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March 2009
News from Houston A+ Challenge

Job Opportunities with Houston A+ Leadership Initiatives
Houston A+ Challenge is looking for former principals and instructional leaders to help build and grow the Regional Principal Leadership Academy. Individuals must have both the passion and the talent to work with an outstanding group of aspiring principals this summer and beyond.

  • Lead Instructional Coach - Provide instruction for Academy interns and coordinate curriculum delivery for Academy staff.
  • Faculty Coach - Provide full-time coaching support for Academy interns and instructional delivery for the Academy.

Both positions are full-time. If you have questions, contact Imelda Cardoza, 713-658-1881.

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Principals and APs: Two Great Leadership Opportunities
Through Houston A+ Challenge's New Visions in Leadership Academy, sitting principals and assistant principals work in a collaborative environment with peers to develop leadership styles, discuss common problems and solutions in change management, and learn new techniques for helping teachers reach and inspire today’s students.

Participants meet monthly over two years and attend a number of two-day retreats. More than 300 seated school leaders from Houston-area K-12 districts have graduated from the Academy since 1999.

Elementary, middle and high school leaders from Houston-area school districts are invited to participate. The deadline to apply is May 1.

Also, Raise Your Hand Texas is now accepting applications for the 2009 Leadership Program at The Principals' Center, Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Through the program, more than 100 of Texas' top public and charter school campus leaders will participate in one of five Summer Institutes, and be exposed to leading national and international experts in the fields of education and leadership. The deadline to apply is April 3.

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Teachers: Now is the Time to Apply for Externship 2009
Summer may be months away, but the April 17 deadline to apply for the 2009 Teacher Externship is just around the corner.

This year, up to 300 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.

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Congratulations to Houston's New National Board Teachers
Nine teachers who worked with Houston A+ Challenge last year to prepare for the rigorous, instruction-based National Board exam have earned National Board Certification. In the state of Texas, only 65 candidates passed the multi-part exam -- so 14 percent of these were from the Houston A+ cohort!

Congratulations to: Ann Blake, Cynthia Cornwell, Emily Garcia, Anna Mascolo and Kim Mouser (all from Humble ISD); Julie Comardo, Shirl Hawes and Leslie Soucek (all from Fort Bend ISD); and Eileen Hult (Clear Creek ISD) for joining the ranks of the nation's most recognized teachers.

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Houston A+ Challenge Remembers Linda Balkin
Linda BalkinOn Feb. 27, the Houston education community said goodbye to a strong leader and a good friend.

Linda Balkin, who lost her battle with cancer last month, was a principal at Johnston Middle School when she joined the second cohort of Houston A+ Challenge's New Visions in Leadership in 2001. She continued to serve until recently as a New Visions coach, inspiring dozens of other school leaders with her wisdom and leadership. In the last several years, Linda also served as Director of Middle Schools in Houston ISD. Read the full story in the Chronicle.

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School News

Comparing Teacher Development in the U.S. and Abroad
A new report by the National Staff Development Council finds that intensive, sustained professional learning over a period of time is more likely than "one-shot" workshops to have an impact on teachers' classroom performance and student achievement.

It also concludes that teachers in Europe and Asia engage more in professional development training than American teachers, and alludes that students in the U.S. are lagging behind as a result. Release time during the school day also is in disparity. In Japan, for example, teachers participate in critiques of each other's lesson plan during work hours, spending less time instructing.

"We're way behind other countries that are high-achieving in terms of the time and intensive opportunity for deep learning they provide," said Linda Darling-Hammond, one of the report's authors. "We still see teachers engage in really short one- and two-day workshops rather than ongoing, sustained support that we now have evidence changes practices and increases student achievement."

Read the full report by the National Staff Development Council

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Stay Updated on Education Reinvestment & Recovery
As the nation's schools prepare for a financial windfall, thanks to the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act of 2009, there are a number of places online to track the latest information.

The U.S. Department of Education and the Texas Education Agency have set up their own, official pages for information. In addition, Grants.gov and FedBizOpps.gov will be the first places to look for federal grant RFPs and business opportunities, respectively.

Other organizations have also launched useful tools, such as Learning Point Associates' Education Recovery and Reinvestment Center. Stay tuned for more information.

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Writing in the 21st Century
While some students dread the thought of writing term papers, nearly all participate in some form of writing in their everyday lives ranging from text messages, blogs, entries in social network websites, according to a new report, "Writing in the 21st Century".

The report's author, Dr. Kathleen Blake Yancey, Past President for the National Council of Teachers of English, believes that schools are not doing much to integrate writing outside of school with writing in school. "If kids have learned something about composing outside of school, a really interesting question is how can we connect to that?" she asks.

Of course, some teachers are using creative ways to integrate outside writing with their lessons. In Pennsylvania, Elizabeth Shannon from West Allegheny High School has her students writing "rant" letters to people about something they would like to change or a threaded discussion on internet forum, instead of the traditional five paragraph essays.

