Worthing and Woodson Face Closure or State Takeover

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First off, remember months ago when I and others rang the alarm saying these schools were in danger of closure?  Remember how some elected officials and other power brokers said we were "misinformed?" 

Well... read this Houston Chronicle article put out today.

Worthing High and Woodson K-8 were not among the list of low-performing schools given a "Hurricane Harvey Pass" by Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath, neither were Mading and Wesley Middle Schools.  What does this mean?  Well, now there are two options based on HB 1842, a controversial bill spearheaded by Democratic State Representative Harold Dutton in 2015.  

  1. The low-performing (Improvement Required) schools must be closed, or;
  2. The elected HISD Board of Trustees must be replaced by a hand-selected board of managers chosen by the Texas Education Agency.

This comes to a head just weeks after a contentious HISD School Board Meeting that led to parents being drug out of the Board meeting and two arrests.

The HISD Board, led by President Rhonda Skillern-Jones, had planned to vote on a proposal at that meeting that many in the community (including myself) disagreed with.  The Board was poised to approve a multi-million dollar contract with a chart school group led by HISD's former Board President Paula Harris and NAACP-Houston President Dr. James. Douglas.  The board, faced with a short leash by TEA apparently rushed to put forth a deal that would've chartered ten schools in predominately Black and Brown neighborhoods to save the district from state takeover.

After the commotion at the meeting, it was basically impossible to meet the State's April 30th deadline since another meeting would've had to be called---and a 72 hour notice given to the public.

In my personal opinion, it will be a sad day if our democratically elected board is replaced with a handpicked group to replace them as a Board of Managers.  While we may not agree with our elected trustees, we should have the ability to vote for our representatives.  

Why?

If you look historically at what happens when any governmental entity is replaced with an appointed board, there's a deeper division between the community and decision-makers.  Take a look at Detroit, Michigan's board of managers and the Draconian cuts that were made in the name of "Fiscal Responsibility" that disproportionately impacted communities of color and economically disadvantaged Detroiters.

To bring this observation closer to home, let's take a look at what's happened with Beaumont ISD after state take over.  It started with an online application being available to community members to apply for a seat on the new board.  Selections were made by TEA, then the elected board stepped down the next school year. 

Read more about that here...

If I had to guess, I'd assume the state will take over HISD instead of closing schools initially.  However, there's nothing stopping the newly appointed Board of Managers from making the decision to close the schools later, anyway.  I think they will close some schools eventually.

At the end of the day we have to improve the outcome of 9th graders who can't read.  I believe expensive standardized testing has become the focus in public schools instead of teaching common-sense life skills that are necessary to succeed in life.  This includes reading, writing, math, and science, but also includes trades and extra curricular activities 

What's next?

Well, I wanted to get a firsthand look at what's going on at these schools, and, what other districts have done to turnaround "low-performing" campuses.

A few months ago, I had the pleasure to visit Kendall Whittier Elementary school in Tulsa, Oklahoma where their district has a partnership with City Year---essentially a tutoring/educational support program that exists during the school day in the classroom as opposed to after school where most economically disadvantaged students have an additional transportation hurdle to endure.  I was thoroughly impressed with what I saw.  I wanted to know if HISD had anything like this, especially at the 10 schools on the list.  

I grew up on Selinsky next to Frost Elementary.  I understand it takes extra support to educate economically disadvantaged children.  I was one.

At the end of the day, something has to change.  Sure we need volunteers to be mentors and read to children, but that's not sustainable.  You can't DEPEND on volunteers.  There has to be a structural change to public education that is equitable. 

I took the time to visit Worthing High School a few weeks ago where Dr. Campbell-Rhone, the principal, explained the wraparound services that exist on the campus, and I got to hear from the top brass at Communities in Schools, which is stationed at that campus and others.  

While many are ready to "move forward," I believe it's impossible to truly move forward without understanding and acknowledging the past.

BREAKING: HISD Board will not Charter Black/Brown Schools

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Just confirmed the authenticity of this press release from HISD Press office via phone who confirmed the Board will not move forward with the hotly debated Charter Schools proposal that led to last night's infamous protests from parents, activists, and community leaders.

Kandice Webber and Amelie Goedecke were arrested after Board President Rhonda Skillern-Jones ordered police officers to "clear the room," which was filled with constituents awaiting the fate of 10 historically Black and Brown schools.

At the end of Karina Quesada-Leon's testimony, the Board President ordered her removed as seen below.

