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April 2009
News from Houston A+ Challenge

The Power of the Network: 2008 Houston A+ Annual Report
The Power of the Network: 2008 Annual Report, Houston A+ ChallengeLearn all about Houston A+ Challenge's initiatives, history and impact in our newly released 2008 Annual Report.

In the report, you'll get the chance to meet just a few of the many individuals who are making a difference for area students and schools. (One of these stories also can be read below -- see In Focus.)

This year, 93 percent of our budget went to providing leadership training, collaborative networks, literacy and numeracy initiatives, and model program development supporting 104 schools in districts across the region.

To download a copy of the report, click here.

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Principals and Teachers: Apply Today for A+ Opportunities
Application deadlines are right around the corner for two of A+'s most popular initiatives -- don't miss your opportunity to participate.

Elementary, middle and high school principals and assistant principals from Houston-area school districts are invited to apply for New Visions in Leadership Academy. Leaders meet monthly as a peer network with A+ coaches 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. Download a flyer or apply today; the deadline is May 1.

Teachers of all grade levels and subjects are invited to apply for our 2009 Teacher Externship. Through the program, hundreds of teachers will spend a week (June 8-12) in Houston-area businesses related to their subjects taught. Download a flyer or apply today; the deadline is April 17.

In addition, Houston A+ Challenge is looking for instructional leaders to join our staff -- to help build and grow our Regional Principal Leadership Academy. Current full-time employment opportunities include Lead Instructional Coach (to provide instruction for Academy interns and coordinate curriculum delivery for Academy staff) and Faculty Coach (to provide full-time coaching support for Academy interns and instructional delivery for the Academy).

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Top Candidates Vie for Spots in Aspiring Principals' Academy RPLA Final Selection WeekendImagine a reality show where contestants compete for a chance to fill a job many consider to be among the most challenging of our times.

Who wants to be a principal?  Thankfully, the 60 top candidates for Houston A+ Challenge's aspiring principals' academy, which held its final round of selection April 3-4 at the Hilton Americas hotel in downtown Houston.

The teachers, assistant principals, and other education and business professionals already had risen to the top of a pool of more than 250 individuals who applied this spring to the Regional Principal Leadership Academy.  The two days packed with interactive, hands-on, problem-solving activities will help determine which 20 candidates get to spend the next 18 months in an intensive training program that prepares new leaders for the Houston region’s struggling secondary schools.

"It's competitive, intellectually stimulating, and it gets you to think about the real-world problems that principals have to deal with every day," said candidate Craig Stowers, a teacher from Humble ISD. "No matter what happens, whether I get picked or not, this is an invaluable experience."

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Houston A+ Challenge Remembers Leonore Annenberg
Philanthropist Leonore Annenberg, whose family's generosity established the Houston Annenberg Challenge and 17 similar school reform projects across the nation, died last month. She was 91.

Mrs. Annenberg served as Board Chairman and President for The Annenberg Foundation since the 2002 death of her husband, Walter Annenberg, President Nixon's ambassador to Britain. Since its creation in 1989, the foundation has given away $4.2 billion in charitable contributions to support educational, cultural and medical institutions.

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School News

Houston Students Learn Real-World Diplomacy
Over spring break, 15 students and three faculty members from Houston Academy for International Studies (HAIS) traveled to New York City for the 35th annual National High School Model United Nations competition. HAIS students represented the country of New Zealand as they debated timely, real-world issues with students from around the country, who represented other nations such as Iran, Russia and the United States.

"It was interesting to put yourself in other countries' shoes and try to see things from their perspective," said HAIS freshman Angel Garcia. "We realized early on that cooperation and compromise were important to reach our goals."

Students learned about nuances and challenges of international politics and gained some experience in the art of diplomacy, even though some resolutions failed to pass. "Sometimes it is just too difficult to reach a consensus with so many different opinions," said HAIS sophomore Irene Reece.

The school also is now accepting applications for new students for the 2009-10 school year. For questions or comments, contact Principal Melissa Jacobs at mjacobs1@houstonisd.org.

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Aldine ISD Nominated for National Broad Prize -- Again
Will the fourth time be a charm? Aldine ISD is hoping so, as it once again has been named among five school districts nationwide for the prestigious Broad Prize for Urban Education.

