Category Archives: K-12 Education

Community Forum on HISD Bond – Monday

Over 250 members of the community are expected at the SHAPE Community Center in the 3rd Ward on Monday for a forum on the HISD Bond. Specifically, the forum’s purpose is to call for more transparency on the bonds, among other issues, from HISD administrators and its Board of Trustees.

On August 20th at 6pm dozens of local groups will host community forum on the HISD Board of Trustees approving $1.8 billion bond. The community groups are outraged at the lack of transparency in how funds will be allocated to underserved areas. The group plans to address the invited Board of Trustees with a slew of questions pertaining to the bond’s contractors, local hiring, and renovations of dilapidated schools. Many are concerned that similar issues will happen akin to the 2007 HISD Bond.

Last week many community groups representing Good Jobs Great Houston, Texas Organizing Project (TOP) and underserved areas like Acres Homes and Kashmere Gardens addressed the Board of Trustees at the HISD School Board Meeting asking specific questions about the then proposed bond. The community group left the meeting with many unanswered questions, which prompted the community forum. Trustees from District 7 and 2 have agreed to attend the forum including local politicians like Rep. Alma Allen.

DosCentavos will be there as I try to wrap my own mind around this whole bond thing, take in the negatives, and weigh them with the positives of rebuilding local high schools. Ultimately, the community must be heard and this is a good opportunity put on by dozens of organizations.

Thanks to Ar’Sheill Sinclair of Good Jobs Great Houston for keeping me informed on this matter.

When: August 20th

Time: 6PM

Where: SHAPE Community Center 3903 Almeda Road

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LEUV Launch a Huge Success

Latinos. Engaged. United. Voting (LEUV),Houston’s newest Latino engagement political action committee, launched Wednesday night before a large crowd atRiceVillage’s Bam Bou. What began as an event to educate and inform a diverse set of guests turned into a celebration and rallying call for action.

“The women in the room definitely made our inaugural forum special,” said event emcee, Danita Gallegos. “Along with powerful presentations from candidates Cindy Vara-Leija and Erica Lee, we were honored to have Commissioner Sylvia Garcia, who just completed a third-term as President of NALEO, give the room a rousing pep talk; as well as HISD Trustee Juliet Stipeche who added to the new energy felt throughout the room.”

The Latino Gallery with a Purpose, a set of 18” x 24” infographics detailing various statistics and facts highlighting themes impacting the Latino community, such as education, public safety, and socioeconomic discrepancies, was a hit and a source of lively dialogue for participants.

Cindy Vara-Leija, candidate for Constable Pct. 1, spoke regarding much of what was featured on the Latino Gallery, especially the statistics on crime, child abuse, and the underrepresentation of Latina elected officials in Harris County and Houston,TX.

“Looking through the Gallery, I couldn’t help but get mad at some of the more troubling facts about the Latino community—Are you mad? And are you ready to take action to change these facts?” asked Vara-Leija, to which the crowd responded with a resounding, “Yes!”

Speaking of her own career, Vara-Leija, who holds the distinction of being the first Latina Captain in the Precinct 1 Constable’s Office, spoke about her three decades of experience in law enforcement, and about the challenges women face in the field moving up the ranks, making a promise to make the promotional process one that takes women seriously

With this first test of the Latino Gallery with a Purpose, there are now plans to expand it and take it on the road.

“We want to enhance our ability to engage the community by offering these visual depictions on issues and themes impacting Latinos,” said Fidencio Leija, Jr., LEUV Co-Founder, adding, “From the students in attendance to guests, which included HISD Trustee Juliet Stipeche, Judge Richard Vara, and Commissioner Garcia, all recognized the creative impact the gallery had on the crowd.”

Leija emphasized the fact that LEUV will continue to utilize modern tools to deliver a more engaging message on civic involvement, taking the gallery to schools, churches, parks, and especially through social media outlets.

Erica S. Lee, candidate for Harris County Board of Education Pct. 1, gave a poignant presentation, highlighting issues she faced working as a 1st grade teacher in Houston’s East End, stating that the experience, combined with her public policy work, has given her the background needed to be an effective member of the Board. Lee also made mention of President Obama’s recent DHS policy change benefiting DREAMers.