 

From HISD Interim-Superintendent Lathan:

HISD Board of Education will not vote on partnership for
“Improvement Required” campuses


HISD will not submit any plans to the Texas Education Agency related to SB 1882
April 25, 2018 - The Houston Independent School District Board of Education on Tuesday adjourned without approving a contract to partner with the governing board of Energized for STEM Academy as part of Senate Bill 1882. The district will no longer pursue this proposal, nor will the district submit plans for partnerships to the TEA.
The proposal was intended to give HISD a two–year pause on accountability from the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and prevent sanctions from the state related to House Bill 1842.
HISD will continue to operate and manage the 10 campuses that have been in Improvement Required (IR) status with the state for four years or more. Those campuses are: Blackshear, Dogan, Highland Heights, Mading, and Wesley elementary schools, Henry Middle School, Woodson PK-8, and Kashmere, Wheatley, and Worthing high schools. The district’s goal is to help these 10 schools exit IR and continue to meet yearly standards.
“We are not bringing another partnership proposal to the Board, nor will there be another meeting to consider partnerships for the 10 schools,” said Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan. “Instead, we will continue to reinforce our commitment to helping students, staff, and families of our Achieve 180 schools continue the hard work they’ve done this year to transform their campuses and increase student achievement.”
HISD will make the necessary changes to the Achieve 180 framework to ensure the district provides them with the additional resources and supports they need to be successful. District administration will be holding meetings with staff and parents at these 10 schools to discuss Achieve 180 plans for their campuses in the 2018-2019 school year. Staff will remain in place at these 10 campuses unless a position is closed as part of the reduction in force HISD is experiencing across the district due to the $115 million budget shortfall.

Project Orange Profile by April Henshaw

When I saw the call to help register voters who were currently incarcerated, I knew I had to do it.

I was raised by a single father, in part, because both of my parents were convicted felons. He was always saying that the government didn't care about him, the primary example being that he wasn't even allowed to vote. I know now that is untrue. But it took him decades to find that same truth.

One simple bit of dignity to make you feel you are part of the community at large could have a ripple effect on someone's life.

Because of my childhood, I avoid police officers at all costs. They trigger a lot of anxiety and I had not thought of this until right before I began the drive to the Sheriff's office. I realized I would be around inmates, but I was suddenly more afraid that I would be around a bunch of police.

I also hadn't thought about the fact that in all of those years of legal issues and arrests, I had never been inside a jail/prison. All of this hit me with a quickness and I confessed to the person in charge that I had also never registered anyone to vote, so I was "nervous about that".

In reality, I was nervous about at least 10 different things that morning.

I am so glad that I did it now.

I hope to encourage people to have their voices heard and am working on rallying some folks in Austin to do the same thing there!

 

Project Orange Story by Emily Vanous

I first heard about Project Orange in an email from Houston Millennials.

I had already been to a VDVR training and am very concerned about the lack of voice disenfranchised populations have in our government, so it was a perfect opportunity for me. I was excited to be in a position to have a direct and almost immediate impact relating to people engaging in their civic duties.

I was nervous my first time going to register voters, but only because I was unsure of the process, not the environment. I was made to feel at ease right away though. While there were things to get sorted out and improved during each volunteer session, I always felt safe and, most of the time, very appreciated by the people who I registered to vote.

It was also an incredible opportunity to get a better understanding of the experience of the men and women who spend time behind bars, sometimes only because they can’t afford bail. Eye opening!

Overall, volunteering with Project Orange was a great opportunity to feel like I was giving back to my community, engaging in a crucial civic duty and shining some hope on the future for people who felt like they had hit a road block.

I absolutely will be continuing to volunteer with this incredible organization and also hope to help spread the word about this groundbreaking initiative.

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My Story - by Chris Tebow Smith

Okay, so full disclosure, I registered only two people on the very first day of Project Orange, so I'm a little embarrassed about that. I first read about this effort on Facebook last summer and wanted to sign up, but Harvey had other plans for the city. When I saw it pop up again in December, I signed up and was vetted.

I became a VDVR in May of 2017, but hadn't really connected with any events yet. This appealed to me because for some reason I relate best to outsiders and loners, and I hate injustice. I've had co-workers, relatives, and acquaintances - all good people - who have gone to prison or jail, and they deserve their humanity and their rights. They are forgotten and vilified, instead.

