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August 2009
News from Houston A+ Challenge

Sept. 12: Reach Out to Dropouts - Walk With Us!
Save the date for one of the fall's most exciting and rewarding volunteer opportunities - the 6th Annual Reach Out to Dropouts Walk.

Volunteers join teachers, parents, students and administrators from school districts across the Houston region for a door-to-door walk to encourage our region's young people to come back to school. School districts can re-enroll returning students on the spot.

The walk has brought back thousands of students in five years with the help of over 11,000 volunteers. Houston ISD, the Mayor's Office and Houston A+ Challenge are founding partners for this event, which has since expanded to include 24 school districts and 11 Texas cities.

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Share Your A+ Experience
Has your teaching, learning, or leadership been impacted through working with Houston A+ Challenge?

On October 13, Houston A+ Challenge will host our first-ever benefit dinner, honoring our Founding Board Member, Maconda B. O'Connor, and our Founding Board Chair, First Lady of Houston, Andrea White.

For this special event, we invite teachers, principals, district leaders and community members to reflect on what A+ means to you. Reflections will be shared with event attendees, through a silent slide show during dinner.

The title of our event, 'The Power of the Network', reflects our appreciation for the thousands of educators that have been a part of the A+ network since our founding in 1997. Thanks for joining us!

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Dozens of Teachers Sharpen Their Coaching Skills with A+
CFG New Coaches TrainingMore than 40 educators from districts across the Houston region -- and two from New York City -- completed Houston A+ Challenge's 40-hour New Coach Training course for Critical Friends in August.

Critical Friends provides an avenue for teachers and school leaders to collaborate to deepen their knowledge of academic subject matter, examine and hone their teaching practices, and plan for whole-school change.

"This week has shown us the nuts and bolts of how to do meaningful group work, how to not operate in silos," said Humble ISD teacher Gina Horn. "It's been awesome. I feel very empowered through this training."

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New Faces at Houston A+ Challenge
Houston A+ Challenge is pleased to announce the addition of three new leadership coaches to our staff, all who bring decades of experience in turnaround leadership and public school reform.

Charlotte Parker is a 33-year veteran of Houston ISD. She recently retired from her post as principal of Houston ISD's Kashmere High School, which she helped turn around after near closure and four years on the state's low-performing list. She has been named a Principal of the Year by her district and Region 4 during her tenure.

Lucille Maggi is a 30-year veteran of public and private schools and universities, having served as an associate professor as well as an elementary, middle and high school administrator. During her tenure, she was charged with reforming low-performing campuses, and led one to TEA Recognized status in just three years.

Betty Rennell recently retired as Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources for Cypress-Fairbanks ISD, where she oversaw recruitment and hiring as the district doubled in size. During her 34-year career, she also served as a teacher, assistant principal and elementary principal for 12 years.


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School News

Conversation with a Turnaround Leader
Jane Crump calls her first year as principal of the reconstituted Sam Houston High School "the craziest year of my life," but turning the state's lowest-ranking school into a Texas "Recognized" campus has been just as rewarding.

Crump came on board as principal in 2008, hired 124 new teachers, and built all new systems and community relations "from scratch." She credits her staff and the students themselves for the dramatic shift in school culture. Read the full Q&A with Crump here.

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What do School Tests Measure? Opinions from Education Leaders
As the New York Times' Room for Debate blog notes, performance of New York City students on statewide tests has improved over the seven years since Mayor Michael Bloomberg took over public schools. Scores have risen across neighborhoods, and the racial achievement gap has closed significantly. However, some argue that these are more about teaching the test, and less about students' improved academic readiness for the challenges of college and beyond. Read more, as eight education and policy experts weigh in on the issue.

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Study: Structured Protocols Aid Professional Development
A five-year study by the University of Chicago published in The Elementary School Journal has found that effective use of inquiry-based protocols and action research can help teams of educators connect their teaching methods with concrete results in student performance.

In the study, instructional leadership teams (composed of grade-level teachers, principals, a reading coach, and a researcher) worked as professional learning communities to develop an environment of reflection, collective problem solving and administrative support.

By remaining focused on an academic problem with the input of multiple minds, teachers attitudes shifted from an "I planned and taught the lesson, but they didn't get it" mentality of learning, to a "you haven't taught until they've learned" perspective, allowing teachers to connect their teaching method with concrete results in student performance. Read an insightful summary and analysis by Education Week blogger Stephen Sawchuk, or read the entire study.

