Sterling High School: Keeping It All Together

As Sterling High School’s year comes to an end, merger talk has the community upset, critics say they can’t trust HISD, and its latest principal is pulling out all the stops to try to get kids to graduation.

"And students chose not to go," Mitchell said. Some seniors have so many credits to make up, "there's literally not enough time in the day on a Saturday to do it."

Turner, who most definitely does not think all is well in all the Sterling classrooms and is far from delighted with long-term subs, defends Mitchell about the students who aren't going to graduate.

"We cannot blame him for that because he's a new principal. Sterling has not had the same principal stay for over a year and a half. It changes every year. This one, he's trying to do what he can. He's not from here. Some are just not going to graduate because of what they did. They didn't go to class and then he offered them the makeup work and they didn't come."

Senior Lonnie Hilson says Jones is a rival school and its students shouldn't be mixed with Sterling kids.
Margaret Downing
Senior Lonnie Hilson says Jones is a rival school and its students shouldn't be mixed with Sterling kids.
Principal Dale Mitchell has covered his office with charts full of plans for improving graduation rates at Sterling.
Margaret Downing
Principal Dale Mitchell has covered his office with charts full of plans for improving graduation rates at Sterling.

Lonnie Hilson thinks some of Sterling's teachers have already opted out, only going through the motions of teaching their classes. He doesn't think a computer course teaches students much of anything at all, particularly in the more technical classes like the pre-cal one he's taking.

It would be easy to dismiss him as a student prone to stirring up trouble, except for the fact that he is so logical, so committed to his school in trying to make it better. And also, who better to know than a student when teachers start checking out? Pop-in visits by principals rarely uncover the truth.

Closing or merging schools are among the most unpopular things a school board can do. Whether the school is great, mediocre or somewhere in between absolutely doesn't matter to the parents, community and students calling for it not to disappear. People are fighting for what they consider an extension of themselves.

"The thing is, when you start closing community schools, you're essentially closing down the community to some point," Evans-Shabazz said.

Mitchell stressed that he's worked hours with the principal of Jones over the merger and pledges that they'll be fine should the transfer occur. But he thinks there's a good chance they won't make the move.

"The probability is that we'll stay here. We have some property behind us and we'll build behind us. That hasn't been decided; that's not my decision to make," Mitchell said. "I'm hopefully optimistic that they're listening to what we have to say. "

He's already met with leaders of the junior class, getting projects going, "getting it all together" for the next year. He gestures at charts covering his wall, considering whether a trimester system would give them a better chance to graduate more kids on time, with the added hours it would give them. He thinks they can get to 1,000 kids by next year and in two years, a new clean campus with professional support for all his teachers.

About 40 percent of Sterling grads will go to work upon graduation, the rest to college or the military, Mitchell said.

"Historically, going back almost 50 years, a large number of people from this community have graduated from high school and have not gone on to college. For a large number of people this is their college experience," Mitchell said.

"They love homecoming. It's like Mardi Gras for a week long. So the alumni come back. We'll have a huge festival. So that's why it's important. There's that connection. That's my understanding why they're so passionate about their school. And why they want things to be great. People need to respect that."

Anyone who's ever gone to an HISD community meeting at a school and then attended the school board meeting where a final report about that get-together is presented, can attest to a certain — in some cases overwhelming — amount of disconnect. Critics say the Sterling meeting they had didn't involve any listening; it was a done-deal task clicked off a checklist by district administrators.

Whoever erected it, there's a rather sizable wall of distrust between HISD and the Sterling community. Even its principal gives witness to that. HISD promises the Sterling-Jones merger isn't a done deal and that it is trying to do what's best. The question is going to be, of course, what the district's final report will say. And all the promises they have to keep.

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Hutto Middle School is in Hutto, Texas. Mr. Mitchell was a wonderful principal that supported his students and faculty. He couldn't make it to our last day ceremonies the semester he left so he sent a video instead. There wasn't a dry eye in the audience. The students miss him as much as his faculty does. I know that Dale Mitchell can make a difference at Sterling, especially when the students, parents, faculty, and community trust and believe in him.

Dom Nelson
Dom Nelson 1 Like

I agree with you GJohn81 as I am actually a former valedictorian of this school. It disappoints me where the school is now, but there is shared accountability with the parents and school system. Those of us who have made it must give back, but there must also be parents, children, and school systems willing to work with us. There is much hope for the future- once the majority of families and the school systems realize that education is critical to success and career advancement in America, things will start to make progress for the better. Education also drives down crime, but it is a long process. And progress might be slow and long- we have to take one day at a time and slowly make cultural change to the norms for the real value of education, especially in inner city communities. Reach one, teach one.


@Dom Nelson Hi, I am doing a sociology project based on this article, and I was wondering if you would be willing to help me out with a few things since you were a formers student. 

Dom Nelson
Dom Nelson

Sure, send me your contact information and I can help you out.

GJohn81 1 Like

I applaud everyone's efforts to keep Sterling open and a their mission to keep students in the system.  This is commendable and one reason I have faith in our educational system.  I agree with Evans-Shabazz that closing the school would be like closing the community. I do have a question.  What has the community done to help ensure that this landmark high school stays open and is operated as a safe learning environment for our kids?  HISD cannot become a district where there are only 3-4 magnate schools serious students will attend.  The fact that the Washington Post rated Sterling as highly as it did tells us that we, in general, aren't even sure how to evaluate schools.  Those of us who grew up in Houston and have benefited from our education in the HISD must help to fix these problems and become involved.  The single biggest indicator in a school's success is parent/adult involvement and we should help provide that for all schools in the HISD, not just the ones our children attend.  I know that tough, unpopular decisions will have to be made, but Sterling and all of HISD is worth the effort.      

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