May 31, 2006

This year's Houston A+ Challenge Fondren Reforming Schools Summer Institute (FRSSI) brings both Tony Wagner of Harvard and George Thompson of the Schlechty Center to Houston together for the first time. Thompson will speak July 25 at 8:15 a.m., followed by Wagner at 9 a.m. The institute, which will be held July 25-26 at the University of Houston Hilton Hotel, will give school teams, higher education and community members an in-depth look at these two powerful and complementary approaches to school change. To register and learn more, go to the Houston A+ Challenge website.
A few spaces are still available for ninth graders who want to attend a new, small model high school in Houston ISD focused on global issues. The new school, called Houston Academy for International Studies, opens in August on the Houston Community College (HCC) System Central Campus. To apply, contact Principal Melissa Jacobs-Thibaut. The school is a partnership of Houston A+ Challenge, Houston ISD, HCC and the Asia Society. It is the third of three new, small high schools Houston A+ has helped design and fund for Houston ISD with a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

Volunteers are needed for Houston ISD's third Reach Out to Dropouts Day, now scheduled for August 26, 2006, with sponsorship from Houston A+ Challenge. Last year, more than 1,500 volunteers and district officials fanned out into neighborhoods around 16 high schools, helping bring 49 dropouts immediately back to school. In 2005, a total of 1,305 dropouts were recovered and 120 graduated. This year, 20 high schools will participate. To volunteer, email with your name and contact information. Meanwhile, The Illinois College Access Network has expressed interest in adopting Houston’s approach to engaging the community to bring dropouts back to school.

Thirteen seniors graduated Friday from Challenge Early College High School in Houston ISD. Three of the 13 also received a two-year associate's degree from HCC. Another 28 students are staying for a fifth year at the school to earn their associate's degree. Twelve of the 13 graduates will attend college; the 13th joined the United States Marines Corps. Houston A+ Challenge is one of the three founding partners of the high school with Houston ISD and HCC and provided seed money for the school through the Carnegie Corporation, the Annenberg Foundation, the Brown Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Challenge was the first early college high school in Texas when it opened. Now it is a model for the state and is visited regularly by others from around the world who want to duplicate its successes.


June 5-9
Teacher Externship Week
June 12-July 21
Houston A+ Challenge/Baylor College of Medicine Summer Science Internship
June 19-23
Schools Attuned Workshop

June 26

New Visions in Leadership Academy Celebration Dinner Class of 2005
June 27-29
New Visions in Leadership Academy Institute Class of 2006 Retreat
July 17-21
Schools Attuned Workshop
July 25-26
Fondren Reforming Schools Summer Institute X
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

An Interview With....Misha Lesley
Q: For the first year at Empowerment High School, what has been your greatest success?
A: We stayed mission-focused. We had three areas in our mission statement that we focused on: creating a small personalized advisory, establishing rigor for students to be college prepared and creating social action for student involvement.
Q: What do you say to people who believe that small schools skim the best students and that is why they are successful?
A: We hear that a lot, but we use our data to show our accomplishments. Empowerment enrolled special needs students, second language learners and students who have not previously passed the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS). Through our small class advisory, though, we have been able to give these students attention so that they can be successful. Our smallest advisory is 14:1; our largest is 18:1. We also focus on quality teaching and learning in literacy. Every student read at least eight books this year for their literacy circles, which are based on Harvey Daniels' research. Many read 15 or more books. Our data shows this improved test scores. Of our entering ninth graders, 84% had passed TAKS reading in eighth grade. After our first year, 99% passed the reading portion.
Q: How did you focus your funds to have such small student/teacher ratios?
A: Our general funds went totally to staffing to keep the ratio low. We then used grant funds for two teacher assistants to support mathematics and for classroom support of resources and materials.
Q: After reflecting on your first year, what do you think you'll change for next year?
A: We've already discussed this and want to implement Project-Based Learning. This past year we tried to do Project-Based Learning because research shows it is the way to engage students. Our beginnings were superficial and we want to do a better job. We've established relations with the students and have built in rigor, but we need to provide relevance for what students learn. This can be done with projects. We'll use them to beef up our design to connect students to learning.
(Lesley is principal of Empowerment College Preparatory High School, which opened in August 2005 as a partnership of Houston A+ Challenge, Houston ISD and Coalition of Essential Schools.)

