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October 2008
News from Houston A+ Challenge

Nominate or Apply: Join Our Search for Talented School Leaders
Houston A+ Challenge is now accepting applications and nominations for a unique, three-year program for aspiring principals: the Regional Principal Leadership Academy.

Talented assistant principals, deans of instruction, content coaches, teacher leaders, business or civic leaders and beyond are encouraged to apply. Requirements include a track record of success in education, a passion for social justice, and an entrepreneurial conviction to help turn around local urban secondary schools that are currently low-performing, suffer from frequent turnover, and serve a majority of low-income students.

Nominees will be invited to participate in the competitive candidate selection process that is now underway.  A maximum of 30 aspiring principals will begin the program in June 2009. The deadline to apply is 5 p.m. CST, January 12, 2009.

National Speaker Series: 'Disrupting Class' with Michael Horn
There are just a few spots left for Houston A+ Challenge's free, public lecture on Oct. 16, as we welcome Michael Horn, co-author of "Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation will Change the Way the World Learns".

Whether you're a school administrator, government official, business leader, parent, teacher or entrepreneur, you'll discover surprising new ideas and outside-the-box strategies, and learn how:

  • Customized learning will help more students succeed in school
  • 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

Click here to RSVP for this event, which will take place at the Univ. of Houston Hilton Hotel, 4800 Calhoun St., from 5-6:30 p.m. on Oct. 16.

Give Kids Good Schools: Focus on College Access and Success
Give Kids Good SchoolsHouston A+ Challenge and public schools across the region will celebrate Give Kids Good Schools Week, Oct. 12-18, by hosting parents, students, community members, and partners from higher education and business partners at open houses spotlighting college and career opportunities.

Give Kids Good Schools is a nationwide campaign to focus attention on three ways that all Americans can work to achieve public school excellence - Learn, Vote and Act. Local events are held in partnership with Houston A+ Challenge and the National College Access Network, through funding from TG and Houston Endowment.

Oct. 10: New Documentary on Global Competition in Education
2 Million MinutesTune in to Houston PBS/Channel 8 on Friday, Oct. 10 at 1 p.m., to watch this eye-opening documentary comparing how six top students from China, India and the U.S. spend the precious 2 Million Minutes between the start of freshmen year and high school graduation.

"Seeing this film has made me more committed to studying and getting ready for college," said Armando Molina, a junior at Houston School for International Studies, after a private screening on Oct. 3 for at least 250 students from his school and Sharpstown International High School. "50 years ago we were only competing with students across the states. Now we're competing with students from all around the world."

Photos from '2 Million Minutes' screenings

"I think we should raise the bar," said Ariel Davilla, a freshman from Sharpstown International. "Right now, students in the U.S. aren't really challenged, that's why we're not as motivated."

On Sept. 8, over 150 Houston parents, educators, business and community members attended a sneak-preview public screening of the film.

"The statistics were mind-boggling," said Terri Hudler-Hull, a Houston ISD parent, in a panel and audience discussion after the screening.

"We've gotten comfortable being #1, but at this point, it's a numbers game," said Frazier Wilson, Manager of Social Investment for Shell Oil Company. "We can't remain on top without changing our expectations. There's got to be a mindset change."

Other panelists included Ken Estrella (principal of KIPP Houston High School), Mike Falick (Spring Branch ISD Board of Trustees), HAIS students Torian Sheldman and LaNeesha Smith, and SIHS students Mauro Douohou and Elaine Lin.

The screenings were made possible through partnership between Houston A+ Challenge, Houston PBS/Channel 8, Southwest Alternate Media Project, and principals Melissa Jacobs-Thibaut (HAIS) and Chang Yu (SIHS).

School News

The Long, Hard Road to Graduation
When high school dropouts return to the classroom, they face a plethora of unique difficulties -- and new research from WestEd attempts to reveal the obstacles these students face to graduate. Though the study focuses on one cohort of first-time ninth graders in the San Bernardino (Calif.) school district, researchers believe it reflects many other school districts based on similar factors.

The study finds that taking care of family members is one of the primary reasons that students drop out, and that a major impetus for them to return is their lack of marketability without a high school diploma. The study also finds that the majority of re-enrollees dropped out for the first time in the ninth grade, and that over half of re-enrollees returned to school for only one year.

Click here to read a two-page summary (or the full study) by WestEd

'One-Stop Shop' for Student Data Being Created in Houston ISD
In February 2009, Houston ISD (in collaboration with Region 4 Education Service Center) is planning to release an online tool that provides teachers, administrators and principals with a single snapshot of each of their individual students' TAKS scores and other assessment tests. The tool, titled Comprehensive Curriculum Assessment Professional Development (or CCAP), allows educators to create interventions, quizzes and tests based on the analysis.

