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Last stand against school closures

Last chance, too.

Community activists called Tuesday for HISD to spare two schools from closure in a last-ditch effort that included filing a federal civil-rights complaint alleging racial discrimination.

Charles X. White, president of the city’s South Park Super Neighborhood group, said he had asked federal authorities to investigate HISD’s proposal to close schools in mostly black and Hispanic neighborhoods.

The Houston school board is set to vote Thursday on Superintendent Terry Grier’s scaled-back proposal to close Jones High School in the South Park neighborhood and Dodson Elementary near downtown. He first proposed closing five small schools.

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Grier has said the Jones and Dodson buildings are needed to house students from other campuses being rebuilt under the district’s 2012 vote-approved bond issue.

After the new schools are built, Grier said, Jones could be reopened as a vocational school or one for gifted students. Dodson could be turned into a middle school with a specialized program.

Trustee Paula Harris, whose district includes Jones, said at a board meeting Monday that she supported reopening Jones with a new theme but called for it to happen next year – not years after using the space during rebuilding.

See here, here, here, and here for the background. A spokesperson for the Office of Civil Rights confirmed there was a complaint filed with them, but I’m sure we won’t hear anything further on that until some action is taken. A Chron op-ed from earlier in the week lays out a pretty good case against the district taking steps to close Jones and Dodson at this time:

In her Sunday op-ed “Low-performing schools drag down kids and districts” (Page B9), trustee Anna Eastman said HISD should close struggling schools and re-open them as charter/magnet schools. More specialty schools do not necessarily mean more access for children most in need. When HISD closed Third Ward’s Ryan Middle School last year and re-opened it as a magnet school, only 11 percent of the enrollment included neighborhood children.

Moreover, contrary to common expectations, research on 60 school districts shows that student performance actually declines following school closures. HISD has closed 19 schools since 2010, sending many students from exemplary to lower-performing schools. We know of no parent who would want that.

Grier defended the closure proposal with a November 2013 HISD report implying these schools have seen long-term enrollment declines. However, this ignores the district’s own research showing that enrollment changed less than 3 percent over the past 10 years at each elementary school targeted for closure – schools that met state standards every year.

Enrollment declines at Jones are due in part to HISD’s removal of its Vanguard “gifted” program and a revolving door of leadership. And when the expensive and controversial Apollo program was imposed on Jones – with its fixation on excessive test prep – families fled. Parents don’t want the school to close; they want HISD to clean up its mess and invest in quality programming.

As community opposition has grown, officials now say Jones and Dodson are needed as “swing space” – temporary buildings for schools during a rebuild. HISD policy does not authorize school closures for this purpose.

Here’s the Anna Eastman op-ed they reference. At this point, while HISD may have a good demographic argument for pursuing these closures, they seem to be weak on procedure and on community engagement about them. I’d like to see more done to address those issues before any further action is taken. There will be a rally by anti-closure forces outside the Hattie Mae White building tomorrow at 1:30 – see beneath the fold for details.

Community Gathers to Urge HISD to Protect Schools From Needless Closure
Working America to host press conference at start of 3/13 school board meeting

Parents and community leaders are fighting against the closure of two schools that would displace students in southeast Houston. They will hold a press conference at 3:30 p.m. March 13 as the Houston Independent School District (HISD) board begins its public session. A vote is expected during the session.

“Tax dollars belong in the classroom, not in the pockets of school administrators,” said parent Michael Hicks, who plans to make flyers alerting his north Houston neighbors potentially affected by the proposed closures.

“I don’t understand how HISD could consider closing schools if we just passed a $2 billion bond to build new schools,” Hicks said. “I find it disturbing that, once again, we’re closing more schools.”

“Our more than 13,000 members in Houston have spoken out overwhelmingly against closing neighborhood schools,” said Working America Texas State Director Durrel Douglas. “We’ve collected over 500 petitions, wrote letters and are here to send a clear message to board members: Save Our Schools.

“Our members tell us every day they want good public schools, and this is clearly not a step in that direction for our city,” Douglas continued. “Our population is growing, not declining, so we hope the board does what’s right for the students of Houston.”

WHO: Working America members, organizers, community leaders, allies

WHAT: Save our Schools press conference to address proposed school closures.

WHERE: HISD Administration building, 4400 W. 18th St., Houston, Texas

WHEN: Thursday, March 13, 2014, 3:30 p.m. CST

Interested media should call Durrel Douglas at 832.857.5737

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