Read the full report, "Writing in the 21st Century" or

Read a newspaper story about classroom application

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Why Arts Education Must Be Saved, And Who's Doing It Best
The "Art and Soul" issue of Edutopia, a forward-thinking magazine by the George Lucas Educational Foundation, supplies a litany of articles linking art education with academic achievement, social and emotional development, civic engagement, and equitable opportunity.

Despite the benefits of art education, there is a slow decline of art education in schools due to budgets, state mandates, and public attitudes to art.

Against these trends, several models of art education integration are emerging with research to support their results; examples include integrating music with math, performance art with history, and embedding art in the school environment. Districts in Dallas, Minneapolis, and Chicago are building partnerships with the art community to integrate art into their curriculum.

"There's lots of evidence that kids immersed in the arts do better on their academic test." says Tom Horne, Arizona's state superintendent of public instruction.

Read Edutopia's success stories about arts integration:

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In Focus with ... KIPP Sharpstown

Chong-Hao FuChong-Hao Fu is the School Leader at KIPP Sharpstown College Prep, a middle school that currently serves 180 fifth and sixth graders in southwest Houston.  Mr. Fu is a Critical Friends Group coach and a recipient of a CFG As Research Team (CART) Grant from the Houston A+ Challenge.  Donna Reid and Melissa Milios Davis recently interviewed Chong-Hao about how he got involved with Critical Friends Groups and how CFG processes have enriched professional development at KIPP Sharpstown College Prep. 

The full text of this interview was first published in Houston A+ Challenge's Coaching Facilitates Greatness electronic newsletter.

Tell us a little bit about your school's background.

KIPP Sharpstown College Prep opened last year as the first performing arts-focused middle school for KIPP Houston.  Last year we began with 5th grade, and this year we have expanded to include 5th and 6th grade.   Next year, we will have 5th, 6th and 7th grades.

What really excites me about the job of a school leader is the ability to learn and share; to encourage and foster the growth of both adults and kids.  It’s a wonderful opportunity to build a community of learning.

You had just finished Critical Friends Group training with Houston A+ Challenge when you applied for the CART Grant.  Tell us about that.

The school was just being founded at the time we applied for the grant, and so we had the unique opportunity to infuse some of the CFG protocols into the culture of our school.  CFG is not something that seems like another initiative here.  It's very much woven into our regular professional development.  The protocols are just part of how we learn together as adults and are a natural part of how we become stronger teachers.

We used our CART grant to develop two rubrics:  a teacher vision of excellence and a student vision of excellence.  We wanted to make sure that our teachers had a common understanding of excellent teaching.   Beginning with the end in mind, we also wanted a clear picture of who our students would be at the end of their four years with us.  This led to the creation of a very detailed student vision that each department was able to flesh out and revise.   We used the funds from our CART Grant to hire a consultant, Sara Cotner of Catalyst Consulting, to work with us on refining our visions of excellence.   Sara was also able to create some fabulous professional development sessions to help teachers internalize the two rubrics.

Tell us more about these rubrics.

They are both documents that we keep revising each year with our staff.  They are meant to give a comprehensive picture of excellent teaching and learning.  They give us a common language, and we use them to plan our professional development each year.  We also use them for self-reflection and for our teacher evaluation process.  Because the rubric is a vision of what an excellent teacher should be, it allows teachers to reflect on their strengths and the areas where they need to grow.   It also allows us to measure excellent teaching without depending on standardized test scores.  While we recognize that TAKS scores are important, we don't want to rely on the scores to tell us what excellent teaching really is.

(Editor's Note: If you are interested in seeing the rubrics being used by the school, email Chong-Hao Fu.)

How did you report back to each other?

We just shared in a staff meeting.  Not very innovative but it was definitely was meaningful.  Almost every staff member felt they had grown from their observations. 

It’s innovative to actually do it!

And that’s the thing.  Everyone did it, and everyone was glad they did it.  I think it worked because we respected each person’s individual preferences for how they wanted to be observed.  Sometimes observations don’t feel safe, and I’m proud of us for finding a way to help everyone feel safe to grow. 

Read the full interview

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On The Bookshelf

Award-winning teacher and author Kelly Gallagher has scribed a new book on the decline of reading education in public schools. As the title indicates, Readicide: How Schools Are Killing Reading and What You Can Do About It discusses the lost art of reading in schools and possible solutions that educators can take to revive reading. The following is from the Stenhouse Publishing:

"Read-i-cide n: The systematic killing of the love of reading, often exacerbated by the inane, mind-numbing practices found in schools.

"Reading is dying in our schools. Educators are familiar with many of the factors that have contributed to the decline — poverty, second-language issues, and the ever-expanding choices of electronic entertainment. In this provocative new book, Kelly Gallagher suggests, however, that it is time to recognize a new and significant contributor to the death of reading: our schools.