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Schools Find Innovative Ways to Teach Social Responsibility
In its Summer 2009 edition titled "Revisiting Social Responsibility", ASCD's online magazine Educational Leadership provides unique examples for instructing students to become responsible and active citizens. It's rare to find such ready-made lessons on how to teach global citizenship. Of particular note are three articles:

  • A School for Peace and Justice: "A focus on four dimensions of social responsibility transforms a Philadelphia high school and fosters skills and attitudes that promote social justice."
  • Service Learning: The Power to Inspire: Stresses the utility of service learning in helping students master the core-curriculum while engaging in their world.
  • Reading for the World: Provides an extensive reading list of useful reading materials for raising an inspired generation.

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In Focus with ... Juan Hernandez

Susana Velis, andJuan Hernandez, a rising senior at Reagan High School in Houston ISD, is one of five students nationwide recently awarded the Leonore Annenberg College Scholarship. This generous award covers tuition, a laptop, room and board, a modest stipend, and other school expenses to any college of his choice. The scholarship was designed to reward high school students who have faced serious challenges, yet have achieved high levels of academic success and community service.

What was your first reaction upon hearing your received the Leonore Annenberg College Scholarship?

I was shocked to say the least. I knew that there were so many other people who were well-qualified. My family and teachers weren't surprised, though. They said they knew very well what I was capable of, but I guess they believed in me more than myself. Overall I'm just delighted that this means I can go to a small private school and my options will not be limited.

In your essay for the scholarship committee, you talk about how your grandfather has been an inspirational figure in your life.  How has he helped to shape your future aspirations?

When he was alive, he always told me I could become something big in life, even some huge political figure.  He just believed that I could become anything I wanted to when I became an adult.  And he never backed down from that belief – whatever challenges there were in life, I could overcome them.

How do you feel that students today can have the biggest impact on future generations?

Through the years, schools and teaching methods and technology overall have evolved a lot. Students today have a much wider array of resources than our parents and grandparents. I feel that college and high school are there to prepare us for the realities of life. Even with all the setbacks in the economy, I feel this generation has an opportunity to make an impact right now and on future generations. Even families such as mine who come from areas with lots of dropouts, we carry the responsibility to break that cycle.

Houston A+ Challenge facilitated the competitions for the 2009 Leonore Annenberg College Scholarship competition and the Leonore Annenberg School Fund, in partnership with the Annenberg Public Policy Center.

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On The Bookshelf

This month, Houston A+ Challenge recommends two books (and a complementary article) about how to keep 21st century students engaged in school.

In Why Students Don't Like School?, cognitive psychologist Daniel Willingham examines what's going on inside students' brains when they learn, and explains the roots of effective teaching and learning. Read more

The Motivated Student: Unlocking the Enthusiasm for Learning takes another approach, challenging the rewards-based and punitive motivation system, by instead focusing on students' internal versus external motivations. Read more

Once you've absorbed all the theory, try Edutopia's Ten Steps to Better Student Engagement in your classroom. Let us know how it works, by posting a comment on Houston A+ Challenge's Facebook page!

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Follow School News on Twitter
The Texas Education Agency regularly posts on updates on grants, stimulus funding, meetings and policy changes. You can find them at twitter.com/teainfo.

Spring Branch ISD posts state and district policy changes, upcoming events, and school news at twitter.com/sbisd.

And of course, Houston A+ Challenge is always looking for new followers! Our staff regularly posts news, links to interesting topics and resources, and other musings about public education in Houston at twitter.com/houstonaplus.

Wachovia Foundation Grants Support Educational Improvement
The Wachovia Foundation is interested in working with non-profit organizations that are implementing and/or developing tailored approaches to improving education in their communities. Programs must support pre-K – 12 public education and address the systemic issues related to teachers and teaching, such as professional development, school support, recruitment or retention. Maximum Award: $500,000. Eligibility: 501(c)(3) organizations with a mission to improve public education in AL, CA, CT, DE, FL, GA, MD, MS, NC, NY, NJ, PA, SC, TN, TX, VA, or Washington, D.C. Deadline: Not specified.

