Going Public

Everybody knows that HISD is supposed to be second-rate. So why are private school kids defecting back to the district that nobody wanted?

After applying to Bellaire's foreign-language magnet program, he found the student body is diverse, and not just ethnically, he says.

For the same reason that student left private school, many families flee HISD, where more than half of the students are Hispanic and over 70 percent are economically disadvantaged.

"It depends on what's the issue with the family," says Gayle Fallon, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers. "For some, it's the facility. Some it's safety. Unfortunately with some, it's prejudice. We have some parents who will be very vocal that they don't want their Anglo child going to school in a predominantly minority school or school district -- without even looking at the schools."

HISD's facilities range from state-of-the-art to third-world, says activist Rosemary Covalt.
Deron Neblett
HISD's facilities range from state-of-the-art to third-world, says activist Rosemary Covalt.
HISD's facilities range from state-of-the-art to third-world, says activist Rosemary Covalt.
Deron Neblett
HISD's facilities range from state-of-the-art to third-world, says activist Rosemary Covalt.

At Scarborough, which is 49 percent Latino, 26 percent Anglo and 23 percent African-American, several parents named diversity as the primary reason for transferring to public schools.

Jorge and Maricela Enriquez pulled their youngest son, Karl, out of a public grade school because of discipline problems. But when it came to high school, Karl wanted to go public, just like his two older brothers, who had attended Lamar High School.

"We came to the conclusion that maybe private school education was too sheltered," Jorge Enriquez says. He concedes there's some risk but says, "I think in the long run, it will benefit my son.He will learn about tolerance. And he will learn the reality."

Karl's father says he wasn't impressed by the academics and teachers at St. Ambrose or Scarborough, but he hopes Scarborough will improve during the year.

Martha and Brent Hall, though, have been pleasantly surprised by Scarborough's advanced placement classes, where Amber is struggling in English. Her mother says private school taught only literature, but Scarborough includes grammar, which should help her on the SAT. "I think they're going to be to her advantage."

"They're having to work when they get here," says Scarborough Principal Anson. "The myth that private school means a better education doesn't exist here, and the kids know that."

Amy Meyer, who left St. Agnes, found her private school classmates had a distorted view of public education. "People get this stereotype that because you come from a public school, you're going to be a bad kid. But I was in honors classes at St. Agnes and making straight A's and ahead of a lot of the kids from private schools. If you're willing to work in a public school, you're going to get a good education."

In fact, three girls from Amy's Revere Middle School class went on to St. Agnes. All three made the honor roll, a credit to their public education, her mother says.

"It's a hard thing to talk about to private school parents when people have spent all that money to send their kids to Village School [a private school] in order to get a better education," Betsy Meyer says. "It's not something they want to hear."

While some leave private schools because they find HISD's academics comparable, others, like Holland, leave because they view public schools as less competitive. Strake was just too serious for him.

"I don't want to say anything negative about Strake," says his mother, Karita Safley. "The academics are so solid and very strong, but it's not for every kid. He does seem more motivated at Westside, and he feels better about himself."

Though he has been at Westside for only a month, Holland reports that the teachers there seem more devoted to making their lessons stimulating to students; they hold more discussions and group work sessions. The classes also don't move as fast as Strake's; other students interviewed noticed the slower pace as well.

Holland's main concern, though, is getting in the top 10 percent of his class in order to be guaranteed admission to the University of Texas. His friends in public school had 4.5 GPAs. Though he felt he was just as bright, at Strake he had a mere 2.5. Since Strake is a preparatory school where nearly every student goes on to college, Holland feared he'd languish in the bottom half of his class and blow his chances at UT.

"There's a lot of kids that don't even want to be in school at a public school, so I thought that'd help bring the percentage down," he explains.

Strake Principal Richard Nevle says he understands Holland's dilemma. "Our kids always tell us that it's really hard here and our GPAs would be higher at another school. That's true," he says. Private colleges often look to see where a student is graduating from, he says. "They will accommodate. And in that sense, being here is an advantage."

"But I don't think big public universities do that," Karita Safley says.

Holland also believes his transcript will look better at Westside. Strake tests its students to determine which ones enroll in its limited advanced classes, such as geometry for freshmen. Although Holland had taken French I and Algebra I in middle school, he was forced to repeat them at Strake when he did not test at the top of his class. At public school, though, he would have automatically continued on to French II and geometry.

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