“Some of these are the kids that I taught early in my career,” said Lee. “President Obama’s effort to help DREAMers will open up doors of opportunity that will ultimately benefit our Nation, and we must support that.”

Local teacher, Adriana Salcedo-Saldaña, felt empowered by the candidacy of a fellow educator who wants to serve her community. “I was honored to introduce Ms. Lee as she has helped open my eyes to how state and local politics affects my classroom, and how I need to be proactive in ensuring my students and their parents are better served.”

In her introduction of Vara-Leija, Commissioner Garcia gave mention to a need for new and energetic leadership that will empower the next generation to become engaged in the political process. “I am so proud of this new organization and congratulate them on their first event,” said Garcia, “Their passion, energy, and commitment will help move our Latino community forward.”

In another presentation, guest speaker Joe Cardenas, III, former State Director of LULAC and also a high school teacher, challenged LEUV to take on lobbying duties when the State Legislature reconvenes. “It doesn’t matter if you are Democrat or Republican, if you think public education should be a top funding priority in Texas, then you must lobby for it at the Capitol,” said Cardenas, inviting them to rally on the first day of the legislative session in January, 2013.

Beyond the energy of the speeches was the number of guests volunteering for action, whether it was to give a few hours to a campaign or registering to vote. Deputy voter registrars Adan Gallegos and David Bustillos worked a registration table and were excited about registering someone who had not only attended her first political event, but was an educator who had never registered previously.

“The Latino community struggles with low voter participation and LEUV will work to increase that through our efforts,” said Bustillos. Adan Gallegos added, “Along with our low participation rates, we have to also increase our voter registration efforts, and tonight showed us that first-time voters are just as crucial to achieving success at the ballot box.”

Finally, event sponsor, LEUV founding contributor, and local business leader Greg Compean called supporters to “huddle up” for some sound advice, telling them that all of the speeches and all of the statistics will not matter much unless everyone in the room does their part in the process—volunteer on campaigns, volunteer to register voters, get involved in the legislative process, give donations, and just promote the greater good.

“The LEUV are young and energetic, with a lot of great ideas.  They have a lot of potential because they are reaching those people who have not been reached,” said Compean, “and that is the next step to achieving success for the Latino community in the political process.”

LEUV is planning additional forums and events throughout the summer and fall in the lead-up to the July 31st Runoff Election and November’s General Election, including a sequel to the Tacos and Votes event on Friday, July 27.  Stay Tuned!

July 11: Education and Safety Matters Event

Join LEUV in Making History…CONTRIBUTE TODAY!

 
Political ad paid for by Latinos. Engaged. United. Voting.

Thursday in Houston: Latinos for Erica Lee

Fact:  I support Erica Lee for Harris County School Board. Erica is in a run-off after running an energetic, grassroots campaign. That’s the kind of community energy we need on our local school boards.

Thursday, HISD Trustee Juliet Stipeche will be hosting, along with many others, Latinos for Erica Lee. I think my colleague, Dr. Rey Guerra, said it best:

Not only has Erica Lee been a community leader and extremely supportive on issues impacting Latinos, but she is the most qualified candidate in this race. African Americans and Latinos have been hit hard by budget and policy decisions affecting K-12 education, so, there has never been a more important time to elect qualified advocates, like Erica, to school boards.

Here’s the poster. Feel free to share! (Click to enlarge)

Farrar, St. Arnold’s Team Up for Backpack Drive

Since I’m in Austin this week, I cannot attend, but my good friend, State Rep. Jessica Farrar, has teamed up again with St. Arnold’s Brewery for the annual backpack drive to collect school supplies for local students.

From the FB event:

Join me at Saint Arnold Brewery on Tuesday, June 26 from 6 – 8 pm! Admission is one new backpack and two new school supplies (1 subject wide-ruled notebooks, 4 pocket folders with brads, 1 packet of loose leaf wide ruled paper, 1 box of 24-ct crayons, 2 glue sticks). The taps will be open to you and the root beer will be flowing as well. This event is family friendly. Also feel free to bring dinner or a snack with you!

All backpacks and school supplies will benefit school children within District 148.

I hope to see you there!

