September 2007
News From Houston A+ Challenge

Volunteers Needed for Annual Reach Out To Dropouts Walk
There is still time to volunteer for the Annual Reach Out to Dropouts Walk on September 8. Four Houston-area school districts (Houston, Aldine, Spring Branch and Alief) will participate in the Saturday event. The walk pairs hundreds of community volunteers and educators who visit the homes of students who haven't shown up in school this year, and encourage them to return.

The Reach Out to Dropouts Walk started four years ago as a collaborative effort between Houston A+ Challenge, Houston ISD and Mayor Bill White’s office. Since the walk's inception, volunteers have persuaded more than 3,900 students to return to school, and this year, two new school districts will participate: Spring Branch and Alief.

To volunteer in the following school districts:

Houston A+ Executive Director Returns To Public Schools
This month, Houston A+ Challenge bids fond farewell to Executive Director Michele Pola, who is stepping down from her post in order to return to the public school system. Effective September 6, Michele will take on the role of Chief of Staff for Dr. Albelardo Saavedra, Superintendent of Houston ISD. Associate Director Suzanne Sutherland will take the helm at Houston A+ Challenge as Interim Executive Director.

For the past 10 years , Michele has worked diligently to advance the mission and vision of the Houston A+ Challenge: an academically rich and purposeful education for all of Houston’s children. During her time at Houston A+ Challenge, the organization has raised more than $60 million in funding for public school initiatives, coached more than 900 educators through leadership training and facilitation skills, and advocated for thousands to voice their opinion on the state of public education. Read more about Michele's transition.

Spend a Week This Fall with Critical Friends
Houston A+ Challenge is accepting applications through October 1 for the fall 2007 session of Critical Friends Group New Coach Training. The New Coach Seminar is designed to help teachers and school leaders develop and practice the skills needed to lead campus-based small groups that promote teacher collaboration, reflection and improved professional practices. During four Monday evenings and three full Saturdays of seminars (October 8, 13, 15, 20, 22, 27 and 29) , the new coaches will create among themselves the kind of professional learning community that they will establish within their own schools, in order to improve student learning. Three additional follow-up coaches clinics will be scheduled. The cost is $1,200 per participant, and scholarships are available. To apply, visit our website.

Michael Fullan Returns to Houston for National Speaker Series
Back by popular demand after an engaging presentation at the Reforming Schools Summer Institute, Dr. Michael Fullan will kick off Houston A+ Challenge's National Speaker Series on October 3. All educators and members of the public are invited to attend the free event from 5 to 6:30 p.m. at the University of Houston Hilton, but registration is necessary. To RSVP, click here.

Two Major Conferences Focus on Public Education
Please join Houston A+ and numerous community partners for two day-long events on important issues facing Houston's children:

  • Solutions to the Dropout Crisis (Sept. 26) with Children at Risk will bring together sociologists, elected officials, policy experts and educators to provide insights on what it will take to improve high school graduation rates in Houston. Houston A+ Challenge's Suzanne Sutherland will moderate a panel of area high school principals, as they share successes and obstacles to student engagement.

  • Link Up Greater Houston (Oct. 20) with Texas Association of Partners in Education will focus the community on the 40 Developmental Assets, a tool to help raise positive youths. Dozens of concurrent sessions will focus on the needs of students, parents, educators and business partners.

To register for these events and get detailed information, click on the links above.

How Can You Help Give Kids Good Schools?
Give Kids Good Schools is a nationwide campaign to focus on three ways that anyone can help achieve public school excellence - Learn, Vote and Act. Here are some examples:

Learn. What makes a quality public school? Experts agree that these eight characteristics must be present.

Vote. This fall, Houston and Aldine ISDs will hold school board elections. Consider asking candidates these important questions before you hit the polls.

Act. On Sept. 4, members of the U.S. Congress will resume their deliberations over whether to renew the federal No Child Left Behind law. Voice your opinion with your representative or the local media.

Give Kids Good Schools week takes place nationwide, Oct. 14-20.

Student Art on Display at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
The artwork of elementary school students from Houston, Aldine and Spring Branch ISDs is now on display at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. The exhibition, titled "Art For All People", features works created through a Houston A+ Challenge grant aimed at integrating the arts into schools' core curriculum. Through the five-year initiative, each of the elementary schools took part in programs and workshops, and under the guidance of their teachers, students channeled inspiration from noted artists including Henri Matisse, Andre Derain, Carols Cruz-Diez and Odilon Redon. The students’ work will be on display through January 6, 2008.

