October 31, 2006

A+ Coaches in the News
In this month's issue of Connections, The Journal of the National School Reform Faculty, there are two articles written by A+ Challenge coaches. Michaelann Kelley's article, "Transformation of Body and Soul: On Hispanic Teenager's Journey into Finding 'Self'" .... and Donna Reid's article "Changing the Work: A Report from the Houston Center of Activity". Ms. Kelly is an art teacher at Eisenhower High School, Ms. Reed is a Critical Friends Group coach and consultant for Houston A+ Challenge. Also this month, Tina Angelo, a former literacy coach and now adolescent literacy manager for Houston ISD, will present on "Crisis to Opportunity: Accepting the Katrina Challenge" at the Meeting of the Council of Great City Schools in San Diego.

Top Ten Questions to Ask Elected Officials About Education
With less than 10 days until the November 7 election, you can visit The Give Kids Good Schools web site to help you choose your candidate. The website has a list of 10 important questions to ask elected officials:
1. What are your top priorities for improving public education?
2. What will you do to improve the quality of public schools?
3. What is your plan to provide adequate funding for all public schools?

4. How will you support the goal of high achievement for every student?
5. How will you engage the community, help schools engage the community, improve our public schools?
Like to read the other 5? Click here.

Parent Leadership Conference
Parents for Public Schools of Houston, Mexican American Legal Defense & Education Fund, Houston ISD - Parent Engagement Department, Project GRAD, Houston A+ Challenge, and the United Way present a gathering of parents from throughout the Houston ISD to learn about making our schools stronger through parental involvement.  Learn about how the District is operated, what the function of a principal is, a superintendent, a board member.  What can parents do to help their school succeed.  What is a shared decision making committee, a PEER committee, and how to monitor school board meetings. The conference is being held on Friday, November 3 from 8:30 a.m. until 2 p.m. at the United Way Building, at 50 Waugh Drive at Feagan. More information and a registration form is available on the PPS website.

A+ receives new grant

Houston A+ Challenge has been awarded a grant of $10,000 from The Powell Foundation to support The National Speaker Series for next year.  With this funding, we will bring leading education researchers to Houston to disseminate the latest research-based, proven strategies on how to provide a quality education that meets each student’s needs. The series will feature four nationally renowned speakers including: Michael Fullan, Nona Lyons, Ellen Moir and Grant WigginsThe Powell Foundation has been a supporter or A+ Challenge since our inception in 1997.

Houston ISD Dedicates New International Academy
On Wednesday, October 18 Houston ISD Superintendent Abelardo Saavedra was joined by Houston A+ Challenge, Houston Community College System and the Asia Society to officially dedicate the new Houston Academy of International Studies.  Located on the HCCS Central campus, HISD’s Houston Academy of International Studies is a high-school program designed to serve up to 400 students in grades 9-12. The new school opened in August with approximately 100 ninth-graders and will add grade levels in 2007, 2008, and 2009.  To prepare themselves for college and possible careers in international business, Academy students are required to complete two service-learning projects, four years of foreign language study, and the curriculum as outlined in the Texas Scholars program. The young people also must complete a 180-hour internship with an international focus accompanied by a project and final presentation to graduate. Students in grades 11 and 12 will have the opportunity to earn both high school and college credit by taking HCC classes. The school was created as part of The Houston Schools for a New Society partnership between Houston A+ Challenge and Houston ISD.


November 7
Literacy Coach Training

November 7
School Improvement Facilitator (SIF) Meeting

November 9
Regional Senior Fellows

November 14
Literacy Coach Training

November 21
Literacy Coach Training

November 27
New Vision in Leadership Monthly Cohort

November 28
Literacy Coach Training

November 28
School Improvement Facilitator (SIF) Meeting


Give Kids Good Schools Week a Success!
Starting October 16, communities across the country, including Houston, participated in the Give Kids Good Schools Campaign week
. A+ Challenge sponsored several events, including visits to local schools we fund to highlight best practices in education and distributing information about the campaign.
Quick facts in Houston:

  • 121 people attended school visits
  • 430 yard signs announcing the campaign were distributed
  • 445 packets of information were handed out
  • 35, 877 voters received a letter encouraging them to learn more about education, vote and act on behalf of public schools.

An Interview With....Ron Venable

Q: How has using portfolios as an assessment tool transformed your teaching?
A: The work I have done with portfolios has been easy for me. As an art teacher and artist, I have been using portfolios since I was in high school. An artist portfolio is a collection of work that shows the breadth and depth of your experiences. The portfolios I am doing currently go beyond a collection of work. The way it has changed my teaching is that the use of portfolios has made me go beyond just reflecting on my work as an art teacher to creating a continuous spiral of learning and teaching experiences. The Eisenhower Teacher as Researcher Group has been focusing on increasing literacy with special populations; my portfolios in this group go beyond student’s artwork to incorporating my action research.

Q: How has being a member of a group using portfolios changed your view of accountability?
A: The district and state view of accountability has perpetuated the notion that all knowledge can be put into multiple choice questions. The work I have been doing with portfolios has pushed my view of assessment beyond the A, B, C ’s to include this new perspective. My portfolio reflects teaching practice and student learning as a multi-dimensional experience.

Q: What has been your biggest “aha” moment using portfolio assessment?
A: As a former district teacher of the year, I thought I was at the pinnacle of my teaching practice. My portfolio work forces me to ask the right questions and make me question what my students are asking. It seems this old dog is learning new tricks, with the help of his friends in his portfolio group.

