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Posts published in “Day: December 4, 2001”

High hopes for low-performing schools

By Bob Chase,
President, National Education Association


In 1997, Wyandotte High School in Kansas City was plagued with low test scores, high dropout rates, and discipline problems. To its dismay, its entire school district was considered low-performing.

But both the school board and the school’s staff refused to accept this label. And so, they did some soul-searching. Administrators and teachers decided that if the school was going to shine, they had to work together as a family instead of as a hierarchy. Their goal became: “Create a school you’d want to send your own child to.”

The staff began to share decision-making. They reduced class sizes, provided teachers with weekly professional development, and reorganized classes into “learning communities” so that students would have the same teachers for all four years of high school. This enabled teachers to get to know every student personally and give them individual attention.

Wyandotte’s staff also set high academic standards, engaged parents, and coached students to work collaboratively.

Four years later, the school is thriving. It has gone from an average of 1,000 tardy students a day to 27. Suspensions are down, test scores are showing gains, more students are graduating, and the overall atmosphere is one of “respect and cooperation.”

Social studies teacher David Cland confessed, “Before, we had lockdowns. I was struggling. I almost left over the discipline problems. Now, we use discipline issues to build relationships with the parents. The familial atmosphere has kept me here.”

But while Wyandotte may be unique in its approach, it is hardly unique in its commitment to reform – or in its success.

This past July, I pledged to NEA’s 2.6 million members that I would seize every opportunity to visit low-performing schools. Since then, I have toured troubled districts from Oakland to Atlanta, Milwaukee to Omaha.

Many of them have been as inspiring as Wyandotte. Everywhere I’ve gone, teachers and administrators are valiantly committed to the idea that every child in America can learn – and every school in America can succeed – given the right conditions and resources.

The biggest education question facing America is not whether struggling schools can improve, but how?

Last month, at a conference titled “Priority Schools, Priority Students: Making Public Schools Great for Every Child,’ 500 principals, school superintendents, education experts, and teachers – including some from Wyandotte – convened in Atlanta to address this very question.

They recognized that one size does not fit all in school reform. Many low-performing schools, like Wyandotte, have turned around through creativity, tailoring programs to the specific needs of their communities.

Yet like Wyandotte, most “turnarounds” have also instituted the same common sense improvements: Small class sizes. Strong parental outreach. On-site professional development for teachers. High standards. Testing used diagnostically, not punitively. All have drawn upon data-driven reforms, not pie-in-the-sky experiments.

At the conference, Harvard Education Professor Pedro Noguera summed it up best:

“It’s not rocket science. In many districts, we know what works and we know what schools need.”
To improve low-performing schools, “what works” must become the cornerstones of education policy.

Yet we ourselves must also take a page from the staff at Wyandotte. If we are truly going to lift up all public schools, then we must all work together as one family – and regard all children as our own.

For as a wise man once observed, “in communities where men build ships for their own sons to fish or fight from, quality is never a problem.”

Aldine ISD to conduct hearing

The Aldine Independent School District will hold a hearing on Tuesday, Dec. 11, as part of the process to petition the Texas Education Agency for a waiver to start the 2002-2003 school year prior to Aug. 21. The district will petition the TEA to start school on Monday, Aug. 12. The hearing will take place at 7 p.m. in the board room, located in the AISD Administration Building, located at 14910 Aldine Westfield Road. The hearing is one step in the process of submitting the waiver to TEA. In addition to this notice, AISD must also submit an application to TEA requesting an earlier start date, and specify the date the district intends to begin instruction for students.

The district surveyed parents throughout the district for their input.

HCCS to participate in reduced tuition pilot program

The Houston Community College System Board of Trustees has voted to participate in a Texas Higher Education Coordinating Hoard pilot program permitting state community and junior colleges to offer selected courses at selected sites and hours to the public at 50 percent reduced tuition.