School News

Houston ISD to Hold Second Districtwide Math Summit
On September 29, Houston ISD will bring local and national experts in math content and pedagogy to Scarborough High School for the second annual districtwide math summit. The day-long event offers educators innovative and practical teaching strategies that they can implement on their campuses immediately. The summit carries on the tradition of the annual event created three years ago in the West Region through the Houston A+ Challenge/ExxonMobil K-5 math initiative, and is sponsored by Houston A+ Challenge with support from The Rockwell Fund and ExxonMobil. Houston ISD employees can register throught e-TRAIN; click here to find out more.

Town Halls, Websites Detail School Bonds on November Ballot
This fall, Houston, Cypress-Fairbanks and Fort Bend school districts will ask voters to approve multi-million dollar school construction bonds to fund infrastructure improvements:

  • Rebuild Houston ISD is an $805-million proposal to improve school transportation, athletics, security, technology and maintenance; learn more at town hall meetings on Sept. 5 at Chávez High School and Sept. 6 at Madison High School.

  • Cy-Fair's $807-million proposal is aimed at building and renovating schools to accommodate the district's rapidly expanding student population.

  • Fort Bend ISD will ask voters to approve a $428 million package to build eight new campuses to support growing student enrollment and facility, technology and school bus upgrades.

Harris County voter information is online here.

Innovative Design of Atascocita High Wins International Award
Atascocita High School, a comprehensive Humble ISD campus designed and built to accommodate smaller learning communites and personalized spaces for students, has won a 2007 Impact on Learning Award. The international award is given annually by School Planning and Management magazine to recognize educational institutions that solve real-world problems with design, engineering and technology solutions. Atascocita and other award-winning schools are featured in the current issue of the magazine.

Teachers Love Their Jobs, According to Recent Study
Ninety-three percent of all teachers who took part in a 10-year study indicated that they love their job - demystifying long-standing assumptions of high turnover and professional dissatisfaction among teachers. The National Center for Education Statistics/MPR Associates study followed 1,800 graduates from the class of 1993, and found that attrition rates in the teaching profession (18 percent) were lower than rates in other professions (17 to 75 percent).

The study also showed that only 13 percent of teachers left because of salary-related reasons, compared to 48 percent in other professions. However, the study also illustrated that teaching environments, gender, age, and college majors influenced turnovers in the teaching field.

Is Your Campus Making These School Improvement Mistakes?
The latest issue of “Changing Schools” from McREL, a nonprofit education research organization, sites the following three common school improvement mistakes made by learning institutions:

1. “Treating the symptoms, not the underlying problem,” or neglecting the root causes of low student achievement.

2. “Focusing on tangibles and ignoring intangibles,” such as school culture, teacher attitudes and beliefs, and other values that high-achieving schools emphasize.

3. “Biting off more than you can chew,” or taking on too many school improvement initiatives in a single year.

For more information on this study, click here.

In Focus with … Michaelann Kelly

Since 1999, more than 750 local educators have opened their classroom doors to collaboration by becoming Critical Friends Group coaches through Houston A+ Challenge. These coaches are campus leaders who guide small groups to examine their teaching practices, deepen their content knowledge and plan for whole-school change.

Michaelann KellyMichaelann Kelly is an art teacher at Aldine ISD’s Eisenhower High School, and a national CFG trainer who works with Houston A+.

How long have you been meeting with your Critical Friends Group?

We’ve been together for nearly 10 years now – you know, with a few changes.  For example, one former member of my CFG is now the principal of Westbury; another one of my Critical Friends was Paul Grey, who is now Program Director for Mathematics at Region 4.  We’ve had a lot of our members retire, but they were still working on their practice continuously until the day they retired.

Do you ever run out of things to talk about? How does a group sustain itself for so long?

Everyone I have worked for has been a real advocate for bettering their own instructional practice, and there is always room for improvement. Best practices are something to strive for continuously, and if you think that you have already arrived – then you aren’t really in line with the philosophy of the group.

What types of topics have you focused on with your CFG?

Our past Critical Friends Group as Research Team (CART) work has really reached down to the student level.  Through our writing and research, we have looked specifically at how to serve special populations of students – and not just special education and English language learners, but also the Advanced Placement or gifted and talented students, which is a subgroup that we commonly leave out in this era of high stakes testing. So we’re looking at what strategies work to push all of these kids to higher places.

