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.