The country's largest education award honoring public school districts is awarded each year to the urban districts that demonstrate the greatest overall student performance while reducing gaps in achievement among poor and minority students. In 2008, Aldine's achievement gaps between low-income and non-low-income students in math and reading were among the smallest in the state.

The other finalists for the 2009 Broad Prize are: Broward County Public Schools (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.), Gwinnett County Public Schools (Atlanta, Ga.), Long Beach Unified School District (Calif.), and Socorro Independent School District (El Paso).

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Houston ISD's ASPIRE Model Named 2008 Magna Award Winner
The American School Board Journal has named Houston ISD's innovative ASPIRE Educational Improvement Model as a 15th annual Magna Award winner. ASPIRE (which stands for Accelerating Student Progress, Increasing Results and Expectations) is tool that helps teachers and schools in Houston ISD to share best practices, and rewards teachers who improve student performance.

Houston ISD Superintendent Dr. Abe Saavedra said ASPIRE "has been critical in helping to create a culture of excellence" within the district.

Houston ISD also won a Magna Award in 2007 for the district's Community Builder Program. The award recognizes districts across the nation for their innovative and successful programs to promote student learning and academic success.

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Houston ISD Breaks Ground on East Early College High School
The power of collaboration took center stage on March 11, when Houston ISD, Houston Community College, and members of the greater East End community celebrated the breaking of ground for East Early College High School and HCC's Felix Fraga campus.

"This is truly a time to reflect on what happens when people come together to achieve things greater than on an individual basis," said HCC Southeast Campus President Irene Porcarello. "This campus is about opportunities. It represents a new beginning for our community."

When complete, the new campus will serve about 400 students in a 45,000-square-foot facility that also houses 12 classrooms, four science labs, a computer lab, and a library. The two-year-old school is currently housed in HCC's Eastside Annex.

Houston ISD, HCC and Houston A+ Challenge pioneered the concept of the early college high school in Texas, launching the state's first such facility (Challenge Early College High School) in August of 2003.

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In Focus with ... Angela Borzon

Angela BorzonThe story below is one of three profiles contained in Houston A+ Challenge's 2008 Annual Report. To download a complete copy of the report, click here.

Tell Angela Borzon a student's reading level, and she can tell you his performance in science, social studies or math – and even his patterns of behavior.

"Literacy has a direct correlation to achievement in all other areas.  Knowing it and believing it are two different things," says Borzon, a literacy coach at Furr High School in Houston ISD. "The science teachers here believe it."

Why? As a literacy coach, Borzon spends three hours each week with the science department – identifying vocabulary that may cause limited-English students to stumble, developing lab reports requiring essays as answers, and testing and revising research-based literacy strategies in science classrooms.

After just a year of this work, students' TAKS pass rates in science at Furr jumped more than 30 points, up to 68 percent in 2008.

"We learned that by doing this, students perform," says Rafael Betancourt, a chemistry teacher at Furr HS.  "We had to change the mentality of teachers working as individuals. We became a team."

Borzon, a Teach for America alumna who left law school to return to the classroom, says the Critical Friends Group training she received from Houston A+ Challenge gave her the tools to transform her weekly discussions with science teachers. She calls her experience with Houston A+ Challenge's literacy coaches network "a transformational movement."

"It totally changed our attitudes toward instruction, by creating a space where we could collaborate," she says. "The purpose is to not just accept the status quo in how schools function. We were taught not to be just managers, but to be leaders."

What started as an innovative idea – using literacy strategies to improve classroom instruction and student achievement in all subjects – has become a districtwide investment in Houston ISD.

Houston A+ Challenge provided funding, training and a support network for literacy coaches in all Houston ISD comprehensive high schools starting in 2003, through grants from The Brown Foundation, Carnegie Corporation of New York, and The Annenberg Foundation.

Between 2003 and 2008, the percentage of ninth grade students meeting the Panel Recommended standard for reading has risen across the district, from 55 percent to 77 percent.