This program is made possible by the Texas Legislature’s passage of HB 1465, the intent of which is to allow local governing boards of community and technical colleges to establish a reduced rate of tuition to enable the institutions to make efficient use of facilities and faculty during “off-peak” times. It also allows the colleges an ideal opportunity to “close the gaps” and recruit and retain underserved students who typically experience a financial burdcn in obtaining higher education.

The pilot program is being implemented at every HCCS college for the spring semester Second Start session, which begins February 8 and ends May 12, 2002. On-line registration for the l2-week Second Start term begins November 12. HCCS counselors at all locations are prepared to provide information about half-price courses and registration procedures for enrolling students. A wide range of both academic and workforce courses is being offered through this economic incentive program
Dr. Bruce H. Leslie, HCCS Chancellor, stated, “We hope that during these tenuous economic times, our students will be able to take advantage of the cost savings to help stretch their dollars to cover other needed costs of college. By aggressively marketing this pilot program to our student population, we hope it will be successful and lead the Texas Legislature to make it a permanent feature of our educational offerings.”

The reduction is in tuition only and does not apply to fees (except the current out-of-district fee). To receive a copy of the HCCS 2002 spring schedule, students may contact the HCCS college they plan to attend.

Houston’s Construction Career Days receives first time scholarships

On October 30 through November 1, 2001 the second annual Greater Houston Construction Career Days event at the Humble Civic Center Arena educated over 4500 local area students to the opportunities in construction. The local construction industry presented various aspects of the industry through competitions, exhibits, displays, demonstrations and hands-on activities.

For the first time, one-thousand dollar ($1000) scholarships will be awarded to five winning high school seniors to continue their technical education in construction related fields, such as electrical, asphalt, safety, management, heavy equipment, plumbing, accounting, and design. There are 300,000 construction-related jobs available nationwide. However, the Houston area is the only region expanding in construction at this time.

Tara Hart, CEO of The Compliance Alliance, donates the scholarships on behalf of the Build-A-Future Foundation. The Compliance Alliance (TCA) launched the Build-A-Future Foundation in early 2001. It is a non-profit corporation whose mandate is to provide families who have lost a parent or spouse in a construction work-related accident with scholarship money for continuing education to rebuild their lives. The Build-A-Future Foundation awards scholarships to the legal spouse and natural children, step-children, adopted children and legal guardian children of persons who were either killed in a construction work-re1ated accident, or who lived through a construction work-related accident but suffered catastrophic injuries. Scholarship recipients whose area of study is aimed at entry into the construction industry are entitled to larger awards.

When workplace fatalities touched her life in a personal way, Tara Hart, CEO of The Compliance Alliance, a provider of innovative health and safety programs to commercial builders across the country, set out with the construction workers who believed in her to change the way safety is managed in this hazardous, and global line of work. Afler loosing several personal friends in fatal work-site accidents, Tara Hart decided more had to be done.

She has devoted a career to educating the blue-collar construction workers and their employers on inventive safety procedures to save more lives, lower insurance costs, and instill a feeling of worth among workers. “We are forging a crusade to bring a standard of safety practices to every work-site in America in order that more lives be saved and there is a better understanding of accident prevention.

The Greater Houston Construction Career Days’ scholarships will empower the next generation to receive an education that includes strict safety awareness and training,” states Hart.

“The Compliance Alliance has helped to raise the bar nationally for the Construction Career Days event to an entirely new level and we are delighted with Ms. Hart’s vision and generous contribution, states Al Mikolas. Chairman of the Greater Houston Career Days Committee and regional human resource director for Baker Concrete.

For more information on the Build-A-Future-Foundation and the Construction Career Days scholarships call TCA at 713-263-7661.

Fire Dove Productions to share in Aldine Y.O.U.T.H. Christmas celebration

Aldine Y.O.UTH welcomes Fire Dove Productions, a local production company with a ministry of spreading the gospel of Christ through the performing arts, to share in their community Christmas celebration. This festive two-day event will run December 13 and 14, beginning at 7:30 p.m. at the Aldine Y.O.U.T.H. Community Center, located at 4700 Aldine Mail Route.

