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January 2008
News From Houston A+ Challenge

New Executive Director Joins Houston A+ Challenge
Scott Van Beck, a 23-year veteran of Houston ISD, joined Houston A+ Challenge as its new Executive Director over the holiday season. Scott, who most recently served Houston ISD as West Region Superintendent, is also a former teacher, principal and longtime participant in Houston A+ Challenge initiatives.

Click here to read the full story about Scott's appointment, and read "In Focus" below to hear more from Scott about his vision for the future of school leadership in the Houston region.

Houston Endowment Invests $3 Million in New Principal Academy
Houston A+ Challenge's new leadership academy designed to attract and prepare aspiring principals to become outstanding school leaders has been awarded a $3 million grant from Houston Endowment.

While many issues affect student performance, a growing body of research demonstrates that students in schools with strong principals achieve better – and stay in school longer – than students with weak principals and/or frequent principal turnover. The Houston A+ Challenge Regional Principal Leadership Academy will focus on improving school leadership, with a high priority on serving secondary schools that are low-performing, low-income and have a high turnover rate.

"With this investment, Houston Endowment aims to help stimulate long-term improvements in the way that principals are selected, trained and supported in order to effectively lead public schools in the greater Houston area," said George Grainger, senior grant officer for Houston Endowment, which also supported the Academy during its planning phase. "We have confidence that, ultimately, this initiative will have a powerful impact in classrooms throughout the region."

The new academy is scheduled to begin training aspiring principals in the summer of 2008. Click here to read more.

New Grants Will Help Schools Spread Promising Practices
Ten local campuses and two school districts are the recipients of new awards from Houston A+ Challenge specifically designed to encourage the replication of best practices in the Houston region's schools. Click here for a complete list of awardees and a description of their plans.

As a key component of the award, grantees will share their successful strategies at this summer's Reforming Schools Summer Institute, scheduled for July 22-23 in Houston. This initiative is made possible through the continued support of the Annenberg Foundation.

Replication Grants provide Houston A+ Challenge partner schools and districts with resources to share what they have learned to benefit more students, and Innovation Grants will help schools springboard what they have learned into a new, sustainable project.

Feb. 14: David Conley on 'College Readiness for All Students'
How can schools and communities help more students successfully navigate the high school-college transition? Learn more when Houston A+ Challenge's National Speaker Series welcomes University of Oregon Educational Leadership Professor David Conley on Feb. 14 at 5 p.m. at the University of Houston Hilton.

Conley is director of the university's Center for Educational Policy Research. He has developed adequacy-funding models for Oregon, Hawaii and Washington, and his publications include: Toward a More Comprehensive Conception of College Readiness, commissioned by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Understanding University Success, College Knowledge and Who Governs Our Schools?

Click here to RSVP for this free, public event.

School News

Reshaping Education with Future Schools
In a recent interview with Edutopia.org, renowned futurist and "Future Shock" author Alvin Toffler offers this provocative view of the school he'd create: "It's open 24 hours a day. Different kids arrive at different times. ... I would have non-teachers working with teachers in that school," and there would be "business offices in the school, from various businesses in the community." Toffler, a septegenarian, argues that flexible hours of operation, personalized educational experiences for students, an expansion in the number of charter schools, and collaboration between schools and businesses are key to creating a 21st century system "from the ground up."

Click here to read the full interview.

Houston ISD Approves Flexible School Day Program
More high school students across Houston ISD will have the option to take classes at night and on weekends, thanks to a new plan designed to accommodate work schedules and curb the dropout rate.

The new flexible school day plan was approved by the Houston ISD board of trustees in December. The Texas Legislature passed the Optional Flexible School Day Program in 2006 as an amendment to House Bill 1. The new state rule now ensures that schools with flexible hours are eligible to receive state funding and expand programs to accommodate students with non-traditional hours.

Texas Education Agency Rejects Third Grade Math Textbook
On a vote of 7-6, the Texas Board of Education recently rejected the use of state funds for the third grade math textbook, "Everyday Mathematics." 75 Texas school districts currently use the textbook, including Dallas and El Paso, as does New York City.

The decision comes despite the book's popularity nationwide and studies showing its effectiveness, including a rare favorable review from the What Works Clearinghouse, a federal office that judges education programs based on a rigorous evaluation. Texas officials said that the textbook relies too heavily on the use of calculators and lacks an emphasis on memorization of multiplication tables.

