February 28, 2006

ExxonMobil Grant for K-5 Math Initiative Renewed
ExxonMobil has awarded $100,000 to The Houston A+ Challenge to continue the K-5 Mathematics Initiative for another year. In 2005, the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) mathematics results showed that economically disadvantaged students in initiative schools are passing TAKS at a higher rate than their counterparts in non-initiative schools. In K-5 Math schools, the passing rate at panel recommendation of economically disadvantaged students rose from 55% in 2004 to 66% in 2005. This contrasts with the non-initiative schools, where panel recommendation scores of the same group fell from 59% in 2004 to 57% in 2005.
Cross District Literacy Network Created
In January, Houston A+ invited literacy and curriculum representatives from the Aldine, Alief, Houston, and Humble school districts to discuss the formation of a cross-district literacy network. The six representatives agreed that a professional learning community is necessary and vital to literacy progress in the Houston area. The new literacy network will capitalize on existing literacy strengths in the participating districts, share best practices and resources among the districts, and guide the support offered by A+. It will generate abundant opportunities for collaboration to share best practices.
Low Performing Schools Awarded Houston A+ Funds
Two Houston ISD high schools designated as low performing by the Texas Education Agency were awarded funds by Houston A+ to implement school improvement plans. Sam Houston High School received $199,900, which will be used for instructional support, software licenses for tutorials, professional development, and materials and supplies for classrooms. Kashmere High School received $199,500 to fund coaches who will work with content teachers and provide tutorials and one-on-one support, professional development, and Plato lab tutorial software. Houston A+ provides the schools with support on a weekly basis around alignment of the plans. The funds were awarded as part of the high school redesign initative Houston Schools for a New Society, a partnership of A+ and Houston ISD.
Teacher Externship Looking for Business Partners
Ninety-eight teacher applications have been received for the 2006 Teacher Externship program and Houston A+ is on target to reach its goal of 100. Externships connect classroom teachers to business professionals in their field of study to make students’ learning experiences more relevant to the workplace. The Greater Houston Partnership, which created the program with A+ in 2003, is recruiting area businesses. Applications to host a teacher or apply for an externship are on the Houston A+ website.
Sharing Results
One of the roles of Houston A+ Challenge is to disseminate best practices and lessons learned. Several educators have presented recently on the results of work we have funded. For more information on a specific presentation, contact the educator.

Conference Explores Links Between Pre-K and Higher Education
The 2006 Convocation on Public Education, "Closing the Gap By Closing the Gaps," will be held March 28 to explore successful transitions for students as they move from pre-school to college. Attendees will look at gaps in the education pipeline and hear from guest speakers Raymund Paredes, Ph.D., Texas commissioner of higher education; Shirley Neeley, Ed.D., Texas commissioner of education; and Harold "Bud" Hodgkinson, Ph.D., director of The Center for Demographic Policy at the Institute for Educational Leadership. Mayor Bill White will welcome participants. The biennial conference is hosted by the American Leadership Forum (ALF) and Houston A+ Challenge. Registration is available through the ALF website.


March 2
Wachovia Action Lab: Community Engagement Strategies

March 22
Wachovia Action Lab: Adolescent Learning

March 27
New Visions in Leadership Academy Cohort Meeting

March 28
American Leadership Forum Convocation
University of Houston Student Center

March 30
New Visions in Leadership Academy Applications Due

April 6
Regional Senior Fellows

April 8
Taking the Next Steps

April 17, 22, 24, and 29
Critical Friends Group Spring Training (Part 1)

April 24
New Visions In Leadership Academy Monthly Cohort Meeting

April 26
Parent Leadership Conference

May 6, 8
Critical Friends Group Spring Training (Part 2)