Again, that’s at St. Arnold’s, 6/26 at 6pm (2000 Lyons).

And a big DC Salute to State Rep. Farrar for all of her good work.

DC-Inbox: Public Service Career Expo on Tuesday

From the Mayor’s Office:

Who: City of Houston
Metropolitan Transit Authority
Houston Independent School District
15 colleges and universities
More than a dozen agencies and private-sector companies
Houston-Galveston Area Council
Workforce Solutions
Greater Houston Partnership
Project Grad
Big Brothers and Big Sisters
What: 2012 Career Day Expo
When: Tuesday, May 22, 2012 9 a.m.-2 p.m.
Where: George R. Brown Convention Center Exhibit Hall B, 1001 Avenida de las Americas
Notes: This career expo will expose high school students to hundreds of career paths in the public sector and in local major industries.Scores of organizations and companies will showcase the careers they offer – many little known – with exhibits, demonstrations and discussions.  The event is expected to draw 1,000 youngsters.

Initially planned by the City to inform students of municipal government career choices, the event has since expanded to include the Metropolitan Transit Authority, the Houston Independent School District, 15 colleges and universities and more than a dozen agencies and private-sector companies. Partners also include the Houston-Galveston Area Council, Workforce Solutions, Greater Houston Partnership, Project Grad and Big Brothers and Big Sisters.

Part of the city’s community sustainability initiative to grow its own workforce, the event will also feature real-life examples of employees who will talk about their distinct jobs and paths to success.

The Chron Visits Sharpstown

Chris Moran at the Chron took some time out of his busy City Hall schedule to do this write-up on my new neighborhood–Sharpstown. While Moran reminds us of the various negative things in the area, such as crime and some blight, I cannot but agree with my Council Member Mike Laster.

District J Councilman Mike Laster, a longtime Sharpstown activist and resident, compares his community today to the Heights of 15 years ago and Midtown a decade ago.

There are many components to revitalization, Laster explained. “The first and most important one is changing people’s attitudes about your area.”

Laster and Acquaro point to bricks and blueprints as evidence that Sharpstown is poised for a revival.

I think Sharpstown does suffer from a PR problem, as much as any of the cosmetic problems. And the perceptions, as they come from different people even within the community, are quite different, too. It seems when there is a discussion about Sharpstown, people either skirt the issue or come close to blaming the diversity of the area for the problems, while also trying to appreciate it.

I attended an HD-137 candidate forum this weekend and one of the candidates brought up “the old Sharpstown mall,” now known as PlazAmericas, and how all of the anchor stores are long-gone. The problem is, most shopping centers in the area don’t have anchor stores either; such as those huge shopping centers in what is known as Chinatown. It may be for obvious reasons:  It’s a challenge for anchor stores to locate and market in shopping centers which market to specific groups.

Perhaps a major reconstruction of the area will open a door, as is being done to Chinatown. Some cosmetic improvements have also been done to the PlazaAmericas area. To simply point to the problem is not enough; if you want to improve an area, then you have to work on bringing in investors and businesses, as well as push government to provide the necessary resources–law enforcement, city services, etc.–to help a business community thrive and a community revitalize. I see that commitment from CM Laster and from various leaders who have resided in Sharpstown and have chosen to stay.

Moran points to KIPP and other private schools in the area, including HBU, which will be working on expanding some of their offerings. And those institutions reach a few people; however, the vast majority of students are in public schools and there must be a commitment to improve those–whether in Gulfton, Sharpstown or any of these areas. Good, safe school do not only provide an educational foundation, but they also provide a base for community relations–organizations, cultural events, and community activism. Without investment in the public infrastructure, changing people’s perception will be an even bigger challenge.

Nonetheless, there are various issues in Sharpstown, and these are the same issues that affect most other neighborhoods in Houston–crime, blight, slow progress on economic development, etc. And as various entities partner up to improve the area, there needs to be some sort of cheer squad to pump up the positive aspects of the area:  its diversity–ethnic, cultural, and economic–and even small business opportunities. And it will take the most important part of Sharpstown to get this done–its people.

