That's how caucus board member Lorna Clark perfectly summed things up late into the debate last night. Everyone at the caucus seems to agree that Houston schools need more money and better facilities, but there are serious complaints and questions about the choices of school closures and consolidations. Was history and academic performance considered in the choice to close or consolidate a campus? Why were some small schools spared when others have been designated for closure? State Representative Sylvester Turner, Council Member Peter Brown and City Controller Annisse Parker all criticized the HISD board for choosing a plan that replaces small neighborhood elementary and middle schools with large consolidated campuses. HISD trustee Natasha Kamrani argued that reorganized, consolidated schools would allow the district to funnel more resources directly to the students, reiterating the fact that many campuses have dwindling enrollment. A teacher also expressed a great need for more secure campuses and newer facilities. Parents offered there own personal accounts.
So here are the schools that will be consolidated (click on links for maps):
The HISD board has been criticized for not taking in enough community feedback in their decisions. In fact, the board itself provided little to no input into the final plan for the bond proposal. After a $395 million bond referendum failed in 1996, HISD contracted an outside consulting firm, Magellan K-12, to assess and recommend new projects to update and maintain the district. Magellan produced a three phase plan, of which this year's bond proposal represents the last installment. Magellan developed the criteria, and Magellan recommended schools for closure and consolidation. The HISD Board signed onto the plan.
Seven new schools to replace outdated facilities with low enrollment, including:
- New K8 school to replace Fleming Middle School and Isaacs, Ross, and Scott Elementary Schools
- New school to replace Cullen and Ryan Middle Schools
- New school to replace Crawford and Sherman Elementary Schools
- New school to replace Allen and Kennedy Elementary Schools
- New K8 school to replace Atherton and Dogan Elementary Schools and Smith Education Center
- New school to replace Hartsfield and Peck Elementary Schools
- New school to replace Shearn and Whidby Elementary Schools
So how did Magellan assess the schools?
First, according to Magellan's website, they pursued an intense community outreach effort:
During this period, a community outreach program was put in place to communicate the progress of the assessment, along with the results. Great emphasis was placed on community participation and involvement, and questionnaires were sent to every principal and 11,000 teachers to solicit input regarding their educational facilities.Of course, this initial assessment and outreach effort was completed in 1999, when Magellan was first contracted. The district has been implementing the three phase plan ever since, and now they're ready to put forward the last stage. No wonder people don't feel that they've been consulted. Maybe an outreach effort was thoroughly pursued, but that was eight years ago. Every school in the district has cycled through student populations two or three times since that initial effort. In eight years new families have entered the district, and those families initially consulted have long since seen their children move on or graduate. Even if the district initially sought out community input, it was done so long ago that many people are unaware that it ever took place.
Second, Magellan assessed the various facilities of the district. Magellan performs these sorts of assessments all over the country, including Districts in Corpus Cristi, El Paso and Tyler, Texas. They approach this task with a rubric they call the APPLE standard:
Assessment standards are detailed parameters used to inventory and assess educational facilities. These are different from Educational Specifications in that they typically cover a wide range of facility types and address a minimum expectation for the overall design of the school as well as specific requirements at the classroom level.
- Magellan K12 establishes assessment standards, and then conducts a survey to inventory all of the existing conditions throughout a school. The Magellan APPLE (Assessment Program for Performance Learning Environments) Standards contain eight major categories:
- Capacity: Ability of core facilities to meet needs of the student population. Core facilities may include restrooms and toilets, dining facilities, libraries and administrative areas. Capacity issues also address site utilization. It is critical to consider the programs at a particular campus and the impact these programs have on classroom inventory and student teaching stations. It is also important to evaluate the use of permanent versus temporary structures.
- Support for Programs: Provision of special spaces or classrooms that support specific curriculum offerings such as music, sports, science, technology, and gifted and talented programs. Support for programs may also include enclosed play areas or multi-purpose spaces that enhance school flexibility.
- Technology: Presence of infrastructure, data distribution/storage and equipment within classroom and laboratory settings. This typically does not include provision of actual computers in the classroom, but does address the ability to support emerging technology. This might include local area network cabling, video distribution systems, electrical outlets, and projection or video display screens.
- Supervision and Security: Extent to which physical configurations help or hinder building operation. This includes site buffers, security fencing, sight lines, lighting and obstructions in instructional spaces that make supervision difficult or impossible.
- Instructional Aids: Presence of necessary equipment within teaching spaces including teacher storage, student storage, writing and tack surfaces, sinks, demonstration tables and fixed audio/video equipment. Instructional aids might also address surface heights, counter heights and types of writing surfaces.
- Physical Characteristics: Primarily size and shape of individual teaching spaces. The total area and aspect ratio, derived by dividing the shortest side of a classroom by the longest side, impact the adequacy of a teaching space. Ceiling heights might also be a consideration. Unfortunately, these criteria are cost prohibitive to remedy in most circumstances.
- Learning Environment: Degree to which learning areas are comfortable, well lighted, odor free, controllable and quiet.
- Relationship of Spaces: Proximity of instructional spaces to support areas like libraries, restrooms, and student dining and recreational areas. It is generally thought that dining and recreation areas should be offset or remote to reduce distraction, while learning resource centers and libraries should be centrally located close to the school's core.
Many Caucus members worried that historic school buildings would be shut down. Representative Turner wondered why schools that performed well on state tests were slated for consolidation. Looking over Magellan's APPLE standard, it is clear that history and academic performance are not considered in their assessment of a building. It is indeed an assessment of the facility only: whether the building can suitably support the programs that the school has in place; whether the building's space is being used efficiently; whether there's a fair ratio of students to space. Magellan, for better or worse, was objectively examining infrastructure only. Magellan's philosophy seems to be that innovation and efficiency trumps history, which may, in fact, be true. If a historic building is failing students and teachers, then a legacy is meaningless. On the other hand, schools are often the hearts of neighborhoods, and regardless of shortcomings, their loss may be too high a cost.
More to come...
What are your thoughts?
Also, HISD is holding their last town hall to discuss the bond proposal tonight. More information here.