School News
Aldine ISD Wins Performance Excellence Award Aldine ISD has been selected by the Quality Texas Foundation to be a winner of the 2006 Texas Award for Performance Excellence.  Aldine is only the second school district to win in the history of the award.  Brazosport won in 1998. The award is an annual recognition of Texas organizations that excel in performance and the application of quality and customer satisfaction principles. Applicants go through a thorough and extensive process that includes data submission, an on-site examination and probe by a team of top quality administrators from various fields, which lasts several days.
Balkin Is West Region Principal of the Year
Johnston Middle School Principal Linda Balkin has been selected as the Houston ISD Secondary School Principal of the Year for the West Region. Ms. Balkin has participated in The Houston A+ Challenge Network of Schools for many years. She is a member of the Class of 2001 of The Houston A+ Challenge New Visions in Leadership Academy and is a coach. Johnston MS received a Focused Impact grant from A+ Challenge in 2004 to increase student achievement in mathematics and literacy for at-risk students. Johnston also is a Houston A+ Challenge Lamplighter school.
Quest Selected as National Model
The Coalition of Essential Schools selected Quest High School in Humble to launch the first ever National Exhibition Month in recognition of the school's exemplary use of “exhibitions” to assess student performance. Quest is a Houston A+ Challenge Beacon school and received a Focused Impact grant to increase student achievement through real life experiences in math and fine arts.

TEA Launches New Website
"Our Schools, Our Stars" will spotlight the successes achieved by Texas public schools and those connected to them. The site catalogs awards won by students, educators, schools and districts. Submit information for the site to
Leadership Academy Class of 2006 Selected
Houston A+ Challenge has selected the members of the Class of 2006 for the New Visions in Leadership Academy. Forty-five school leaders from four school districts will participate. A complete list is posted on the A+ website. The Class of 2005 will celebrate completion of its first year at a dinner on June 26.

Free Master's Degree Program
The University of St. Thomas is offering a master in education degree program focusing on multicultural urban special education. The degree program is free through a grant from the U.S. Department of Education. Applicants must already by certified in general education, EC-8 or a combination. For more information, email Liz Borreca at University of St. Thomas.
Public Forum Materials Available

A summary of the three Public Forums on Education along with the results of a survey distributed during the forums is available on The Houston A+ Challenge website. The forums were hosted by Friends of Texas Public Schools and Houston A+ Challenge to inform the public about the status of public school successes and challenges, school finance and school reform.
Media Literacy Seminar
The Southwest Alternate Media Project will host a free two-day seminar June 22 and 23 for educators. The two-day institute will offer standards-based curriculum resources and field-tested techniques for infusing media analysis across the curriculum. Equipment and notebooks will be provided. Registration deadline is June 19. For more information, call 713-522-8592 (ext. 2) or email

Schools Attuned Training Available Free
Space is still available for schools in the six districts that partner with Houston A+ Challenge (Aldine, Alief, Houston, Humble, North Forest, Spring Branch) to participate in two Schools Attuned summer professional development sessions being offered in Houston by All Kinds of Minds. The sessions are June 19-23 and July 17-21. The sessions are available to the schools at no cost through a grant from the Brown Foundation.
School Data Source

Which grade level in your district needs to improve most in math? Which student group in your school is performing best in third grade reading? How does Texas' NAEP scores compare with other states? Find the answers on, a free public website developed by Standard & Poor's.

Website Helps Teachers Find Resources
Teachers in Texas can now submit proposals for materials they need for their classroom to a nonprofit website that links to donors. Called DonorsChoose, the nonprofit site was created five years ago by teachers in the Bronx, New York public schools.
New Book on Adolescents Available Free
Ken Olan, former banking executive turned author and speaker, will give away an electronic copy of his new book, “Flashpoint for Young Adults – Ignite Your Potential!” to the first one million people who respond by July 4. To download the book, log onto a special page on Olan’s website, type in your first name and email address and you will be able to download the book.

Public Speaks Out on No Child Left Behind
Public concern over the implementation of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act is rising, according to a new report issued by the Public Education Network. Open to the Public: The Public Speaks Out on No Child Left Behind, identifies specific concerns voiced by more than 1,500 parents, students, taxpayers and community leaders at open public hearings, including one in Austin, from September 2005 to January 2006.
Grants Fund Learning at Harvard
Harvard University Club of Houston, The Houston A+ Challenge and Houston ISD have teamed up to send a team of educators from Westbury High School to the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE) summer professional development institute, "American High Schools - A Time for Change", from July 1-July 6. The grants will cover expenses for the principal, two educators and the executive principal. More information about the institute can be found on the Harvard website.
Electronic Student Record Transfer System
School districts and universities will be required to transmit student records electronically by 2007-2008 under the school finance legislation passed recently by the Texas Legislature. There are several companies that offer electronic transfer systems. One is the Web Enabled Student Transcript (WEST) system, which was developed as a result of work by Houston A+, the Greater Houston Partnership and Houston Endowment. To read the section of the bill that discusses the requirement, click here and scroll to Article 3.

Statistic of the Month
Did you know?
The pupil/teacher ratio in Texas is lower than the national average. In Texas, there are 14.8 students per teacher. Nationally, there are 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
Suzanne Sutherland
Director, Programs
Jeff Gentry
Director, Finance
Nan Powers Varoga
Director, Public Affairs
Louise Deretchin, Ph.D.
Director, Higher Education
Jon Forde
Program Coordinators
Macario Garcia
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
Jasmine Williams
High School Intern

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