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December 2008
News from Houston A+ Challenge

Aldine, Humble Co-Host Info Sessions for Aspiring Principals
There's still time to apply or nominate an emerging leader for the second cohort of Houston A+ Challenge's Regional Principal Leadership Academy -- a unique, intensive, internship-based program for aspiring principals.

Potential applicants in Aldine and Humble ISDs are specially invited to attend public information sessions co-hosted by district leaders. (Aldine will co-host on Dec. 3, and Humble will co-host on Dec. 4.)

All sessions will provide general info and are open to the public. Potential candidates also will get the chance to speak with Academy faculty and some of this year's Principal Interns.

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.

'Preparing to Dream' Launches in Five Houston-Area Districts
Improving college access and success among low-income students and first-generation collegegoers is the overarching goal of five new, innovative projects now underway in Houston-area school districts.

Teams of teachers, administrators, students and parents from each district spent the past year analyzing district data, researching best practices from around the nation, and developing comprehensive plans to enhance the college-going culture in their districts.

On Nov. 13, the districts announced their three-year Preparing to Dream plans:

  • Aldine ISD has added a new, campus-based College Access Coordinator to serve two high schools, and is training student leaders and teachers to help students apply & prepare for college.
  • Cypress-Fairbanks ISD is taking a similar step, establishing a campus-based College & Career Readiness director at a new district high school serving ninth and tenth graders.
  • Goose Creek CISD will create "GO Centers" at all high schools to give students space and personal assistance with college applications, and will train teachers to become college mentors.
  • In Houston ISD's North Region, schools in the Wheatley HS feeder pattern are working to increase the number of rigorous math courses offered and successfully completed -- targeting Algebra as the 'gatekeeper'.
  • Spring Branch ISD is developing a comprehensive system to track graduates' paths beyond high school, and will use survey results to improve the content and delivery of college preparation efforts for future high school students.

Preparing to Dream is funded generously by Houston Endowment, with additional support from TG to enhance student and parent engagement. The initaitive is co-managed by Houston A+ Challenge and the National College Access Network.

Calling All CFGs: Scholarships Available for National Conference
Individuals who have completed the 40-hour Critical Friends Group New Coach Training with Houston A+ Challenge are eligible to apply for a scholarship of up to $250 toward registration for the 2009 National School Reform Faculty (NSRF) Winter Meeting, to be held Jan. 15-17 in Houston.

At the 2009 Winter Meeting, local educators can meet teachers, administrators and educational leaders from across the country, participate in an interactive learning community, and practice new skills and tools that they can immediately apply in their home setting. To read an interview with NSRF Director Steven Strull, see In Focus below.

Scholarships are available for specified groups of trained coaches, including: individuals trained in 2008, those trained in 2007 and prior, current and former participants in Houston A+ Challenge leadership academies.

To apply for a scholarship, click here. The deadline to apply is Dec. 17.

Jan. 27: National Speaker Series on 'Communities of Practice'
Join Houston A+ Challenge next month as international researcher and consultant Etienne Wenger discusses how established "Communities of Practice" can enhance collaboration in education, in business and beyond. The January 27 event will be held at the University of Houston Hilton Hotel from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

In education, Wenger's works have inspired a new line of research that focuses on the social nature of learning and its connection to communities. In business and government, his work has revolutionized the field of knowledge management.

To RSVP for this event, click here.

Houston A+ Challenge Recognized At National Conference
Three new approaches to principal preparation in Houston were spotlighted during the Public Education Network's annual conference, held Nov. 16-18 in San Francisco.

Similarities, differences and dynamic partnerships between Houston A+ Challenge's Regional Principal Leadership Academy, Rice University's Educational Entrepreneurship Programs and Houston ISD's ASPIRE program were highlighted during a session moderated by George Grainger, Senior Grant Officer for Houston Endowment. Click here to see a side-by-side synopsis of the programs.

At the conference, Houston A+ Challenge's monthly electronic newsletter, eNotes, also was honored with a Carmen A. Sarnicola Award for Excellence in Communications.

The 25th Annual PEN Conference celebrated 25 years of local education funds (LEFs) and their legacy impact on public education. Click here to hear an audio montage from the event.

School News

Register Today for 'Building a Coalition for the Children of Texas'
On December 10, the Education Class of the American Leadership Forum will host Building a Coalition for the Children of Texas -- a one-day conference that aims to build a coalition of educational, business, and community leaders who understand the importance of acquiring 21st century workforce skills.

