If you are having trouble viewing this e-mail, click here to view it online.

May 2008
News from Houston A+ Challenge

Sign Up For Summer Workshops
Educators, Houston A+ Challenge invites you to enhance your practice this summer, through two major workshops: the 12th annual Reforming Schools Summer Institute (July 30-31) and the Critical Friends Group Summer Seminar (June 16-20).

This year's Reforming Schools Summer Institute, "Leading for Learning", will focus on leadership teams as the key to deepening and sustaining school improvement over the long haul. Click here for more information and to register your team. Space is limited.

The 2008 Critical Friends Group Summer Seminar will provide training for new coaches who want to develop and practice the skills necessary for leading Critical Friends Group work on their campuses. During the four days of seminars, new coaches will create the kind of professional learning community that they will establish within their own schools. Click here for more information and registration.

Houston A+ Challenge Welcomes Director of Leadership
In April, Sheri Miller-Williams joined the Houston A+ staff as our new Director of Leadership. Sheri formerly served as VP of Educational Services for Edison Schools, assigned to the School District of Philadelphia. During her six-year tenure with Edison, she provided training and supervision for principals and developed programs with partner schools and districts across a 10-state territory. In addition, as Edison's VP of Achievement, she designed and implemented curriculum, instructional learning, student management and professional development programs for struggling schools in Charleston, South Carolina. Sheri is a Houston native and a graduate of Houston ISD.

In her new role, Sheri will coordinate training for aspiring principals in Houston A+ Challenge's Regional Principal Leadership Academy, and for seated principals and assistant principals in our New Visions in Leadership Academy, alongside lead coach Meredith Wedin. Sheri also will coordinate Houston A+ Challenge's Regional Senior Fellows.

2007 Annual Report: Building Leaders, Changing Lives
This month, Houston A+ Challenge releases our 2007 Annual Report: Building Leaders, Changing Lives. This year's report celebrates our ten years of service as the Houston region's nonprofit advocate for public school improvement.  This year, 95 percent of our annual budget went to providing leadership training, collaborative networks, literacy and numeracy initiatives, model program development and whole-school reform.

A common theme running through all of these efforts has been a commitment to developing leaders at all levels – teacher leaders, principal leaders, district leaders and community leaders – with the knowledge and capacity to improve student achievement.  Our 2007 Annual Report uses this lens to chronicle the recent progress of our initiatives, and also features a few of the many outstanding school leaders whose work, every day, is changing student lives.

To download a copy of the report, click here.

School News

The Global Need for Effective School Leadership
It's generally agreed that the changing roles and expectations for school leaders have created a need for improving principal preparation in the U.S. -- but an ongoing study aims to illustrate that many "high- income" nations face similar needs in their schools. The Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) is compiling in-depth analysis of different approaches to school leadership in 22 participating countries. The consensus? With globalization, migration and technological innovation changing the education landscape, school leaders must be more than managers, and take a more important leadership role in education reform. For more information, case studies and best practices, click here.

Spring Branch ISD Trustee's Blog Wins School Bell Award
Mike Falick, President of the Spring Branch ISD Board of Education, has been awarded the School Bell Award for journalism for Outstanding Education Blog by the Texas State Teacher Association. Mike Falick was one of the first education board members in the nation to participate in blogging activities. Mike Falick's blog can be read here at this link.

Texas Education Agency Launches Virtual School Network
Texas students and educators soon will have a host of new, state-approved online courses available at their fingertips. The Texas Virtual School Network was established by the 80th Texas Legislature, in an effort to coordinate and evaluate the quality of courses offered by a network of providers throughout the state. This summer, the Texas Education Agency and partners will begin these evaluations, and approved courses are scheduled to be online for the 2008-09 school year. For more on the Texas Virtual School Network, click here.

Annenberg: Organized Communities, Stronger Schools
A new study by the Annenberg Institute, "Organized Communities, Stronger Schools", cites that community organizing has a viral effect on education and community. The report concludes that active community involvement in schools contributed to:

  • Educational Outcomes: improved student attendance, test scores, graduation rates and college-bound attitudes.
  • Parental and Civic Engagement: parent involvement in education and school, and increased awareness of community-related issues.

