advanced Virtual Academy" at Scarborough High School -- with evening hours -- but it was not a success.

Thursday, HISD trustees decided to give "twilight" school another whirl, this time fortified with almost a million in federal grant funds and a plan to branch out to about eight locations and take in 500-600 kids.

In a 5-0 vote (missing were Carol Mims Galloway, Harvin Moore and Manuel Rodriguez), trustees voted to restart the AVA or twilight school, operating it as an in-district charter. School hours would run Monday through Thursday 4-6 p.m. and 6-8 p.m.and 10 a.m. to noon and noon to 2 p.m. on Saturdays, Superintendent Terry Grier said.

The district is still scouting out locations to make sure each school would offer easy access to its classes for students arriving at night when safety is an added concern. Schools being considered include Lee, Jones, Kashmere, CLC, Worthing and Scarborough high schools.

The district has about $400,000 left over from its unsuccessful attempt last year and expects up to $550,000 from the Texas Education Agency in Title I funds.

Grier thinks that students assigned to one of the two CEP alternative schools, as long as they aren't violent offenders, could instead be reassigned to one of these twilight programs.

And he predicted: "This will actually decrease the number of students who do summer school."

Which is when the conversation jumped over to the summer school question and the "appearance" (principals say "actuality") of decreased funding for that program.

Chief Academic Officer Chuck Morris said as it turns out, HISD never has budgeted for summer school. Instead, schools have counted on getting leftover money from the federal SES (Supplemental Educational Services) program that provides money for tutors for students at low-performing schools.

Whereas the SES money hadn't been tapped into that much in previous years, now there's all sorts of tutoring companies ready to get in on it, Chief Financial Officer Melinda Garrett has said. Which means increasingly, there isn't much left over.

Last June, Morris told principals they could still have summer school, but they'd have to be prepared to pay for it out of the Title I money they already assigned to their school if other money didn't materialize.

Grier said that his adminstration is coming up with a new plan for summer school, one that will cut costs and be more effective.

Morris, who said there were 59,000 students involved in summer school this year, agreed with his boss.

"You've got to rethink entirely how you do summer school," he said.

He said the kids start summer school right after the end of the regular term, go from a month from 8 in the morning to 2:30 - 3 in the afternoon, and then don't go to school at all for two months. And as a multitude of studies show, all that time off from school results in the annual loss of knowledge that has teachers reteaching a whole lot of everything at the start of each school year.

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