January 31, 2007

Houston A+ Challenge Invites You
Help Give Kids Good Schools by attending a town hall meeting this month. Join your community to share your ideas for lowering the dropout rate and ensuring that all of Houston's students graduate prepared to enter the workforce or college.
Light refreshments and child care will be provided.

For questions about the town halls -- which Houston A+ Challenge is hosting in coordination with The Metropolitan Organization and Aldine and Houston Independent School Districts -- please contact Alejandro Morua at 713-658-1881. Funding for this event is provided by the Public Education Network, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the United Way of Texas.

22 Local Teachers Aiming for National Certification
National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) Certification is a professional badge of honor for teachers, and this semester Houston A+ Challenge is kicking off a program to help Houston-area teachers work toward the goal. The first cadre of 22 National Board candidates -- 14 from Humble ISD and 8 from Houston ISD -- have just begun the 18-month training, which starts with bimonthly meetings to read from portfolios, share experiences, and reflect on how their studies are impacting their students' learning. Candidates will also receive intensive mentoring and will participate in graduate level courses at the University of Houston-Clear Lake.

Although there are more than 55,000 National Board Certified (NBC) teachers across the U.S., currently only three teachers in the Houston area hold the credential. The new Houston A+ Challenge program is aimed at increasing the number of NBC teachers in the Houston area, by creating a total support network for candidates. As a part of this effort, Humble ISD has begun offering a $5,000 annual stipend to NBC teachers.

A+ Director Co-Edits New Book on Accountability
Louise Deretchin, Director of Higher Education at Houston A+ Challenge, and Cheryl Craig, University of Houston College of Education professor and a Houston A+ Challenge Research Associate, are co-editors of a new book -- International Research on the Impact of Accountability Systems: Teacher Education Yearbook XV. The book was produced amidst a national conversation about accountability surrounding teaching and teacher education. In an innovative move, the editors invited commentary on the scholarly articles by, in the words of the editors, "the very people that are subjected to, and implementers of, accountability systems." Houston A+ Challenge's Portfolio Group of Teachers, a teacher research group, was one of the groups of authors contributing commentary to this volume on the philosophy, history and design of accountability systems. The book was published by Roman and Littlefield in cooperation with the Association of Teacher Educators

Library Foundation President Named to A+ Challenge Board

Susan Bischoff, who was recently selected as the first President of the Houston Public Library Foundation, has been named to the Board of Directors of Houston A+ Challenge. Ms. Bischoff is a 32-year veteran of the Houston Chronicle, who spent 20 years as a senior editor of the newspaper. She has served as a board member of the American Society of Newspaper Editors since 2000, where she helped implement ASNE's $5.8 million High School Journalism Initiative, and she also serves on the boards of AIDS Foundation Houston, Psychology Works and the Board of Visitors of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.

A+ Challenge Director Named to PEN Board
Michele Pola, executive director of Houston A+ Challenge, has been elected to the board of Washington-based Public Education Network (PEN), along with five leaders from the education, philanthropy, political and corporate sectors. "These new board members deliver a potent combination of local and national school reform and public engagement expertise," said Wendy D. Puriefoy, PEN president and CEO. "They share a profound commitment to the democratic aims of public education and also impatience with the slow pace of school improvement. These national experts are welcome additions to a board that is deeply committed to challenging the public to provide meaningful academic and economic opportunity to all children." The other new PEN board members are: Carolyn Akers, executive director of the Mobile (Ala.) Area Education Foundation; Daniel Challener, president of the Public Education Foundation in Chattanooga, Tenn.; Luis Ricardo Fraga, associate professor of political science at Stanford University; Lata Reddy, director of programs and operations at the Prudential Foundation; and Bob Wise, former W.Va. governor and president of the Alliance for Excellent Education.


February 17, 2007
Critical Friends Groups Follow Up Training
University of Houston Hilton

February 22, 2007
Town Hall Meeting
Aldine High School

February 24, 2007
Spring Critical Friends Groups New Coach Training
University of Houston Hilton

February 27, 2007
Town Hall Meeting
Austin High School

March 1, 2007
Town Hall Meeting
Wheatley High School

Statistic of the Month

The percentage of fourth-graders in the United States performing at or above the Proficient level in the NAEP mathematics assessment rose from 13% to 32% between 1990 and 2003.

Source: National Center for Education Statistics

Changes at Houston A+ Challenge
Melissa M
ilios has replaced Nan Powers Varoga as Director of Public Affairs for Houston A+ Challenge. Nan stepped down to join her husband in Des Moines, Iowa, where he is national campaign manager for Tom Vilsack’s presidential campaign. Melissa comes to Houston A+ from the Los Angeles Unified School District, where she served as Director of Communications for the Board President. Prior to that, she worked as an education reporter for the Daily Breeze newspaper in southern Los Angeles County, where she received a Copley Ring of Truth Honorable Mention for her education coverage. She spent three years as a news content producer for the Austin American- Statesman’s web site, Austin360.com, and a year as content manager of SanAntonio360.com. She also has worked at National Public Radio affiliates in Los Angeles and the Voice of America in London. Melissa holds a B.A. in Journalism and Mass Communication from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and an M. A. in Journalism from the University of Southern California.