2010 Mickelson ExxonMobil Teachers Academy
The Mickelson ExxonMobil Teachers Academy is a cool summer camp just for teachers. At the Academy, teachers do lots of fun math and science experiments to share with you in the classroom. The experiments seem like games, but really they help everyone learn about math and science. The Academy was started by pro golfer Phil Mickelson and his wife, Amy. They worked with ExxonMobil to create a special learning environment for teachers. Maximum Award: Expenses. Eligibility: The program is open to legal residents of the 50 United States and the District of Columbia who are of legal age in their jurisdiction of residence (and at least 18), who are currently third, fourth or fifth grade teachers or district coordinators at an accredited school, are in good standing at their school, and have successfully completed any state teaching certifications. Click here for more information. Deadline: October 31, 2009.

NEA Learning & Leadership Grants
NEA Foundation Learning & Leadership Grants are given to public school teachers, public education support professionals, and/or faculty and staff in public institutions of higher education for one of two purposes: Grants to individuals fund participation in high-quality professional development experiences, such as summer institutes or action research; Grants to groups fund collegial study, including study groups, action research, lesson study, or mentoring experiences for faculty or staff new to an assignment. Maximum Award: $5,000 for groups, $2,000 for individuals. Eligibility: Public school teachers grades K–12; public school education support professionals; or faculty and staff at public higher education institutions. Deadline: October 15, 2009.

Foreign Language Assistance Program
The federal Foreign Language Assistance Program (FLAP) provides grants to local educational agencies (LEAs) for innovative model programs providing for the establishment, improvement, or expansion of foreign language study for elementary and secondary school students. The 5-year grants will be awarded to LEAs to work in partnership with one or more institutions of higher education (IHEs) to establish or expand articulated programs of study in languages critical to United States national security in order to enable successful students to achieve a superior level of proficiency in those languages. In addition, an LEA that receives a grant under this program must use the funds to support programs that show promise of being continued beyond the grant period and demonstrate approaches that can be disseminated to and duplicated in other LEAs. Projects supported under this program may also include a professional development component. Maximum Award: $100,000-$300,000. Eligibility: LEAs, including charter schools that are considered LEAs under State law, in partnership with one or more institutions of higher education. Deadline: October 31, 2009.

ePals, Inc.: Free In2Books Curriculum
In2Books, the curriculum-based e-mentoring program from ePals, Inc., will be offered for free to some Title I schools. Students participating in In2Books select and read age-appropriate, high-quality books from a list compiled by a team of children's literature experts. The students are matched with carefully screened adult pen pals who read the same books as the students. After reading each book, students and their pen pals exchange thoughts about the important issues in the book via online letters. Teachers reinforce these activities in the classroom with related lessons and discussion. Maximum award: The online program, books and professional development (valued at more than $500). Eligibility: All 3rd-5th grade classrooms in Title I schools from any one district. Deadline: N/A.

C-SPAN: Video Archive Grants
C-SPAN Archives Grants give teachers videotapes from the extensive collection in the C-SPAN Archives for creative proposals that use the network's programming in the classroom or in research projects. Eligibility: Middle and high school teachers and college/university professors. Maximum award: Use of archive tapes. Deadline: N/A.

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September 12
6th Annual Reach Out to Dropouts Walk
All Day
Districts Across Houston

October 13
'The Power of the Network' Dinner, benefiting Houston A+ Challenge
6 p.m. to 9 p.m.
River Oaks Country Club

Statistic of the Month

In 2009, more than 133,000 Texas students failed to graduate high school with their classmates -- the second largest number of any state in the nation. Nearly 7,200 students are lost each day from American schools.

Source: Education Week, "Diplomas Count" 2009

Houston A+ Challenge

2700 Southwest Freeway, Suite B
Houston, TX 77098-4607

Board of Trustees

Maconda B. 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
Karol Musher
Maconda B. O'Connor
Harry Reasoner
Yava D. Scott
Bobby Tudor
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 Davis
Director, Communications & Development

Alejandro Morúa
Director, Partnerships & Innovations

Betsy Broyles Breier
Program Coordinator

Angela Prince
Curriculum Specialist

Mike Webster
Teacher Leadership Coach

Principal Leadership Coaches
Marshal Dupas
Debbie Emery
Lachanda Landry
Lawrence Kohn
Lucille Maggi
Charlotte Parker
Betty Rennell
Bonnie Roberts

Terrie Roberts

Events Coordinator

Administrative Assistants
Imelda Cardoza
Donna O'Neil
Lisa Stein

Tuan Amith

Summer Interns
Nekeia Bedford
Bernice Burrell
Shannyn Piper
Jasmine Williams