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May 2010
News from Houston A+ Challenge

As the end of the 2009-2010 school year approaches, Houston A+ Challenge is gearing up for yet another busy summer.  June marks the return of our highly popular Teacher Externship Program, when selected teachers will spread out to local businesses to immerse themselves in jobs and hands-on learning related to their field of instruction.  The week-long experience gives teachers valuable insights into the business world, sparks new ideas and provides new tools for classroom lessons, and reenergizes them for the school year ahead.  Watch our website this summer for more news from this year’s Externship Program.    

In July, teachers and principals from five Houston-area middle schools will come together for the kickoff of The Challenge Network – our new core program, profiled in last month’s issue of eNotes.  During the initial "roll up your sleeves and get started" planning session, school leaders will work with A+ coaches to develop plans to significantly increase the numbers of economically disadvantaged students in their schools who are prepared for postsecondary success.  These plans will be implemented during the upcoming school year, when A+ coaches will work closely with teachers and school leaders in the participating schools to implement needed changes and achieve dramatically improved results.

In visualizing the desired impact of the Challenge Network, the insights of a renowned advocate of middle school reform, Hayes Mizell, are helpful.  Asked to define a "high-achieving" middle school, Mizell said:

It is a school whose mission, ethos, culture, structure, organization, curriculum, co-curriculum, and instruction is explicitly dedicated to the achievement of every student and every adult in the building. It is a school where from the time a visitor walks in the front door there is no doubt that the school's focus is on advancing the achievement of every student and every adult.... In the achieving middle school the administrators, teachers, and students understand that they all have something to teach and a lot to learn.

These remarks are from a keynote speech that Mizell delivered in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, North Carolina in June 1999 while serving as the director of the Program for Student Achievement at the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation.  More recently, Mizell (now a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the National Staff Development Council) underscored the urgent need for a dramatically different approach to professional development in education. Click here for more information.

The field of professional development has a profound need. It isn't time or money (though both are welcome). What we need is a new paradigm.  True professional learning is much more than an exercise in knowledge and skill building.  It is a philosophy, a belief system, that to succeed in complex and changing education environments, educators must constantly seek, master, and apply new knowledge. Under this paradigm of professional development, no active educator ever exhausts the need for learning, nor is that need satisfied by intermittent educational experiences. There is always a need for more learning because the context and dynamics of public schooling change almost daily.

We look forward to sharing our learning – and our successes – with you in the coming weeks and months.  Be sure to keep an eye on our website for news of A+ events and developments as we continue advancing our mission of being a catalyst for change in the public schools.

Summer 2010 Critical Friends Group Training
In June, A+ will once again offer its highly popular Critical Friends Group Training during the week of June 14-18, from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the A+ offices.   Critical Friends Groups work together on a regular basis to establish clear goals for student learning, help each other think about better teaching practices, examine the curriculum and student work, identify school culture issues that affect student achievement, and support increased student achievement. Since 1997, Houston A+ Challenge has trained more than 1,200 educators in the Houston area as CFG coaches, many of whom now leading groups on their campuses or using CFG protocols in other ways.  For more information or to apply for this year’s program, click here. The deadline to apply is June 4. To apply, visit this link.

From the Headlines: School News

Does Teacher Turnover Have a Negative Impact on Student Achievement in High-Needs Schools?
Despite popular belief, a new study by Eric Hanushek and Steven Rivkin for the National Bureau of Economic Research suggests that the answer to this question is “no.”  When the researchers studied a large (anonymous) Texas district, they found that teachers who left their school tended to be significantly less effective than teachers who stayed.  Click here to read the study.

Why Great Teachers Matter
In a recent Washington Post editorial titled "Why Great Teachers Matter to Low-Income Students," Joel Klein, Michael Lomax, and Janet Murgua take issue with those who believe that "schools alone cannot overcome the impact that economic disadvantage has on a child, [and] that life outcomes are fixed by poverty and family circumstances."   Citing recent NAEP data showing very different achievement results for students in different urban districts, the authors assert the importance of looking closely "at those whom we attract and retain to teach, with regard to their quality and to ensuring that they are distributed equally across our school districts." Read the full article here.

Interest in the Teacher Residency Model
In a recent news story, NPR's Claudio Sanchez asked, "What if we prepared teachers the same way we prepare doctors?" The story examined the Boston Teacher Residency (BTR) program, in which "residents" take a full load of courses at area colleges offering master's degrees in education, followed by "clinical training" in a Boston school with an accomplished teacher.  While the BTR’s impact on student achievement remains unclear, its director says that the program has placed more minority teachers in Boston’s public schools and that its graduates tend to remain in teaching much longer than other new teachers.  "The secret to their longevity appears to be a really strong support system and camaraderie," he observes.  Read the complete story here.