A+ Receives New Grants
Houston A+ is fortunate to receive widespread community support for our efforts. Recent awards include: $50,000 from the Rockwell Fund for a Houston ISD district-wide math summit for teachers; $50,000 from the John P. McGovern Foundation for the 2007 Summer Science Internship Program; $25,000 from Washington Mutual for general operating funds; and $400 from the Robert H. & Anita Q. Lawe Foundation, also for operations.

School News
Sconzo is Texas Nominee for Superintendent of the Year
Humble ISD Superintendent Dr. Guy Sconzo has been chosen to represent Texas in the 2007 National Superintendent of the Year Program. A Texas Association of School Administrators committee selected Dr. Sconzo for the honor based on his leadership for learning, communication, professionalism and community involvement. As the state nominee, Dr. Sconzo will be honored in March during the American Association of School Administrators’ National Conference on Education in New Orleans. A national winner will be announced at that time. Sconzo was one of the orignial members of the A+ Challenge Regional Seniors Fellows Network.

T.H. Rogers Chess Club Becomes National Champions
A team of eighth-grade students from T.H. Rogers Middle School won top honors recently during the United States Chess Federation’s National K-12/Collegiate 2006 Chess Championship. The team placed first among eighth-grade students out of the 137 who participated.
More than 1,500 competitors from 40 different states on almost 540 teams took part in the competition, which was held in Orlando, Florida from December 8–10.

Nominate a Student for a Student Leader Award
Bank of America Student Leaders program recognizes 5 exemplary students in each of 44 markets who are committed to making a difference today — and tomorrow. Applications for our Neighborhood Excellence Student Leaders awards are accepted beginning January 2, 2007 through March 9, 2007.
Eligibility: Currently be a junior or senior in high school, be able to participate in a leadership program arranged by Bank of America,
be able to participate in an 8-week paid internship at a local nonprofit/charitable organization.

Grants for Middle School Explorers
The Christopher Columbus Awards program challenges middle school students to explore opportunities for positive change in their communities. Teams of up to four students and a coach identify a community issue and use the scientific process to solve it.
Maximum Award: $25,000 for the community; finalist teams get an all-expense-paid trip to Walt Disney World.
Eligibility: middle school students.
Deadline: February 12, 2007.

Promoting the Academic Success of Boys of Color
The Promoting Academic Success (PAS) Initiative of FPG Child Development Institute at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill will award five-year grants to school districts to promote the academic success of boys of color between the ages of three and eight. The initiative works to mobilize and support partnerships among Head Start, public schools, families, and community agencies to focus on and improve the academic and social development of boys of color; and to identify, evaluate, and disseminate the most promising multi-systemic (family, school, community) interventions that increase learning and social adjustment of boys of color.
Maximum Award: varies.
Eligibility: public school districts in the U.S.
Deadline: February 15, 2007.
Email Crystal Smith to request an application.

Scholarships to Reward Student Community Involvement
The 2007 Best Buy Scholarship Program will award scholarships to students based on their outstanding commitment to and involvement in community service, along with a solid academic performance.
Maximum Award: $10,000.
Eligibility: high school seniors currently enrolled in an accredited U.S. school, graduating with plans to enter a full-time undergraduate course of study at an accredited two or four-year college, university or vocation technical school in the U.S. no later than fall 2007.

Deadline: February 15, 2007.

Startup Funds for Educational Websites
The Institute for Interactive Journalism and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation New Voices Community News Grants help fund the start-up of 40 micro-local, news projects and support them with two educational Web sites.
Maximum Award: $17,000.
Eligibility: 501(c) 3 organizations and education institutions, including civic groups, community organizations, public broadcasters, schools, colleges and universities.
Deadline: February 20, 2007.

Recognizing Excellence in Humanities Programs in Elementary and Middle School Libraries
The American Library Association Sara Jaffarian School Library Program Award
recognizes excellence in humanities programming in elementary and middle school libraries that serve children K-8.
Maximum Award: $4,000.
Eligibility: elementary or middle school (public or private) libraries; or any school library program in the United States that serves children in any combination of grades K-8.
Deadline: February 28, 2007

Houston A+ Challenge
1415 Louisiana, Box 9
Houston, TX 77002

Staff List
Michele Pola, Ed. D.
Executive Director
Suzanne Sutherland
Associate Director/Director of Programs
Catherine Reed
Director, Finance
Melissa Milios
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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Member of:
Friends of Texas Public Schools
Public Education Network
The Texas Association of Partners in Education
Texas Coalition for Quality Arts Education

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