For more information on Annenberg's six year study, click here.

H-E-B Announces Winners For Excellence In Education
Aldine ISD has won first place in the "Large School District" category of H-E-B's 2008 Excellence in Education Awards for its seventh annual Excellence in Education Awards. The district will receive a $100,000 cash prize. The awards celebration was held at the The Woodlands Resort and Convention Center on May 4. Each year, H-E-B recognizes educators and institutions for best practices and to celebrate their work.

Other 2008 local finalists include Paul Worosello, Director of Bands at Klein Forest High School (Lifetime Achievement, Secondary) and Christie McWilliams, an English teacher at Cy-Fair High School, (Leadership, Secondary). Two Spring Branch ISD principals, Wayne Schaper Jr. of Spring Woods High and Jerona Williams of Housman Elementary, were semifinalists.

'Value-Added' Analysis Reports Available For Houston ISD Schools
Houston ISD has released a new analysis of its schools based on a methodology that goes beyond measuring TAKS scores. The new analysis uses multiple data sources to measure the impact of teachers and schools on student academic progress from year to year. This helps provide a more comprehensive look at student progress and Houston ISD's curriculum. Visit the ASPIRE portal for more information.

Three's a Charm? Aldine ISD Finalist For Broad Prize
For the third time, Aldine ISD is one of five school districts nationwide named as finalists for the Broad Prize for Urban Education. Finalists were selected from a pool of 100 eligible school districts that demonstrated improved student achievement districtwide, while also closing the gap between students of different social-economic backgrounds. Some of Aldine ISD's achievements:

  • Aldine ISD's low-income, African-American and Hispanic students outperformed their peers both statewide and in similar districts in reading and math at all grade levels in 2007, according to Broad Prize methodology.
  • Aldine ISD narrowed achievement gaps between low-income students and non-low-income students in reading and math at all grade levels.
  • Average SAT participation rates for African-American and Hispanic students rose; simultaneously, SAT scores increased by 23 points for African-American students, and by 18 points for Hispanic students.

The winner of the Broad Prize will be announced in New York's Museum of Modern Art on October 14.

Lee High School Students Seek Fantastic Learning Opportunities
Meet Carmen -- a 15-year-old Lee High School student who plans on attending the University of Texas and becoming a child psychiatrist. This summer, Carmen has been accepted to a leadership seminar at UT -- now all she needs is the financial assistance to get there.

The nonprofit Lee High School Next Step Fund helps students like Carmen and others to receive a holistic learning experience, in and out of the classroom. For more information or to contribute, contact Monica Piquet-Rodriguez (mpiquetr@houstonisd.org), director of the school's Fantastic Learning Opportunities program or download the Lee Next Step Fund information packet.

In Focus With … Anne McClellan

Houston A+ Challenge is proud of the many creative, talented educators who have a long history with the organization. Anne McClellan, who is currently Chief Strategic Growth Officer for YES Prep Public Schools, has been an active participant in Houston A+ initiatives since our founding in 1997.

Can you give me a brief history of the first time you heard about Houston A+ Challenge?
There was a big announcement about the (Annenberg Challenge) grant. I had the privilege of serving as a principal at Poe Elementary (which was selected as a Houston Annenberg Beacon School). It was one of those things that gathered the community around a goal, demonstrating how great of a school we had. More importantly, it helped us see things that we needed to work on. We did form a committee and sought the grant, but through that grant we did a lot of self-study, and it forced (Poe) to look within. While we won the grant, it then kept us pushing to a higher level.

What happened after that?
Winning the grant meant that we became a demonstration site, so we had to set up somebody to be a coordinator of all the people coming in and out. We really got to showcase what we done. And for me, personally, it put me into another network. It put my teachers and my parents into another network where reflection, student engagement, and parental engagement was at a different level. We were invited to colloquiums at the national level, and those colloquiums put us with schools that were like-minded and pushed the envelope.

