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April 2008
News from Houston A+ Challenge

Leadership Teams Invited to Apply for A+ Summer Institute

Leading for Learning: Houston A+ Challenge Summer Institute XII


July 30-31, 2008
University of Houston
Hilton Hotel

Keynote Speaker:
Douglas Reeves

author of "The Learning Leader"
and founder of the Leadership and Learning Center

This year's twelfth annual Houston A+ Challenge Summer Institute, "Leading for Learning," focuses on leadership teams as the key to deepening and sustaining school improvement over the long haul.

Our 2008 Summer Institute takes a new format from previous years:

  • This Institute will be open only to organizational leadership teams — no individual registrations will be accepted. (learn more)

  • This Institute will be the kick-off for an on-going, multi-year process — teams will be asked for a long-term commitment to learning. (learn more)

Registration is now online; only 300 spots are available, so plan ahead, form your teams and apply early!

Preparing Kids for a Future We Can't Describe? Get Started Now!
Even if you weren't one of the 250 participants who attended American Leadership Forum/Houston A+ Challenge's Convocation on Education on March 28, you can still partake in the learning.

Sessions from the event were webcast live and archived on Ustream; watch education futurist David Warlick's keynote address, or listen in on the panel discussion among five Houston-area superintendents. You can also read transcripts of online chats that took place among up to 55 remote observers from all over the U.S.

Thanks to Waltrip High School Literacy Coach Stephanie Sandifer for her webcasting expertise, and for posting this event recap on her blog, Change Agency. Stephanie shares these tips for educators who want to bring the 21st Century into their classrooms:

  • Locate the "early adopters" in your district/schools and bring them in to a conversation around change — recruit them to help spread change virally.

  • Start reading blogs — two good places to start include the LeaderTalk blog and this wiki page with links to tons of education bloggers.
  • Decide on one or two 'changes in your own practice' that you can implement tomorrow as a way to model change from your leadership position. Start your own blog or put your technology plan/school improvement plan on a wiki and invite staff members to contribute to developing the document. (Don’t know how to do either of those two things but interested? Contact Stephanie and she'll be happy to help you get started.)

Institute Inspires District Teams to 'Prepare to Dream'
Preparing to DreamWhat can adults and schools do to spark students' desire, ability and commitment to attend and succeed in college?

According to student panelists at the 2008 Preparing to Dream Spring Institute, it all starts with a dream:

"I'm the only one of my friends who went on to college -- I guess they just didn't believe in themselves," said Ranferi Luviano, a Wheatley HS graduate who is now a business major at the University of Houston. "They hear the statistics -- 'Only two of you in this class will go to college' -- and they believe it."

The Institute convened teams of teachers, administrators, students and parents from Aldine, Cypress-Fairbanks, Goose Creek, Houston and Spring Branch an opportunity to hear national speakers and attend sessions spotlighting best practices.

Read a conference recap, with photos and links to presentations.

Houston A+ Challenge Bids Farewell to a Dedicated Leader
Suzanne Sutherland, who has worked with Houston A+ Challenge for the past three years as Program Director, Associate Director and Interim Executive Director, retired April 4.

Suzanne's hard work has advanced Houston A+ Challenge's mission and vision and she has been a dedicated staff member. In fact, this is Suzanne's second retirement -- she came to work for Houston A+ Challenge after completing 18 years as an educator in Houston ISD.

"Though we will certainly miss Suzanne’s leadership at Houston A+, we wish Suzanne our best and hope to utilize her skills and support in the future," said Executive Director Scott Van Beck.

Read the full story.

School News

HAIS Students Attend Model United Nations Simulation in NYC
Twelve tenth-grade students and three ninth-grade students from Houston Academy for International Studies (HAIS) joined schools from around the globe to participate in the National High School Model United Nations simulation in New York, March 12–16.

HAIS students represented the Islamic Republic of Iran and studied topics as diverse as the Kyoto Protocol, the AIDS crisis in Africa, and the financing of paramilitary groups in preparation for the trip. In New York, students researched, debated, and negotiated their way to solutions on real global issues.

