September 30, 2005

The 2005 Reach Out to Dropouts Day prompted 706 teenagers to commit to return to school, thanks to the efforts of a veritable army of more than 1,300 volunteers. Houston Independent School District, along with Houston A+ Challenge held the second "Reach Out to Dropouts Day" on Saturday, August 27, 2005. Volunteers brought 49 dropouts back to their schools to re-enroll, while another 657 made commitments to return to their school. Special thanks to Wal-Mart and Cingular for donating resources to support the walk. Read more on the Houston ISD website. Photos of the event can be found on the Houston A+ Challenge website.

Tom Barone, Professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at Arizona State University, will visit Houston as part of the A+ Challenge National Speaker Series November 28-29. Professor Barone specializes in qualitative research methods in education, exploring possibilities for narrative-based approaches to contextualize and theorize the dynamics of teacher-student interactions. He is the author of Aesthetics, Politics, and Educational Inquiry (Peter Lang, 2000) and Touching Eternity: Life Narratives and the Enduring Consequences of Teaching (Teachers College Press, 2001).

Houston PBS will air a panel discussion next month on effective education in the Houston area. Called the connection, the show will air at 8 p.m. Friday, October 14 on Channel 8. The panel will feature Michele Pola, executive director of Houston A+ Challenge; Misha Lesley, principal of Empowerment College Preparatory High School; and Daniel Caesar, principal, KIPP 3D Academy. During the show, viewers can call in questions. the connection is a follow-up to Emmy-award winning producer Hedrick Smith's upcoming PBS special, "Making Schools Work," an important and inspiring look at school systems across the country that are transforming the way students learn; motivating and empowering teachers and all students (including low-income and minority students); raising test scores; and providing a road map for other school systems nationwide. The two shows are essential viewing for everyone concerned about America's schools and our children's future.

Houston A+ Challenge is accepting applications from high school teachers for 2006 Teacher Externships. Participating teachers in Aldine, Alief, Houston, Humble, North Forest, and Spring Branch ISDs will spend one week in a business or industry environment where they will interact and build alliances with professionals dedicated to furthering education. A unique opportunity to participate in a "business classroom," teachers will be asked to directly connect their curriculum to their business and industry experiences, thus providing the skills necessary for the 21st century workplace. Further information and applications can be found online at the Houston A+ Challenge website. The first deadline is October 17. Priority is given to first-time applicants.

September 30-October 1
Leadership Academy Teaching and Learning Retreat
October 3
Critical Friends Group New Coaches Seminar
October 14
Houston PBS, the connection
October 15
Next Steps: "Portfolios - Documenting Work"
October 18
PQE Regional Forum with Ed Crowe

November 10
Regional Senior Fellows

November 12
Next Steps: "Making the Most of Data"
November 28-29
National Speaker Series: Tom Barone

February 2
Regional Senior Fellows

April 6
Regional Senior Fellows
For details, click on Calendar at

Changes at the Houston A+ Challenge
Melissa Jacobs-Thibaut has been appointed principal for Houston ISD's new International High School, set to open in August 2006 at the Houston Community College Central Campus. Ms. Jacobs-Thibaut will spend the 2005 school year developing the instructional program, staffing, student recruitment and policies and procedures for the International High School from the offices of Houston A+ Challenge in downtown Houston. The Asia Society, Houston A+ Challenge and Houston ISD are creating this new model school, which seeks to both prepare students for college and develop their international knowledge and understanding of world cultures.

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
HISD Executive on Loan
Program Coordinators
Macario Garcia
Jim Lancaster, Ph.D.
Patricia Lucey-Burks
Tim Martindell
Alejandro Morúa
Angela Prince
Event Coordinator
Kathi Robinson
Administrative Assistants
Imelda Cardoza
Benny Forson

Maryann Villarreal

Make a donation

Copyright 2005 Houston A+ Challenge. All rights reserved.

All logos, trademarks, service marks and services remain property of their respective owners.

