Worthing and Woodson Face Closure or State Takeover

worthing band.jpg

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.