HAIS is a Houston ISD charter school that opened in August 2006 as a partnership with HCC, Houston A+ Challenge and Asia Society.

100 Campus Leaders to Receive Harvard Program Scholarships
This summer, Raise Your Hand Texas -- a grassroots, bipartisan group of business and community leaders, parents and taxpayers -- will send 100 campus leaders from Texas to The Principals' Center at Harvard for one of the university's four Summer Institutes.

Selected campus leaders will work together with colleagues and education experts from around the world. Individuals interested in participating are encouraged to complete an online application form; the deadline to apply is April 18, 2008.

Michael Fullan Reveals the 'Secrets of Change'
"Turnaround Leadership" author and keynote speaker at the 2007 Houston A+ Challenge Summer Institute, Michael Fullan, has penned a new book: "The Six Secrets of Change: What the Best Leaders Do to Help Their Organizations Survive and Thrive." Scheduled for release in April, "The Six Secrets of Change" reveals challenging lessons from a wide range of examples from pubic to business industry sectors.

A sample chapter can be downloaded here.

Foundations for Success: Findings from the National Math Panel
The U.S. Department of Education's National Mathematics Advisory Panel released its final report in March. Key findings and recommendations include:

  • Core Principals of Math Instruction - Pre-K through 8th grade math should be streamlined, should build on a strong foundation of basic Algebra concepts and should avoid revisiting topics year after year without bringing them to closure.
  • Student Effort Is Important - It's important to debunk the perception that mathematical proficiency comes from inherent talent, and to instead emphasize that effort is critical; students should be encouraged to excel beyond their age or level.
  • Importance of Knowledgeable Teachers - Teacher specialization is a key factor in improving the quality of mathematics education for both the school and students.
  • Effective Instruction Matters - Formal usage of assessments and streamlined learning materials contribute to effective teaching of mathematics.
  • Effective Assessment - National and state mathematics exams should be improved and should emphasize algebraic concepts.
  • Importance of Research - More rigorous research on mathematics education is needed, to inform policy debates.

For more on the study, visit www.ed.gov/mathpanel.

Incentive Pay in Texas is Promising, Report Finds
An evaluation of the Texas Educator Excellence Grant (TEEG), a performance incentive program from the Governor's Educator Excellence Award Program, indicated that teacher collaboration and instructional quality were not hampered by performance incentives.

Click here to view the report; click here for the supplementary survey.

Study: Arts Education May Improve Thinking Skills
A new report based on three years of studies by neuroscientists and psychologists at seven universities provides new insight into how training in the arts might contribute to improving the general thinking skills of children and adults.

"I think the work done here suggests a much closer connection between the cognitive processes that give rise to the arts and the cognitive processes that give rise to the sciences," Elizabeth S. Spelke, one of the researchers, told Education Week.

Read the full report, or see In Focus below for a Houston teacher's view on the importance of arts education.

In Focus With … Pablo Ocanas

Pablo OcanasIn 2003, music teacher Pablo Ocanas and a committee from Pine Shadows Elementary created a campus-wide arts integration plan, which received funding through a Houston A+ Challenge Fine Arts Grant. After five years of implementation, Mr. Ocanas shares his insights on how teachers and students have benefited over the years -- and how they plan to keep fine arts integration as a core value at Pine Shadows.

What does it mean to integrate the fine arts into teaching?
To integrate the arts, you first have to start with a curricular lesson that is tight and solid. But you also have to bring in a solid artistic piece. For example, if you have a visual arts component, you're not just talking about art -- students are analyzing and contrasting and comparing works of art. It's more than just visiting the museum and seeing it.

If you are talking about music, it's not just playing a recording while teaching science or math -- it could be using musical instruments to teach the science of rhythm, acoustics and sound waves. Independently these are a very solid music lesson and a great science lesson, but they are even better when taught together.

How does that work at Pine Shadows?
Our Arts Integration Model (AIM) has succeeded because our professional development has involved our entire instructional staff. We started out slowly, and built momentum. We started getting teachers interested by going to places like the Museum of Fine Arts-Houston and taking classes in the visual arts, to show how they can tie into a science lesson, a history lesson, or language arts.

