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August 2008
News from Houston A+ Challenge

RSSI 2008Leadership Teams Learn, Share and Plan at Summer Institute
More than 300 educators from eight school districts gathered July 30-31 for Houston A+ Challenge's 12th Annual Reforming Schools Summer Institute. Breakout sessions spotlighted the work of A+ Innovation and Replication grantees, as leadership teams from recipient schools led participants in hands-on learning activities.

Author and researcher Doug Reeves, founder of the Leadership and Learning Center, challenged attendees to focus their school improvement efforts on fewer goals, to empower their teacher leaders through action research, and to get rid of "toxic grading practices" that disempower students instead of building resilience and personal responsibility.

RSSI 2008Houston, We Have Solutions
Best practices and emerging models in college access and success from across the country will be spotlighted when the National College Access Network's annual conference comes to Houston, September 22-24.

Register today for the three-day event, which features workshops on Houston's Preparing to Dream initaitive, parent engagement practices and student engagement strategies. Featured speakers include Henry Cisneros and Larry Kellner.

School News

Volunteers Needed for Fifth Annual 'Reach Out To Dropouts' Walk
On September 6, please join thousands of volunteers for the Reach Out to Dropouts Walk, a community-wide effort to persuade student dropouts to return to school and graduate. This year, 12 school districts in five Texas cities will participate, making it the largest walk ever.

Born out of a collaborative effort between Houston ISD, Mayor Bill White's office and Houston A+ Challenge, the annual walk pairs community volunteers with educators who visit students' homes and encourage them to return to school. Now in its fifth year, the walk now involves Aldine, Alief, Cypress-Fairbanks, Goose Creek, North Forest and Spring Branch ISDs.

Some training is required before the walk, and it's a 3-4 hour time commitment on the day of the walk. Click the district names above to learn more and to complete online volunteer applications. You may also call the following districts for more volunteer information:

  • Aldine ISD: 281-985-6202
  • Alief ISD: 281-498-8110, Ext. 4950
  • Houston ISD: 713-556-7017
  • Spring Branch ISD: 713-464-1511

Teaching Secrets: Five Tips for New Teachers
As the 2008-09 school year begins, Teacher Magazine offers these useful maxims for new teachers -- and reminders for seasoned vets:

  • Hit the floor running and breathe when you leave.
  • Always remember, the show must go on.
  • Put on your cheerleading uniform.
  • If you make them the enemy, you will lose.
  • Don't hide your light under a bushel.

Want details? Read the full story.

In Focus With … Sam Sarabia

Sam Sarabia's first work with Houston A+ Challenge came as an elementary school assistant principal, when his school and three others won a Lamplighter Grant to strengthen their collaboration around teacher training.

He has since served in Houston ISD as a building principal at an elementary school rated 'exemplary' under his leadership, and as a coach of other principals in Houston A+ Challenge's New Visions in Leadership Academy. Currently, he serves as an Executive Principal for the Milby and Furr feeder patterns in Houston ISD.

What is an Executive Princpal's role?

Executive principals in Houston ISD work with a group of principals in a coaching capacity -- for example I have 15. We're there to ask the probing questions, and we’re there to ask to look at the student work, and at the data itself. Student data speaks very loudly, and principals need to know how to not just regurgitate it, but how to use it to put better systems into place.

What can looking at student work tell you?

It tells you a lot. Different teachers implement curriculum at different levels, and it is very revealing to compare students' work product to one another. You have to let go of that 'This is the one and only right way' mentality, and instead ask the questions 'Is the work reflective of what we’re trying to get students to learn?' and 'What does quality look like?' We first have to recognize the work that may not be there yet, so we can discuss what it will take to get it there.

What do you personally get out of working with A+?

The coaching piece has helped me become a very solid Executive Principal. Not all of us have had the experience with the Critical Friends Group training, the guided questions and probing questions, the conversation and the reflection. Also, work through A+ is not really territorial -- meaning that traditionally, we might have kept best practices to ourselves instead of sharing them with other districts, because we want to outscore them. Now it changes; now it's really about sharing best practices, because we are really only as strong as our weakest link.

On The Bookshelf

Bestselling author of "The Innovator's Dilemma" and "The Innovator's Solution", Clayton M. Christensen, has penned a new book on individualized education titled Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns. Brimming with strategies, "Disrupting Class" guides the reader with insight on how to impact the modern student in a competiting world. The following is a description from the publisher, McGraw Hill:

"According to recent studies in neuroscience, the way we learn doesn't always match up with the way we are taught. If we hope to stay competitive -- academically, economically, and technologically -- we need to rethink our understanding of intelligence, reevaluate our educational system, and reinvigorate our commitment to learning. In other words, we need 'disruptive innovation.'

