November 2007
News From Houston A+ Challenge

Give Kids Quality Houston Public Schools
As you head to the polls on November 6, consider the call to action of the national campaign to Give Kids Good Schools: Learn, Vote and Act for quality public education.

Houston, Cypress Fairbanks, Spring Branch and Fort Bend ISDs all have major school construction bonds on the ballot. Visit the district websites to learn more about the issues, find your polling place on the HarrisVotes! website, or read about other ways to Give Kids Good Schools.

What does a high-quality public school look like? Houston A+ Challenge co-sponsored community visits to local campuses in October, to showcase the hallmarks of good schools. Click to see photos and read stories from these schools:

And don't forget to vote on November 6!

Kashmere High Unveils Beacon Sculpture
A new beacon is lighting the way for students at Kashmere High School -- and it's a light that the whole community helped to create.

Kashmere students, alumni, parents, teachers and staff, in collaboration with the Museum of Cultural Arts, Houston (MOCAH), created the Kashmere Beacon Sculpture as part of the Community Arts Initiative to celebrate the 50-year legacy of Kashmere High School. The 25-foot structure was unveiled Oct. 23, and is adorned with the handprints of the many individuals who joined in the project.

Houston A+ Challenge supports Kashmere High School through a school improvement grant aimed at strengthening the entire school community through student personalization. Click for more photos and the full story.

Calling all Critial Friends - It's Time to Come Home
More than 900 Critical Friends Group (CFG) coaches have been trained through Houston A+ Challenge since 1998. Whether you are actively engaged in one of these professional learning communities on your campus, or you seek to reconnect with colleagues to find encouragement, Houston A+ Challenge cordially invites you join us for CFG Homecoming -- a free, special event that takes place on Saturday, Nov. 10 at the University of Houston Hilton. Click here to register or find out more.

A New Professional Opportunity from Houston A+
Classroom teachers, counselors and educators from all districts -- have you ever considered becoming a National Board Certified Teacher, but don't know where to start?

On Nov. 17, Houston A+ will host an information session to introduce Take One!, a new, unique opportunity to enhance your classroom practice and professional knowledge through a six-month introductory seminar from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

The rigorous training is free for up to 30 qualified applicants; click here to register or find out more.

School News

Encouraging Data on Early Colleges
Research presented in Washington, D.C., last month suggests that the early college approach to high school education may be achieving substantial gains for students who participate.

Of the 130 early college high schools around the country, only 17 (including Challenge Early College, which Houston ISD and Houston A+ pioneered in Texas) are old enough to have had high school graduations. But enough high schools now have several years of data to show that the students start to show educational gains in their first year in the program, that the students can pass college-level courses, and that participation shifts students to more rigorous curricula.

Read more on or buy the full report, Minding the Gap: Why Integrating High School with College Makes Sense and How to Do It, from Harvard Education Press.

Texas Math and Science Initiatives Go National
The nonprofit National Math and Science Initiative plans to award $125 million in grants to states to set up programs modeled on two Texas ventures — one centered at the high school level, the other on a college campus, Education Week reports.

The initiative, which is funded by the ExxonMobil Foundation, will help spawn efforts modeled on U Teach, a program to train mathematics and science teachers at the University of Texas at Austin, and on Advanced Placement Strategies Inc., a program to increase student participation in college-preparatory courses through cash incentives and teacher training.

Gerald McElvy, President of the ExxonMobil Foundation, said the $125 million gift reflects a long-standing attempt to improve K-12 math and science, which it has supported through teacher-training academies and other efforts, including Houston A+ Challenge's Math Initiatives.

Multicultural Expert to Speak At University of St. Thomas
On December 5, the Dual Language Institute of the University of St. Thomas will host an evening with Sonia Nieto, acclaimed author of “Affirming Diversity: The Sociopolitical Context of Multicultural Education,” a staple in educator preparation.  The event will be held at Jones Hall from 7 to 9 p.m. For more information or to confirm a seating at the event, please contact Dr. Mary Starz at

In Focus With … Harriet Wasserstrum

The American Leadership Forum (ALF) is a 26-year-old nonprofit that joins diverse leaders for an intense, yearlong program that fosters learning, trust and collaboration to better serve the public good. For the first time this year, the Houston/Gulf Coast Chapter of ALF is sponsoring a Public Education Sector Program to join and strengthen leaders in the Houston education community

Harriet WasserstrumHarriet Wasserstrum is President of the Houston/Gulf Coast Chapter of the American Leadership Forum.

How was this inaugural Education Class of the American Leadership Forum selected?

We were really trying to create a diverse group that is representative of all facets of public education, and that includes all levels of leaders, on the theory that by putting them together they will find new ways to collaborate.

