Category Archives: K-12 Education

Ethics Before HISD Bond

There’s no doubt about my excitement over the possibility of Houston ISD spending almost $2 billion on infrastructure; namely, much needed high schools across the district. The prospect of Lee High School (down the street from me) being completely replaced and made into a 21st century facility is exciting for many in my neighborhood. But there is something missing.

With this much money to delve out comes politics, and worse, the possibility of corruption–or at least the opportunity for some unfairness. Houston ISD lacks a strong Ethics policy, of which we heard during the last Board election. Rejected previously, it seems Houston ISD just might develop an ethics policy that brings with it campaign finance reform.

The proposed changes, meant to restore public confidence that the Houston Independent School District is hiring the best contractors without undue influence, also could affect trustees’ political campaign coffers.

Trustees would have to abstain from voting on deals involving vendors who had contributed more than $500 to their campaigns the prior year. They also would have to disclose and abstain if they have a close relationship with a vendor.

Board president Mike Lunceford pledged that trustees would take a preliminary vote on the new policies in September. The changes would be in place before November, when the board is asking voters to approved a $1.9 billion bond issue that would result in the district awarding numerous lucrative construction contracts.

There is a lot of mistrust when it comes to Houston ISD, and deservedly so. When hundreds of millions of dollars are moving to different vendors, it would be nice to know the relationship between Trustees, administrators, and vendors. And yes, even political action committees. Which is why it becomes important to also make public any conflicts of interest.

The outside auditors with Whitley Penn also suggested that HISD trustees disclose a wider range of possible conflicts of interest with vendors and abstain from voting on their contracts. Trustees now only have to disclose if their parents or children work for a district vendor. The rule would be expanded to other relatives.

Auditor Chuck Yaple said in an interview after the board meeting that he planned to revise the suggested policy to require disclosure of even the appearance of a conflict of interest, which could include a trustee’s close friend.

I hope that any reform comes with a strong punishment phase. Yes, allow the Board to decide publicly if they wish to punish a fellow board member, thus, bringing into play the political consequences of their decisions.

In this day and age when people like to throw around terms like “education reform” and all sorts of expensive ideas are thrown about and paid for without much debate, strong ethics reform will put everything under the microscope; as it should be.

Frankly, I’m not sure I can wholeheartedly support the Houston ISD bond without ethics and campaign finance reform.

Kuff has more.

What Do We Get From HISD Bond?

A community forum was held Monday night at the SHAPE Community Center in which folks in attendance let Houston ISD, administrators and trustees have it regarding the HISD Bond. At least one of my sources called it a good exercise in community involvement, although that source didn’t get the vibe that there was anything organized against the HISD Bond.

On the other hand, the Pro-Bond folks held a press conference at Westbury High School featuring all the heads of Bond PAC. It was also announced who all is involved in the pro-bond group, with familiar names like Lupe Fraga and local pro-immigrant Republican Jacob Monty in the mix.

Although any talk against the bond has stressed a lack of community input, it seems at least Westbury has an advisory team that has come up with what improvements will be made.

The kickoff was held at Westbury High School, which will receive about $40 million under the proposal.  This proposed expenditure would be for partial replacement of facilities to complement work already completed at Westbury and general renovations to accommodate 2,300 to 2,500 students.  Westbury’s Project Advisory Team is made up of the campus principal, staff, parents and community members who will provide input on how their school is designed to meet their unique needs.

The majority of new facilities will be high schools to replace existing ones. At least one East End high school teacher has told me of the dire conditions of these facilities. In fact, the average age of a high school in Houston is 51 years–5 years above the national average. And the stories are plentiful.

Westbury Principal Andrew Wainwright can attest to problems when schools don’t keep up with growth.  On his 2,200 student campus, Wainwright has 22 temporary buildings, which include most of the 9th grade campus.  And some of those “temporary” buildings have been at Westbury for 15 years.

“We really believe our students deserve a top notch facility with great science labs and meeting halls,” said Wainwright.  “We need better labs with better equipment.  Right now, our students are seeing demonstrations rather than being able to do the lab work themselves.”

In a press release from the PAC, we find out exactly what the HISD Bond will get us.

Under the bond proposal, 20 high schools will receive new campuses:

Austin                                     Bellaire                                   Davis

DeBakey                                 Eastwood                                Furr

HSPVA                                    Jordan                                    Lamar

Lee                                          Madison                                 Milby

North Early College               Sam Houston                         Sharpstown

South Early College               Sterling                                   Washington

Worthing                                Yates

Four high schools will be partially replaced:

Waltrip                              Westbury

Young Men’s College Prep Academy           Young Women’s Prep Academy

Four high schools will be renovated:

Jones              Kashmere                   Scarborough               Sharpstown Internationa

Five elementary schools will be converted to K-8 campuses:

Garden Oaks Montessori

Mandarin Chinese Language Immersion School at Gordon

Pilgrim Academy       Wharton Dual Language School                  Wilson Montessori

Three new elementary campuses will be built:

Askew                         Parker                         Relief school on the west side

Two middle schools will replaced/completed:

Grady                                      Dowling

In addition, all HISD students will benefit from:

  • $100 million for district-wide technology improvements
  • $35 million to renovate middle school restrooms
  • $17.3 million for district-wide safety and security improvements
  • $42.7 million to replace regional field houses and improve athletic facilities

So, the debates have begun. The Pro-Bond folks hope to raise and spend over $1 million to convince voters to support the bond.

I’ll be seeking out more opinion on the HISD Bond. If you have one, and you actually live in Houston ISD, send it in!

Latinos Are Largest Minority Group in Schools, Colleges

This was predicted a long time ago, so, it shouldn’t be a surprise. There are “record numbers” of Latinos in schools and colleges today, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. I’m of the opinion that Republicans sure saw this coming, since they have sliced and diced state K-12 and higher education budgets as this phenomena while occurring.

Although we see the population shifting in K-12 schools to a point where Latinos are a majority in some school districts, it is at colleges and universities where we notice an important data point.

The number of 18- to 24-year-old Latinos in college topped 2 million in 2011, accounting for 16.5% of all enrollments, according to a report by the Pew Hispanic Center. The number means Latino representation in U.S. colleges and universities is on par with the percentage of Latinos among the U.S. population, also 16.5%.

The population shift will surely affect future enrollment at colleges and universities; however, to what degree?

Governor Rick Perry and the Republicans are forcing schools and universities to make more drastic budget cuts. These cuts will affect college-going and school-to-workforce type of programs. One-third of Texas university students are already in developmental (remedial) courses to play catch-up, while half of community college students are in similar courses. The challenges of college readiness will more than likely affect future enrollment and degree completion numbers. And college readiness does not only affect Latinos, but all students.

The “record numbers” reported by Pew show the potential for America’s future workforce, if only they would be taken seriously by Republican legislators when it comes to budget allocations. The 2013 Texas legislative session will have those of us who support public education fighting harder for what is right.

One thing is for sure:  If the politicians aren’t even discussing college readiness (and workforce prep), then they are missing most of the point of effectively funding K-12 and higher 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

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.