The conference will be held at Rice University.  Speakers will include:

  • Carol Comeau, Superintendent of Schools, Anchorage Alaska;
  • Dr. Daniel Goleman, author of NY Times bestsellers "Emotional Intelligence" and "Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships";
  • Albert Myres, Senior Vice President, Government & Public Affairs, Reliant Energy; and
  • Dr. Uri Treisman, Executive Director, Charles A. Dana Center, University of Texas

Click here to register now or download a flyer.

Dec. 5: Sandra Mercuri on Bilingual Education
This month the University of St. Thomas will host an evening with Dr. Sandra Mercuri, Assistant Professor at the University of Texas, Brownsville, with research interests in language, literacy and professional development for teachers of English learners. Dr. Mercuri is co-author of "Closing the Achievement Gap: Meeting the Needs of Older English Learners" and "Dual Language Essentials for Teachers and Administrators." The lecture starts at 7 p.m. on Dec. 5 at the University of St. Thomas's Jones Hall, followed by a reception at 8 p.m.

Houston ISD Invites Community to 'Learning Labs'
Parents, educators and community members interested in learning more about Houston ISD's core values, organization, funding sources, information resources and major initiatives are invited to attend a new series of meetings being held by the district.

"Learning Labs" are planned for Jan. 13, March 10 and May 19 at the district's Hattie Mae White Educational Support Center. For more information, call 713-556-7200.

In Focus With … Steven Strull

Steven Strull has served as the Director of the National School Reform Faculty (NSRF) since 2006, and is now based in New York City.  Houston A+ Challenge interviewed him via phone to get his perspective on several topics — including the history of Critical Friends Groups, the growth of CFG work, equity, and the upcoming NSRF Winter Meeting, which will be held in Houston January 15-17, 2009.

*Note: The full version of this interview was published last month in Coaching Facilitates Greatness, an eNewsletter for Critical Friends Group coaches published by Houston A+ Challenge.

You began your educative journey as a classroom teacher at DuSable High School in Chicago, where you learned about the Coalition of Essential Schools and the Annenberg Institute.  Can you talk a little bit about how those organizations shaped your career and your thoughts on education?

Ambassador Walter Annenberg had given the challenge grant to public education.  The Annenberg Institute was set up at Brown University alongside the Coalition of Essential Schools.  As a CES school, DuSable received the invitation for faculty members to apply to become Critical Friends Group Coaches with the newly formed National School Reform Faculty at Annenberg.  My assistant principal gave me the packet, and said that she thought that this was something I should apply for, and the community came around and coached me through the application process.  Looking back on it now, it was a very respectful way to enter the work.  We wrote the application, which was many, many, many pages long, with many questions and scenarios.  A couple of months later, we got word back that I'd been chosen to receive this training. 

That was in 1996, so it was the second year of CFG Coaches training, and it was a really, really big deal.   I was getting flown to Seattle, we were getting put up at a very nice hotel, all of our expenses were being paid, and we were going to receive a stipend to do this work.  So to be told that I was going to travel across the country and be treated like a professional and receive a stipend for my work was big, big, big, stuff.

Besides Houston, where do you see the strongholds of the CFG movement?

It's in a lot of different places.  New York is very strong.  South Florida is very strong.  New England is very strong—everything from an entire high school, Souhegan High School in New Hampshire, to a school district like Brookline, Massachusetts, where Gene Thompson-Grove [NSRF founder] works.  Southern California is very strong.  Denver and the Colorado area.  San Francisco, Oakland, Portland, Seattle, Albuquerque.  This is just off the top of my head.

While national organizations might provide a bully pulpit – we might be able to organize national meetings, put out some publications and do some research –  the work happens when a teacher and her colleagues sit in a classroom and look at student and teacher work.  That's the power of this work.  That's what I did in 1996 when I came back from the training seminar and that's still the core of our work.

Why do you feel that Critical Friends Groups and adults getting together to talk about student learning are such powerful models for addressing some of those issues?

Because, it gives us permission to say "We don't know."  It gives us permission to open up our classroom doors and ask a colleague for help.  We can walk into someone's classroom and say, "Since I'm not exactly sure what I'm doing, my guess is that you might not be either.  Maybe together, we can figure something out."  We can't look to the state standards to figure it all out.  We can't externalize our involvement and complicity in the status quo.  We can interrupt some of those realities of schooling in this country. 

