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July 2008
News from Houston A+ Challenge

21 Aspiring Principals Begin Three-Year Journey with Houston A+
Jhacole LeGrand, RPLA Cohort OneIn June, Houston A+ Challenge launched the Regional Principal Leadership Academy, a new endeavor aimed at attracting and preparing new leaders for the Houston region's most challenged middle and high schools.

Our first cohort of 21 highly motivated, highly talented individuals includes nine assistant principals, six mid-level school leaders (including coaches and specialists) and six classroom teachers -- chosen from nearly 250 applicants.

Members of the cohort are now attending an intensive six-week summer program, and this fall will serve as full-time interns under mentor principals at area secondary schools.

250+ Teachers 'Go to Work' in 70+ Local Businesses
Teacher Externship Week 2008 (June 9-13) was Houston A+ Challenge's biggest and most successful to date. The sixth annual job shadowing program sent teachers from 18 districts to work in industries ranging from energy, aerospace, construction, legal, medical, higher education and beyond.

Teachers are now working to develop lesson plans based on their experiences, aimed at engaging students with the excitement and the expectations of the world beyond high school. As one teacher extern put it, "Teachers must make a commitment to stay informed with current events around the world.  This will be the only way many of our students will stay informed as well."

Tony Wagner Provides Keynote as 35 School Leaders Graduate
Tony Wagner, renowned author and co-director of Harvard University's Change Leadership Group, provided the keynote address as 35 Houston-area principals, APs and school leaders from five local districts finished their two-year New Visions in Leadership Academy experience in June.

On her blog, Change Agency, NVLA graduate Stephanie Sandifer gives a thoughtful overview of Tony's address, which focused on his forthcoming book, "The Global Achievement Gap: Why Even Our Best Schools Don't Teach the New Survival Skills Our Children Need – and What We Can Do About It."

58 Students, Aspiring Principals and Educators Join CFG Ranks
Twelve high school students, 21 aspiring principals, 23 Houston-area educators and two Houston A+ Challenge staff members completed Critical Friends Group New Coach Training on June 16-20, 2008.

The newly trained adult coaches will use their new skills to form Critical Friends Groups on their campuses -- groups of peers that meet regularly to look at student work, reflect on teaching practices and plan for whole-school change.

Linda Trendell, School Improvement Facilitator at Lee High School in Houston ISD, said teachers in each small learning community on her campus meet for three hours each week to plan. "It's really important that we use that time efficiently and effectively," she said. "(This training) will help me better facilitate those groups. I'm already thinking about what I'm going to do differently this year."

Leadership, Mathematics Initiatives Receive Major Funding
Houston A+ Challenge received two major grants in June: The Brown Foundation has committed $4.5 million over the next three years toward our leadership development initiatives, and ExxonMobil Foundation has awarded a $50,000 grant for the K-5 mathematics initiative. Both The Brown Foundation and ExxonMobil are longtime supporters of Houston A+ Challenge. To read the full story, click here.

Work with Houston A+: Outstanding Instructional Leaders Wanted
Houston A+ Challenge is looking for former principals, curriculum specialists and instructional leaders to help build and grow the Regional Principal Leadership Academy. Both full-time and part-time positions are open; individuals must have both the passion and the talent to work with an outstanding crop of aspiring principals this summer and beyond. Click on these job titles for more information:

  • Consulting Coach - Provide part-time coaching support to Fellows in the Regional Principal Leadership Academy.
  • Faculty Coach - Provide full-time coaching support and instructional delivery for the Academy.
  • Curriculum Specialist - Provide curricular leadership and assist in program support for the Academy.
  • Lead Instructional Coach - Provide instructional leadership and curriculum delivery for the Academy.
School News

Toolkit for Principles and Policies of Dual Enrollment
Earning college credit in high school can not only provide student college readiness, but it can also provide a low-cost way for low-income students to earn college credit and compress the time needed to receive a college degree. The nonprofit Jobs for the Future has released a toolkit, On Ramp to College: A State Policymaker's Guide to Dual Enrollment, which details principles and examples of successful dual enrollment programs across the nation.

Texas and other states are cited as exemplars of dual enrollment programs in their schools. Click here to read the complete report.

Diplomas Count 2008: Texas Results Released
The third annual Diplomas Count report, School to College: Can State P-16 Councils Ease the Transition?, finds that Texas' statewide graduation rate of 69 percent is slightly below the national average of 71 percent. The four-year project by the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center is conducted with assistance from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The report also finds that Texas is among 23 states that have yet to define academic and work readiness. However, Texas minority graduates rated higher academically than minority graduates nationwide, with a combined percentage of Hispanics and Blacks at 62 percent in Texas to 57 percent on a nationwide average. Texas is also one of more than 20 states that offer advanced and alternative credentials, in addition to a standard diploma. Only nine states, including Texas, offered an exit exam that tested English, Math, Science and History.