In 2008, Houston ISD built on the successes of this model to develop a new, comprehensive, pre-K-12 literacy initiative – adding 42 campus-based literacy coaches to all middle schools, and 24 regional literacy coordinators who offer coaching and guidance to all district teachers.

On The Bookshelf

Stephanie D. Sandifer, a district-level literacy specialist in Houston ISD, has authored a new book on utilizing Wikis and other web-based collaboration tools to assist the classroom environment. Wikified Schools: Using Wikis to Improve Collaboration and Communicatin in Education draws on Sandifer's school-based work as a former school improvement facilitator at Chavez High School and literacy coach at Waltrip High School. The following is from the book's publisher Lulu.com:

"How do we leverage technology -- specifically wikis and other web-based tools -- to improve our collaboration, communication, creative thinking, problem-solving, and change processes? How do we make better use of our time and better use of technology resources such as server space and email? How do we model 21st Century tools for better communication and collaboration across all levels of our educational organizations? Wikis can transform how educators work together, enabling us to work more efficiently in order to devote more time focused on our core mission of educating all students. Learn more about how wikis can transform your organization, why we should be using them, and how to get started in Wikified Schools: Using Wikis to Improve Collaboration and Communication in Education."

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Explore Online Teaching and Learning Through Virtual Academy
The Virtual Instructor's Academy of Texas provides training for teachers and other staff members who want to get the most out of online instruction and resources that are collaborative and student-centered. Through Academy courses, instructors model effective strategies for online learning for students.

Online Instructor's Training - Part I begins April 20, 2009. Participants learn about teaching in an online classroom, discover strategies and best practices to promote student achievement, and research and apply best strategies for student collaboration and learn engagement. Participants also complete learner-centered partner, and collaborative group, assignments.

New to online learning?  Teachers who haven't experienced an online course, or online resources such as chat, blogging, discussion boards, or wikis, can take the "Navigating an Online Course."  Additional professional development is also available.

MetLife Foundation-NASSP Breakthrough Schools
National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) and the MetLife Foundation wants identify, recognize, and showcase middle level and high schools that serve large numbers of students living in poverty and are high achieving or dramatically improving student achievement. Selected schools must have 40% or more students eligible for free and reduced-price meals. Click here for more information. Maximum Award: $5000. Eligibility: Middle level and high schools. Deadline: May 15, 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.

Leadership in Science Education Prize For High School Teachers
The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Leadership in Science Education Prize for High School Teachers recognizes high school science teachers for the development and implementation of innovative methods for teaching and encouraging the next generation of scientists. Maximum Award: $1000. 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.

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.

Gale/Library Media Connection TEAMS Award
The Gale/Library Media Connection TEAMS Award recognizes and encourages the critical collaboration between the teacher and media specialist to promote learning, increase student achievement and develop 21st century skills. Maximum Award: Three winners will receive: $2,500 (U.S.) cash award; Gale products (approximate value $500 U.S.); a one-year subscription to Library Media Connection; and your choice of professional publications from Linworth Books (approximate value $800 U.S.). In addition, the winners will be featured in an article in Library Media Connection in the 2009 school year. Eligibility: All K-12 public and private schools in the united States and Canada. Click here for an application. Deadline: June 15, 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.

Fund for Teachers: Grants for Travel and Growth
The Fund for Teachers makes direct grants to teachers for summer learning opportunities of their own design. Maximum award: $5,000. Eligibility: teachers K-12 with a minimum of three years teaching experience; teachers must be full-time and spend at least 50 percent of the time in the classroom when grants are approved and made. Deadline: varies by state.

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.

Community Calendar

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

June 26-28
ASCD Summer Conference
with Carol Ann Tomlinson, Grant Wiggins and Robert Marzano
Houston, TX

May 1-2
National School Reform Faculty Spring Meeting
Hyatt Regency O’Hare 9300 Bryn Mawr Avenue Rosemont, IL 60018

Statistic of the Month

In 2006, all or almost all 3- and 4-year-old children were enrolled in formal education in France and Italy. In Germany,
the United Kingdom, and Japan, at least 80 percent of 3- and 4-year-olds were enrolled; in the United States, just 48 percent were enrolled.

Source: Comparative Indicators of Education in the United States and Other G-8 Countries: 2009 (U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences)

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