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More on magnet schools

Some further information about the proposed changes to HISD’s magnet school program made by Superintendent Terry Grier at Thursday’s public meeting.

Funding would drop at 69 schools and increase at 53 under Grier’s preliminary plan. In all, the district would slash spending for magnet schools, excluding busing, by more than $4 million next school year, according to a Houston Chronicle review of the data.

Grier emphasized that the numbers could change and the ultimate decision will rest with the school board. But the potential cuts have parents and students worried that their schools’ beloved offerings will all but disappear, especially with a looming state budget shortfall.

“I get the idea of working toward making sure that money is spent in a fair way,” said Sue Deigaard, who has two children at Twain Elementary, which could lose about $162,500. “But they can’t just go pulling money from kids because it makes sense on paper.”

[…]

Combined, the programs on the chopping block serve about 10,060 students. About 18 percent of those come from outside the neighborhood.

Grier says the schools where he proposes ending magnet designation either aren’t attracting enough out-of-neighborhood students or lack sufficient space.

Key Middle School, for example, now receives $187,128 for a foreign language magnet program that serves 77 students, five of whom come from outside the attendance zone, according to HISD data.

Magnet schools were created in HISD and across the nation as desegregation tools, intended to attract diverse students from across the city to special programs.

T.H. Rogers, which has a program for gifted and special-needs students in elementary and middle school, would experience the largest loss, from nearly $3 million to about $650,000.

Grier said the school originally was funded at a high rate to expand its program for students with disabilities, and it continued to get the money despite a limited expansion. The school now spends much of its money on extra teachers – needed because they get two periods to plan without students, he said.

I’m leery of these changes, coming as they are on top of potentially devastating cuts to HISD’s funding by the Legislature. I suspect any changes to the program, in particular any changes that will take away from existing programs. The following email was forwarded to the Heights Kids group on Friday evening from the Hamilton Middle School PTO:

Hamilton Parents and Friends,

We learned last night that the HISD administration is recommending eliminating Hamilton’s Vanguard program in order to create a dual language magnet in its place. The Board of Trustees is scheduled to vote on the recommendation next Thursday, March 10th. We don’t have any information about how or when this change would be implemented.

The effects of such a change will not only be felt by current families and future families of Hamilton, but the entire Houston Heights and surrounding communities. The Hamilton we know today has been in the making for over 10 years. We see little sense in dismantling a successful program with committed students, families, principal, teachers and staff.

Let’s plan on keeping the Vanguard Program at Hamilton intact and growing. We, as parents and concerned citizens, must communicate with the Board and its president in such a manner that they understand that the Vanguard Program at Hamilton—a program designed for kids who are committed to work hard at school, strive for excellence, and take education very seriously — is important for the well being of the entire HISD school system and the ongoing efforts for improving education in the State of Texas.

THERE IS NO TIME TO WASTE! Next Thursday will be here before we know it. Please email Dr. Grier, Anna Eastman and other Trustees to let them know how valuable Hamilton’s Vanguard program is to you. Email addresses are listed below. Also, plan to attend a community meeting hosted by Anna Eastman Tuesday evening, March 8th at 6 p.m. in the school cafeteria.

Sincerely,

Hamilton PTO

I suspect Grier and the board will be hearing a lot more like that. (And indeed they are – any decision on magnet school changes has been postponed till the next fiscal year.) As with the original proposal by MSA, I suspect what we see now is subject to further change. In addition, I expect the board will hear a lot about the schools that have been targeted for closure as a result of budget pressures – there are already petitions to save Love Elementary, the magnet program at Jeff Davis High School and Project GRAD out there. I’ve also seen a sample letter to write on behalf of Love Elementary, which I’ve reproduced beneath the fold. Again, if any of this affects you, now is the time to get involved and make your voice heard. There’s plenty of things you can do, and any of them will help.

UPDATE: Since I didn’t make it very clear in this post, please note that Superintendent Grier has decided to defer discussion of magnet school changes until the next fiscal year.

“We will continue fine-tuning the preliminary proposal that was unveiled last week and gathering input from all stakeholders with the goal of bringing the issue back before the board sometime around September,” Houston Independent School District spokesman Jason Spencer said in an e-mail Sunday.

[…]

Board president Paula Harris, who called the special meeting last week to fast-track a new policy on magnet schools and to get public input, said the decision to slow down now is a response to the wishes of the community and the board.

“People definitely wanted to see it,” Harris said of Grier’s magnet proposal. “Now they want some time to review it and meet about it. I get that. I heard that loud and clear.”

“It’s big changes to Houston,” she added. “You don’t want to rush it.”

So there’s still time to make sure your voice is heard. Make sure you make the most of it.


Sample letter for advocating on behalf of Love Elementary:

We’re all aware that school districts statewide may be facing unprecedented budget cuts from the state, but HISD’s proposal to close Love Elementary is a shortsighted plan that will be devastating to children and families in the Heights. Closure of Love Elementary would lead to overcrowding in Heights-area elementary schools within a matter of just a couple of years, creating a new and unnecessary challenge for HISD administration.

We are concerned that HISD administration appears to have made this recommendation with little or no any investigation on the ground at the school, and little or no input from the community or our District I trustee Anna Eastman. Given this lack of careful inquiry, we are also concerned that HISD administration may have failed to take into account demographic trends suggesting that enrollment will grow quickly at Love and other Heights-area elementary schools.

Love Elementary is on a positive trajectory, and has made great strides in the past several years. Enrollment at Love is at its highest level in 6 years, and we believe this is because families and our community are becoming aware of the many positive developments at the school. Love is widely regarded as the next up-and-coming school in the Heights, which is why we are baffled that HISD would move to close a school that shows more promise than others in the area.

Here are a few of the things we LOVE about our neighborhood school:

* Community support is building for Love. Parent volunteers, many of whom own homes zoned to Love, formed a new friends group for the school–known as We [Heart] Love Elementary–in 2009.

* Parent involvement is growing at Love Elementary via the newly formed PTA, which was established in fall 2010.

* Under the leadership of its current principal, Robert Chavarria, Love moved from Academically Unacceptable to Exemplary status in just two years, according to official Texas Education Agency ratings.

* Love has earned Exemplary ratings in two of the past three years–better than most elementary schools in the Heights area.

* Enrollment at Love is at its highest level in 6 years. After dropping for several years, that trend has reversed, and enrollment at Love now stands at 428, and is now steady and growing.

According to data from the membership roster of Heights Kids, a neighborhood group that includes more than 900 families, the number of kids entering kindergarten will TRIPLE in the next three or four years! Where does HISD plan to educate all of those kids? We were concerned about this problem before HISD proposed the closure of Love–and this is why many of us chose to get involved at Love. The current schools of choice in the Heights (Harvard, Travis, Helms, etc.) are already at capacity.

We also understand that Love is slated for some upcoming bond improvements. Why would HISD move to close a school that it had recently put on the list for bond improvements, indicating an intention to make future investments in the school?

Love Elementary has made so much progress in the past several years, in terms of academics (exemplary status), growing/stable enrollment, and growing community and parental support and involvement at the school. Many schools in the district are struggling. Please don’t close Love, which is on a positive trajectory on so many fronts. Given all the positive developments at the school, community members are beginning to believe that Love is being targeted because of the value of its land along Shepherd Drive.

We realize HISD is facing a budget crisis, but your first obligation is to serve the best interests of the children in our district. Please demand that HISD Administration conducts a thorough investigation of the positive developments at Love Elementary, and the demographic trends developing in the Heights area.

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  1. […] here, here, here, here, and here for some background. School Zone has a copy of the draft proposal. I agree with the basic […]

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