September 29, 2006

If you are interested in learning more about National Board Certification, plan to attend the Texas Partnership for Accomplished Teaching (TPAT) Mini-Conference. The mini-conference will provide awareness about National Board Certification (NBC) and information on the National Board candidacy process, support for candidates pursuing NBC and leveraging the skills and knowledge of NBC teachers in schools and school districts. The conference will be held Saturday, October 21 from 8:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. at University of Houston — Clear Lake Campus in the Bayou Building, Room 2512. Advanced registration is required. Register by October 16 by contacting Louise Deretchin at The Houston A+ Challenge, phone number: 713-658-1881. Houston A+ will sponsor a cohort of 25 teachers who want to pursue certification.

Houston ISD, in partnership with Houston A+ and ExxonMobil, has planned a math summit for teachers in the West Region of Houston ISD on October 21 at Sylvan Rodriguez Elementary School. This is the third math summit organized since the K-5 Mathematics Initiative began in 2000. Math specialists will provide the bulk of the professional development, which is additional evidence of how Houston A+ is building leadership capacity. The summit is being funded through a grant from Duke Energy.

Based on the Houston A+ core belief in personalization and collaboration, Houston A+ has started a Critical Friends Group electronic newsletter, "Coaching Facilitates Greatness". This weekly newsletter is written by CFG coaches. The newsletter is being sent to all participants who have completed CFG training and is available on the A+ Challenge website.

September saw the launch of Give Kids Good Schools. Articles in PARADE Magazine and USA Today reached millions of Americans with the message that they can and must come together to improve public schools. Now the campaign is asking for help in spreading the word. Help by signing the Give Kids Good Schools Pledge, asking friends and family to sign the pledge or showing support for public schools with a Give Kids Good Schools decal on your car window. Houston A+ Challenge is working with the Public Education Network to participate in this campaign locally. Several awareness raising events and strategies are in the works, including visits to selected A+ funded schools with best practices by community stakeholders, a mayoral proclamation, letters to voters, yard signs posted at schools and esplanades, public service announcements on radio, TV and in the newspaper and promotion at A+ events/community meetings. For more information about the local campaign, call Alejandro Morúa
at 713-658-1881.

Lance Menster promoted to Elementary Math Director
Lance Menster, former program coordinator for math at Houston A+ Challenge, is the new director of elementary math at Houston ISD. Previously, Mr. Menster was the Houston ISD West Region Math Director. Before coming to A+, he was a mathematics teacher at Kennedy Elementary in Alief ISD, an A+ Challege Beacon School. You can read an interview with Mr. Menster below.

Texas Middle School Association
The Texas Middle School Association's annual conference will be held in Fort Worth, March 1-3, 2007, and is looking for presentations by schools where the ninth grade is transitioning or has transitioned into a community type program.  If you or your school is interested in presenting please contact: Cecil Floyd of the Texas Middle School Association at: 512-462-1105 or For more information about the conference visit the TMSA website.

Job Announcement
The Schools Attuned Program, Houston is currently seeking a project manager to help manage the work of the Schools Attuned Program Greater Houston Initiative. The position is based in Houston. Applicants should send a cover letter and resume to

Conference on Dropouts
The Rice University Center for Education, Children at Risk, The Civil Rights Project at Harvard University and Editorial Projects in Education Research Center present: "The Texas Dropout Crisis and Our Children: A Conference on Graduation Rates, Causes, and Policy Solutions". The conference will be held Friday, October 6 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Rice University in the Jessie H. Jones Graduate School of Management. For more information and to register, visit the Rice University Center for Education's website.

In Focus: An Interview With... Lance Menster
Q: The West Region elementary schools in Houston ISD are clearly making math gains.  What is the one thing that  most contributes to their success?