This community event will serve as a fund-raiser to foster awareness of the programs and services available to area youth and families while providing much needed funding for the expansion of the center. The Aldine Y.O.U.T.H Community Center is committed to providing an environment conducive to intellectual, physical, social and emotional growth of area youth The director of the center strongly advocates uniting community-focused organizations with a vision of empowering youth and effecting positive change that they might not only pursue their dreams, but actually manifest their destiny “It’s in the coming together that lives are positively touched and miraculously changed,” said Aldine Y.O.U.T.H. ‘s Director Sylvia Bowling.

These organizations have bean brought together with a single purpose in mind, to provide unity and growth within the community “We are many members of one body. We all have different gifts and talents that can be utilized together to nurture, cultivate and inspire our youth,” Said Bowling. Fire Dove Productions is also a ministry committed to assisting churches and organizations in their fund raising efforts by providing their services in the areas of Christian drama and performing arts.

For information, contact Loretta Norris at 281-436-0986 or Aim Spikes at 713-286-9463.

Natural Christmas decorations highlight weekend at Jones Park

As the hustle and bustle of the holiday shopping season descends and Christmas draws ever closer, it’s often difficult to take some time out of our busy schedules and relax. So why not combine a few Christmas needs with some relaxation time, as Jesse H. Jones Park & Nature Center features a pair of nature-oriented holiday programs this weekend? Saturday, December 8 the park presents Chia Tags and Christmas Centerpieces at 10 am. and 2 p.m., respectively, to help you with your holiday decorating needs.

And the Second Sunday Pickers’ holiday folk jam December 9 from 2 to 4 p.m. is sure to take your mind off of the anxieties of the holiday traffic.

Many people go to extravagant lengths to adorn the Christmas gifts that are exchanged with friends and family. For an environmentally friendly unique alternative to the usual paper gift tags, join staff naturalist Anita Casarona Saturday, December 8 at 10 a.m. as she shows participants ages eight and older how to make distinctive, “plantable” paper gift tags that will grow into colorful flowers to lighten up your flower beds in spring. Reservations are required for this event.

The fun doesn’t stop there. That afternoon at 2 p.m., Ms. Casarona shares her secrets for creating beautiful Christmas Centerpieces for the holiday dinner table. Using a variety of natural items, these Christmas creations are sure to get your dinner guests talking. Or they might also take care of that last minute gift for someone close. Reservations are required for ages eight and older.

For those that enjoy the sounds of holiday music and songs, the Second Sunday Pickers’ annual holiday folk music concert is a treat. Sunday, December 9 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., the Pickers take center stage in the nature center for a lively informal holiday celebration featuring a variety of holiday classics played on old-fashioned instruments. Visitors can just enjoy the music, or bring their own instruments and join in.

Jesse H. Jones Park & Nature Center, a Harris County Precinct 4 facility, is located at 20634 Kenswick Drive in Humble. Its programs serve people of all ages regardless of socioeconomic level, race, color, sex, religion, national origin or disability. For more information call 281-446-8588.

Bears, Packers meet for control of NFC Central

This is the way football was meant to be played. When the Chicago Bears travel to Green Bay this weekend to take on the Packers, the league’s oldest (and perhaps fiercest) rivalry will be renewed for the second time this season and bragging rights will take a back seat in this key NFC Central contest. The winner of this game will have a leg up in the division race as the two teams head for the finish line, but even the loser should be in good position to qualify for the playoffs.

Before we take a look at that game, and a number of other key NFL tilts, let’s review last week’s record.I escaped the Thanksgiving weekend without looking like a turkey as I went 7-3 to bring the season mark to 91-39 (70 percent).

With the collegians preparing for bowl games, this column will be devoted to NFL games for the next few weeks. So let’s see what the schedule has to offer.