May 10
Wachovia Action Lab: Fine Arts

June 5-9
Teacher Externship Week

June 26
New Visions in Leadership Academy Celebration Dinner Class of 2005

June 27-29
New Visions in Leadership Academy Institute Class of 2006

August 26
Reach Out to Dropouts Walk

August 28
New Visions in Leadership Academy Cohort Meeting

September 25
New Visions in Leadership Academy Cohort Meeting

Operation School Work Helps Students Affected by Hurricane
In January, approximately 80 former Louisianans now working as teaching assistants in Houston area schools received training on advocacy through a collaborative effort between Houston A+ and Houston ISD called “Operation School Work.” The teaching assistants reported that the prolonged stay of evacuees in Houston has caused some social discomfort among Houston residents and their advocacy training will help improve the situation. Participants said they were pleased to have jobs with students from Louisiana and felt they were making a difference, and appreciated the guidelines for enhanced assistance. Houston A+ provided the training through its partnership with the City of Houston, Communities in Schools and The WorkSource.
McGovern Foundation Funds Summer Science Program
The Houston A+ Challenge/Baylor College of Medicine Summer Science Internship—one of the Regional Faculty programs—has received $80,000 from the John P. McGovern Foundation to fund high school teacher-student pairs to participate in the internship in the summer of 2006. Ten pairs from high schools in the East Region of Houston ISD will work in Baylor's state-of-the-art research labs June 12 - July 21.
NCLB Hearings Follow Up
Three Houston area students were among the 31 people Houston A+ took to Austin last month for the Public Education Network’s (PEN) No Child Left Behind Public Hearings. Two students were from Kashmere High School in Houston ISD and the third was from Spring Woods High School in Spring Branch ISD. The hearings gave students and community members a voice in public discussions on the outcomes of the federal law. The auditorium was standing-room-only with more than 100 people attending. After the hearings, the Spring Woods student, Will Lutin, invited Dr. Louise Deretchin of Houston A+ to speak about NCLB at the Mayor's Youth Council Town Hall meeting in February. The meeting was televised on a local municipal channel. PEN will publish a report on the hearings later this year.

Leadership Academy Applications Due March 30
The New Visions in Leadership Academy (NVLA) is accepting applications for the Class of 2006 until March 30. The two-year program includes monthly meetings with peers and training institutes to improve leadership skills, develop a support network, and bring educators cutting edge, successful school improvement strategies. NVLA provides school administrators with the knowledge and skills to develop effective leadership so that all their students graduate ready for college or the workforce. Nearly 150 Fellows have attended the Leadership Academy since inception in 2000 and a review of the Fellows’ employment history since then shows that one in four, or 25 percent, has been promoted. To find out more information and download application, please see the NVLA webpage on the A+ website.
NASA Offers Development for Middle School Teachers
NASA is inviting Texas middle school teachers to apply for a professional development workshop that includes a one-week summer seminar at the Johnson Space Center, followed by distance learning opportunities that will connect middle school classrooms to NASA. Teachers will attend briefings with NASA engineers, learn how to integrate NASA instructional materials into their curriculum, and develop an action plan to implement at their schools. All activities will be paid for by NASA. Teams of two (math and science) or four (math, science, social studies, and language arts) are encouraged to apply. Deadline for applications is March 10. For more details and to apply online, visit the NASA Middle School Aerospace Scholars Program website.

Ruby Payne on Understanding Poverty
On April 7, Dr. Ruby Payne, author of A Framework for Understanding Poverty, will present a workshop sponsored by the United Way of the Texas Gulf Coast and the Conference of Southwest Foundation on the culture of poverty. Using personal experiences and humor to illustrate her points, Dr. Payne offers participants an eye-opening lesson, as well as practical knowledge on the subject of poverty.
Liz Murray in Houston
Liz Murray, whose true-life story was told in the Lifetime movie “Homeless to Harvard,” will speak in Houston on March 3 at St. Luke’s Rotunda Theater, 3471 Westheimer Street. Ms. Murray will tell the phenomenal and inspirational story of growing up under the shadow of two drug addicted parents. This event is sponsored by St. Luke’s United Methodist Church and the University of Texas Center for Ethical Leadership. The event is free, but you will need to reserve a space by emailing Pat Deckert at St. Luke's.

Statistics of the Month
Did you know?

In Texas, there are:

--8,097 schools
--4,259,823 students
--288,655 teachers

Pupil/Teacher Ratio 14.8 (national avg: 15.9)

Source: National Center for Education Statistics

Houston A+ Challenge
1415 Louisiana, Box 9
Houston, TX 77002
Staff List
Michele Pola, Ed. D.
Executive Director
Louise Deretchin, Ph.D.
Director, Higher Education
Jeff Gentry
Director, Finance
Nan Powers Varoga
Director, Public Affairs
Jon Forde
Suzanne Sutherland
Director of Programs
Program Coordinators
Macario Garcia
Jim Lancaster, Ph.D.
Patricia Lucey-Burks
Tim Martindell
Alejandro Morúa
Angela Prince
Event Coordinator
Terrie Roberts
Administrative Assistants
Imelda Cardoza
Benny Forson
Joan Zuniga
Michael Powell, Ph.D.
Public Affairs Intern

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