A: The West Region has been focusing strategically on aligned, rigorous, and engaging mathematics instruction for all students.  Additionally, the West Region along with all of Houston ISD has been focusing on creating professional learning communities in which administrators, math coaches, regional support staff, and teachers have been working towards building collaborative teams to focus on the mathematics we want our students to learn (TEKS), how do we know that they are learning (common assessments), and how do we respond when students are or are not learning (interventions). As part of the ExxonMobil/Houston A+ Challenge K-5 Math Initiative, the West Region has been supporting and deepening the skills of a cadre of 22 math coaches who are working hand-in-hand with classroom teachers to implement high-yield math instructional strategies that include HISD CLEAR curriculum, number talks, Every Day Counts, Problem Solving Journals, concrete and pictorial math representations, and transforming teacher practice into a facilitation role. Under the leadership of West Region Superintendent Scott Van Beck, instructional coaching has become a centerpiece of the region’s philosophy and practice.

Q: The A+ math initiative is about teacher leaders and coaching.  What makes a good math coach?

A: A good math coach is a math instructional leader who has expertise rather than is an expert.  Combining actively listening, deep content knowledge, an understanding of how children learn mathematics, and a deep awareness of curriculum, instruction, and assessment, math coaches are charged to support student learning by engaging in model teaching, co teaching, and coaching relationships with teachers to develop and refine effective teaching strategies to increase student learning.  Essentially, a strong math coach is an accessible, on-site professional developer who supports teachers and students in “real” time.

Q: As the West Region math teachers learn from each other, what is the one strategy that they have found gets the greatest learning gains?

A: When the West Region team of math coaches comes together, they continually describe that one of the most powerful forms of learning for them and their teachers includes doing mathematics together.  This may include engaging in a number talk, solving complex story problems in multiple ways and thinking about how math ideas grow from elementary to middle to high school.  When teachers and coaches feel personally mathematically powerful, in turn, they are equipped with knowledge, skills, and experience to replicate and share this math prowess with their students.

Q: Is the math initiative expanding in the West Region? If so, how?

A: In the 2006-2007 school year, Herod, Longfellow, Sands Point, and Gross Elementary are all schools that have invested in the math coaching position as a key strategy to improve school-wide mathematics teaching and learning.  The West Region is proud to grow a team of five coaches in the year 2000 to a team of 22 coaches in 2006.


October 3
Literacy Coach Training
October 3
School Improvement Facilitator (SIF) Meeting
October 5
Fine Arts Partners Collaborative
October 6-8
New Visions in Leadership Academy Retreat
October 9, 2006
Critical Friends Group (CFG) Fall New Coach Training
October 10
Literacy Coach Training
October 11
Regional High School Network Meeting
October 16-22
"Give Kids Good Schools Campaign" Week
October 16- November 18
Regional High School Network Meeting Cross-Site Visits
October 17
Literacy Coach Training
October 17
School Improvement Facilitator (SIF) Meeting
October 23
New Visions in Leadership Academy Cohort Meeting
October 24

Literacy Coach Training
October 31
Literacy Coach Training

Statistic of the Month
Did you know?
In the latest Phi Delta Kappa/ Gallup annual poll called the Public's Attitudes Toward the Public Schools, 49% of respondents gave their local schools a grade of A or B. The number has steadily increased every year from the 36% recorded in 1978.

Source: Wall Street Journal

Changes at Houston A+ Challenge
Houston A+ Challenge Board of Trustees officers Joe B. Foster and Ann Friedman, Ph.D. have been elected to new positions. Mr. Foster will now serve as chairman of the board and Ms. Friedman will take over as president. Mr. Foster replaces outgoing chairman Harry Reasoner, who will remain on the board.

Tim Martindell, program coordinator at A+ Challenge, was elected as chair of the advisory board for the Center for Professional Development and Teaching at the University of Houston Downtown.

Houston A+ Challenge welcomes Tish Stringer to the team. Ms. Stringer has joined A+ Challenge as the new public affairs intern replacing Michael Powell, who moved out of state. Ms. Stringer recently received her Ph.D. in Anthropology from Rice University.

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
Public Engagement Coordinator
Alejandro Morúa
Event Coordinator
Terrie Roberts
Administrative Assistants
Imelda Cardoza
Benedicta Forson
Joan Zuniga
Tish Stringer, Ph.D.
Public Affairs Intern
Suzanne Rodriguez
High School Intern

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