My neighborhood has a little bit of everything and nothing made me feel more hopeful than driving by a low-income apartment complex which has been improved and seeing its residents hold a community garage sale and car wash to raise money to keep improving their little community. And that’s just one instance of many that can make any Sharpstown resident feel hopeful.

I’m looking forward to Sharpstown’s process of revitalization–the process, not just the end product.

Perry To Promote More Irresponsibility for 2013

After his 2011 budget nonsense which became reality, Rick Perry is back to his old games as he preps for 2013; but now, he doesn’t want to be all alone in taking the hit for cutting education and services. Now, he expects his Republican buddies to sign some sort of pledge to cut education and services.

The compact will call for “truth in budgeting,” another way of saying Perry wants to end the common practice of using accounting tricks — like delayed payments and sped-up tax collections — to balance the state budget.

He also wants legislators and would-be legislators to “oppose any and all new taxes or tax increases, preserve the Rainy Day Fund, and cut wasteful and redundant government programs and agencies.”

I’m not surprised at Perry. This pledge is all about his 2014 campaign for re-election, and he wants all the GOPers on his side early-on–before the decisions are actually made. Before legislators get a chance to even discuss the needs of Texas children, the elderly, the indigent, and others.

House Democratic leader  and Houston’s own State Rep. Jessica Farrar said it best:

“His proposal promotes more fiscal irresponsibility in asking lawmakers to blindly sign a blood oath that will result in a doubling down of the devastating cuts already made to public schools, colleges and universities,” Farrar said. “Instead of planning for a better future, this plan ensures higher public costs through an uneducated workforce and treatment of chronic illnesses that could’ve been stemmed through preventative health care.”

This amounts to nothing more than a re-election endorsement pledge card for Rick Perry, and I hope the Republicans who sign on realize this. Unfortunately, the effects don’t make for a stronger Texas, unless you’re one of Rick Perry’s wealthy state contractor buddies.

The Chron has more from Rep. Farrar:

According to the speech excerpts, Perry will say that “the cost of Medicaid is a ticking time bomb and is primed to do massive damage to our budget in the short and long terms.” He will tout a push to allow Medicaid to be distributed to states in block grants to give them flexibility.

Farrar said in Texas, “We have the highest rate of uninsured people” and that providing health care early is a money-saver.

Farrar also said she doesn’t think a block grant giving Texas more flexibility would be in the public interest: “The legislative majority will do naughty little things to be stingy with people who are in real need.”

Perry is definitely sounding the drum beat for a war on students, the poor, the elderly, and more Texans.

State Rep. Mike Villareal of San Antonio responded on his Facebook page:

Today Governor Perry announced his “Budget Compact.” He loves to talk about his principles in the abstract, but he doesn’t want to discuss the disabled kids who lose health services when he won’t close corporate tax loopholes, or the students crowded into full classrooms when he won’t touch the Rainy Day Fund. After the deep and unnecessary education cuts that he championed, it’s no surprise that his Compact doesn’t say a word about educating schoolchildren.

Texas Senator Jose Rodriguez of El Paso

“Although there are many things to be proud of in Texas, the state needs improvement. After decade under Perry’s leadership, Texas still has the fewest number of citizens with a high school degree, the highest number of citizens without health insurance, and the worst environment of any state with the highest rates of carcinogens released into the air and toxic chemicals released into the water.

“There are millions of Texans fighting day-to-day to make ends meet. Nationwide, Texas has the 4th highest percentage of kids living in poverty. In my own community, over a quarter of El Pasoans live in poverty.

“Perry and other state leaders need to stop focusing solely on how to lower taxes for multi-million dollar businesses and find ways to help average Texas families put food on their tables, pay for health insurance, and send their kids to college.

Tell HISD To Save Kaleidoscope

You may have watched various blips on the news concerning the possible closing of Kaleidoscope Middle School, a small HISD internal charter academy in SW Houston (Fox, ABC13). HISD adminsitrators have proposed merging Kaleidoscope with the school next door, Jane Long Middle School.

A new HISD proposal would merge Kaleidoscope with Jane Long.

Both serve the same community: recent immigrants, low income, largely Spanish-speaking residents.

But Kaleidoscope has something its larger host school does not: Exemplary Status from the Texas Education Agency.

