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January 2009
News from Houston A+ Challenge

Deadline Approaching for Aspiring Principals Academy
Are you passionate about becoming a leader in a high-need secondary school? There's still time to apply for Houston A+ Challenge's Regional Principal Leadership Academy -- but hurry.

January 12 is the deadline to apply. Houston A+ Challenge will host a final information session for candidates on Wednesday, January 7.

Click to RSVP for the info session, apply now or learn more.

Teachers & Businesses: Join A+ for Summer Externship 2009
Summer may be months away, but now is the time for teachers to apply for a weeklong job shadowing experience through Houston A+ Challenge's 7th Annual Teacher Externship Program, June 8-12, 2009.

Up to 300 spots are open for teachers who want to spend a week in a business related to their field of study. After Externship Week, teachers develop lesson plans based on their experiences and receive a $800 to $1200 stipend.

Apply today as an individual or as a school team, or learn more.

Businesses interested in sponsoring a teacher or teachers, please email Alejandro Morúa or click here to learn more.

ExxonMobil Gives $1.2 Million to Houston A+ Math Initiative
21 Houston-area schools serving more than 1,400 students now have access to an innovative, technology-based math curriculum called Reasoning Mind, as a result of a $1.2 million contribution from the ExxonMobil Foundation to Houston A+ Challenge.

Read more about ExxonMobil's gift, or see In Focus below for an interview with Amber Feight, a fifth grade teacher who uses Reasoning Mind with her students.

ExxonMobil and Houston A+ Challenge began their partnership in 2000, with the introduction of a K-5 Math Specialists Program into elementary schools in Houston ISD's West Region. Based on positive results, the initiative was expanded to four middle schools in 2007-08.

Houston A+ Challenge's math specialist initiatives currently benefit more than 36,000 students in 27 schools.

Jan. 27: National Speaker Series on 'Communities of Practice'
Join Houston A+ Challenge January 27 as international researcher and consultant Etienne Wenger discusses how established 'Communities of Practice' can enhance collaboration in education, in business and beyond. The 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 free event, click here.

Winter Institute Spotlights College Access & Success Models
The first annual Preparing to Dream Winter Resource Institute, offered by Houston A+ Challenge and National College Access Network, united teams of educators from five school districts in early December.

Keynote speaker Luzelma Canales shared how South Texas College, which serves a 95% Hispanic student body, has grown from 1,038 to over 22,000 students in just 15 years.

In addition, 15 breakout sessions offered research and best practices from national, state and local presenters. Conference themes and sessions were specifically designed to help Preparing to Dream districts advance their unique new projects to increase college access and success among all students.

View presentations and notes from the Winter Institute

Two Houston A+ Staffers Take on New Roles in the New Year
Alejandro Morúa, who has served as Houston A+ Challenge's Public Engagement Coordinator since March 2005, has been promoted to Director of Partnerships and Innovations.  Alejandro will oversee all programs that do not fall under our leadership networks, and will head up a new effort to develop and formalize a 'knowledge network' of partners in business, higher education, and the nonprofit sector who are passionate about ensuring that all children graduate ready for success in college and career.

In addition, Melissa Milios Davis, our Director of Public Affairs since January 2007, will take on the new role of Director of Communications and Development. Melissa will continue overseeing all of Houston A+'s publications, and now also will work with the A+ Board of Trustees and Executive Director on fundraising for Houston A+ Challenge.

School News

Addressing the 'Quarterback Problem' in Public Education
Predicting who will be a star teacher before they enter the field is just as impossible as predicting which college football player will become a star quarterback in the NFL, writes Malcolm Gladwell in the New Yorker. Why? No other situation replicates the blend of demands, skills, and intuitions of either job.

According to research that Gladwell cites, students in the class of a bad teacher will learn, on average, half a year's material. Students in the class of a very good teacher will learn a year and a half's material -- putting them an entire year ahead of their poorly-taught peers.

The implications are clear: "After years of worrying about issues like school funding levels, class size, and curriculum design, many reformers have come to the conclusion that nothing matters more than finding people with the potential to be great teachers. But there's a hitch: no one knows what a person with the potential to be a great teacher looks like. The school system has a quarterback problem."

Read the full story or an excerpt of Gladwell's new book, 'Outliers'.

For another take, read a rebuttal by Education Week's eduwonkette.

International Science Exam Shows Plateau in U.S. Performance
U.S. students are doing no better on an international science exam than they were a decade ago, a plateau in performance that leaves educators and policymakers worried about how schools are preparing students to compete in an increasingly global economy.

