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.

Some of the issues at Jones are bigger than the principal, Stripling said. Sometimes textbooks not being in a building has to do with state textbook delivery, she said. The district lost a number of books in the flooding from Tropical Storm Allison.

Stripling said it would be premature for her to predict whether the Vanguard program should remain at Jones. "We're looking at what are the necessary conditions that the program remains the top-notch program that I think it is still, because the kids continue to go there, continue to perform well."

She agreed that it's hard to understand why there's just one Vanguard program in all of HISD. "It's kind of ridiculous, isn't it? I think that we in the future…we've got to look at expanding our Vanguard program for high school…It doesn't make any sense to have all these Vanguard elementaries and Vanguard middle schools and then go down to one high school."


Dr. James Simpson sits in a cramped, colorful, makeshift office, a former media center for Jones. He has a B.A. in mathematics and a master's in administration, both from Sam Houston State University, and is a doctoral candidate at Texas A&M in education administration. He has taught advanced placement courses in calculus and has GT certification as a teacher and a principal. This rising star, who wishes one day to work in a superintendent's office, watches his step and chooses his words carefully.

Simpson arrived at a troubled Vanguard program that had dwindled from a high of 300 students to 187. "There was a lack of communication," he said. "There was a perception there was a lack of communication from administration to parents."

But even with Simpson's arrival and August's on-site presence, communication problems continued. Parents thought they'd heard that Simpson would be running his own ship, yet Allen still had control of the budget and its checks. They thought Simpson was going to be able to solve problems with the course selections, but counselor Woods didn't get course changes made that Simpson had approved, according to parent David Cosier. And that meant attendance record problems weren't clearing up either.

Jones did not have a college night, when university representatives visit a campus, which meant that the GT students didn't have one either. Simpson is trying to get that started.

He and Allen talk in passing. "There are times we will sit down and discuss things. I don't feel like Mr. Allen and I have a bad relationship; in fact, I think we get along quite well."

That's not the view of all of the parents. As one, who did not want to be named, put it, "Dr. Simpson is shoveling water. Everything he tried to do, Lawrence Allen tried to get in his way."


Becky Udden led the group taking its complaints to HISD administration. She confessed she doesn't know what will happen next.

"I've been so completely surprised at every turn by what does and does not happen that I no longer speculate. I'm waiting for some kind of indication as to whether they're really going to clean it up or whether it's just a whitewash. I really believe it could be either."

Another parent, who declined to have his name used, expressed great optimism after Allen was removed. "I'm supportive if it would be what it's supposed to be: a unique teaching environment to get the kids to think out of the box, a diverse program with a dedicated staff…We have a marvelous relationship with the faculty, and many of the parents are friends."

This is a parent whose home school is the highly regarded Bellaire, which itself attracts students from throughout HISD. Why not go there? Because the Jones Vanguard program offers his children class sizes of seven to 19 students, and teachers who don't teach in rote style. Students all know each other, he said.

A week later, the parent was crushed and far less hopeful.

Reba Wright is president of the PTSA on the comprehensive side of the school. She does not want to see Allen removed. "I like Mr. Allen. I want him to remain as principal of the school," she said. "We all just want to work together to make the school a better school."

Wright said she had heard of some problems in the last school year but didn't know about them personally. She said that was all the comment she wanted to make.


Jesse Jones High School sits in a rundown neighborhood of burglar-barred houses whose streets are named after World War II battle sites. The street on which the school sits, St. Lo, was the scene of a major clash between American forces and German defenders in July 1944, a month after the Allied invasion of Normandy. The French city, a focal point for conflict in many earlier wars, was almost destroyed in the WWII battle.

It remains to be seen what will be left standing of Jones or Allen after this current battle. All but one of the Vanguard students who talked with the Press said they liked the program at Jones, would not want to see it move and would encourage other kids to go there.

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