What type of leadership skills have you developed through your CFG?

I believe there are informal and formal leaders in schools, and Critical Friends Groups really help promote informal leaders. Informal leaders are your true leaders of school culture, because they are the people who directly impact what happens in the classroom. If you can get teachers working together, looking at their practice and focusing on how it affects students – that’s a powerful experience. Now they can see it, hear it, touch it and taste it. It becomes part of what they breathe every day.


Grants for Making Creative Use of Common Teaching Aids
Office Depot/SHOPA 2006 Kids In Need Teacher Grants are available to fund projects that make creative use of common teaching aids, approach curriculum from an imaginative angle, or tie nontraditional concepts together for the purpose of illustrating commonalities. Innovation and merit account for 40 percent of the evaluation. Maximum Award: $500. Eligibility: K-12 teachers. Deadline: September 30, 2007.

Grants Lend a Hand to Public Schools
General Mills is looking to lend a helping hand to neighborhoods nationwide with its "My Hometown Helper" grant program. Individuals from communities and organizations across America can submit a written essay of 250 words or less describing how the "My Hometown Helper" grant would help improve their community project. Maximum Award: $15,000. Eligibility: Requests for funding must be sponsored by a municipal or civic organization or public school. Deadline: September 30, 2007.

Seeking Nominations for Outstanding Young Educator Award
The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development is seeking nominations for its Outstanding Young Educator Award, which recognizes a teacher under the age of 40 who demonstrates excellence in his or her profession, a positive impact on students, creativity in the classroom, and leadership in his or her school or district. Maximum Award: $10,000. Eligibility: K-12 teachers under age 40; no self-nominations accepted. Deadline: October 15, 2007.

Awards Recognize School District Best Practices
American School Board Journal (ASBJ) is accepting nominations online for the 2008 Magna Awards. Presented in cooperation with Sodexho School Services, winners of the Magna Awards receive national recognition in a special supplement to ASBJ and are honored at a luncheon at the National School Boards Association's annual conference. Awards are handed out in three enrollment categories – under 5,000, 5,001 to 20,000, and more than 20,000. For more information, call (703) 838-6739. Maximum Award: $3,500. Deadline: October 1, 2007.

Awards for Outstanding Contributions to Science Education
The National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) Distinguished Fellow Award recognizes extraordinary contributions to science education through personal commitment to science teaching or science and through significant contributions to the profession that reflect dedication to NSTA as well as the entire educational community. Maximum Award: Recognition. Eligibility: NSTA members of at least 10 years. Deadline: October 15, 2007.

Secondary School Science Teaching Awards
Ciba Specialty Chemicals Exemplary Middle Level and High School Science Teaching Awards recognize teachers who have demonstrated exemplary science teaching in one or more of the following areas: creativity using science teaching materials; design and use of innovative teaching plans and ideas; and development and implementation of department, school, or school-community programs that improve science instruction and/or stimulate interest in science and the learning of science. Maximum Award: $2,000. Eligibility: Full-time classroom teachers. Deadline: October 15, 2007.

The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards honor young people in grades 5 through 12 who have demonstrated exemplary voluntary service to their communities. Maximum Award: $5,000. Eligibility: Students in grades 5-12 who have conducted a volunteer service activity within the past year. Deadline: October 31, 2007.

Submissions Needed for "Breakthrough Schools"
The National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) and the MetLife Foundation are calling for entries in the search for the nation’s top "Breakthrough Schools." Applicants should be high achieving middle or high schools, or schools that are making dramatic improvements in student achievement, whose best practices and outstanding results can inform other schools as they further their own improvement efforts. Honorees will be chosen based upon documented success in implementing strategies aligned with the three core areas of NASSP’s Breaking Ranks II publication. These three areas are collaborative leadership; personalization; and curriculum, instruction and assessment. Maximum Award: $5000. Eligibility: Middle and high schools with 40 percent or more students eligible for free and reduced priced meals. Deadline: September 28, 2007.

Grants to Purchase Books for Underserved School Libraries
The NEA Foundation will make awards to public schools serving economically disadvantaged students to purchase books for school libraries. Maximum Award: $1000. Eligibility: Practicing pre-K-12 school librarians, teachers, or education support professionals in a U.S. public school in which at least 70 percent of the students are eligible for the free or reduced-price lunch program. Deadline: November 12, 2007.