Results of the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), released in December, show how fourth- and eighth-graders in the United States measure up to peers in dozens of countries. U.S. students showed gains in math at both grades. But average science performance, although still stronger than in many countries, has stagnated since 1995.

Students in Singapore, China and Japan outperformed U.S. fourth-graders in science. So did students in the Chinese region of Hong Kong, counted as a separate participant. The U.S. students had an average score of 539 on a 1,000-point scale, higher than peers in 25 countries.

Read the full story from the Washington Post

Houston ISD Offers Another Learning Lab
Houston ISD invites families and members of the public to their second installment of 'Learning Labs', with a focus on:

  • Public education & legislative issues
  • Communicating with the community
  • How parents and community members can get involved
  • Q & A with a panel from Houston ISD

The event will be held from 5 p.m to 7 p.m. on Tuesday, January 13 at the Hattie Mae White Educational Support Center (4400 W. 18 St., 77092). To reserve a seat, call 713-556-7200.

Award-Winning Month For Spring Branch ISD
Congratulations to Spring Branch ISD's Collegiate Challenge Program, which in December was named a Star Award Winner by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board for its impact on creating a district-wide college-bound culture. The program has tripled in size and helped nearly 100 high school students apply for college and pursue scholarship applications.

In addition, Spring Branch ISD's SpringBoard Mentoring Program was named the statewide 2009 Crystal Award Winner for Top Mentoring Program by the Texas Association of Partners in Education. The program has grown from about 40 mentors in 2002 to more than 600 mentors today.

In Focus With … Amber Feight

Amber FeightAs a first-year teacher at Burnet Middle School, Amber Feight was one of three Houston ISD teachers who participated in a 2007-08 pilot project with Houston A+ Challenge to implement an innovative, interactive, technology-based math curriculum called Reasoning Mind with her 75 students in three fifth grade classrooms.

Now in her second year of using RM, Amber shared her reflections on the program, which is funded generously by ExxonMobil Foundation and was expanded in 2007-08 to serve more than 1,400 students in 21 schools.

What was it like using Reasoning Mind as a first-year teacher?
It was amazing. Because I had no preconceived notions of what had to happen, it really helped, especially with classroom management. I had a great group of kids, and they were so excited with Reasoning Mind, there were no discipline problems. They were a little chatty here and there, but they are so engaged – they're just doing their work.

What is so innovative about Reasoning Mind?
Kids are so involved with technology, so the interactivity of doing math with a cartoon Genie is a novelty and a treat for them at the beginning. As it goes on, they become more invested in their own learning. They get excited, because RM helps them see and chart their own progress. It's 'Look how far I've come!' They love being able to see that for themselves.

Also, with RM it is really active learning.  There are no multiple choice answers – it's all child-produced. There are word problems, too.  Most kids in my class are limited English, so I'm not just teaching them math, I'm teaching them words like 'parallel', 'solve', 'ascending', 'descending.'  I make them keep 'theory notebooks' to practice the words that are confusing them.

Does RM help you differentiate instruction for your students?
It's helping me reach all of them, because everyone in the class can be working whether I'm in front of them instructing or not. I have special ed students' eyes lighting up, because they're finally understanding it. For the first time, they want to keep going, keep trying to learn.

My gifted and talented kids don't have to be held back by me remediating my special ed kids. It also enriches them, because I'll use them as a 'Genie helper' with the other kids. And my average students are plugging along, asking questions sometimes, and I don't have to overlook them because I'm trying to modify for the other two groups.

I'm able to track all of this as well – RM gives me constant feedback.  I can look at data on every single one of my students, which problems they got wrong or right, how long they spent on solving the problem, what they answered. I can look at general trends for the class, or specific examples. There's so much data, it’s a little daunting!

How are your students doing, in terms of test scores?
Their progress has been remarkable. Of the 75 kids I see, 89 percent passed TAKS on the first administration, and 93 percent passed by the second. 20 to 22 percent got 'commended'. One of my special ed students actually got commended – we were very proud of him! There's also been a remarkable amount of growth from year to year.

How does RM fit with your teaching philosophy?
I believe that teaching is innovation.  You have to be open to change. When I get the kids at the beginning of the year, most of them are very passive. They think that learning just pops into your brain. I tell them, 'Think about baseball – if you don't have a glove, and if you don't move, you can't catch that ball. Move your brain, move your thoughts!' It's an active process. 

In my class, my students and I are constantly innovating.  I'm documenting best strategies, keeping notes on how I take grades, what works best – literally every day I modify and learn something new.  And that's why RM is the future of innovation.