Chicago at Green Bay: The Packers won the first meeting between these two, 20-12 on Nov. 11 and Brett Favre and Co. would like nothing more than to sweep their bitter rivals. Green Bay is coming off a Monday night road game at Jacksonville, but playing at home should help to get them out of any doldrums they may encounter having from the warm climate of Florida to chilly Green Bay. The Bears have proven they can win away from the Windy City, as evidenced by their 13-3 win at Minnesota two weeks ago in a game where their defense controlled the Viking vaunted offense from start to finish. Look for the Packers to use Ahman Green to wear down the Bears defense, which should allow Favre to use his play action passing game for one or two big scores. The Bears, on the other hand, will pressure Favre on defense and hope that rookie running back Anthony Thomas is ready to go to help them control the clock and keep Favre off the field. My pick, Green Bay 23, Chicago 16

Cleveland at New England: When the season began, not too many people, even those in Cleveland and Boston, thought these two teams would be fighting for a playoff spot this late in the season but that’s exactly what’s at stake when these two surprise teams meet in Foxboro on Sunday. Cleveland head coach Butch Davis has done a remarkable job of turning the Browns into winners almost overnight and should be strongly considered for Coach of the Year honors. NE’s Bill Billichick has done a nice job himself. Turning the quarterbacking job over to Tom Brady took courage, especially with Drew Bledsoe now healthy. Brady made his head coach’s decision look brilliant two weeks ago with a four touchdown performance against New Orleans. Look for Brady to go after the Cleveland secondary in this one as the Pats remain in contention for the AFC East title. My pick, New England 24, Cleveland 18

NY Giants at Dallas: Well, I guess Jim Fassell is one-for-one in the prediction business. Fassell was right a year ago when he said his team would win its last five games, which it did. Too bad history isn’t repeating itself this time around. Three weeks ago Fassell said his team would win its last six games. Sorry Jim, but Oakland put a stop to that with a 28-10 thumping two weeks ago. The Giants’ vaunted defense looked average at best in that game as the Raiders threw over and around their overrated secondary. But NY should get healthy this Sunday when they take on a Dallas team that is short on talent. The Cowboys have had virtually no running game this year and the Giants do play the run well, so don’t expect that to change this week. My pick, NY Giants 21, Dallas 10

Tennessee at Minnesota: They should call this one the “Disappointment Bowl.” Both teams entered the season with dreams of making a run for the Super Bowl, but both teams have played suffered through less than inspiring seasons. Injuries have taken a toll on both teams, especially Tennessee which has been decimated in the secondary. A depleted secondary is the last thing the Titans need when they take on Randy Moss, Cris Carter and Daunte Cullpepper this Sunday. This should be the week when the Minnesota passing game finally puts up big numbers and likewise for Eddie George and the Titans’ running game. George, one of the league’s best backs, has been held in check all year, but look for him to bust out against a porous Viking defense. Both of these teams are out of the playoff hunt, so look for a high scoring affair in this one. My pick, Minnesota 38, Tennessee 34

NY Jets at Pittsburgh: While the points will be aplenty between the Vikes and Titans, the opposite will be the case when the defensive minded Jets and Steelers hook up in Pittsburgh. Both teams will play it close to the vest as they protect their division leads, and no team plays conservative football better than the Steelers. Pittsburgh’s defense is back to its old self of reeking havoc on opposing offenses and tailback Jerome Bettis is bowling over defenses on offense. The Jets are also getting it done with aggressive defensive play and a strong running game led by Curtis Martin. This one should go down to the wire, with the Pittsburgh defense making the key play late to pull out the win. My pick, Pittsburgh 19, NY Jets 13

Seattle at Denver: The Broncos have gotten back on track after a mid-season slide, but they need to be wary of a Seattle team that could throw a wrench into Denver’s playoff hopes. Denver’s running game is still a mess, but if Terrell Davis returns from his most recent injury to at least half of his former self, that could be enough to ignite Denver for a late season run. Quarterback Brian Griese is beginning to incorporate his tight ends into the passing game, which is taking pressure off wide receiver Rod Smith who has put together an outstanding season. On defense, Denver must slow down Seattle’s Shaun Alexander, who is emerging as one of the top young backs in the NFL. Denver knows it cannot afford many more slip up, what with Oakland owning a three-game lead (as of this writing) in the division. My pick, Denver 31, Seattle 23