I think that part of it has to do with the misogynistic legacy.  Most teachers in this country remain female:  they're middle class, they're white, they're in their forties, and they're women.  And most administrators across the country are still men.  So you have a situation that began well over 100 years ago where the political authority is being male dominated and the workforce is female dominated.  I think part of the isolation in classrooms was a survival strategy, and one that we have to unpack together in order to make the changes that we know we need to make.

What are some things you would say to encourage Houstonians to be part of NSRF and to feel connected to NSRF?

Become a member – even at the smallest level.  Don't let finances get in the way.  We can always talk to folks about scholarshipping their membership.  Through a robust Center of Activity like Houston A+ Challenge, it's important to push this notion that NSRF is a collective and a membership organization. 

Members get paper copies of Connections and are connected to our distribution listserv to learn about Winter Meetings and facilitator meetings and other kinds of queries that come across the coaches' listserv.  Members are involved in a national movement.  I think that NSRF is a stronger movement than an organization.  Our Centers of Activity are very strong organizations, but I think NSRF national is a movement, and I would encourage folks, if CFG work, as it clearly is, is having an effect in Houston and in Greater Texas and is part of someone’s craft, then they should become a member and officially become a part of the movement.

On The Bookshelf

Carl Glickman, President of the Institute for Schools, Education, and Democracy and former University Professor at The University of Georgia-Athens, has released a new book titled "Those Who Dared: Five Visionaries Who Changed American Education". The book is a collection of ideas and thoughts from five educational reformers - James Comer, John Goodlad, Deborah Meier, Henry Levin, and Ted Sizer.

Carl Glickman will kick off the Regional Principal Leadership Academy's National Faculty Seminar Series in December, with a private learning session for RPLA Interns.

The following excerpt is from the publisher, Teachers College Press:

"For decades, practically every major initiative in American education (from top-down standards to the testing movement) has moved decision-making farther away from the school. Throughout their careers, Deborah Meier, John Goodlad, James Comer, Ted Sizer, and Henry Levin have been at the forefront of the fight against this trend, working to give our schools back the ability to educate students in the broadest and richest traditions of activity, inquiry, and problem solving. Now these visionary educators have joined together to share their personal stories of the challenges and triumphs they faced in the classroom, and their ideas of what education can and should be for every student. Serving as an inspirational guide to action for those looking to be more involved in the urgent and continuing efforts to restore America’s public schools, this book:

  • Brings together the experiences and insights of greatly influential and progressive educational leaders of the past half-century...and they are still working today!
  • Ranges from highly personal to imminently practical to passionately political, with each writer offering a unique perspective on what it takes to sustain major school change.
  • Recounts the many instances when the authors thought beyond the conventional boundaries of educational practice to find innovative solutions in a number of critical areas, including developing more effective curriculum and assessment, expanding the benefits of gifted education to every child, strengthening school/community partnerships, and addressing the specific needs of small schools and learning communities."

More Suggested Readings


Nanotechnology for Teachers at Rice University
The Center for Biological and Environmental Nanotechnology (CBEN) at Rice University is offering an evening, spring course on Nanotechnology for Introductory Chemistry and Physics Teachers. The program is designed for high school science teachers, although middle school teachers are welcome. Nanotechnology is an interdisciplinary field that encompasses physics, chemistry, biology and environmental sciences. Award: No fees or costs; funded through the National Science Foundation. Accepted teachers receive class materials, 45 CPE credit hours and a $300 stipend* Eligibility: For chemistry and physics teachers. Deadline: Dec. 20.

Grantsformation puts the FUN in FUNding
Register for Grantsformation's first series of workshops in Houston:

  • Grant-writing for Classroom Teachers: 9A-4P.
    Need money for a super-cool special project for your classroom, grad level, or school? Whether you need $200 or $10,000, this one-day workshop will teach you everything you need to know to begin applying for - and WINNING - grant funds now. Fee: $125. Dates: Jan. 24.

  • Writing for the Grant Reviewer: 9A-4P.
    There's nothing more disappointing than pouring WEEKS of your time and effort into a grant application that doesn't win. This hands-on workshop will show you how to write directly to and for the real, live human being who reads your words and assigns the points: the grant reviewer. This full-day workshop will have you leading the reviewer by the nose to victory on your behalf. Fee: $125. Dates: Jan. 10, Feb. 28.

  • Building a Powerful Grant Team: 9A-12P.
    Whether you are a "team of one" or have several interested colleagues who just need some direction, this half-day, roll-up-your-sleeves workshop will delineate all of the "character types" you'll need to cultivate to start winning grants now. If you DO have a team, bring them all, and leave with a plan. Fee: $90. Dates: Dec. 13, Jan. 31.