Comments, Questions? Contact us at To subscribe or unsubscribe email

Next Steps: "Portfolios - Documenting Work"
"Teacher Research: Portfolios - Documenting the Work - Part 1" is the subject of the Houston A+ Challenge Next Steps series on Saturday, October 15. The event will focus on how educators reflect on their practices and develop their portfolios, making sense of excellence and equity. Participants will bring samples of their portfolios-in-progress and receive suggestions for improvement. Houston A+ Challenge created the four-part "Taking the Next Steps" series to advance best practices in education. RSVP by October 7 via email: or fax: (713) 739-0166. The registration form can be found online.

Executive Service Corps and UH to Upgrade A+ Database
The Executive Service Corps of Houston and the University of Houston Bauer College of Business have donated an "in kind" contribution to Houston A+ Challenge in the form of software development. Students will work to complete the second half of a project initiated last year to upgrade Houston A+ database software. The upgrade will allow Houston A+ to automate several manual functions and increase staff efficiency.

High School News
Challenge Early College to Serve as a Model School
Houston's Challenge Early College has been selected as one of 75 high schools to participate in a five-year initiative entitled Models, Networks and Policies to Support and Sustain Rigor and Relevance for ALL Students. The initiative is sponsored by the Council of Chief State School Officers and the International Center for Leadership in Education's Successful Practices Network, with financial support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The intiative begins with the assumption that most American high schools need to be reinvented rather than just reformed. Challenge Early College, a Houston A+ Challenge network school, will serve as a model for helping other schools imagine successful reinvention. The program is designed to identify, analyze, enrich, and disseminate the nation's most successful school practices and policies to achieve a rigorous and relevant curriculum for students.

Eisenhower High School Awarded $10,000
The American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE), the Houston Chronicle and Houston A+ Challenge have awarded Eisenhower High School (Aldine ISD) a $10,000 grant to strengthen its journalism program and create a high school newspaper. The award is part of the ASNE Partnership Grants program, which awarded $166,500 to 39 schools this year to be mentored by 34 dailies to start or dramatically improve student newspapers. Each grant was in the amount of $5,000. In Houston, A+ Challenge matched the $5,000 gift, bringing the total to $10,000.

The grant will be used to equip Eisenhower's student newspaper with state-of-the-art technology, software, and computer equipment. In addition, members of the Chronicle's editorial and business staff will mentor Eisenhower students in the desktop publishing classes taught by Robert Wyand.

Educator Resources
Steppingstone Grants for Technological Innovation
The Department of Education is offering an estimated $3 million for Steppingstone grants dedicated to technological innovation for children with disabilities. As part of the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, the Steppingstones program intends to improve achievement results for children with disabilities through development, demonstration, and the use of technology. The Department of Education expects to fund six projects to develop approaches with grants in the range of $100,000 to $200,000, and another six projects to research effectiveness with grants in the range of $200,000 to $300,000. The deadline is October 18th. For more information, visit the Department's announcements website.

Quest High School to Offer Professional Development
Quest High School, a Houston A+ Challenge network school, is offering professional development opportunities on a variety of topics from pedagogy to sustainable visions for schools. Day-long workshop sessions will allow professionals active involvement, providing them resources and guidance to begin and sustain new initiatives. Workshops will cost $250; $200 for Coalition of Essential Schools (CES) Affiliates and groups of three or more. More information about these workshops can be found on the Quest website or contact Kim Huseman at, by phone at (281) 641-7337.

Annenberg/CPB Channel
The Annenberg/CPB Channel, a free satellite station for educational institutions, offers a wide variety of programs on television, as well as online, from Reading and the Arts, to Math and Science. The September schedule is now online. The station also provides workshops and courses for professional development. The channel introduces two new series this fall. "The Art of Teaching the Arts: A Workshop for High School Teachers" guides viewers through seven principles designed to enhance teaching in the arts. The series' interactive website intends to further enrich the experience. "Teaching Multicultural Literature: A Workshop for the Middle Grades" features a range of writers, including Julia Alvarez and James McBride. It offers methods and materials for the meaningful introduction of a more diverse canon.