Kansas City at Oakland: In Week 1, the Raiders showed their grit by overcoming an 11 -point deficit in the third quarter en route to an overtime victory over the Chiefs. Oakland is arguably playing as well as any team in the NFL, even the Rams, at this point of the season, so don’t expect a let up this weekend against their arch rivals. Look for quarterback Rich Gannon to dissect the KC defense with his accurate tosses to Tim Brown and Jerry Rice, which will open up things for Oakland’s three-headed running game of Charlie Garner, Tyrone Wheatley and Zach Crockett. The Chiefs are improving under first-year head coach Dick Vermeil, but the Raiders smell home field advantage throughout the playoffs and they aren’t about to lose to a team they should easily beat. My pick, Oakland 30, Kansas City 17

Indianapolis at Miami: The Colts are another team that has disappointed its fans this year, but when you lose one of the top backs in the league (Edgrin James) it does tend to make things more difficult on your offense. Still, quarterback Peyton Manning has had a penchant for turnovers this year and that’s not a good sign what with the ball hawking Dolphins on tap this Monday night. In recent years, the Colts have had success playing in Miami, but this is a different Miami team. The Dolphins are proving they can score with anybody and their defense has played solid this year. This should be a good one for Monday night because the Colts have nothing to lose, so look for them to mix in a few gadget plays in this one. Look for Miami to win this one late. My pick, Miami 27, Indianapolis 24

Grantham Academy announces new Assistant Principal

Mrs. Jessica M. Scott has recently been appointed as an Assistant Principal at Grantham Academy for Engineering. Ms. Scott, who is originally from Vacherie, Louisiana, has been in the Aldine Independent School District for eight years.

Mrs. Scott received her Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology from Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. In 1994, Mrs. Scott began her teaching career in Aldine at Escamilla Intermediate where she worked as a teacher in the Special Education department for four years. She received her Masters of Arts in Counseling from Prairie View A & M University. In 1998, her next move was to Grantham Academy where she worked as a regular counselor for three years. In September of this year, she moved from her counseling position to become an assistant principal at Grantham. Mrs. Scott is currently working on her Mid-Management certificate.

The administration, teachers, and staff welcome Mrs. Scott in this new position and feel very fortunate to have her in this role.

Mendel students are big winners

Last Spring Jackie Ridgeway, a fourth grade teacher at Mendel Elementary was reading the Mini-Pages, a section for children in the Houston Chronicle. She noticed a contest available to schools who were interested in conducting a survey among the students. The contest was a survey of their favorite fad, favorite sports figures, favorite T.V. and movie stars and favorite T.V. programs.

Mrs. Ridgeway surveyed the entire student body and compiled the results. She also included a letter of explanation why Mendel Elementary students should win this contest. In November, she received a phone call from Washington D.C. informing her that Mendel Elementary was the winner. The school survey and letter had been chosen the best from the entire nation. The Houston Chronicle sent a photographer, who took pictures of the students. The article will be featured in the Mini-Page section the last weekend in December. Congratulations to the student body at Mendel Elementary and to Mrs. Ridgeway from the faculty and staff. Mrs. Jamie DeGeorge is the principal.

Students from left to right front row: Zacariah Montes, Mrs. Jacqueline Ridgeway, teacher, Andriana Perales, Yessica Valdez. Second row: Frederick Roberts, Yaznid Hurtado, Lakesha Lafayette, Christina Uribe, Joaquin Longoria, Karina Reynosa, Neftaly Cervantes, Isaac Ruiz, Gerardo Burciaga. Top row: Raed Hernandez, Leslie Guevara, Salena Damian, Yessica Coronado, Antonio Duran, Miguel Martinez and Kassandra Cazares.

Historic Blue Goose Hunting Club provides great food and wild geese

Over the years, I have been lucky enough to be invited to the Blue Goose Hunting Club (979-234-3597) in Altair, Texas. Each trip was always an enjoyable stay and a great hunting experience. Last week’s venture to the Blue Goose was no exception.