Officials from publishers Wright Group/McGraw Hill and the University of Chicago say the lessons in "Everyday Mathematics" prepare students to develop a deeper understanding of multiplication, rather than simply memorize answers.

Click here to read the full article from Education Week.

In Focus With … Scott Van Beck

Houston A+ Challenge's new executive director really has been with the organization from the start. In 1999, when Scott was principal of Revere Middle School, the campus was awarded an original Annenberg Lamplighter Grant recognizing promising practices.  From 2000 to 2004, he served as a coach and mentor for area principals through Houston A+ Challenge's New Visions in Leadership Academy, a voluntary, two-year professional development program for current principals.

Scott Van BeckAfter 23 years at Houston ISD, what appealed to you about becoming executive director of Houston A+ Challenge?

Truly, it was the opportunity to have a hand in developing the new Regional Principal Leadership Academy. What I learned as principal of Revere and then Westside High School is that the principal is ultimately the person responsible for making sure that equity occurs on campus. He or she is responsible for the school's vision, and in a large part for the motivation of teachers and students. Because of this, excellent training of principals is extremely important. Hands-on preparation is critical, and I believe that public school districts are eager for the extra support and resources that an organization like Houston A+ Challenge can bring.

How has the role of the principal changed over the years?

Running a school of 3,000 students as a single decision-maker just doesn't work anymore. The trick in the new century is to figure out how to flatten and distribute leadership throughout the organization. Teachers, students and parents all need to feel empowered. In fact, my years with Houston A+ helped me realize the importance of partnerships and collaboration in improving children's education.

What types of principal candidates will Houston A+ be looking for in the new academy?

We're looking for individuals who have a track record of success in the classroom, and who have a passion for social justice. They'll need to have an entrepreneurial spirit, but also a good grasp of how to get things accomplished within the current systems. And we're looking for natural leaders with great people skills -- effective communicators, who are motivated by the development of others.

The selection process will be highly competitive -- we only have 30 spots for this first class, which is scheduled to start this summer. I'm excited to meet our candidates. I think they're going to make a great impact for children in the Houston region.

On The Bookshelf

With Joyful Learning, co-authors and educational researchers Dr. Alice Udvari-Solner and Paula Kluth have written a classroom resource to address the diverse learning needs of students with diverse learning abilities. Udvari-Solner is a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Kluth previously authored "You're Going to Love This Kid: Educating Students with Autism in Inclusive Classrooms," and served as lead editor for "Access to Academics: Critical Approaches to Inclusive Curriculum, Instruction, and Policy." The following is a description from Joyful Learning publisher Corwin Press:

"This accessible resource for K–12 inclusive classrooms helps teachers create an environment for active and collaborative learning that encourages and supports all students, including those who may have marked differences in ability, need, language, culture and/or learning profile. Promoting the concept that learners with differing abilities can learn side-by-side, this book illustrates how to use a practical, differentiated approach to help develop every student's abilities.

"Joyful Learning presents a range of strategies that can be used at both the elementary and secondary levels to engage students in discussion, debate, creative thinking, questioning and teamwork. Providing classroom-tested examples, specific guidelines, and reproducibles, the book provides tools for teachers to:

  • Promote relationship building and interdependence
  • Help students teach one another as they make discoveries about course content
  • Support learners in preparing for assessments
  • Engage in whole-class learning while assisting students who need personalized instruction
  • Assess learner understanding and celebrate growth

"This versatile book can also be used as a co-planning tool by general and special education professionals working with occupational therapists, speech clinicians, and physical therapists to effectively support all students, including English Language Learners and learners with disabilities."


College Access Funds for Houston-Area Sophomores and Juniors
The Linda Lorelle Scholarship Fund, a local nonprofit, is now accepting applications for its 2007-08 scholarships to enable Houston-area high school sophomores & juniors to access and complete a college education. Maximum Award: $12,000. Eligibility: Sophomores and juniors with a 2.0 GPA or higher in eligible public, private or charter schools within Harris and Fort Bend counties. Deadline: Feb. 22, 2008.

ExploraVision Awards Program
The Toshiba/National Science Teachers Association ExploraVision Awards Program encourages kids to create and explore a vision of future technology by combining their imaginations with the tools of science. Maximum Award: $10,000. Eligibility: Students K-12. Deadline: January 29, 2008.

Free Books for Read Across America Day
The Literacy Empowerment Foundation invites schools or other literacy projects to apply for free books for Read Across America Day, March 3, 2008. Resources are allocated on a first-come, first-served basis. Maximum Award: Varies. Eligibility: schools and literacy projects. Deadline: February 10, 2008.