I was nervous. I wasn't nervous at all about interacting with the inmates - and I am basically unshockable -  but was worried about whether I was parking at the right place, worried that I wouldn't fill out the forms correctly...stupid stuff. Tina and Durrel were wonderful, warm, and welcoming to those of us who showed up; it was new ground for them, too, the VERY FIRST DAY! The officers could not have been nicer on this groundbreaking day, and they walked us through what to expect, how to react, what to do, what not to do...

BUT they gave me a new worry, how to keep track of the MANY pens I brought. You must account for every single one or they have to put the entire facility on lock down until an errant pen has been recovered.

I still have nightmares about my Bics.

The guys (we didn't make it to the women's floor that first day) were receptive to a new experience - especially one involving women on their floors - and some lined up maybe out of curiosity. They were mostly really sweet, but boy, was it hard to hear in there. And I learned something else. In jail, the elevators don't have buttons.

It was a great and humbling experience. Thanks for letting me participate in this great program.

I will never forget tiny powerhouse Margie telling everyone who registered, "Congratulations!"

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Bringing Black People to Boards and Commissions

 Photo by IPGGutenbergUKLtd/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by IPGGutenbergUKLtd/iStock / Getty Images

From Durrel's Facebook Post:

We discussed launching a project aimed at placing more Black people on government/NGO Boards and Commissions at our last meeting.  Some of you were involved in the discussion, others just got added because you came to mind.  

 

Working on a Board/Commission is a great first step that allows individuals to understand how entities actually operate.  

 

Though these initiatives exist in some form today, the organizations running them don't reach our community/age cohort the way we can, nor are the curricula designed through a Black/Millennial-centered lens... it's usually more "Friends" than "Livin' Single" if you get my drift.  Further, I believe that the effectiveness of projects like these is lost when top-heavy organizations attempt to take them on.  

 

I'm looping in Tarsha Jackson who runs the Criminal Justice campaign for TOP since they were doing something similar, and she might be able to provide pointers as we lay our foundation.

 

To make this happen, we plan to:

  1. Develop a Black/Millennial-centered curriculum outlining the necessary tools to being a successful board/commission member. This would include, but not limited to Robert's Rules of Order.  It would also include assignments like watching the episode of Insecure where the main character had to maneuver her non-profit employers leadership to get the right tools to the students they were serving.  
  2. Plan the inaugural two-day workshop that our first cohort would have to attend to become "Fellows" or whatever designation we'll give to those who have the HJC stamp of approval.  This will include a panel discussion or two from those currently/formerly serving on Boards/Commissions discussing what they learned, and what they wished they'd known.  Further, how they used their seat to make concrete advancements.  Lastly, we'd have a couple non-profit executives and/or elected officials to keynote.  We want our Fellows to leave not only knowing how to apply for these positions, but be prepared to be thought leaders at the table.
  3. Develop an online clearinghouse for those ready to serve.  Once completing the workshop and gathering a better idea of HOW they want to serve, they'll walk away with a spot in our online clearinghouse.  You'd be surprised how many Boards and Commissions are looking for Black Millennials, but don't know where to find us.  We'll fix that.  THIS IS THE STRONGEST PART OF OUR PROJECT.  There's nowhere one can go to flip through a book of US, with bios where selections could be made.
  4. Research the local government entities that use Boards and Commissions.  We need to know what the terms of service are, when the deadlines to apply roll by, and to whom we need to be working with directly at each of these entities over the next 6 months.  Additionally, the same can be done for non-profits.

I'm looking forward to the magic that we'll make, evidenced through the changes made to decision-making tables.  I've served in every capacity from volunteer, to executive, to Board member on both government and non-profit boards.  There's a HUGE gap when it comes to people who look like me in rooms where decisions are made and checks are cut.

For starters, I'd like to get your initial thoughts, and what seems like a realistic next step.  Further, reply to me if you're still on board with pulling this together.  If your plate is too full, or you don't see the vision, no hard feelings.

In my head, we start with a Google doc that serves as an "Idea Garden" for now, then plan to link up specifically about this in a few weeks before it's stale. 

#ProjectOrange, #TheCookOut, And More Stuff to Come

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ABOUT SATURDAY'S MEETING:

ACTION ITEMS follow each of the subjects we covered. That's how WE do meetings.

This is the part many don't get to see. We didn't just TALK about good ideas, we put dates on the calendar, and listed points of contact for all the ish below.

This awesome, devoted group of people laid the groundwork for the next phase of #ProjectOrangeincluding targeting recruitment to people who probably watch Issa Rae's #Insecure or enjoy reruns of Livin' Single (if you get my drift ;-)) LOL . Yes, we need more Black people on this project! We registered 662 behind bars before the primary!