For more on the report and interactive tools, click here for more.

Changes For Sam Houston High School
The State of Texas has approved the creation two new schools at Sam Houston High School in Houston ISD, which was closed in June due to low academic performance. The two new schools will be a college preparatory campus with a science, medicine and technology focus, and a ninth grade academy focused on intensive academic and leadership learning.

Jane Crump, formerly principal of Stevenson Middle School, has been named as principal for the college preparatory campus.

In Focus With … Ann Mayfield

This summer, 21 aspiring principals in Houston A+ Challenge's new Regional Principal Leadership Academy are spending six intensive weeks preparing for full-time internships shadowing mentor principals in Houston-area secondary schools.

Ann Mayfield, a former math teacher and district supervisor for Houston ISD, discusses her motivation and her experience with the RPLA.

Why do you want to be a principal?

I want to be a principal because I want to be an effective leader to change lives. I want to be able to go in and have a lasting impact on students, on the community, and on the staff. I believe the way to do that most effectively is to be the principal of the school.

How did you pick this program?

I knew that Houston A+ Challenge and Annenberg have been on the forefront on training teachers and principals. So I knew that if I wanted to be effective, I need to go to the best place to be trained.

How did you feel about the application process?

The process was pretty rigorous and that can be a little intimating. But then I thought, 'This is great, because they are going to get the best of the best. And I want to be part of that cohort because I can learn even more if I have the cream of the crop sitting around me.' We can feed off each other and get suggestions from each other. And having that cohort together for three years, I will continue to get that support when I become a principal.

What are your thoughts on your fellow interns so far?

We are developing trust very quickly, because we know that we need to lean on each other if we are going to get through this. We come from different places in our lives, but we always find that common thread where we can relate to each other and lean on each other when we need to. If we get weak or stressed, we have someone there to help us through it.

On The Bookshelf

Recent Houston A+ Challenge guest speaker and author Tony Wagner has released a new book titled, "The Global Achievement Gap: Why Even Our Best Schools Don't Teach the New Survival Skills Our Children Need -- And What We Can Do About It." In the face of conflicting expectations from the workforce and increased global competition, "The Global Achievement Gap" discusses what every American can do to improve the current education system, using interviews with business leaders and college graduates and examples of innovative schools. "The Global Achievement Gap" is recommended reading for all educators and policy makers. The following is the publisher's description:

"Despite the best efforts of educators, our nation’s schools are dangerously obsolete. Instead of teaching students to be critical thinkers and problem-solvers, we are asking them to memorize facts for multiple choice tests. This problem isn’t limited to low-income school districts: even our top schools aren’t teaching or testing the skills that matter most in the global knowledge economy. Our teens leave school equipped to work only in the kinds of jobs that are fast disappearing from the American economy. Meanwhile, young adults in India and China are competing with our students for the most sought-after careers around the world.

Education expert Tony Wagner has conducted scores of interviews with business leaders and observed hundreds of classes in some of the nation’s most highly regarded public schools. He discovered a profound disconnect between what potential employers are looking for in young people today (critical thinking skills, creativity, and effective communication) and what our schools are providing (passive learning environments and uninspired lesson plans that focus on test preparation and reward memorization).

He explains how every American can work to overhaul our education system, and he shows us examples of dramatically different schools that teach all students new skills. In addition, through interviews with college graduates and people who work with them, Wagner discovers how teachers, parents, and employers can motivate the "net" generation to excellence. An education manifesto for the twenty-first century, "The Global Achievement Gap" is provocative and inspiring. It is essential reading for parents, educators, business leaders, policy-makers, and anyone interested in seeing our young people succeed as employees and citizens."


Free Math/Science Training at Mickelson ExxonMobil Academy
The Mickelson ExxonMobil Teachers Academy offers teachers in grades 3-5 a week of free, top-quality professional development in science in math. The five-day summer camps -- located in New Jersey, Louisiana and the Woodlands, TX -- bring in experts from the National Science Teachers Association and Math Solutions. Teachers may self-nominate, or a new feature at sendmyteacher.com allows students to nominate their teachers. Maximum Award: One free week summer camp experience. Eligiblity: 100 scholarships are open to any teacher self-nominated or nominated by a student through www.sendmyteacher.com. The other 500 slots are apportioned through districts selected by ExxonMobil. Deadline: October 31.