Outstanding Elementary Teacher of Reading & Language Arts
The International Reading Association Regie Routman Teacher Recognition Award honors an outstanding elementary teacher of reading and language arts dedicated to improving teaching and learning through reflective writing about his or her teaching and learning process. Maximum Award: $1,000. Eligibility: Regular classroom elementary teachers of reading and language arts grades K-6; must be IRA members. Deadline: November 1, 2007.

On The Bookshelf

The author of the acclaimed “Why Gender Matters,” Dr. Leonard M.D. Sax, has published a new book titled “Boys Adrift: The Five Factors Driving the Growing Epidemic of Unmotivated Boys and Underachieving Young Men.” Here is a description of “Boys Adrift,” published by Basic Books of Pegasus Books Group:

“Something scary is happening to boys today. From kindergarten to college, they’re less resilient and less ambitious than they were a mere twenty years ago. In fact, a third of men ages 22–34 are still living at home with their parents - about a 100 percent increase in the past twenty years.

“Parents, teachers, and mental health professionals are worried about boys. But until now, no one has come up with good reasons for their decline - nor, more important, with workable solutions to reverse this troubling trend.

“In 'Boys Adrift', family physician and research psychologist Leonard Sax tackles the problem head on, drawing on the very latest research and his vast experience with boys and their families. He argues that a combination of social and biological factors is creating an environment that is literally toxic to boys. Misguided overemphasis on reading and math as early as kindergarten, too much time spent playing video games, over-reliance on medication for attention deficit disorders (much more common in boys than in girls), and overlooked endocrine disturbances are actually causing damage to boys’ brains.

“Dr. Sax offers a wide range of reassuring remedies - including innovative ways parents can wean their sons away from video games, practical steps they can take to improve their sons’ schooling, and surprisingly simple life changes they can make to protect boys from the environmental estrogens that undermine boys’ motivation.

“Filled with moving success stories that will inspire parents and teachers everywhere, 'Boys Adrift' points the way to a new future for today’s boys and young men.”


September 5 & 6
Town Hall Meetings on Houston ISD School Bond
Chávez and Madison High Schools

September 8
Reach Out to Dropouts
Aldine, Alief, Houston and Spring Branch ISDs

September 26
"Solutions to the Dropout Crisis" Conference
University of St. Thomas

September 29
Houston ISD Districtwide Math Summit
Scarborough High School

October 3
National Speaker Series: Michael Fullan
University of Houston Hilton Hotel

October 14-20
Give Kids Good Schools Week

October 20
Link Up Greater Houston
George R. Brown Convention Center

Statistic of the Month

According to a new study by the National School Boards Association and Grunwald Associates LLC, roughly 60 percent of students discuss education-related topics online through social networking web sites, like Myspace and Facebook. Topics include college plans, extracurricular learning and careers. In addition, 50 percent of the students who utilized online networks discuss school work.

Source: “Teens and Tweens Are Creating Content and Connection Online for Educational Benefits

Join the Houston A+ Challenge Team

Full Time

Executive Director of Houston A+ Challenge

Houston A+ Challenge

1415 Louisiana, Suite 3250
Houston, TX 77002

Board of Trustees

Joe B. Foster

Ann Friedman, Ph. D.

Leonel Castillo
Susan A. Bischoff
Bill Crouch
Jonathan Day
Michael Dee
Thomas L. Elsenbrook
Roberto Gonzalez
H. Devon Graham, Jr.
Jenard M. Gross
Steve L. Miller
Karol Musher, M.A., CCC-SLP
Maconda Brown O’Connor, Ph.D.
J. Victor Samuels
Harry Reasoner
Yava D. Scott
VJ Turner, Jr.
Andrea White
Rosie Zamora

Staff List
Michele Pola, Ed.D.
Executive Director

Suzanne Sutherland
Associate Director/
Director of Programs

Catherine Reed
Director, Finance

Melissa Milios
Director, Public Affairs

Program Coordinators
Brandi Allen
Tim Martindell
Angela Prince
Mike Webster
Alejandro Morúa

Terrie Roberts
Event Coordinator

Administrative Assistants
Imelda Cardoza
Benedicta Forson
Joan Zuniga

Tuan Amith