ACTION: Akua F will followup by 3/31 on her civic club potentially leading recruitment/planning for one of these VDVR trainings we can have more VDVRs that know how to do the electric slide LOL.

Then, we made plans to create an informative "how to vote if you've ever been locked up" video---teaming up with Spread The Vote Texas, who also gave a pretty lit explanation. They provide IDs/Birth Certs for the homeless, formerly incarcerated, etc. which come in handy when they're looking for work, housing, etc. Some homeless shelters even shut people out without IDs...and while it may seem simple to you or I, but coming up with $20 for an ID or copy of a birth certificate could be a HUGE barrier.

ACTION: Durrel and Kat will catch up prior to 3/31 with next steps for the creation of the video to be used on social media and inside the jail during GOTV. Further, we're looking into how to implement GOTV in addition to the existing (and growing) registration efforts.

After that, we set a date (JUNE 2nd) for#TheCookoutHouston!!! Listen, Kandice Webberand I, as well as Travis McGee had been chatting about a once-a-month BLACK CENTERED meeting where Frankie Beverly and Kendrick Lamar share the playlist, dominos, spades, and a basketball tournament are on the agenda, and food is overflowing...BUT HALFWAY THROUGH THE EVENT, and before the food is served, there's a brief update with what's going on at City Hall, HISD, state legislature etc...and we're not giving the microphone to any electeds to come and shuck and jive,... no.... there will be a layman's terms explanation with a breakdown of what's going on, and what we need everyone to do to change the issue at hand... then, we crank up the music again! I'm SOOOOO looking forward to this once per month event, and the first one is slated for MacGregor Park, and Kandice is at the helm!!! This shall be LIT AF!!!

ACTION: Kandice is researching the broad-stroked needs assessment for MacGregor Park. It's my hope that we pull Karl Mayes King Motivator into this as the Emcee, and help add a motivational angle to this somehow.

I've always wanted to increase the number of Black people on Non-Profit and Governmental Boards and Commissions, so we're working creating both a training to send the RIGHT people to apply for these opportunities to become thought leaders when they get there, but to also walk people through the process!!! I can't wait to see this as a reality. 

ACTION: Durrel (me) will recruit an ad-hoc group to research what a clearinghouse of trained, eligible Black folks that want to be on boards and commissions, and what the training might look like. Hoping my play-cousin Brandy Douglas will work with me on this LOL. 

HJC will soon be launching a job board specifically for Texas employers who employ people with records and Spread The Vote will help job seekers with records get the IDs they need to obtain employment.

ACTION: Terrance Edmond is point on this initiative.

Congratulations, y'all. The train has left the station!

Hit me or any of the awesome folks in the photo up if you want to get involved with where Houston Justice Coalition is headed!

Ashton Woods Bows Out of District K Special Election Race

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In a late night Facebook Live video, prominent Houston activist Ashton P. Woods bowed out of the race to replace former City Councilman Larry Green who passed unexpectedly in early March.  Woods says he will back a Black woman for the post since he believes there should be another Black woman on City Council. 

Woods, founder of Black Lives Matter-Houston, says he still plans for an at-large seat in 2019.

Rumblings of candidates aiming to fill the southwest-Houston district filled rumor mills with long-time Democratic operative Pat Frazier and Larry Blackmon announcing runs so far.

The Mayor and City Council are slated to approve the May 5th election date which will give candidates roughly thirty days to campaign for a seat around the horseshoe at City Hall.

NO Partnerships! NO Charters! NO Closures! NO TEA!

 Parents, Teachers, Students, and Supporters in Austin at Texas Education Agency Headquarters with a unified message: Save Our Schools!

Parents, Teachers, Students, and Supporters in Austin at Texas Education Agency Headquarters with a unified message: Save Our Schools!

We met up at Worthing High School at 8:00 AM to board a big yellow school bus to head to Texas Education Agency (TEA) Headquarters.  We were parents, teachers, students, and supporters coming together to save our schools from privatization.  Worthing, Wheatley, Kashmere, and a slew of other historically Black and Brown schools are slated for  closure/charter if TEA has its way.

Legislation (HB 1842 and HB 1882) passed under the big pink dome of the Texas Capitol have low-performing schools under the gun.  Instead of offering additional resources, or guiding improvement, the move spearheaded by State Rep. Harold Dutton (Houston) moves to close or charter neighborhood schools.