Would you recommend RM to other teachers and schools?
I think that any school that has a dedicated teacher should take a chance on it.  You can't be lazy and use RM, it's impossible.  Also, I would say that it may be difficult for veteran teachers to buy in to, and you can’t really blame them – every year there's something new you're supposed to do.  Older teachers will do what works for them – or what they perceive to be working.

I use RM as my primary curriculum. If you use it as a supplement, it's not going to work to its full potential. In HISD, we have a wonderful textbook – and I still use it for remediation, for TAKS practice. But for me, RM is better in the way that it approaches math.

RM is based on an algebra mindset. It seeks not only to help students understand computational algorithms, it seeks to have them understand math on a deeper level, so that when they hit algebra in the 7th or 8th grade, they're not completely floored by the fact that they're doing math with letters.

RM is that gateway. My kids are solving for variables in the 5th grade.  It's so important that they get a confidence and an understanding of what's going on. It's not about memorizing – they have to really know what they are doing. There are no shortcuts with RM.

On The Bookshelf

In 'Making Learning Whole: How Seven Principles of Teaching Can Transform Education', Dr. David N. Perkins, a senior professor of education at Harvard's Graduate School of Education and noted researcher and international speaker on learning, offers a new teaching framework that can be applied to a wide range of subjects. The following is a description from publisher Jossey-Bass:

"David Perkins, a noted authority on teaching and learning and co-director of Harvard's Project Zero, introduces a new, practical, and research-based framework for teaching. He describes how teaching any subject at any level can be made more effective if students are introduced to the "whole game," rather than isolated pieces of a discipline. Using real-world examples, Perkins explains how learning academic subjects should be approached like learning baseball—or any game, and he demonstrates this with seven principles for making learning whole: from making the game worth playing (emphasizing the importance of motivation to sustained learning), to working on the hard parts (the importance of thoughtful practice), to learning how to learn (developing self-managed learners)."


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: 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 for Teachers
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, 2009.

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.

Toshiba/NSTA: ExploraVision Awards
All inventions and innovations result from creative thinking and problem solving. The Toshiba/National Science Teachers Association ExploraVision Awards Program encourages kids to create and explore a vision of future technology by combining their imaginations with the tools of science. Maximum award: U.S. EE Savings Bond worth $10,000 at maturity for each student. Eligibility: U.S. or Canadian citizens or legal residents, living within the United States, U.S. Territories or Canada who are full-time students grades K-12 attending a public, private, or home school. Deadline: January 28, 2009.

Coming Up Taller Awards
The President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities: Coming Up Taller Awards recognize and reward outstanding after-school and out-of-school arts and humanities programs for underserved children and youth. Maximum Award: $10,000. Eligibility: Programs initiated by museums, libraries, performing arts organizations, universities, colleges, arts centers, community service organizations, schools, businesses, and eligible government entities. Deadline: January 30, 2009.

Christopher Columbus Awards: Innovation Generation
The Christopher Columbus Awards Program combines science and technology with community problem solving. Students work in teams with the help of an adult coach to identify an issue they care about and, using science and technology, work with experts, conduct research, and put their ideas to the test to develop an innovative solution. Maximum award: A $25,000 Columbus Foundation Community Grant and an all-expense-paid trip to Walt Disney World to attend the program's National Championship Week, plus a $200 development grant to further refine their idea, and a $2,000 U.S. Savings Bond for each team member. Eligibility: Middle-school-age (sixth, seventh, and eighth grade) children; teams do not need to be affiliated with a school to enter. Deadline: Feb. 9, 2009.



Regional Principal Leadership Academy
(2009-10 Cohort)

Teacher Externship Program 2009


Jan. 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 13
Houston ISD's 'Learning Lab' for Parents & Community
5 - 7 p.m.
Hattie Mae White Ed. Support Center
4400 W. 18th Street

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

January 17
Spring Branch ISD's 'Parent University'
8 a.m. - 1 p.m.
Spring Woods High School
2045 Gessner

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

Fewer than 20% of U.S. eighth-graders are on track for college, and many are unable to catch up during high school, according to a new ACT report based on 216,000 students who took precursors to the college-entrance exam in the eighth- and tenth-grades.

Source: ACT Report: The Forgotten Middle (2008)

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, Communications & Development

Alejandro Morúa
Director, Partnerships & Innovations

P. Tim Martindell
Asst. Director of Leadership in Teaching

Program Coordinators
Betsy Broyles Breier

Mike Webster

Angela Prince
Curriculum Specialist

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