What are Challenge Academies?

Challenge Academies are monthly working groups that create space for learning through peer networking, problem-solving, and real-world action research.

The Power
of the

Challenge Academies are made up of educators from schools and districts across the Houston region.

Together, these educators reflect on professional challenges, share common school dilemmas, gain insight from current research and fellow practitioners, set goals, and test solutions to improve outcomes for students.

Best Practices

All A+ Academies are grounded in a similar set of ideas and tools so that — regardless of role — participants speak a common language.

Houston A+ Challenge’s approach to professional learning is aligned with Robert Marzano’s School Leadership Evaluation Model and ISLCC standards. Participants set goals and work toward outcomes in accordance with these models.


While knowledge is important to a practitioner, skill development and practice are critical.

Academy participants not only learn about best practices — they put them into practice. Educators use time within their cohort to “work on the work” that is critical to their responsibilities in their schools.


Common challenges give each Academy a framework for moving learning and innovative ideas into action.

Design thinking empowers and challenges educators through a structured approach to creative problem-solving, experimentation and evolution.

2016 – 2017 Academies

Working Groups For Working Leaders

Houston A+ Challenge has nearly 20 years’ experience as a convener of education professionals.  Academies provide like-minded professionals from a wide variety of districts and schools an opportunity to study, and learn and discuss ways they can improve their performance toward becoming more effective in their current positions. Participants can reflect on professional challenges, gain insight from fellow practitioners, take part in professional development tailored to their unique position and goals, or simply step back from the work to assess, strategize and regroup. Challenge Academies are driven by you and your work, and provide the flexible support you need.



District Leaders & How to Personalize Your Campus

Dr. Scott Van Beck

Scott Van Beck has served since 2007 as Executive Director of Houston A+ Challenge, where he leads the Houston area’s largest nonprofit working toward public school improvement. Scott oversees the organization’s work to improve leadership and performance to strengthen, innovate, and connect public schools across the Houston region.

Campus Learning Leaders

Paul Castro is a dynamic school leader with a track record of effective, innovative leadership and collaborative reform in both traditional and public charter schools. As Director of School Performance, Paul serves as founding principal of Houston A+ UP, Houston’s first mobile middle school. He also provides leadership to schools and performance coaches in the A+ Challenge Network and advises the Middle School Leadership Academy.

Tom Monaghan is a relentless advocate for addressing both the affective and academic needs of adolescents, whose coaching style both challenges and inspires school leaders toward courageous leadership. He joined Houston A+ Challenge in June 2010 to launch A+’s work with students, teachers, principals and families in Challenge Network middle schools. He leads program design and implementation for the initiative, and provides executive coaching to principals and leadership teams at Challenge Network schools and through the Middle School Leadership Academy.

Coaching, Specialists, Teacher Leaders & New Teachers

Jeni Fowler has 14 years of classroom experience as a middle school reading teacher in Houston ISD, including roles as a cluster leader and department chair until 2007. She was named teacher of the year at Pershing Middle School and engaged in some curriculum writing for the district in reading and writing. After two years as a campus-level middle school literacy coach, she moved to Houston ISD’s West Region as a content specialist. In that position, she worked with 15 secondary schools to improve their literacy programs, provided model lessons, instructional strategies and student data reviews for teachers.

Torrey Conerly

Torrey Conerly is a former math major whose love for children drew her from the financial sector into the classroom. After five successful years as a middle school mathematics teacher, she became a teacher of teachers, working as a Math Content Specialist to serve four middle and elementary schools in Houston ISD from 2007 to 2010. In this role, Torrey provided model lessons, formal and informal teaching assessments, interventions, coaching and mathematics leadership to teachers and grade-level teams.