Friday, September 07, 2007

HISD Bond: A Classroom Perspective

Hi! My name is Laura, and I’m a long-time volunteer for HERA and the caucus. I just started my second year of teaching at Tinsley Elementary. I teach through the Teach for America program. Evan and I go way back, and he asked me to contribute to the blog on the HISD Bond Issue

At the caucus meeting on Wednesday night, I was impressed by the dedication everyone who spoke expressed to the education of all students. The mission of Teach for America is that, one day, all children in this country will receive an excellent education. Unfortunately, we know that excellent education for all is not currently a reality. Wednesday night, as at every TFA meeting and my school staff meetings, I heard people asking what we can do to get closer to that goal.

I’ve only taught for one year, and I certainly don’t have all (or many) answers. I haven’t thoroughly researched the bond issue yet (I plan to and then post more), but I have some small insights from my past year of teaching. I teach at a large school, similar to the size of the new consolidated campuses in the bond proposal – Tinsley has around 700 students in the first through fifth grades. It’s also a Title 1 school – about 95% of the students are on free/reduced lunch and about 70 – 80% of the students are considered at-risk. The school was only opened about 6 years ago, so the facillities are almost brand-new.

The facillities are incredible, but, as I learned last year, what is really important at any school is the faculty and staff. First, teachers and administrators must believe in and be committed to student success – this is the most important thing, and everything else builds off of this. Second, teachers and administrators must have a plan for student success. This plan includes academic standards, student conduct expectations, teacher expectations… teachers and administrators should even know how they want the students to look in the hall or in the cafeteria. Third, teachers and administrators must be consistent in following their plan and get the students and parents to buy into it.

Now, how does this all relate to the HISD bond issue? In my minimal reading about it, I can already tell that it’s not going to solve all of the problems with HISD. All of my kids suddenly becoming really wealthy and being able to afford tutors and trips to Europe would probably solve the problems with HISD, but that’s not going to happen. Instead, my kids have to rely on the efforts of an underpaid, overworked HISD staff.

I’m sure that it will be hard for the teachers at Sherman, Crawford, and the other schools slated for closure to leave those schools. However, after a new staff is firmly in place at the new locations, I am sure that these new schools will be successful provided that they have a great principal and good teachers. I also expect that these new schools will be better than the schools they replace. Last year, I had several friends who were transferred to different schools because the enrollment count went down. Each HISD school has different rules and a different culture – it took me almost half of the year to learn some of the ins and outs of the school and to feel comfortable there. Also, teachers can’t really go into their classrooms and lock everything else out anymore – if they ever could. Whether you like the TAKS tests or don’t, they are a reality. Teachers are required to teach the same standards and therefore must collaborate and build off one another. Additionally, middle and high school teachers, and many elementary teachers (including me), teach a couple of subjects and see many classes of students. I have to communicate closely with my team in order to know how all of my students are doing – Jesus’ reading obviously affects his needs in science, social studies, and even math. For all of those reasons, I really think that keeping the same administration and staff at a school is really important.

I don’t really like the idea of schools closing – I am worried about the ensuing chaos in building new schools and hiring new administration and faculty. I am worried about building new school communities because I know from my own experience that parents and students trust teachers and administrators whom they’ve seen and known for years. I am worried about students having to commute any further from their homes because I know that many of my students walk home. However, because I believe that the most important parts of a school are the people inside of it, I know that these new schools can be better than the old ones. I also hope that their construction will save funds that my kids desperately need.


Anonymous said...

My concern as a teacher for HISD is that we as a society are accepting less and less from our children and calling it good enough. With the creation of NCLB we ensured no child would be left behind. What does that mean for our gifted children? They are kept with the group as well. Hopefully great teachers can pull the slower children along to try to keep up with the brighter ones. In doing so, our teacher resources, money and time go to the farthest behind. HISD has eliminated the TIER system for finding our brightest kids and putting them together on a very fast paced course. Now they are only the top quarter and they are being mixed with all the others, so no one will feel bad of course. I think the bond that will support a system of dumbing down our society is not the best plan. However, this is a national plan, not just Houston . Where do we start to complain, though? All good work is grass roots at heart. Would I love to work in a state of the art school with all the wonderful perks? Of course. Do I ultimately approve of the way the district spends my money? No, not really. I do not think that will change if the bill is defeated. Administration will go right ahead the way it has been. So, I have mixed feelings and thoughts on the plan.

Laura said...

You're right. I felt like my school, last year, did a terrible job of supporting our gifted students. The only positive comment I have to add about that is that the entire district (at least for elementary schools) seems to be trying to move towards a model in which gifted students would be given their own classes, even at campuses (like mine) where most students are not classified gifted and are, in fact, below grade level. At least, this is what I gathered from my last GT training update. Does this mean that HISD will actually do this anytime soon? Of course not. However, at large campuses, you do have more of an opportunity to create all-GT classes of students: we've tried to do that on my campus in the upper grades. Then you can make sure that those kids get the opportunity to have lots of teacher attention and extension activities (instead of just having them act as tutors, which is much more common).