We also work with teachers by grade level to plan lessons that use the fine arts to help motivate students. And we also have an artist-in-residence program, where each classroom teacher has an artist working with him or her in a discipline they selected.

We want to have a curricular basis for the artist coming in. There is a solid basis [for art] in math, reading, and literature. They work together [with the teachers] and there is planning session. So the students are learning from the artist-in-residence, and the classroom teacher is learning from the artist -- and that is a form of professional development. We also have conducted mid-point and final staff surveys to adjust along the way and then evaluate how it went.

How could other schools and teachers utilize this model?
I know this model can work in our district and in other districts. We wanted to make sure that this was replicable; that our successes were documented; that processes were streamlined as needed and were user-friendly. We have a lot of data that shows what was done -- and how it was done -- to success.

Editors note: On March 10-11, Pine Shadows hosted about 50 educators from Spring Branch ISD and beyond to demonstrate and share their Arts Integration Model, through classroom observations, student work samples and discussion. Click here to see photos from this event.

On The Bookshelf

Through a joint publication with the National Association of Elementary School Principals, Crowin Press has released a new book titled, "From Good Schools to Great Schools: What Their Principals Do Well." Written by Dr. Susan Penny Gray and Dr. William A. Streshly, "Good Schools" follows the model of national "Good to Great" bestsellers by detailing the issues that principals face when seeking to improve their schools, and by identifying the criteria of high-achieving school leaders. The following is a publisher's description of "Good Schools":

"Make the leap from ordinary to stellar school leadership!

"What can I do to make a difference and lift my school to excellence?' 'From Good Schools to Great Schools' answers this question for principals and considers other critical issues in a detailed examination of school leadership.

"Based on the concepts from the national bestseller 'Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don't', this guidebook identifies nine characteristics of high-performing 'Level 5' school leaders through:

  • In-depth discussions and detailed case studies of six 'star' school principals
  • A comparison of principals and corporate leaders, including qualities exclusive to school leadership
  • Reflection questions for more effective application of leadership principles
  • Templates, implementation tips, and additional resources

"Correlated with ISLLC standards, this comprehensive resource is a valuable resource for aspiring and practicing school administrators, site leaders, and supervisors."


Target Local Store Grants for the Arts and More
Target Local Store Grants are available for programs in three areas:

  • Arts: Target funds programs that make arts and cultural experiences accessible to children and families -- such as cultural festivals, free outdoor concerts and artist residencies in schools.
  • Early Childhood Reading: Target funds programs that foster a love of reading and encourage young children, ages birth through nine, to read together with their families. Reading grants support programs such as library storytimes and family reading nights.
  • Family Violence Prevention: Target funds programs that strengthen families and communities and keep them safe -- such as family counseling and parenting classes that help prevent family violence -- or provides assistance for support groups and abuse shelters.

Click here for more information, e-mail questions to Community.Relations@target.com or call Target Community Relations at 800-388-6740. Maximum Award: $1,000-$3,000. Eligibility: Organizations located in communities where we do business 501(c)(3) organizations, schools, libraries, or public agencies nonprofit programs that impact the arts, early childhood reading or family violence prevention. Deadline: May 31, 2008.

NEA Student Achievement Grants
Promote classroom innovation and engage students in critical thinking, inquiry, and self-direct learning that deepens knowledge of standards-based subject matter. Click here to download the brochure. Maximum Award: $2,000 and $5,000. Eligibility: Applicants must be practicing U.S. public school: • PreK-12 teachers • Education support professionals • Higher education faculty and staff; All public school educators are encouraged to apply. Deadline: June 1, 2008.

Heartspring Award for Innovation and Creativity in Special Ed
The Heartspring Outstanding Educator Award is taking applications from outstanding, innovative educators in the special education field. The award winner will be honored at the Heartspring Outstanding Educator Session and expense paid to attend informative sessions in July 2008. The application is simple and downloadable from the website. For more information, visit www.heartspring.org/award. Maximum Award: $1,000. Eligibility: Innovative educators in special education. Deadline: April 25, 2008.

