The Great Divide

Principal Lawrence Allen is a role model to some, an inept bumbler to others. Jones High School is split: Magnet-program parents versus the local community. It's up to Superintendent Kaye Stripling to make it right. Lucky her.

According to Tanya Akpabio, the parent of a junior who left the Vanguard program a few weeks ago, it is Allen who has turned the dispute into a racial situation, "and it's not that at all." It may appear that way, she said, because a lot of the Vanguard students are white and their parents are concerned about their education, "and you're not having the same kind of concern from the other side."

Overall, Jones, with a total enrollment of 1,277, is predominantly Hispanic and black (a Vanguard parent complaint is that there is no one in the front office who can communicate with Spanish-speaking parents).

"You don't apply to this school in the first place if you are racist," said parent Levy. "That to us is like a nonissue."

James Simpson has been stymied in his management of the Vanguard program by not being in control of his own budget.
Deron Neblett
James Simpson has been stymied in his management of the Vanguard program by not being in control of his own budget.
Jesse Jones High School sits in a run-down neighborhood.
Deron Neblett
Jesse Jones High School sits in a run-down neighborhood.

By its essence, a magnet school sets itself off in separate, smaller classes for special kids, which can create a feeling of the haves and the have-nots. At Jones, this split is magnified with separate principals (all other HISD schools have a magnet coordinator, not another principal) and two separate parent-teacher groups: the intensely involved Vanguard parents and the comprehensive side's PTSA, which has had almost no one attending its meetings.

While Vanguard students' TAAS scores are more than welcome when school accreditation is considered, their generally high grade points compete with other Jones students for class ranking spots and guaranteed admission to Texas colleges.

Beverly, himself a Vanguard graduate, wants Allen in charge of the entire school once again, not just the comprehensive side. "No. 1, he's from this community. I played Pee Wee ball with Lawrence.

"The consensus is: Lawrence knows the right thing to do. Now whether he's done it or not, or whether somebody [needs] to read him the riot act, to tell him what to do, that's my job…to come in and right this ship. It's our community, it's our school, it's our Vanguard program. It's our responsibility."

Beverly said he wasn't active before at Jones because everything was going well for his family there. "That doesn't mean that I'm insensitive about what the VPO was going through. I just didn't know about it."

Vanguard parents deserve a better facility and a better curriculum, he said. Conditions at Jones have been bad for years, Beverly said. His son doesn't shower there because of the mold and mildew, and he didn't shower there back in 1979. He said he thinks the VPO kids are used to better facilities, while his community has become desensitized to the problems.

Comprehensive parents want most of all for their kids to graduate from high school, he said. "Some of these kids at Jones High School have done Texas Department of Corrections time, and some of them are there as a condition of their parole. So for us, Lawrence is a guy who knows these kids, he grew up with these type of kids. He can keep a lid on.

"He's like the Bill Cosby show to us. He's a living example of a guy who stays drug-free, disciplined, educated and this is what you can aspire to be when you are 38. He's a walking, living example of what you can make out of yourself coming out of this community."

Beverly said HISD wanted Allen to solve problems in two and a half years that have been 20 years in the making, and it just isn't going to happen.

He was willing to concede that Allen might need some adjusting. "There may be a problem with arrogance with Lawrence. His mother's on the state board of education. He may have thought that that was a shield."

Beverly said he's changed his stance somewhat. "Initially, I'd gone way left. I felt like the white folks had come into our neighborhood and done some things. But we were absentee. They had every right to do what's in the best interests of their kids. And we were not around. But at the same time, I don't want them to gain anything at the expense of our kids."

Tanya Akpabio and her former husband, J.R. Wilson, pulled their son, Chad Akpabio-Wilson, from the Vanguard program after winter break. The decision was difficult and made with regret, said Wilson. It also has caused difficulties for Chad.

Ranked 13th in his class at Jones, Chad transferred to Lamar, a school twice its size. Enrolled in the International Baccalaureate program there, he's making good grades, but with more kids, his class rank drops. He's an accomplished athlete in soccer and track -- his soccer club teams have made it to state more than once. But now he's reduced to reading about fellow competitors in the newspaper, his father says, while he waits on a petition for a waiver from the University Interscholastic League that would allow him to participate in athletics at Lamar. Chad's dream is to go to Stanford, study astrophysics, play soccer and run track, Wilson said. So far Wilson hasn't been able to get the UIL petition past the South Central District office.

Despite his son's departure, Wilson still volunteers at Jones and attends parent meetings there. His wife was less understanding.

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Sorry, I meant to say CARNEGIE got pushed out, so JONES is dying.

This should make parents at Booker T really butter up to the Engineering program there.


And since the school got pushed out, the school is now twitching in its dying throes

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