In the end, only one school was closed by HISD, but a lot of people are still upset about the whole thing.
During a rowdy meeting where police had to quiet shouting protestors, the Houston school board narrowly agreed Thursday to close Dodson Elementary but accepted a compromise plan that would turn the long-struggling Jones High into a specialty vocational school.
Many in the crowd focused their anger on Superintendent Terry Grier, calling for his firing, during the most raucous board meeting in years.
Grier’s initial closure proposal, unveiled four weeks ago, would have shut down five small schools. But [Juliet] Stipeche, using her power as board president, scaled the potential closure list to two schools after community members packed a series of public meetings to complain and a couple dozen people marched outside Grier’s condominium one weekend.
Grier had said closing Jones High and Dodson Elementary were his priorities, saying the district needed to use the facilities to house students from other schools due to be rebuilt under the 2012 voter-approved bond issue.
The idea of closing schools so they could serve as temporary “swing space” for other students didn’t sit well with many.
In the end, the school board agreed on a 5-4 vote to close Dodson Elementary, which enrolls about 445 students this year. The building likely will be used to house students from the district’s Energy Institute High School while it is rebuilt.
Under the compromise plan for Jones, passed on a 6-3 vote, the school would become a specialty campus focused on career readiness. It would be modeled after other “Futures Academy” programs that the district has started in other high schools, allowing students to work toward industry certification or associate’s degrees.
Students zoned to Jones would get priority in admissions, but the specialty school would be open to students across the district. The Jones students who don’t want to attend will be rezoned to Worthing and Sterling high schools. All are under-enrolled, with Jones falling to about 440 students this year.
The new Jones would not have athletics, a point of contention for some. Students could play for their zoned schools.
While many said they supported the compromise plan for Jones, James Douglas, a longtime officer for the NAACP of Houston, said he did not. He joined others in expressing frustration that Stipeche, the board president, limited speakers to one minute each because more than 80 had signed up to speak on the closures alone.
“I would say HISD is broken and you need to come up with some mechanism not just to hear the community, but really to listen what they have to say,” Douglas told the board. “And you can’t listen to what anyone has to say in one minute.”
See here, here, here, here, and here for the background. I’m sure this isn’t the end of the story, though it’s unclear to me what comes next. The one thing I do know, which hasn’t been mentioned in the coverage so far, is that I truly hope HISD will keep track of the Dodson and Jones students that are directly affected by this to see how their performance fares going forward, just as I have hoped that they will closely monitor the former North Forest students. Whatever the demographic case may be, if closing a school or significantly changing it turns out to have a negative effect on the existing students, it should make districts very reluctant to do that. Dodson is hardly the first school HISD has closed during Terry Grier’s tenure, and I have no idea if any of those students were tracked post-closure. It would be nice to know more about the data we already have, if in fact we do have it. Regardless, given the strong feedback this has generated, the least HISD can do is keep us informed about the consequences – good, bad, or indifferent – of their actions. Hair Balls has more.