The Christopher Columbus Awards Program
The Christopher Columbus Awards Program combines science and technology with community problem-solving. Students work in teams with the help of an adult coach to identify an issue they care about and, using science and technology, work with experts, conduct research and put their ideas to the test to develop an innovative solution. Maximum Award: $25,000, an all-expense-paid trip to Walt Disney World to attend the program's National Championship Week and a $2,000 U.S. Savings Bond for each student team member. Eligibility: Middle-school-age (sixth, seventh, and eighth grade) children; teams do not need to be affiliated with a school to enter. Deadline: March 17, 2008.

The Coming Up Taller Awards
The Coming Up Taller Awards recognize and reward outstanding after-school and out-of-school arts and humanities programs for underserved children and youth. Maximum Award: $10,000. Eligibility: Programs initiated by museums, libraries, performing arts organizations, universities, colleges, arts centers, community service organizations, schools, businesses and eligible government entities. Deadline: January 31, 2008.

2008 Horace Mann - Abraham Lincoln Fellowship
Horace Mann and the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum (ALPLM) have teamed up to offer 50 teachers a Fellowship to study the life and legacy of our 16th president. The Fellowship is open to any full-time teacher of Kindergarten through 12th grade of any discipline in the U.S. The Fellowship features a five-day Institute in June and July 2008 at the ALPLM in Springfield, Illinois and it includes round-trip transportation, lodging and most meals. Winning Fellows will attend the Institute during the following dates: June 22-28, 2008 (25 Fellows) and July 6-12, 2008 (25 Fellows). Click here to submit an online application. For more information contact Paul Wappel at 217.788.5373. Maximum Award: Fellowship for 50 awardees. Eligibility: Entrant must be a full-time teacher (30+ hours a week) teaching Kindergarten through 12th grade at a public or private school in the United States. Deadline: February 15, 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. 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.

Prize to Reward Civic Contributions
The Civic Ventures Purpose Prize awards Americans over 60 whose creativity, talent and experience transforms the way the nation addresses critical social problems. Maximum Award: $100,000. Eligibility: Americans who are 60 years of age by January 31, 2008, and currently working in a leadership capacity in an organization or institution (public, private, nonprofit, or for-profit) to address a major social problem. Deadline: March 1, 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.

ING Unsung Heroes Awards Program
The ING Unsung Heroes Program has helped more than a thousand K-12 educators and their schools fund innovative classroom projects through awards totaling more than $2.8 million. Do you or does someone you know have a creative, unique educational program that is helping students reach new heights? Or is there a program you'd like to implement, if only you had the proper funding? Eligibility: All K-12 education professionals, whether or not they are clients of ING. Maximum Award: $2,000 to $25,000. Deadline: April 30, 2008.

Digital Wish Grant
Tool Factory and Olympus launched Digital Wish to help educators locate much-needed funding for technology. Regardless of whether you win one of these grants, your technology wish list will be posted publicly so that donors can make a contribution to your classroom. It's basically a wedding registry for technology products! There's a searchable library of grants, and a myriad of ideas for fundraising. The entire site is designed to help teachers find funding for technology for the classroom. Eligibility: America's K-12 schools. Maximum Award: $380 to $10,350. Deadline: June 28, 2008.

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Teacher Externship Applications Now Available

Jan. 25
The College Process for Texas Immigrant Students (presented by Communities in Schools)
9 a.m. to Noon
St. Luke's United Methodist Church
3471 Westheimer Road

Jan. 27-28
Texas Assn. of Partners in Education (TAPE) Annual Conference
Austin, TX
Register Online

Feb. 14
National Speaker Series: David Conley on "College Readiness For All Students"
Univ. of Houston Hilton

Statistic of the Month

According to a survey by the Davidson Institute for Talent Development, 20 percent of high school dropouts are classified as gifted.

Source: Delaware Online

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
Scott Van Beck
Executive Director

Suzanne Sutherland
Associate Director/
Director of Programs

Catherine Reed
Director, Finance

Melissa Milios
Director, Public Affairs

Program Coordinators
Tim Martindell
Angela Prince
Mike Webster
Alejandro Morúa

Terrie Roberts
Event Coordinator

Betsy Broyles Breier
Special Projects Coordinator

Administrative Assistants
Imelda Cardoza
Benedicta Forson

Tuan Amith
Webmaster/Public Affairs Assistant