In terms of my students, they're the ones who got the bonus because we started to focus on teachers owning the classrooms and kids owning the classrooms. It changed what we did for our kids -- our instruction became more purposeful, much more focused. We were able to push the envelope. So our version of reading was very different from the school district's version. It was very much supported through Annenberg, and subsequently Houston A+ Challenge, because it was researched-based and state-of-the-art, and it was built off of where kids are and where they needed to go, versus a lot of drill-and-kill practice.

Do you see a thread of connection between that initial grant and where the district is now? Is anything sustained?
Classrooms are no longer owned by the teacher -- it's about what is important to kids, based on what they have to learn. Asking them, "Why does this have any meaning? How does this work for you? What else do you know about this?" has a great impact on the quality of student work. Houston A+ Challenge brought that to Houston, through its Critical Friends Group.

I know to this day that the literacy program at Poe has remained pretty stable. We developed a literacy teacher, and the handoff of the beliefs has helped things remain constant. I think the district leadership has continued to appreciate Houston A+ Challenge; they see A+ as a contributor to the leadership of the greater school district. All those things remain constant for me, and I have served as a coach for (Houston A+ Challenge's) New Visions in Leadership Academy. Then I also had the privilege of working with Houston A+ again at Challenge High School.

Can you talk a little about that?
Challenge High School was the first early college in the state of Texas. It was brilliant to hear how much impact we had, by way of A+ Challenge, on the state's acceptance of early colleges. We established and pushed harder for dual credit for the entire school district, and on the state level we worked with the coordinating board to build new frameworks for understanding of this new model. We also helped to establish the rules that were finally approved by legislature. Now there are 30 to 40 early colleges in the state. So again, Houston A+ Challenge put us in a position for really pushing a quality educational program for the kids that seek to be met at a different level than a typical comprehensive high school.

What is the most important thing you've learned from your interaction with Houston A+ Challenge?
It takes Houston A+ Challenge to bring like minds together, to do really important work. You can go as one down a path, but we went with many. That is a powerful force.

Once you've been touched by Houston A+ Challenge and the original Annenberg work, the impact is lasting. I've been taught to convene, to challenge appropriately, to take apart what is and what could be. I've been taught how to communicate, how to collaborate, and I've taken this knowledge everywhere I go.

On The Bookshelf

Former Newsweek correspondent Donna Foote's "Relentless Pursuit, a Year in the Trenches with Teach For America", follows four Teach For America recruits during their exhaustive first year of their two-year service in South Los Angeles' Locke High School. Without any embellishment, 'Relentless Pursuit' provides an insight into the everyday realities of a teacher in the Teach for America program. For an excerpt, click here (NPR). Publisher Alfred Knopf provides the following description:

"A revealing look inside a national phenomenon, Teach For America, which, since its founding in 1990, has pursued one of the most daring — and controversial — strategies for closing the educational achievement gap between the richest and poorest students in the country.

"The story is set in South Los Angeles at Locke High School, an institution founded in 1967 in the spirit of renewal that followed the devastating Watts riots but that, four decades on, has made frustratingly little progress in lifting the fortunes of the area’s mostly black and Latino children.

Into this place, which resembles a prison as much as a school, are dropped a group of 'recruits' from Teach For America, the fast-growing organization devoted to undoing generations of disadvantage through a fiercely regimented selection and deployment of America’s best and brightest. Nearly 20,000 top college graduates apply for 2,000 slots. Then, with only a summer of training, the lucky ones are sent to face the most desperate of classroom environments.

"Giving us a year in the life of Locke through the absorbing experiences of four TFA corps members — Rachelle, Phillip, Hrag and Taylor — Donna Foote recounts the progress of their idealistic but unorthodox mission and shares its results, by turns exhausting, exhilarating, maddening, and unforgettable.

"Without romanticizing the successes or minimizing the failures, 'Relentless Pursuit' relates, through the experiences of these four new teachers, the strengths, the foibles, and the peculiarities of an operation to accomplish what no government program has yet managed — to overcome one of the most basic and vexing of social inequities, a problem we can no longer afford to ignore."


