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October 2009
Creating Conditions for Change

"The best we educational planners can do is to create the conditions for teachers and students to flourish and get out of their way." -- Theodore Sizer

The above quote aptly describes the leadership work in which Houston A+ Challenge is engaged. We create conditions for educators from across the Houston region to come together to share best practices, solve problems, increase professional learning, and provide inter- and intra-district support. Then we "get out of the way" and watch the seeds flourish.

We continue to sow seeds with three leadership groups in particular this year: aspiring principals, sitting principals and assistant principals, and district-level leaders. If you are interested in becoming part of the conversation for change, perhaps you should consider becoming part of one of these A+ networks.

From the Field: Ellen M. Winstead, First-Year Principal

Ellen M. Winstead, is saying YES to leadership. She is the founding School Director of YES Prep West.

Ellen Winstead (second from right) and members of the YES Prep West faculty with Malcolm Gladwell (third from left), author of 'The Tipping Point' and 'Outliers'.

As one of 19 aspiring principals in last year's Regional Principal Leadership Academy cohort, Ellen spent her internship year working closely with other YES Prep directors to plan the opening of the newest YES site, located in West Houston. She was engaged in all aspects of new school development including: recruiting students and staff, organizing the physical plant, ordering materials, and being the cheerleader for the school's success.

Ellen's path to School Director of YES Prep West began in 1995 when she became a Teach for America Corps Member. After serving as a classroom teacher for six years, she became an instructional consultant for middle school mathematics.  Ellen's work for YES Prep has included the design of their new teacher training program, Teaching Excellence, where she wrote and delivered professional learning sessions for teachers, observed instruction, and provided feedback to teachers and school directors.

Ellen's professional experience, coupled with her A+ leadership growth and development, has prepared her to step into her new role. She will receive ongoing coaching and professional learning through monthly network meetings as part of Houston A+ Challenge's Leadership Academy.

Read Ellen's introduction to the YES Prep West Marvels

From the A+ Office: Leadership Resources

A+ Unites District Leaders for Regional Network
Houston A+ Challenge is proud to announce the launch of the A+ Executive Leadership Council, a new cohort of dynamic, senior-level district leaders from districts across the Houston region. Council members will meet regularly this year to construct ways that district staff can best support instructional leadership at the campus level.

At the Executive Leadership Council's inaugural meeting in September, the group of 40 examined a case study (Michelle Rhee, Superintendent of Washington, DC) and participated in a consultancy around a specific issue that a Houston-area district is grappling with.

Help Create an Agenda for Change in Houston's Public Schools
On November 11, please join Houston A+ Challenge, Children at Risk, Project Grad and other community organizations for a one-day conference on the "Big Ideas, Big Reforms" that are making an impact in public schools in Houston, in Texas, and across the country.

Speakers will include Dr. Joseph Johnson, Executive Director of the National Center for Urban School Transformation; Susan Dawson, President of Austin's E3 (Education Equals Economics) Alliance; statewide political organizer Johnson Sabo; and others.

Nov. 12: A+ Presents Anthony Muhammed
Both as a principal of large, urban public schools and as co-founder of a high-performing charter school, Dr. Anthony Muhammed has won national recognition for leading staffs and students to achieve higher levels of success.

Join Houston A+ Challenge on November 12, as we welcome this author and award-winning turnaround principal for a conversation on "Transforming School Culture". This event is free and open to the public, but seating is limited.

From the Headlines

In a recent commentary in Education Week, author and progressive education proponent Alfie Kohn causes one to reflect on what makes a person a promoter of nontraditional learning.

The article, How Traditional Education Can Produce Nontraditional Educators, is an excerpt from Kohn's foreword to Turning Points: 27 Visionaries in Education Tell Their Own Stories, a soon-to-be-published anthology of autobiographical essays written by alternative educators from around the world. The essays were written by people who have founded schools, magazines, and entire movements, helping to promote all manner of nontraditional learning.

Kohn states that he was fascinated by the fact that only one of these individuals had attended an alternative school setting himself. "All of the others had somehow become committed to a progressive, democratic, or child-centered approach in spite of having experienced something very different as a student," Kohn observes, or maybe "because of having experienced something very different as a student."

The article goes on to describe some of the "negative learning" that many of us were exposed to as children. Many "survivors" of those classrooms have chosen to become nontraditional educators who use those negative learning situations as enormously useful models about what not to do with children. They have set for themselves the task of improving the odds for other children, creating places where the learning doesn't have to be by negative example.

As educational leaders whose goals are to help children make sense of ideas and create opportunities to discover answers to their own questions, Kohn's article and the upcoming book provide much food for thought.


November 11
Big Ideas, Big Reform: Creating an Agenda for Change in Houston's Public Schools
with Children At Risk, Houston A+ Challenge and other local partners
8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Houston Community College - South Loop

November 12
Anthony Muhammed: 'Transforming School Culture'
5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.
Houston A+ Challenge

November 18
Principal Leadership Academy: Info Session for Aspiring Principals
5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.
Houston A+ Challenge

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Houston A+ Challenge

2700 Southwest Freeway, Suite B
Houston, TX 77098-4607


Contact Bonnie Roberts,
Leadership Coach

Houston A+ Challenge's support for school leaders is made possible through grants from:

Houston Endowment

The Brown Foundation

and other supporters