Q:. What has been the effect on your teaching of the following one student closely?
A: The process of following one student gives me the opportunity to go beyond the stock answers to questions of why or why not he/she is not doing their work. I have become much more focused on honing in on students with challenges and special needs. This focus on one student has not only allowed me to serve this student better, but to generalize my learning to all my students.
Ron Venable is a Fine Arts Teacher at Eisenhower High School in Aldine ISD

School News
A+ Approves Second Year of Funding to Local High Schools

Houston A+ Challenge will continue its funding of high school reform initiatives at four local high schools as part of the Houston Schools for a New Society partnership with HISD. This year, Houston A+ Challenge will give HISD $268,768 to continue efforts at John Reagan, Stephen Waltrip, Westside, and Phillis Wheatley high schools.  The two groups embarked on the program four years ago to create a system of high schools that provides students with a variety of options to earn a degree. These options include early-college schools, small high schools, Magnet schools, International Baccalaureate schools, comprehensive schools, an international high school, a college-preparatory school, and a newcomers school. Funding for HSNS comes from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and Houston A+ Challenge.  This is part of a broader high school reform program in Houston with initiatives also being funded by The Texas High School Project, the Texas Education Agency, and HISD.

Jack Yates High School Holds Report Card Roundup
On Wednesday, October 4 more than 600 parents came out to meet their children's teachers at Yates High School. Literacy Coach Temeka Jeffrey was among those there to meet parents and discuss the student's progress. Ms. Jeffrey offered parents literacy initiatives the students could use to strengthen their studies. Jeffrey said Yates never has had so many parents come out to an event like this in the past.
(see write up in the Houston Insider, page 15). Houston A+ Challenge and Houston ISD added literacy coaches to 23 high schools as part of the Houston Schools For a New Society reform mentioned above.

Grant to Improve Technology Services for Disabled Students
The Department of Education (ED) has announced a grant opportunity entitled "Research on Effectiveness and Implementation for Children With Disabilities: Web-Supported Instructional Approaches." ED expects to fund one grantee with no more than $500,000 in a budget year for up to five years. The purpose of the program is to: 1) improve results for disabled children through the development and use of technology; 2) support educational media services activities that have educational value regarding disabled children in the classroom; and 3) support video captioning and description that is appropriate for the classroom. The deadline for applications is Nov. 13, 2006. For more information visit the Department of Education Website or contact Contact: Jane Hauser, U.S. Department of Education, 400 Maryland Ave., S.W., Room 4067, Potomac Center Plaza, Washington, DC 20202-2550; (202) 245-7373.

Grants to Support Innovative Writing Teachers
The Bob Costas Grants support exceptional teachers who through their innovative teaching methods motivate their students to write. Winning teachers are awarded grants to enhance successful projects currently under way. Projects can be carried out in school (public or nonpublic), through an after-school writing workshop, or during a summer program. Maximum Award: $2,000. Eligibility: Teachers from all academic disciplines grades 6-12. Deadline: November 17, 2006.

Celebrating America’s Most Improved High Schools
The College Board's Inspiration Awards celebrate America's most improved high schools, those which have improved their academic environment and helped their students achieve the promise of a higher education by initiating unique programs and creating partnerships among teachers, parents, community organizations, and local businesses. Maximum Award: $25,000. Eligibility: secondary schools (public and nonpublic) in which 40 percent or more of the students receive free or reduced-price lunches. Deadline: November 17, 2006.

Surdna Arts Teachers Fellowship Program
The Surdna Arts Teachers Fellowship Program recognizes that art teachers often lack the time and resources to reconnect with the artistic processes they teach and offers grants to enable selected teachers to make art with professionals in their disciplines and stay current with new practices and resources. Maximum Award: $6,500. Eligibility: All permanently assigned full- and part-time arts faculty in specialized, public arts high schools. Deadline: November 17, 2006.

Award for Literacy Educators
The National Center for Family Literacy/Toyota Family Literacy Teacher of the Year Award is given to an educator who demonstrates exemplary efforts in family literacy to help parents and children achieve their academic, personal and professional goals. Maximum Award: $5,000. Eligibility: nominees must have worked for at least three years in a literacy program that provides: children’s education, adult education, parenting education (Parent Time), and interactive literacy activities between parents and children (Parent and Child Together (PACT) Time). Deadline: December 1, 2006.

Grants for Outstanding Science Educators
Toyota TAPESTRY grants recognize outstanding educators who are making a difference by demonstrating excellence and creativity in science teaching. Maximum Award: $10,000. Eligibility: K-12 science teachers. Deadline: January 18, 2007.

Changes at Houston A+ Challenge

Mike Webster will be joining the A+ team on November 1 as a new program coordinator. He will be working on the K-5 math initiative. Mr. Webster received his B.A. in English with a minor in Education from UT Austin and a Masters in English from University of Houston. Mr. Webster was previously a literacy coach at Reagan High School as well as being an Adjunct Professor at University of Houston Downtown.

Statistic of the Month

Did you know?

Full-time public school teachers were found to be more likely than full-time private school teachers to engage in professional development activities focusing on the content of their main teaching field or the uses of computer for instruction.

Source:The 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
Catherine Reed
Director, Finance
Nan Powers Varoga
Director, Public Affairs
Louise Deretchin, Ph.D.
Director, Higher Education
Program Coordinators
Brandi Allen
Tim Martindell
Angela Prince
Alejandro Morúa
Public Engagement Coordinator
Terrie Roberts
Event Coordinator
Administrative Assistants
Imelda Cardoza
Benedicta Forson
Joan Zuniga
Tish Stringer, Ph.D.
Public Affairs / Webmaster
Suzanne Rodriguez
High School Intern

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