My colleague in various causes, Fidencio Leija, had this to say:

“Out of all the schools that are currently Exemplary, why would you shut one down?” asked community organizer Fidencio Leija Chavez, Jr. “Instead of embracing it — keeping it intact — they’re wanting to take it apart and dismantle it.”

HISD seems to have its own plans:

“H-I-S-D administrators have proposed merging Kaleidoscope Middle School into Long 6-12 Middle School, which is adding grades 9-12 for the new pharmaceutical technology academy, in an effort to increase academic rigor and options for students,” read the statement.

Placing students from a school with a successful track-record into something that seems very experimental may not be a good thing for the students involved. If one formula is working, why mess with it? It may be the smaller environment that Kaleidoscope offers that works for these students. Either way, it seems this particular formula works for the students. Shouldn’t they come first?

Unfortunately, according to some organizers, HISD has been less than forthcoming in this process.

On Thursday, March 29, 2012 – HISD gave Kaleidoscope and Las Americas Middle School a “ONE DAY NOTICE” for the parents to come hear an HISD Representative tell the administration, parents and students that they would be closing Kaleidoscope on Thursday.

The parents and students were alarmed because the HISD Representative “DID NOT” give them any honest reason for the closure and “DID NOT” give the community of Gulfton any options to save the school.

That doesn’t seem very democratic, much less respectful of those affected by this possible closure.

HISD Board of Trustees meets Thursday at 5:30 for a final vote on the matter. E-mail your Trustee and tell them to keep a good thing. Keep Kaleidoscope.

Librotraficantes Launches Trip at Casa Ramirez

An energetic crowd turned out to support Tony Diaz and his Librotraficante crew this morning at Casa Ramirez Folk Art Gallery, a popular Heights storefront for culture and literature. The caravan takes with them a payload of contraband books to Arizona while creating various Underground Libraries throughout the Southwest.

The historic weeklong journey includes stops in San Antonio and El Paso, Texas; Mesilla and Albuquerque, N.M., and culminates in Tucson, Ariz., touting a celebration of Quantum Demographics, or multifaceted cultural unity, by highlighting Mexican American, African American and Native American literary works along the route. On St. Patrick’s Day, Saturday, March 17, we’ll host a huge literary celebration of El Batallion San Patricio at 6 p.m., celebrating Irish and Mexican collaboration of the past.

The entire schedule is available online at www.Librotraficante.com.

Librotraficante is part of a response to recent laws in Arizona created to abolish Mexican American Studies programs. In some schools, books have literally been taken out of classrooms and stored away, thus banning them. Librotraficante has collected books and will traffic them into Arizona to ensure books are available to students.

“Arizona made me a Librotraficante,” said organizer and author, Tony Diaz, who has also brought together various banned authors who have donated to this cause.

Participating in Banned Book Bashes and Cultural Caucuses along the route are Sandra Cisneros, who kicked off our fundraising efforts by making a generous donation; Guggenheim Fellow Dagoberto Gilb, whose work recently appeared in the New Yorker and Harperssimultaneously; and best selling author Luis Alberto Urrea, with multiple titles found on the banned book list, was the first to enthusiastically support the project through Twitter.  Other literary giants participating in the Librotraficante Caravan include Rudolfo Anaya, whose seminal novel BLESS ME ULTIMA is banned; Denise Chavez, FACE OF AN ANGEL, who is hosting the caravan in Mesilla, N.M., and who organizes the Annual Border Book Festival; Lalo Alcaraz, creator of the syndicated comic LA CUCARACHA and who coined the phrase “Self Deport”; and Rene Alegria, founder of Boxing Badger Media and www.mamiverse.com, who attended one of the impacted high schools in Tucson.

“Politicians in Arizona have become experts in making humans illegal. We did not do enough to stop that, thus that anti-immigrant legislation spread to other states such as Alabama and Georgia. Now, these same legislators want to make thoughts illegal. If we allow this to happen, these laws, too, will spread. Other branches of ethnic studies will be prohibited, and other states will follow suit,” said Tony Diaz, author and director of Nuestra Palabra, organizer of the Librotraficante Caravan.

For more information and donate to the cause, please visit http://www.librotrafricante.com.