"This will help teachers concentrate on the objectives that need the most attention, instead of using valuable instructional time focusing on concepts that students have already mastered," explained Kelli Kirkland, Houston ISD Technology Project Manager.

Read the full story

In Focus With … Walter Hunt

Born and raised in Houston by parents who were both educators, Walter Hunt has spent five years in the classroom and three years as an administrator, most recently as Assistant Principal at Klein Intermediate School in Klein ISD.  He says that "when we are destined to pursue a career that we are 'made' for, we must fulfill that destiny in order to achieve true professional happiness.'" In May, Walter was accepted into the first cohort of Houston A+ Challenge's Regional Principal Leadership Academy for aspiring principals.

You're now into your second month as a Principal Intern at Humble High School. What has been your biggest lesson so far?

During my time at Humble, my biggest lesson has been the importance of having solid systems in place. It is essential to have a method of keeping students and teachers accountable in an effort to increase student achievement. When people know your goals and expectations, it makes it easier for the work together for the common goal/vision of the campus.

What lessons are you applying now that you learned during last summer's intensive, six-week session with Houston A+ Challenge?

Mainly this summer, I learned about myself as a leader. The self-reflection exercises helped me to determine my strengths and weaknesses as a leader. Now that I know each of these areas, I am better able to put into practice techniques that will enable me to lead a group of people effectively.

How do you spend your days at Humble HS? How closely do you shadow Charles Ned, the principal, and what types of roles does he have you playing on the campus?

I spend most of my days at Humble HS working on campus-wide programs and visiting teacher classrooms. Principal Ned and I are together a few hours out of each day meeting with counselors, strategizing with the administrative team, and dealing with pertinent campus issues. Right now, my main role on campus involves implementing our campus Attendance Incentive Program (designed to increase student attendance) and working with the AP of Curriculum and Instruction to increase my knowledge of high school curriculum.

Do you have any advice for aspiring principals who are thinking about applying to the Regional Principal Leadership Academy?

I would strongly recommend this program to anyone thinking about being a principal in today's society. This program gives you invaluable experience and a wealth of knowledge. Aspiring leaders can learn more about themselves and have an opportunity to see what it's really like to be in the "nice office with all of the windows"!

On The Bookshelf

With 30 years of public school teaching and writing op-ed columns for the Wall Street Journal under his belt, New York's "Teacher of the Year" and school reform expert John Taylor Gatto has just released a new book a new critique on the modern school system, "Weapons of Mass Instruction: A Schoolteacher's Journey Through the Dark World of Compulsory Schooling." From publisher New Society Publishers:

"John Taylor Gatto's 'Weapons of Mass Instruction' focuses on mechanisms of familiar schooling which cripple imagination, discourage critical thinking and create a false view of learning as a by-product of rote-memorization drills. Gatto's earlier book, 'Dumbing Us Down', put the now-famous expression of the title in common use worldwide. 'Weapons of Mass Instruction' promises to add another chilling metaphor to the brief against schooling.

"Here is a demonstration that the harm school inflicts is quite rational and deliberate, following high level political theories constructed by Plato, Calvin, Spinoza, Fichte, Darwin, Wundt, and others, which contend the term 'education' is meaningless because humanity is strictly limited by necessities of biology, psychology, and theology. The real function of pedagogy is to render the common population manageable.

"Realizing that goal demands the young be conditioned to rely upon experts, conditioned to remain divided from natural alliances, conditioned to accept disconnections from the experiences, which create self-reliance and independence.

"Escaping this trap requires a different way of growing up, one Gatto calls 'open source learning.' In chapters such as 'A Letter to Kristina, My Granddaughter'; 'Fat Stanley'; and 'Walkabout: London', this different reality is illustrated."


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 the Woodlands, Louisiana and New Jersey -- 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. Eligibility: 100 scholarships are open to any teacher self-nominated or nominated by a student through sendmyteacher.com. The other 500 slots are apportioned through districts selected by ExxonMobil. Deadline: October 31.

Air Force Association Educator Grants
The Educator Grant program is designed to promote aerospace education activities in classrooms from kindergarten through twelfth grades. The program encourages development of innovative aerospace activities within the prescribed curriculum. The program also encourages establishing an active relationship between the school and the local Air Force Association organization. Maximum Award: Up to $250. Eligibility: K-12 classroom teachers. Deadline: November 14.

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.

Awards for Innovative Technology that Helps Students Learn
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.

Albert Einstein Fellowships
Albert Einstein Fellows bring to Congress and appropriate branches of the federal government the extensive knowledge and experience of classroom teachers. Fellows provide practical insights and real world perspectives to policy makers and program managers developing or managing federal education programs. Maximum Award: Monthly Stipend +. Eligibility: Each applicant must meet the following criteria:

  • Have spent at least five of the last seven years in a full-time teaching position;
  • Have been employed full-time in a public or private elementary or secondary school or school district in five of the last seven years;
  • Have a current teaching assignment with at least 3/4 of classroom contact hours in science, mathematics, and/or technology (applies to secondary school teachers only); and
  • Be a U.S. citizen at the time of selection.