To register for these Grantsformation classes, click here.

Scholastic/Lexus Environmental Challenge
The Scholastic/Lexus Environmental Challenge seeks to encourage middle- and high-school students to develop and implement environmental programs for their communities. Maximum award: $10,000. Eligibility: Students grades 6-12 and their teachers. Deadline: Varies.

Astronauts Memorial Foundation: Technology in Education Award
The Astronauts Memorial Foundation's Alan Shepard Technology in Education Award recognizes excellence in the development and delivery of technology programs in the classroom or in the professional development of teachers. Maximum award: $500 and recognition at the 25th National Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, CO, March 30-April 2, 2009. Eligibility: K-12 educators and district-level personnel in the field of educational technology. Deadline: Jan. 16, 2009.

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.

Cable in the Classroom: Leaders In Learning Awards
Cable in the Classroom's Leaders In Learning Awards recognize teachers, administrators, and community leaders who are helping to improve and transform education for children in and out of school, creating 21st-century learning environments that children need in order to succeed in the world that awaits them. Maximum award: $3,000. Eligibility: teachers, administrators, and community leaders. Deadline: Dec. 17, 2008.

Beveridge Family Teaching Prize
The American Historical Association Beveridge Family Teaching Prize recognizes excellence and innovation in elementary, middle school, and secondary history teaching, including career contributions and specific initiatives. Maximum award: $1,500, plus travel expenses for group leader to travel to annual meeting in January 2010 to accept award. Eligibility: K-12 teachers in groups. Deadline: March 16, 2009.

Lemelson-MIT InvenTeams: High School Invention Grants
Lemelson-MIT InvenTeams grants foster inventiveness among high school students. InvenTeams composed of high school students, teachers and mentors are asked to collaboratively identify a problem that they want to solve, research the problem, and then develop a prototype invention as an in-class or extracurricular project. Maximum award: $10,000. Eligibility: High school science, mathematics and technology teachers--or teams of teachers--at public, private and vocational schools; intra- and inter-school collaborations are welcome. Deadline: April 24, 2009.

National Teachers Hall of Fame
The National Teachers Hall of Fame honors exceptional career teachers, encourages excellence in teaching, and preserves the rich heritage of the teaching profession in the United States. Maximum award: recognition; $1,000 scholarship for a student in the inductee's school district who plans to pursue a degree in education; $1,000 in educational materials from the Pearson Learning Group for the inductee's school district. Eligibility: nominees must have a minimum of 20 years of full-time preK-12 teaching experience, and hold a valid teaching certificate or license from the state in which he or she is teaching or has taught. Deadline: Jan. 2, 2009.



Regional Principal Leadership Academy
(2009-10 Cohort)


December 3
Info Session for Aspiring Principals
Co-hosted with Aldine ISD
4:30 p.m. - 6 p.m.
M.O. Campbell Center, Room 104, 1865 Aldine Bender

December 4
Info Session for Aspiring Principals
Co-hosted with Humble ISD
4:30 p.m. - 6 p.m.
Humble High School
Large Group Instructional Area #1
1700 Wilson Rd., Humble

December 5
Dual Language Essentials for Curriculum and Planning
7:00 p.m.
Jones Hall
University of St. Thomas

December 10
Building a Coalition for the Children of Texas
Hosted by the Education Class of the American Leadership Forum
7:45 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
Rice University, McNair Hall, Shell Auditorium
6100 Main Street

December 10
Info Session For Aspiring Principals
4:30 p.m. - 6 p.m.
at Houston A+ Challenge
2700 Southwest Freeway, Suite B, Houston, 77098
(Behind the Greater Houston Red Cross)

January 7
Info Session For Aspiring Principals
4:30 p.m. - 6 p.m.
at Houston A+ Challenge
2700 Southwest Freeway, Suite B, Houston, 77098
(Behind the Greater Houston Red Cross)

January 15-17
National School Reform Faculty Winter Meeting
InterContinental Houston
2222 West Loop South
Houston, TX 77027

January 28
Communities of Practice
with Etienne Wenger
6 p.m. - 7:30 p.m.
University of Houston - Hilton Hotel
4800 Calhoun Rd

Statistic of the Month

Nearly two-thirds of U.S. high school students admit to cheating on at least one test in the past year, according to a new nationwide survey of 30,000 students. Nearly 93% of those surveyed revealed felt 'satisfied' with their sense of personal ethics and character.

Source: Josephson Institute

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