Texas Pays for SAT/ACT Tests
As part of an initiative to increase college attendance, the Texas Legislature designated $7 million this year to pay for a free SAT or ACT exam this spring or summer for every high school junior in the state. Read the story here.

rss From the Field

An Apple a Day Keeps the Kids at Play
When asked what is different about his new Apple class, Michael Shea of Reagan High School responds in all seriousness (and with not the least bit of arrogance):  "This is the chance to see education in a way that’s not all paint-by-numbers."

Shea, a veteran teacher, became interested in making instructional videos for his ESL classes a few years ago, and this interest has blossomed into a passion.  With support from Houston ISD, Shea and his students have created two highly successful video series, English with Sound & Lights, that are now used throughout the district.  It would be enough to discuss how the production and use of this video series engages students in meaningful work, but even beyond this is the story of student engagement in the new Apple Final Cut Pro lab in Shea's classroom — one of only seven such labs in the nation. 

To read more about the innovative and engaging work that Shea is doing with his students in the first year of the new lab, click here.

Building Human Capital in Schools

Dr. Michon Benson is a member of the inaugural cohort of Houston A+ Challenge's Regional Principal Leadership Academy (RPLA).  After completing her internship with middle school principal Earnest Washington, Jr. at Charles R. Drew Academy in Aldine ISD, Benson decided to remain at Drew to complete the first year of her residency. Taking what might be perceived as an unconventional route to the principalship, she has assumed the role of Response to Intervention (RtI) Team Leader – a role that is honing her craft and developing her repertoire as an instructional leader. "I work with the administrative team to build human capital in every member of the learning community," Benson says.

With the full support of her principal, Benson ensures that resources and interventions are appropriately targeted to serve all struggling learners as early as possible.  "All of our teachers understand that RtI serves as an early intervention as well as a prevention process," she observes.  "We want to identify students' growth areas well before any gap in academic failure becomes too great."  

Read more about Michon Benson.

On The Bookshelf

In his new book entitled Teach Like a Champion, teaching guru Doug Lemov offers a wealth of teaching strategies to help teachers – especially new teachers – become "champions" in the classroom. In Chapter One, for example, Lemov emphasizes how important it is for teachers to have high expectations for their students, then offers five actionable ways to demonstrate and instill high expectations. Lemov labels these five approaches: No Opt Out, Right Is Right, Stretch It, Format Matters, and Without Apology. In introducing the "No Opt Out" technique, for example, Lemov writes: "One consistency among champion teachers is their vigilance in maintaining the expectation that it’s not okay not to try. Everybody learns in a high-performing classroom, and expectations are high even for students who don’t yet have high expectations for themselves." To illustrate each technique he introduces, Lemov offers numerous examples and also provides video clips on an accompanying CD that demonstrates the various techniques being used in the classroom.

Doug Lemov, who was profiled in a recent New York Times article entitled "Building a Better Teacher", is the founder of School Performance, a New York nonprofit that provides diagnostic assessments, performance data analysis, and academic consulting to high performing charter schools.

To purchase a copy of Teach Like a Champion, click here.

Resources

Visit http://www.houstonaplus.org/resources/grants for additional grant opportunities.

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Calendar

May 29
Deadline to apply for the Performance Coach Job Position

June 4
Deadline to apply for Critical Friends Group (CFG) Training

June 14-18
New CFG Coaches Training

Statistic of the Month

• 1,100 students attended early college programs in Texas during the 2008-09 school year.
• They earned an average of 16 credit hours.
• This saved a total of some $4.5 million in college tuition, or about $4,000 per student.

Source: Statesman.com

Houston A+ Challenge

2700 Southwest Freeway, Suite B
Houston, TX 77098-4607
713-658-1881
www.houstonaplus.org

Board of Trustees

Maconda B. O'Connor
Founding Board Member

Ann Friedman
Chairman

J. Victor Samuels
President

Thomas L. Elsenbrook
Treasurer

Susan A. Bischoff
Secretary

Members
Bill Crouch
Jonathan Day
Joe B. Foster
Roberto Gonzalez
Shawn Gross
Gasper Mir, III
Karol Musher
Maconda B. O'Connor
Yava D. Scott
J. David Thompson, III
Bobby Tudor
Andrea White

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

Administrative Assistants
Imelda Cardoza
Donna O'Neil
Lisa Stein

Terrie Roberts
Events Coordinator

Tuan Amith
Webmaster

Shannyn Piper
Development Intern