Deadline: January 15.

Coca-Cola Scholarships
Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation awards 50 four-year $20,000 scholarships and 200 four-year $10,000 scholarships for use at accredited colleges and universities within the US. The foundation rewards leadership and excellence as exemplified through academic achievement and extracurricular activities, including commitment to community service. Maximum Award: $10,000-$20,000. Eligibility: Current high school (or home-schooled) seniors attending school in the US. US Citizens; US Nationals; US Permanent Residents; Temporary Residents (in a legalization program); Refugees; Asylees; Cuban-Haitian Entrants; or Humanitarian Paroles. Click here for more information. Deadline: October 31.

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.

Goody's Good Deeds for Schools
Good Deeds for Schools is a grant program designed to help local schools pay for the things they really need, but can’t afford through regular education funding. With this program, Goody's will award $10,000 each to 50 schools (a half million dollars total) in communities where Goody's stores are located. Maximum Award: $10,000. Eligibility: The Program will be open to schools (K-12) and schools' affiliated organizations and sponsors in markets where Goody’s stores are located. Employees of Sponsor, its affiliates, advertising and promotion agencies and their family members (defined as parents, spouse, children, siblings, grandparents) and/or those living in the same household are not eligible to submit a Grant Application. Void where prohibited, or restricted by law. All federal, state and/or local rules and regulations apply. Deadline: November 1.

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.


Regional Principal Leadership Academy
(2009-10 Cohort)


October 10
2 Million Minutes
1 p.m.  - 2 p.m.
Houston PBS/Channel 8

October 11
Link Up Greater Houston
8 a.m. - 2 p.m.
George R. Brown Convention Center

October 12-18
Give Kids Good Schools Week
Local events celebrate this national campaign

October 14-15 
Spring Branch ISD College Nights
6:30 p.m. - 8:30 p.m.
Spring Woods High School, 2045 Gessner

October 15 
Aldine ISD College Night for Athletes
6:30 p.m.
M.O. Campbell Center, 1865 Aldine Bender Rd.

October 16 
'Disrupting Class' with Michael Horn
5 p.m. - 6:30 p.m.
Univ. of Houston Hilton
4800 Calhoun Street

October 16 
Info Session for Aspiring Principals
6:45 p.m. - 8 p.m.
Univ. of Houston Hilton
4800 Calhoun Street

October 22 
Info Session for Aspiring Principals
5:30 p.m. - 7 p.m.
United Way of Greater Houston, 50 Waugh Dr.

November 13 
Preparing to Dream Community Kickoff
4 p.m. - 5:30 p.m.
Location TBD

November 13 
Info Session for Aspiring Principals
Co-hosted with Teach for America Houston and Yes Prep Public Schools
5:30 p.m. - 7 p.m.
United Way of Greater Houston, 50 Waugh Dr.

November 18  
Differentiated Compensation in Education Symposium
8 a.m. - 5 p.m.
InterContinental Houston
2222 W. Loop South

Statistic of the Month

Forty-two percent of college-educated adults aged 24 to 60 have considered teaching as a career -- indicating that career changers may be one of the nation's best hopes to fill an anticipated 1.5 million teaching vacancies over the next decade.

Source: Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation

Houston A+ Challenge

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

Board of Trustees

Maconda Brown O’Connor
Founding Board Member

Ann Friedman

J. Victor Samuels

Thomas L. Elsenbrook

Susan A. Bischoff
Bill Crouch
Jonathan Day
Joe B. Foster
Roberto Gonzalez
Steve L. Miller
Karol Musher
Maconda Brown O’Connor
Harry Reasoner
Yava D. Scott
VJ Turner, Jr.
Andrea White
Rosie Zamora

Advisory Board
Leonel Castillo
Michael Dee
H. Devon Graham, Jr.
Jenard M. Gross

Houston A+ Staff

Scott Van Beck
Executive Director

Sheri Miller-Williams
Director, Leadership

Catherine Reed

Director, Finance

Melissa Milios
Director, Public Affairs

P. Tim Martindell
Asst. Director of Leadership in Teaching

Program Coordinators
Betsy Broyles Breier

Alejandro Morúa
Angela Prince/Curriculum Specialist
Mike Webster

RPLA Coaches
Marshal Dupas
Debbie Emery
Lawrence Kohn
Shundra Cannon
Rena Ramirez
Bonnie Roberts

Terrie Roberts
Events Coordinator

Administrative Assistants
Imelda Cardoza
Donna O'Neil
Lisa Stein

Tuan Amith