Mathematics Education Trust Grants and Awards
Established by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, the Mathematics Education Trust (MET) offers opportunities to expand your professional horizons! MET supports the improvement of mathematics teaching and learning at the classroom level through the funding of grants, awards, honors, and other projects by channeling the generosity of contributors into classroom-based efforts that benefit all students. MET provides funds to support classroom teachers in the areas of improving classroom practices and increasing teachers' mathematical knowledge. MET also sponsors activities for prospective teachers and NCTM's Affiliates, as well as recognizing the lifetime achievement of leaders in mathematics education. Other awards are available through a competitive process based on proposals submitted by individual applicants. See website for more details. Maximum Award: Up to $10,000. Eligibility: varies according to individual grant. See website for more details. Deadline: May 9, 2008.

High Tech Camp for Girls
Microsoft DigiGirlz High Tech Camp for girls works to dispel stereotypes of the high-tech industry and gives young people a chance to experience firsthand what it is like to develop cutting-edge technology. During the camp, girls are exposed to executive speakers, technology tours and demonstrations, networking and hands-on learning workshops. Maximum Award: Camp attendance. Eligibility: Girls grades 7-12; must be 13 at the time of attendance. Deadline: Varies; see website.

Presidential Awards for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching
The Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching are among the nation's highest honors for teachers of mathematics and science and recognize highly qualified teachers for their contributions in the classroom and to their profession. Maximum Award: $10,000. Eligibility: Teachers with five years experience teaching math or science. Deadline: May 1, 2008.

2008 Butler-Cooley Excellence in Teaching Award
The program seeks to honor education professionals who have changed the outcome of students' lives and the communities in which they live. Between three and five teachers will be honored each year at the Turnaround Management Association Annual Convention. Click here for eligibility and criteria, or click here for the entry package. Maximum Award: $5,000. Eligibility: Applicants must be licensed and active elementary or secondary school teachers employed by accredited schools for at least five years. Teachers may nominate themselves or be nominated by others. Deadline: May 1, 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? Maximum Award: $2,000 to $25,000. Eligibility: All K-12 education professionals, whether or not they are clients of ING. Deadline: April 30, 2008.

Digital Wish Grant for Technology in the Classroom
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.


2008 Teacher Externships
(Deadline: April 18)

New Visions For Seated Principals and APs
(Deadline: April 18)

How Are We Doing?

Take our one-minute eNotes reader survey



April 6
National College Fair
1-4 p.m.
George R. Brown Convention Center

April 22
Parent Leadership Video Conference
9 a.m. - Noon
Various local Education Service Centers

April 24
Statewide Bilingual Parent Institute
8:45 a.m. - 2 p.m.
San Antonio

July 30-31
Houston A+ Challenge Summer Institute
University of Houston Hilton

Statistic of the Month

With 800 mentors who meet with students one on one every week, SBISD's mentor program is the largest of its kind in Texas. The district supports 8,500 registered volunteers, including 500 corporate and community partners and hundreds more senior citizens.

Source: Spring Branch ISD Website


Houston A+ Challenge

1415 Louisiana, Suite 3250
Houston, TX 77002

Board of Trustees

Joe B. Foster

Ann Friedman

J. Victor Samuels

Michael Dee

Susan A. Bischoff
Bill Crouch
Jonathan Day
Thomas L. Elsenbrook
Roberto Gonzalez
H. Devon Graham, Jr.
Jenard M. Gross
Steve L. Miller
Karol Musher
Maconda Brown O’Connor
Harry Reasoner
Yava D. Scott
VJ Turner, Jr.
Andrea White
Rosie Zamora

Houston A+ Staff

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
Alejandro Morúa
Angela Prince
Mike Webster

Terrie Roberts
Event Coordinator

Betsy Broyles Breier
Special Projects Coordinator

Administrative Assistants
Imelda Cardoza
Donna O'Neil

Tuan Amith