CLICK HERE TO SEE NEWS CLIP FROM OUR AUSTIN TRIP

We arrived in Austin around 1:00 PM asking to meet with TEA officials to no avail.  According to the receptionist, there was nobody available since it was Spring Break.  Spring Break?!?!? 

From there, we headed to the big show---The Texas Capitol---where we attempted to meet with Dutton's staff, but were met with a locked door and lights out, before heading over to Senator Miles' staffer who pledged support to keep schools open.

From there, we stopped to speak with the staff of Senator Whitmire.  

In the coming weeks, it's important that we make a strong showing at the HISD Board meeting on 4/12 at 6:00 PM.

For more information:

tinakingshill@gmail.com

The Race to Replace Judge Zinetta Burney

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Earlier this afternoon I met up with Sam Blair on the Air, KG Smooth, and these three candidates for Justice of the Peace, Precinct 7, an open seat to replace Judge Zinetta Burney who announced her retirement last year.  Among those running to replace her are her daughter, Sharon Burney, and Cheryl Elliot Thornton who's run for in the past for other judicial seats.  We're not going to talk about them just yet.  Instead, I'm going to tell you my views on these three candidates who answered my last minute request to chop it up on 97.9.

All three candidates arrived to the studio before me.  Ray donning a campaign t-shirt, Audrie in lawyer-esque business casual attire, and DC in denim from head-to-toe with one of those cowboy bolo ties.

It started off pretty snooze-worthy with each candidate giving their 60-second polished pitches.  Ray and Audrie were both ready for this---something you end up doing on the campaign trail a lot.  DC, not so much.  

I've had the chance to chop if up with these folks over the phone, via Facebook, and in-person today, so here's my take on each of the candidates.

AUDRIE LAWTON: THE DELTA

Of the three candidates, Audrie has the most legal experience.  She packs an impressive resume including work on the other side of the bench in JP courts, and is quick on her toes, too.  She's a Delta.  She's charismatic.  She's the epitome of #BlackGirlMagic.  Before I met her in person, I'd heard about her from some of my close friends who've been singing her praises after meeting her at screenings or other judicial events.  

I spoke to her by phone a few weeks ago asking her about her run.  She mentioned how she wants to work with non-profit organizations, and how she wants to make her court more accessible to the community.  She mentioned pro-bono work she's done with Texas Organizing Project around Hurricane Harvey legal issues for residents dealing with slumlords, and she runs a tight ship.  She even showed volunteered an afternoon recently for Houston Justice's #ProjectOrange.  Like Ray and DC, she's very responsive to emails, Facebook messages, and the like. 

RAY SHACKELFORD: THE QUE

Omega Psi Phi's stated purpose has been to attract and build a strong and effective force of men dedicated to its Cardinal Principles of manhood, scholarship, perseverance, and uplift, and Ray has always shown himself to be the epitome of their purpose.  I didn't have to do too much research on Ray because I've known his work over the years.  From his work on housing with the National Urban League, to his volunteerism, Ray is one of those people never chasing the camera or spotlight, instead always in the background doing THE WORK.

Ray touts his experience working on issues in the community as his strength.  He's served on the District Attorney's transition team, on the Mayor's Independent Police Oversight Board, and now he's running to become Justice of the Peace for a community he and his family have deep roots in.  In addition to his reputation, he has the benefit of sharing a name with his father, the other Ray Shackelford.  This will obviously be an added benefit.  For those that might not know the younger Shackelford, they know his father, and this will benefit him when people log in to that e-Slate machine.

DC CALDWELL: THE BOY SCOUT

Well, he is.  An Eagle Scout, actually.  DC is the type of conservative that keeps multiple copies of the US Constitution on him... in multiple languages.  How do I know this?  He offered me one once the interview was over.  If DC sounds familiar, it's because he ran against Carolyn Evans-Shabazz last time around.  Or, it might be because he's the Thurgood Marshall School of Law student that caused an uproar around the invitation of Republican State Rep. Briscoe Cain coming to speak to students as a Federalist Society event.  

During today's radio interview, DC seemed to try to spar with Audrie Lawton for some reason.  It happened more than once.  After she gave her introductory remarks which included a bit on what Justices of the Peace actually do, DC attempted to correct her.  He did this at least three times during the interview.  For what it's worth, DC is tenacious.  He explained how he fought his own party to end up on the ballot.  Whether I agree with his politics or not, that's admirable.

Who will you support to replace Judge Burney?

I live in Precinct 7, so I'll have to make my own decision as well.  I think I've made up my mind.