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February 2009
News from Houston A+ Challenge

Students Take Center Stage at National School Reform Meeting
Nearly 260 teachers, administrators, and students gathered to share their work and strengthen their Critical Friends Group coaching skills at the 13th Annual National School Reform Faculty Winter Meeting, held last month in Houston.  Co-hosted by Houston A+ Challenge and two other Texas-based centers of activity – The Urban Forum for Leadership and Learning/HISD, and NSRF San Antonio at Trinity University – the Winter Meeting drew educators from as far away as Egypt, Israel, and China as well as dozens from across the nation and 107 participants from the Houston area.

A defining feature of this year's Winter Meeting was the involvement of high school students who had completed a CFG New Coach Training Institute last summer with Houston A+ Challenge.  The presence of these 14 student-coaches from Eisenhower High School (Aldine ISD) and Challenge Early College High School (Houston ISD) enriched the conference and helped all participants keep the focus on student engagement.

In addition to leading the opening and closing whole-group sessions, these student-coaches participated in home groups with other adult coaches.  Unlike at most professional educator gatherings where students are just the objects of the conversations, at this Winter Meeting these students were full participants who facilitated protocols, offered feedback, and brought their own work to the table in the spirit of collaborative, reflective learning.

For more information on NSRF and Houston A+ Challenge's work with Critical Friends Groups, read these articles from NSRF's Winter Newsletter, submitted by Houston A+ Challenge's Donna Reid:

Exploring 'Communities of Practice' in Houston
International thought leader Etienne Wenger visited Houston last month for our National Speaker Series, and introduced groups of principals, other educators, and business and community supporters to some provocative ideas around the way students and communities learn, share information, and stimulate and support change.

Based in social learning theory, Wenger's concepts provided context to the ways communities in the 21st century are moving from hierarchical modes of communication to horizontal modes, allowing individuals to connect more easily and authentically, in order to share important discoveries, best practices and new ideas.

Applying these ideas in Houston, there is enormous potential to harness the power of diverse knowledge networks to infuse our public schools with promising innovations faster and more systemically. The task is complex, Wenger said, but doing so would be an endeavor well worth pursuing because of its potential to change the educational landscape in Houston.

For more information on this concept and Houston A+ Challenge's next steps, contact Alejandro Morúa, Director, Partnerships & Innovations.

Teachers: Now is the Time to Apply for Externship 2009
Summer may be months away, but now is the time to apply for the 2009 Teacher Externship.

This year, up to 350 teachers will get the opportunity to spend a week (June 8-12) in Houston-area businesses related to their subjects taught.

Last year we had 250 participants, and only you can help this successful program reach more teachers -- please download a flyer and help us spread the word to other colleagues on your campus, including administrators, counselors and department heads.

New and returning businesses are also encouraged to participate by sponsoring a teacher or teachers during the Externship Week. If you are interested, please email Alejandro Morúa, Director of Partnerships and Innovation, or call him at 713-313-5250.

School News

Spring Branch ISD Trustee’s Blog Wins Best of 2008
Mike Falick's Blog has been voted Best Education Blog in the 2008 Weblog Awards. More than 4,000 votes were cast by online readers of the personal internet sites focused on education. Mike Falick's Blog won 27% of the votes, placing him ahead of other major education blogs on the net. There's a lot of interesting content out there; the final tally is as follows:

Creating a New Vision for Public Education in Texas
Capping two years of work, 35 Texas superintendents have released a 48-page report titled Creating a New Vision for Public Education in Texas. The superintendents, who represent districts of all sizes and regions, outlined their vision for public education in the 21st century. Principles and premises they embrace include:

  • The New Digital Learning Environment
  • The New Learning Standards
  • Assessments for Learning
  • Accountability for Learning
  • Organizational Transformation
  • A More Balanced and Reinvigorated State/Local Partnership

"We're asking for comment," said Stephen Waddell, Birdville school district superintendent. "We want people to read it and respond."

The report was reviewed by 3,500 school administrators at the Texas Association of School Administrators (TASA) conference in January. To download the report, click here.

Portrait of a State: Quality Counts 2009
Education Week has released its 50-state report card to track individual states' education policies and outcomes. Each state was measured in six areas: Chance For Success, Standards, Assessments and Accountability, K-12 Achievement, School Finance, Teaching Profession and Transition and Alignment. Overall, the report gave the nation a rating of C; Texas received an overall rating of C+. The state of Maryland received the overall top score (B+) and Washington DC receiving the lowest score (D+).