For example this cohort includes a teacher from Houston ISD (Andy Dewey), principals from Humble ISD (Cathy Airola) and North Forest ISD (Jerrell Purvis), several directors of local nonprofits (including Houston A+ Challenge’s Suzanne Sutherland) and a Vice President from Washington Mutual (Joni Baird). (Editors note: Click here to see a complete list of fellows.)

How does the program work?

The program started in August and consists of 20 Fellows. They will meet for a total of 16 days over the 12-month period – most times it’s for one day a month, but they also spend five days and four nights together on a Wilderness Challenge.

Sounds exciting – what’s the connection to education and leadership?

The Wilderness Challenge is a profound bonding experience and often becomes the anchor for building a group of individuals into a team.  Participants experience group and individual challenges, and must learn to move outside a “comfort zone” where they become open to learning new ways of being and acting together.

How is this class of Fellows developing so far?

The project is still in its infancy, but already we are seeing that each Fellow brings such a diverse view to the overall picture of public education in Houston. I’m hearing lots of sidebar conversations and cross-pollination going on. That’s exactly what we’re hoping for, and we expect it to deepen and grow.

On The Bookshelf

This year, the moving story of former teacher Erin Gruwell and her students has been featured on television shows from Oprah to Good Morning America, and in a movie based on their experiences titled “Freedom Writers” with Hilary Swank.  Gruwell recently penned “Freedom Writers Diary Teacher’s Guide,” a book detailing on how to empower and engage students in the classroom by Random House, Inc. The following is the publisher’s description:

Designed for educators by the teacher who nurtured and created the Freedom Writers, this standards-based teachers’ guide includes innovative teaching techniques that will engage, empower and enlighten.

In response to thousands of letters and e-mails from teachers across the country who learned about Erin Gruwell and her amazing students inThe Freedom Writers Diary: How a Teacher and 150 Teens Used Writing to Change Themselves and the World Around Them,” Gruwell and a team of teacher experts have written "The Freedom Writers Diary Teacher's Guide," a book that will encourage teachers and students to expand the walls of their classrooms and think outside the box.

Here Gruwell goes in-depth and shares her unconventional but highly successful educational strategies and techniques (all 150 of her students who had been deemed “un-teachable” graduated from Wilson High School): from her very successful “toast for change” (an exercise in which Gruwell exhorted her students to leave the past behind and start fresh) to writing exercises that focus on the importance of journal writing, vocabulary and more.

In an easy-to-use format with black-and-white illustrations, this teachers’ guide will become the essential go-to manual for teachers who want to make a difference in their pupils’ lives and create students who will make a difference.


NASA Invites Students to Help Grow Seeds in Space
The 2007-08 NASA Engineering Design Challenge: Lunar Plant Growth Chamber invites K-12 students to design, analyze, build and assess plant growth chambers that could be used on the moon. Registrants will receive a packet of cinnamon basil seeds that flew on the STS-118 space shuttle mission, and a control packet of seeds that have not flown. The two sets of seeds will be used to evaluate the student-designed plant growth chamber. To register or to learn more about this free program, click here.

Career-Tech Education Public Service Announcement Contest
The Association for Career and Technical Education announces its first CTE Month Public Service Announcement (PSA) Contest, inviting submissions of PSAs designed to celebrate and promote CTE Month during February 2008. Maximum Award: $750; Apple's Final Cut Studio 2. Eligibility: Secondary and postsecondary students in CTE-related film, video and production classes. Deadline: November 15, 2007.

New Grants for Student Wellness Programs
The U.S. Potato Board has supported nutrition education in schools for decades. In its newest educational initiative, the board has teamed up with the Child Nutrition Foundation of the School Nutrition Association to launch its first-ever School Wellness Grant Program. Ten (10) grants of $2,500 each will be awarded to public elementary schools in the United States for equipment and/or educational programs that will help move children toward healthier diets and improve their overall wellness. Eligibility: School administrators, food service staff, teachers and parents are invited to submit an application for the USPB's School Wellness Grant Program on behalf of their elementary school. Maximum Award: $2,500 Deadline: February 1, 2008.

Toshiba Grants for 7-12 Science & Math Education
The Toshiba America Foundation funds projects with potential for improving classroom teaching and learning in science and mathematics. The Foundation strongly encourages projects planned and led by individual teachers or teams of teachers for their own classrooms. Many successful grantees have designed projects that have tapped into the natural curiosity of their students, have enabled students to frame their own scientific questions, and have incorporated the expertise of community partners. Eligibility: Currently, proposals for projects serving grades 7-12 are welcome from U.S. public and private (nonprofit) schools. The Foundation has also made a special commitment to support projects in regions where Toshiba America Group companies have offices. Maximum Award: $5,000. Deadline: February 1, 2008.