Texas Early College High School Small and Rural District Grant
The purpose of the Early College High School (ECHS) Small and Rural District Planning Grant is to provide funding and technical assistance resources that will allow small and rural ISDs to do the following: 1. Investigate and become knowledgeable about the ECHS model. 2. Establish and convene regular meetings of an ECHS design team in order to develop and refine a comprehensive plan for opening an ECHS that closely adheres to the ECHS core principles. The design team must include members from all partner groups. 3. Hire a director, coordinator, or liaison to lead the design team. 4. Develop a partnership and an MOU between the ISD and an IHE that will provide access to college resources and offer dual credit courses; 5. Identify, manage, and document the necessary organizational and cultural changes needed to implement an ECHS model in a small or rural district. For more information or to apply contact, Donnell Bilsky at Donnell.Bilsky@tea.state.tx.us. Maximum Award: 80,000. Eligiblity: There are two options. Options 1: A single ISD with enrollment of at least 1,000 but no more than 4,000 students may partner with a public IHE, with either partner eligible to serve as the fiscal agent. Option2: Up to five ISDs with individual enrollments of up to 4,000 students each may form a shared services arrangement in partnership with an IHE. Deadline: August 19.

Fulbright Teacher Exchange Program
For U.S. teachers, this opportunity involves a year, semester or six-week direct exchange of teaching positions with a counterpart in another country teaching the same subject(s) at the same level. Fulbright program staff in the U.S. and abroad match U.S. and overseas candidates in the spring of each year. For more information about the grant process, see the Selection and Grant Details section of our website. Maximum Award: Expenses. Eligibility: Current full-time teacher in the U.S for at least three years, and passport holder. See website for more details. Deadline: October 15, 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.

Siemens High School Competition in Math, Science & Technology
The Siemens Competition in Math, Science & Technology recognizes remarkable talent early on, fostering individual growth for high school students who are willing to challenge themselves through science research. Through this competition, students have an opportunity to achieve national recognition for science research projects that they complete in high school. Maximum Award: $100,000. Eligibility: U.S. high school students. Deadline: October 1, 2008.

Musical Instruments from Mr. Holland's Opus Foundation
The Mr. Holland's Opus Foundation donates new and refurbished musical instruments to underserved schools, community music programs and individual students nationwide, in an effort to give youngsters the many benefits of music education, help them to be better students and inspire creativity and expression through playing music. For more information, click here. Maximum Award: $500 - $20,000. Eligibility: Schools must have an established instrumental music program (i.e. concert band, marching band, jazz band and/or orchestra) that is at least three years old. Deadline: August 1.

Awards for Innovative Teaching on Private Enterprise
The application for the Valley Forge Leavey Awards must conceive and implement and innovative course, program or project which develops, among students, a deeper understanding and appreciation of the American private enterprise system. The nominee’s program, course or project must be operating or initiated during the previous academic year. Questions may be directed to the Awards Department: 1-800-896-5488 or 610-933-8825. Maximum Award: $7,500. Eligibility: U.S. citizens or permanent residents employed full-time as educators at an accredited American school (grades K-12), college or university. Deadline: October 8.

Minigrant Program for Public School Libraries
The Ezra Jack Keats Foundation is dedicated to funding creative programs for public schools and public libraries. Projects funded in the past include pen pal projects, multi-cultural portraits, bookmaking, intergenerational journals and more. Click here for more details. Maximum Award: $500. Eligibility: Public schools and public libraries in the United States and its protectorates. Deadline: September 15.

Magna Awards for School Board Best Practices/Programs
The Magna Awards is a national recognition program co-sponsored by American School Board Journal, the National School Boards Association, and Sodexo School Services that honors school board best practices and innovative programs that advance student learning. For the past 15 years, the Magna Awards panel of independent judges has reviewed programs that showcase school district leadership, creativity and commitment to student achievement. For details, click here. Maximum Award: $3,500. Eligibility: Online applications accepted only. Judges will look for programs that are:

  • The result of appropriate school board leadership.
  • Developed or actively supported by the school board.
  • Successful in view of the program's primary objectives.
  • Important in promoting the district's mission and advancing student learning.
  • Capable of being replicated by other school boards with similar conditions and resources.
  • The result of collaboration between the school board and others.

Deadline: October 15.

Help NASA Develop Education Materials for Dawn Mission
The Education and Public Outreach (EP/O) team for NASA's Dawn Mission is looking for high school classrooms interested in participating as field-test sites for new Ion Propulsion curriculum materials. The purpose is to ensure that the Dawn E/PO curriculum materials are of high-quality and utility and reflect the needs of classroom science educators before they are disseminated to public and educator audiences. This module is intended for high school 11th or 12th grade students enrolled in physics classes. Additionally, this module might be of interest to students as they conduct research in advanced technologies. Maximum Award: N/A. Eligibility: Participating teachers will be expected to implement the materials as fully as possible and participate and support all data collection activities during the study. Click here to download an application and information packet . Deadline: N/A.

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: $5,000+ 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: Grants under $5,000 are made on a rolling basis and applications are accepted throughout the year. Next deadline is August 1, 2008.


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

Statistic of the Month

70 percent of Americans believe that the best way to measure student achievement is through classwork and homework. Only 28 percent believe the best way is through standardized testing.

Source: Associated Press

Houston A+ Challenge

2700 Southwest Freeway, Suite B
Houston, TX 77098-4607

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