PTO Today's Parent Group of the Year 2008
Here’s an excellent opportunity to showcase your hard work while giving your school the chance to win cash and prizes. Choose from eight categories, including Outstanding Family Event, Outstanding Community Service Project, and Outstanding New Group, and PTO Today will automatically consider you for the grand prize. For more information and to apply, click here. Maximum Award: Cash. Eligibility: All parent groups: PTO, PTA, HSA, PTC, etc. Winners have included groups at public and private schools; rural,suburban, and urban schools; and elementary and middle schools. Deadline: May 30, 2008.

CVS Community Grants for Students with Disabilities
CVS Pharmacy Community Grants are currently accepting proposals for programs targeting children under age 18 with disabilities that address: health and rehabilitation services; a greater level of inclusion in student activities and extracurricular programs; opportunities or facilities that give greater access to physical movement; and play. Maximum Award: Varies. Eligibility: Public schools with programs for children under age 18 with disabilities. Deadline: Applications accepted through October 2008.

Toshiba Grants Program for 7-12 Science & Math Education
Toshiba America Foundation contributes to the quality of science and mathematics education by investing in projects designed by classroom teachers to improve instruction for students in grades K-12. Click here to download the flyer for the Toshiba Grants Program for 7-12 Science and Math Education. Maximum Award: $5000+ Eligibility: If you are a public school, then you must provide evidence that you are a public school as recognized by an appropriate local or state government agency. For example, a copy of the state tax exempt certificate could be used to satisfy the eligibility requirement. Deadline: Decisions about grants under $5,000 are made on a rolling basis and applications are accepted throughout the year. Next deadline is August 1, 2008.

NEA Grants for Learning in the Arts for Children and Youth
National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Grants for Learning in the Arts for Children and Youth are given to advance arts education for children and youth in school-based or community-based settings. The program supports in-depth, curriculum-based arts education experiences that occur over an extended period. Projects must provide participatory learning and engage students with skilled artists, teachers, and excellent art. Maximum Award: Varies. Eligibility: 501(c)(3) organizations that administer school-based projects for children and youth between kindergarten and grade 12, are directly connected to the school curriculum and instructional program and ensure the application of national or state arts education standard; or community-based projects for children and youth between ages five and 18. Deadline: June 9, 2008.

Five-Day Math and Science Camp for Teachers
The Mickelson ExxonMobil 2009 Teachers Academy offers a five-day program, with camps in New Jersey, Texas and Louisiana, designed to provide third- through fifth-grade teachers with the knowledge and skills necessary to motivate students to pursue careers in science and math. Maximum Award: All expenses paid five-day program in July 2009. Eligibility: Third- through fifth-grade teachers from all over the United States. Deadline: October 31, 2008.

Award for Emerging Education Leaders
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: August 1, 2008.

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.

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.

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.


May 6
Graduating Student Teacher Reception and Job Fair, Houston ISD
4:30 p.m. – 7 p.m.
Hattie Mae White
Ed. Support Center
4400 West 18th St.,

May 12
How to Increase School Impact on the Achievement of Hispanic/Latino Students
9 a.m. - 3:30 p.m.
Harris Co. Dept. of Ed.
6300 Irvington Blvd.,

May 14
One Voice: Education Policy Luncheon
11:30 a.m.- 1 p.m.
United Way Building
50 Waugh

June 16-20
Critical Friends Group Summer Seminar
7:30 a.m. - 4 p.m.
Univ. of Houston - Hilton

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

Statistic of the Month

61 percent of all math teachers nationwide have a degree in mathematics. In Texas, 63 percent of math teachers hold a math degree.

Source: Council of Chief State School Officers, 2007


Houston A+ Challenge

1415 Louisiana, Suite 3250
Houston, TX 77002

Board of Trustees

Joe B. Foster

Ann Friedman

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
J. Victor Samuels
Yava D. Scott
VJ Turner, Jr.
Andrea White
Rosie Zamora

Houston A+ Staff

Scott Van Beck
Executive Director

Sheri Miller-Williams
Director, Leadership

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
Lisa Stein

Tuan Amith