"Now, in his long-awaited new book, Clayton M. Christensen and coauthors Michael B. Horn and Curtis W. Johnson take one of the most important issues of our time -- education -- and apply Christensen's now-famous theories of 'disruptive' change using a wide range of real-life examples. Whether you're a school administrator, government official, business leader, parent, teacher, or entrepreneur, you'll discover surprising new ideas, outside-the-box strategies, and straight-A success stories.

You'll learn how:

  • Customized learning will help many more students succeed in school
  • Student-centric classrooms will increase the demand for new technology
  • Computers must be disruptively deployed to every student
  • Disruptive innovation can circumvent roadblocks that have prevented other attempts at school reform
  • We can compete in the global classroom -- and get ahead in the global market

"Filled with fascinating case studies, scientific findings, and unprecedented insights on how innovation must be managed, 'Disrupting Class' will open your eyes to new possibilities, unlock hidden potential, and get you to think differently. Professor Christensen and his coauthors provide a bold new lesson in innovation that will help you make the grade for years to come.

"The future is now. Class is in session."


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 and 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.

Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy Grants Program
The Foundation's grant-making program seeks to develop or expand projects that are designed to support the development of literacy skills for adult primary care givers and their children. Maximum Award: Up to $65,000. Eligiblity: the organization must have current non-profit or public status and have been in existence for two or more years as of the date of the application; the organization must have maintained fiscal accountability; the organization must operate an instructional literacy program that has been in existence for at least 2 years and includes one or more of the following components: literacy for adults, parent education, pre-literacy or literacy instruction for children pre-k to grade 3, and intergenerational literacy activities (Parent and Child Together time or P.A.C.T. time). Deadline: September 5.

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 the Fulbright 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.

Best Buy Teach Award program
The Best Buy Teach Award program recognizes creative uses of interactive technology in K-12 classrooms. Winning programs focus on kids using technology to learn standards-based curriculum, rather than on teaching students to use technology or educators using technology that children aren't able to use hands-on. The purpose of the Best Buy Teach Award program is to reward schools for the successful interactive programs they have launched using available technology. Maximum Award: $1,000-$10,000. Eligibility: Accredited non-profit K-12 public, private, parochial, magnet and charter schools. Applications must be completed by educators who have been at the school for a minimum of one full academic year. Eligible 'educators' are certified teachers, specialists, and/or principals. The program or project must have been in existence in the applying school for at least one full school year. Deadline: October 12.

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.

Lois Lenski Covey Foundation Grants
The Lois Lenski Covey Foundation, Inc. is a charitable institute whose purpose is to assist organizations in their efforts toprovidebooks to children who might otherwise lack access to children's literature. Maximum Award: $500-$3,000. Eligibility: The Lois Lenski Covey Foundation, Inc. annually awards grants to rural and urban, public and school libraries serving at-risk children. The Foundation gives priority to applications from libraries and agencieswith real need and limited book budgets. Deadline: September 15.

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.

2009 National Superintendent of the Year Program
Now in its 22nd year, the National Superintendent of the Year Program pays tribute to the talent and vision of the men and women who lead our nation's public schools. This program is sponsored by ARAMARK Education, INGand AASA. Download the 2009 Superintendent of the Year Program brochure (PDF), which includes the nomination form (PDF). Maximum Award: $10,000 scholarship. Eligibility: This program is open to all U.S. public school superintendents and superintendents of American schools abroad who plan to continue in the profession. Anyonemay nominate a superintendent for this program. Most often, nominations come from a school board president, parent, community leader or another superintendent. Deadline: September 30.


August 15-17
Sales Tax Holiday

August 25
First Day of School for
Aldine, Alief, Houston, Humble, Spring Branch and North Forest ISDs

September 6
Reach Out to Dropouts Aldine, Alief, Cy-Fair, Goose Creek, Houston and Spring Branch ISDs

September 22-24
National College Access Network Annual Conference
Hilton Americas Hotel

Statistic of the Month

This year, 43 Texas public school districts and 996 schools earned "Exemplary" ratings from the Texas Education Agency. In 2007, 27 districts and 643 schools received the top rating.

Source: Texas Education Agency

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
Events Coordinator

Betsy Broyles Breier
Special Projects Coordinator

Administrative Assistants
Imelda Cardoza
Donna O'Neil
Lisa Stein

Tuan Amith