Texas scored above average ratings (B and B+) in Standards, Assessments and Accountability and Transition and Alignment, but received a D+ in School Finance. For more details and an explanation of the categories, click here, or click here to view an interactive map.

Paving the Way For 21st Century Skills
In a global, technology-rich society, it is critical to ensure that students learn the skills they need to succeed in the 21st century. Despite wide agreement with this idea, a new report warns that putting it into practice and assessing the outcomes may be costly and difficult to measure. "Measuring Skills for the 21st Century" is published by education think-tank Education Sector.

Meanwhile, Education Week reports that in West Virginia, teachers are encouraging elaborate project-based learning units to teach 21st century skills. Some experts argue that promoting project-based learning poses some challenges if educators are unprepared to facilitate this type of learning. Next year, the state's education colleges will push the state for professional development to incorporate skills to teach 21st century skills, through master's degree programs or certifications. Click here to read about West Virginia's 21st century education initiatives.

On The Bookshelf

Out of 20 years of research, Harvard professor Howard Gardner presents his description of various cognitive abilities that will impact the 21st century and beyond. "Disciplinary", "Synthesizing", "Creating, Respectful" and "Ethical" are classifications of thought processes outlined by Gardner outlined in Five Minds For the Future. The following is from the book's publisher, Harvard Business School Press:

"Gardner's newest book, Five Minds for the
Future, outlines the specific cognitive abilities
that will be sought and cultivated by leaders
in the years ahead.

They include:

  • The Disciplinary Mind: the mastery of major schools of thought, including science, mathematics, and history, and of at least one professional craft.

  • The Synthesizing Mind: the ability to integrate ideas from different disciplines or spheres into a coherent whole and to communicate that integration to others.

  • The Creating Mind: the capacity to uncover and clarify new problems,
    questions and phenomena.

  • The Respectful Mind: awareness of and appreciation for differences among human beings and human groups.

  • The Ethical Mind: fulfillment of one's responsibilities as a worker and as a citizen.

"In the book, Gardner draws from a wealth of diverse examples to illuminate these ideas, designed to inspire lifelong learning and also to
provide valuable insights for those charged with training and developing organizational leaders.

"Drawing on decades of cognitive research and rich examples from history, politics, business, science, and the arts, Gardner writes for
professionals, teachers, parents, political and business leaders, trainers, and all who prize the cognitive skills at a premium for tomorrow."

Also on the bookshelf:


Bank of America Charitable Foundation Neighborhood Excellence Initiative
Applications are now open for the 2009 Neighborhood Excellence Initiative™ Awards program. Bank of America offers this signature program for organizations and individuals in the greater Houston area. High School Students are encouraged to submit applications for the Student Leader Program. To apply log on to www.bankofamerica.com/neighborhoodexcellence. Maximum award: Students chosen as Bank of America Student Leaders will participate in an eight-week, paid internship with a local not for profit organization (organization to be chosen by Bank of America). Students will also participate in a week-long leadership summit in Washington DC (July 19-24, 2009) to gain valuable civic, social and business leadership skills. Eligibility: Program is open to high school Juniors and Seniors with a passion for community service and a record of leadership and excellence in school and in the community. Students must complete their own applications and cannot be nominated by a third party. www.bankofamerica.com/neistudentleaders. Deadline: February 20, 2009

Horace Mann Scholarships
The Horace Mann Companies are offering $30,000 in scholarships for public and private school K-12 educators to take college courses. One recipient will receive $5,000 in scholarship funds payable over four years, and fifteen other recipients will receive $1,000 each in scholarship funds payable over two years. Twenty additional recipients will each receive one-time $500 awards. Scholarship money will be paid directly to each recipient's college or university for tuition, fees and other educational expenses. Scholarship applicants will be judged on a written essay and school and community activities. Financial need is not a consideration, but applicants who have all educational expenses paid through other scholarships and/or grants are ineligible. Maximum award: $500-$5000. Eligibility: To apply, you must be a K-12 educator (two or more years of experience) currently employed by a U.S. public or private school and planning to enter a two or four-year accredited college or university. The college must be a public or private, not-for-profit institute. Visit website for more details. Deadline: March 12, 2009

