Backlash Upon Backlash at HISD

The uproar you hear is screaming parents

None of them think their approach to education will do anything to "inspire" the Worthing students, as has been suggested by HISD board member Lawrence Marshall. All say Worthing and Carnegie students don't really know each other at all.

If current plans prevail, that may not change much. Hypolite says as it's been explained to her, the schools may operate on staggered schedules. Carnegie would start classes at 7:30 a.m., Worthing at 8:30. They would have separate lunches, and Carnegie kids would go home each day while Worthing students were still finishing classes.

She knows her school is "struggling" right now, but an easy dismissal of its problems is unjustified. "If Worthing High School had the opportunity to hand-pick their students as Carnegie does, we would probably have the same ratings."

Carnegie parents (l-r) Susan Escudier, Stan Vaughan, Anne Swanson, Noemi Montejo and Jocelyn Ellis — they're smart, feisty and tenacious, and could be Superintendent Abe Saavedra's latest, biggest nightmare.
Margaret Downing
Carnegie parents (l-r) Susan Escudier, Stan Vaughan, Anne Swanson, Noemi Montejo and Jocelyn Ellis — they're smart, feisty and tenacious, and could be Superintendent Abe Saavedra's latest, biggest nightmare.

Worthing's teachers work in classes where the power goes off without notice. They have to take whatever students are zoned to the school. "We have children coming from middle school that are 17 years old and coming to the ninth grade. We don't have the option of putting these children out."

Many Carnegie parents are still reacting to earlier battles to disengage the school from its former home at Jesse Jones High School, which was a miserable failed experiment. Carnegie began as a program at Jones High School, was later converted into a school within a school at Jones and in fall 2002 moved out on its own into a dilapidated former elementary school building.

In that case, though, Hypolite says, Car­ne­gie was in the same building as Jones High. This time, she says, it will be completely different "and Carnegie can keep its stellar reputation."

"We are ready to stand up and have our voices heard. Some of the Carnegie people said we didn't care, we weren't going to say anything. That's not true. Sunnyside is standing up," Hypolite says. "We are going to do everything we can do to help this proposal pass."
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It is hard to determine exactly what Superintendent Saavedra will do next. He says he supports magnets — with efficiencies — but later points out that of the 200,000 students in the district, 161,000, or 80 percent, do not attend magnet programs.

He wants to move to more "choice within a neighborhood or within a region." At present, he says, "the only kind of choice we talk about frequently is what I would call an escape plan. Put 'em in a bus and take them somewhere else."

Maybe there should be some limits on where a student attends a magnet, he says. "I don't know the answer to that question, mainly because the district has never done it." HISD has four early-college high schools that he says have become very popular, and no one gets transportation to them.

Some of this discussion is an issue of equity, he says. "How much money do you invest in different kids? And is money spent transporting kids, is that really a good choice? It is, to a point, but I also believe it can become excessive."

Carnegie parents would rather they remain stand-alone in every respect, with their program used as a role model, replicated throughout the district.

They point to their growth from 173 to 400 students since they moved to their own building. Next week is Magnet Week in HISD, the time used to attract students to magnet programs. They're worried new applicants will stay away.

They feel betrayed, but not incapacitated. They have already contacted the mayor's office and school board members. They'll fight because they don't want to move to suburban school districts; they want the district to acknowledge what a crown jewel it has in Carnegie.

J. Will Jones parents just want to continue this touchstone of success they've stumbled across. They've had a reprieve once before; they hope they've got an­other life.

Their school is tucked away on Stuart Street off Elgin. Chances are, you've never seen it. It's part of a changing Midtown as readily evidenced by the pricey new condos across the street from it; its land is probably worth a bundle.

At Jones Elementary, a group of mainly low-income parents and students, aided by a wonderful combination of teachers and principal, pulled off a remarkable feat. At Carnegie, students ignored facility problems and concentrated on challenging courses. It's hard to see how the dedication and creativity in either case are being rewarded.

"Mediocrity, that is the whisper. We're not going to have anyone higher or lower, we're going to be bland," says Jocelyn Ellis.

Now that's a chilling thought.

margaret.downing@houstonpress.com

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