"In Readicide, Gallagher argues that American schools are actively (though unwittingly) furthering the decline of reading. Specifically, he contends that the standard instructional practices used in most schools are killing reading by:

  • valuing the development of test-takers over the development of lifelong readers;
  • mandating breadth over depth in instruction;
  • requiring students to read difficult texts without proper instructional support;
  • insisting that students focus solely on academic texts;
  • drowning great books with sticky notes, double-entry journals, and marginalia;
  • ignoring the importance of developing recreational reading;
  • and losing sight of authentic instruction in the shadow of political pressures.

"Gallagher doesn't settle for only identifying the problems. Readicide provides teachers, literacy coaches, and administrators with specific steps to reverse the downward spiral in reading—steps that will help prevent the loss of another generation of readers."

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Devon's Science Giant Award
Devon launched the Science Giants Award to recognize a school that demonstrates academic gains in science and applies innovative approaches to foster student interest in the critical subject. The $25,000 award will be presented to support the winning school’s strategic and creative vision for schoolwide academic progress in science. Click here for more information. Maximum Award: $25,000. Eligibility:

  • Elementary, middle and high school must be in the Houston area.
  • Principal must approve entry.

Deadline: March 31, 2009.

AAAS Leadership in Science Education Prize
Help spread the word about an outstanding science teacher in your school or district. The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is now accepting nominations for the 2009 AAAS Leadership in Science Education Prize for High School Teachers. For more information, email AAAS Project 2061's Lester Matlock, or click here for more information. Maximum Award: The recipient will receive a monetary gift in the amount of $1,000 to support the development and continuation of the strategy, activity, or program. Eligibility: The teacher must be currently employed as a science instructor in a public or private school for grades 9-12 in the United States or its territories. Science teachers must be nominated by an administrator within their school (e.g., a principal), their district (e.g., the science curriculum specialist), or their state (e.g., the state science supervisor) who is in a position to know the nominee's work and to assess the extent of its impact on others. Deadline: April 24, 2009.

Classroom Excellence in Math, Science, Tech and Engineering
American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Foundation Classroom Grants are awarded for excellence in educating students about math, science, technology, and engineering. Eligibility: Current AIAA Educator Associate or AIAA Professional members actively engaged as K-12 classroom educators. Maximum Award: $200 Deadline: April 30, 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.

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.

The A. Harry Passow Classroom Teacher
The National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) annually awards the A. Harry Passow Classroom Teacher Scholarship to teachers of grades K-12 who have shown excellence in teaching gifted students, the ability to meet the needs of gifted students, and commitment to furthering the development of their teaching skills. The scholarship is designed to reimburse/defray the costs of continuing education for up to two eligible teachers currently teaching gifted students in a variety of educational settings ranging from a homogeneous or full-day special class to a heterogeneous classroom. Maximum Award: The award recipient will receive a scholarship of $2,000, half of which will be presented in November 2009 at the NAGC Annual Convention in St. Louis, Missouri. Eligibility: Teachers K-12 who have been members of NAGC for at least one year. Deadline: April 20, 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.

McGraw-Hill: Harold W. McGraw, Jr. Prize in Education
The 2009 Harold W. McGraw, Jr. Prize in Education will be awarded to three individuals who have addressed innovation and education, focusing on the whole child, in one of three broad categories: professional development and teacher education (in school, only); pre-K-, elementary- and secondary-level education programs (in and out of school); and policy maker. Maximum Award: $25,000. Eligibility: Policy makers, leaders in higher education, and school-based personnel. Deadline: March 20, 2009.

Scholarships for Prospective Secondary School Teachers of Math
National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and Texas Instruments Demana-Waits Fund Prospective Secondary Teacher Course Work Scholarships provide financial support to college students preparing for teaching secondary school mathematics. Maximum Award: $10,000. Eligibility: Persons currently completing their sophomore year of college, scheduling for full-time study at a four- or five-year college or university in the next academic year, and pursuing a career goal of becoming a certified teacher of secondary school mathematics; applicants must be student members of NCTM. Deadline: May 9, 2009.


March 24
Dr. Howard Fuller: 'Providing All Children in this Nation with an Excellent Education: Beliefs and Strategies We Need"
with Houston A+, KIPP, Rice Ed. Entrepreneurship Program and Teach for America
Hilton Hotel - NASA
3000 NASA Road 1

March 23 & 24
ASPIRE Community Forums with Houston ISD
Various Locations, West Region

March 27
Project GRAD Parent Convention
8:30 a.m. - 1:30 p.m.
TSU Physical Fitness Building, 3100 Cleburne Ave.

April 20
National College Access Network Regional Meeting - Austin
with Raymund Paredes, Commissioner, TX Higher Ed. Coordinating Board
9 a.m. - 3:30 p.m.
Austin Community College, Eastview Campus

May 15
Dr. Anthony Muhammed: 'Creating Powerful Learning Environments' Hilton Hotel - NASA
3000 NASA Road 1

Statistic of the Month

14.5 percent of Texas students took AP classes in 2008, up from 11.9 percent in 2003.

Source: Fifth Annual AP Report to the Nation by College Board

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