Knowledge Adventure Schools in Need Competition
The Knowledge Adventure Schools in Need Competition is open to schools that need to raise reading scores by at least 30 percent among a population of students between grades kindergarten to eight. Schools must also show a need to have supplemental reading materials that address specific reading deficiencies and to use the technological investments the school has made for reading instruction. Winning schools will receive the new Knowledge Adventure Academy® line of products for early literacy, reading comprehension and vocabulary, along with training and support. Schools may enter by completing an online form that allows them to explain why their school is in need of reading assistance. Eligibility: Educators and administrators at public, private and parochial schools within the United States. Maximum Award: $12,000. Deadline: December 15, 2007.

Mini-Grants to Promote Aerospace Education
The Air Force Association Educator Grant program is designed to promote the development of innovative aerospace activities within the prescribed K-12 curriculum. The program also encourages establishing an active relationship between the school and the local Air Force Association organization. Grant applications must be completed and submitted online. Eligibility: Acceptable activities may include but are not limited to: classroom science or technology, demonstration kits, classroom science supplies, science and technology software for K-12 use, science manipulatives, supplies for making flying objects and supplies for robotic programs. Maximum Award: $250. Deadline: November 15, 2007.

2008 National Schools of Character Awards
Every year, the Character Education Partnership (CEP) recongizes 10 schools nationwide for their outstanding work in character education. Winning schools and districts receive a $20,000 award, half of which is used for outreach to other schools and districts. Winners may differ in their methods and implementation, but all have comprehensive, exemplary character education programs that exemplify CEP’s Eleven Principles of Effective Character Education and serve as models for others. The criteria used to judge National Schools of Character award winners is CEP’s Character Education Quality Standards. As part of the application process, applicants score themselves using this document. Eligibility: Schools that have been engaged in character education for a minimum of three full years, starting no later than December 2004 for the 2008 awards. Districts need to have been engaged in character education for a minimum of four full years, starting no later than December 2003. Schools must have a minimum of 175 students to apply. Smaller administrative units that maintain a separate identity within a large district may apply in the district category, e.g., a school pyramid or cluster. Previous National Schools of Character are ineligible to apply. Maximum Award: $20,000. Deadline: December 3, 2007.

"Books Across America" Library Books Awards
The National Education Association (NEA) Foundation will make $1,000 awards to public schools serving economically disadvantaged students to purchase books for school libraries. The NEA Foundation makes these awards in collaboration with the National Education Association. The 2008 NEA's "Books Across America" Library Books Awards are made possible with support from individuals who donated to NEA's "Books Across America" fund to bring the gift of reading to students. Eligibility: Practicing preK-12 school librarians, teachers, or education support professionals in a U.S. public school. At least 70 percent of the students in the applicant's school must be eligible for the free or reduced-price lunch program. Maximum Award: $1,000. Deadline: November 12, 2007.

Inspired Teacher Scholarships
Inspiration Software is offering scholarships for teachers who have shown creative use of visual learning and technology in their classrooms. For more information and to apply, click here. Eligibility: K-12, college and university educators who have direct contact with students and a minimum of one year of service. Maximum Award: $1,000. Deadline: January 25, 2008.

ThinkQuest International Competition
The Oracle Education Foundation is once again sponsoring its annual ThinkQuest International competition. The 2008 competition invites student teams and their teacher coaches to create innovative, educational websites on a variety of topics. Eligibility: Students ages 9-19 and their teacher coaches. Maximum Award: Laptops worth up to $1,500 retail; $1,000 cash awards for top teams' schools; expenses-paid trip to ThinkQuest Live in San Francisco for top three teams; winning teams' websites featured on ThinkQuest website. Deadline: April 2, 2008.

Toyota Family Literacy Teacher of the Year Award
The National Center for Family Literacy and Toyota Family Literacy Teacher of the Year Award is given to educators who demonstrate exemplary efforts to help parents and children achieve their academic and non-academic goals. Eligibility: nominated teacher must have worked in a comprehensive family literacy program for three years that includes children’s education, adult education, parenting education (Parent Time), and interactive literacy activities between parents and children (Parent and Child Together Time). Maximum Award: $5,000. Deadline: December 5, 2007.


Nov. 6
Election Day: Click to find your polling place

Nov. 10
Critical Friends Group Coach Homecoming
University of Houston Hilton Hotel

Nov. 17
Take One! Info Session
University of Houston Hilton Hotel

Dec. 5
Sonia Nieto
University of St. Thomas, Jones Hall

Statistic of the Month

Student enrollment growth at Texas' community colleges grew twice as fast as at the state's public universities this fall. By 2015, as much as 70 percent of Texas' higher education enrollment is projected to be at community colleges.

Source: Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board

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

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

Betsy Broyles Breier
Special Projects Coordinator

Administrative Assistants
Imelda Cardoza
Benedicta Forson
Joan Zuniga

Tuan Amith
Webmaster/Public Affairs Assistant