The Blue Goose has got to be one of the oldest and most historic hunting clubs on the Texas Coast. No one is too clear on exactly when they started taking in parties of hunters for guided waterfowl hunts, but it has been more years than most of us can remember. The chief cook and all-around hand, “Shorty,” proudly proclaims that he came to the Blue Goose in 1949. He has served up choice steaks and pre-dawn breakfasts to celebrities and famous outdoor writers as well as hoards of seasoned waterfowl hunters during his 50+ years at the Blue Goose.

It was a crisp, sun-drenched fall day the afternoon I arrived. Marty Malin of Laredo, vice-president of the Outdoor Writers of America, and Jonette Childs of Rockport, editor-publisher of Saltwater Texas newspaper, were already there. Marty, a long-time friend, had just driven in from Kansas and was anxious to share the details of an exciting wild pheasant and prairie chicken hunt on the Kansas prairies.

The top gun of the Blue Goose, John fields, walked in to welcome us. John came to the hunting club as a young waterfowl guide in 1956 under Marvin Tyler, the founder and original owner of the Blue Goose. John took over the operations of the club almost 20 years ago and has been hosting hunters ever since.
During the next couple of hours, other members of our group trucked in from all over the state to join us for the next morning’s planned goose hunt. That evening, Shorty outdid himself by serving up heaping platters of seafood and choice sizzling steaks to the group.

The socializing hours that evening were not lengthy ones. From experience, the more salty members with a touch of gray in their beards were all too familiar with an agonizing 4:00 am wake up call to go to the goose fields.

We found our way to our assigned sleeping quarters in the complex of roomy mobile homes located behind the club and restaurant. Each mobile home is complete with beds and separate bedrooms and all the comforts of home, including TV, a kitchen, and cooking facilities.

The next morning, we rolled out to the early wake-up call. We gathered in the dining room to meet our congenial guides and have a hearty breakfast with lots of black coffee. Then we followed the guides in an orderly caravan to the hunting fields.

It was not your usual late November goose hunt. The weather had turned warm and balmy. It was not long before I wanted to shed the extra layer of clothes I had slipped on under my camo as a precaution against a morning chill.

In fact, it was hot! It was especially warm after setting out a large spread of white and brown rags and a few elevated goose decoys in a freshly cut field of rice stubble. Adding to the already muggy conditions, there was almost zero wind. We still settled into the front edge of the spread in the pre-dawn darkness with the typical amount of hunter’s optimism. We waited for the dawn and waited for the geese to start flying.

A light haze hung over our field as dawn crept in. The first goose to check out our guide’s calls was a lone specklebelly that came sailing in low out of the mist. All shotguns were aimed on the lone goose. Out guide gave the signal to “take ‘im!”
Shotguns blasted! Shot loads flew! So did the goose! The big goose made one wide sweeping turn as if taunting all the shotgunners.

There was a lot of good-natured finger pointing and laughter as the goose made his way, unscathed, to the distant horizon. My feeble claim, “I didn’t even shoot!” was met with a lot of skepticism and even more laughter.

The next goose was not so lucky. A low flying specklebelly was cleanly dropped by a shotgunner on the opposite side of our spread.

Early in the hunt, a snow goose came flying in with cupped wings on my side of the spread. After the first volley of shots, the big goose realized he had been fooled. Frantically, he tried to change direction and gain altitude. One last desperate shot of triple bb’s from my old Browning humpback caught up with the big white goose, and he collapsed in mid-flight. The bird dropped into the rice stubble with a solid thud.

Our group spent the morning shooting at enough singles, doubles, and small flocks to make it a fun hunt. The goose season has been open for almost a month, and many of the geese we were hunting have had more than one load of steel shot whiz past their heads. The birds were extremely spooky, and the larger flocks flew high and well out of shotgun range.

It had been another memorable hunt to the Blue Goose Hunting Club.

I returned with enough plump geese on ice for the main attraction of several holiday dinners this year.