Jordan Fundamentals Grant Program
The Jordan Fundamentals Grant Program was born out of a firm belief that education is the key to opportunity and to building commitment among students to the core values which foster personal excellence and achievement. The core values which serve to guide the Jordan Brand, a division of Nike, Inc., are known as Brand Truth's: Authentic, Uncompromised, Earned and Aspirational. These grants are given to support teachers and provide access to additional resources. Your school may be eligible for the Jordan Fundamentals Grant Program. For information about the program, including eligibility requirements, please visit: www.jordanfundamentals.com. Maximum award: $2500-$10,000. Eligibility: Public K-12 teachers in the US. Deadline: April 15, 2009.

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.

U.S. Dept. of Education: Teaching Ambassador Fellowship
The U.S. Department of Education is accepting applications for the 2009-2010 Teaching Ambassador Fellowship program, which offers highly motivated, innovative public school teachers the opportunity to contribute their knowledge and experience to the national dialogue on public education. Washington Fellows become full-time federal employees at the U.S. Department of Education in Washington, D.C., participating in policy discussions and working alongside staff on education programs and strategies aimed at educational improvement. Classroom Fellows remain in their local schools under their regular teaching contracts and provide their experience and perspectives to the Department through various assignments and part-time projects. Maximum award: fellowship compensated at the federal GS-12 level. Eligibility: state certified pre-K-12 public school teachers of all subjects who have spent at least three years in the classroom. Deadline: March 16, 2009.

Intel Foundation: Schools of Distinction
The Intel Foundation Schools of Distinction Program honors U.S. schools that have demonstrated excellence in math and science education. In order to be considered as an Intel School of Distinction, schools must develop an environment and curriculum that represents the intersection of benchmarks laid out by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills in their ICT literacy maps for math and science and national content standards for that content area. Maximum award: $25,000 cash grant and $100,000 in products and services from sponsors. Eligibility: K-12 public, private, charter, parochial schools in the United States, Department of Defense Dependents Schools, and Bureau of Indian Affairs schools. Deadline: February 17, 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.

Hewlett-Packard: Innovations in Education Grants
The 2009 Hewlett Packard Innovations in Education grants provide funding for secondary school districts to launch innovative pilot initiatives that support the administrators and teachers responsible for student success in math and science in middle schools and/or high schools. Maximum award: $270,000. Eligibility: Any public or accredited private school district or school system that serves at least 2000 secondary school (grades 6-12) students. Deadline: March 30, 2009.

Distinguished Fulbright Awards in Teaching Program
The new Distinguished Fulbright Awards in Teaching program recognizes and encourages excellence in teaching in the U.S. and abroad and promotes mutual understanding among people of the United States and other countries. The prestigious program sends highly accomplished primary and secondary teachers from the U.S. abroad and brings international teachers to the U.S for a three to six month program. Participating countries include Argentina, Finland, India, Israel, Singapore, and South Africa. The program will provide U.S. award recipients with the opportunity to study in an overseas research center or university. In addition to working on individual capstone projects, participants may enroll in graduate level classes, conduct research, lead or team teach classes and seminars for teachers and students in the host country. Maximum award: U.S. grantees will receive an award to cover all expenses pertaining to their overseas program, including international airfare, housing fees, tuition fees, transportation costs, meals and incidentals. Eligibility: U.S. full time teachers of any subject may apply, as well as individuals involved in their support; Applicants must have 5 years of teaching experience and possess a graduate degree. Deadline: March 9, 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.



Teacher Externship Program 2009


February 5
Podcast with Dr. Pedro Noguera
'How Urban Schools Work Beyond the Boundaries of Social and Economic Conditions'

February 5
Global Connections: Developing and Sustaining a Multi-lingual Work Force for the 21st Century
7 - 8:30 p.m.
St. Thomas University Jerabeck Center, Scanlan Room
4000 Mt. Vernon

February 17
State of the Schools Luncheon, Houston ISD
11:30 a.m. - 1 p.m.
George R. Brown Convention Center
1001 Ave De Las Americas

Statistic of the Month

U.S. 8th and 4th graders have scored above average on international assessments in math and science. Despite the above average results, U.S. 8th and 4th graders ranking in comparison with students from other nations did not change.

Source: Trends in International Mathematics and Science

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