Everyone Says They Want the Best for North Forest Students, As Long As They Stand to Benefit.

HISD didn't just absorb North Forest out of the goodness of its heart. There's some real benefits in the acquisition to the mega district and its superintendent. Hopefully for the kids as well.

A long-term study of Maryland schools published in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis in 2002 found that even when a school district gutted an urban school, replacing the entire administrative and teaching staff and starting everything new, the social stability and climate of the school changed for the worse, while student performance didn't get any better.

After a slew of closings in Chicago Public Schools from 2001 to 2006, the University of Chicago looked at how the closings affected students. Just announcing a school was closing had a negative impact on student performance for the final school year, according to the report. Once students moved to a different school, academic performance didn't change either way.

To get an underperforming student up to his or her grade level, UH education dean Robert Wimpelberg said, he has found that much depends on teachers themselves. Students who start the school year already behind need extra time and attention and perhaps different approaches to the material to help them catch up. If you have many students performing at different levels, it takes a skilled educator to balance the needs of all those students, he said.

Parents Robert and Trisha Cardenas say their daughters, Ceanna, seven, and Bianca, ten, are thrilled to be attending Thurgood Marshall Elementary, a campus nothing like Fonwood Elementary, the school they attended last year.
Parents Robert and Trisha Cardenas say their daughters, Ceanna, seven, and Bianca, ten, are thrilled to be attending Thurgood Marshall Elementary, a campus nothing like Fonwood Elementary, the school they attended last year.
More than 700 students arrived for the first day of school at Thurgood Marshall Elementary, a repurposed, renovated campus with a principal and teachers hired for the job in less than two months.
More than 700 students arrived for the first day of school at Thurgood Marshall Elementary, a repurposed, renovated campus with a principal and teachers hired for the job in less than two months.

If students get teachers who, through either experience or talent, know how to pull off that balancing act, it makes all the difference in the world, Wimpelberg said. However, a bad teacher can have as much influence as a good one. "If those students who are trying to catch up get two ineffective teachers in a row, they're doomed," he said.

The TSU study said HISD looked like a better option only when you compared district numbers. When you lined North Forest schools up next to those with similar student populations in HISD, the numbers were less impressive, showing populations HISD has a history of underserving, according to the report.

Carol Mims Galloway, who represented the HISD district adjacent to North Forest, opposed taking on North Forest, saying there were already issues not being dealt with in HISD schools similar to those in North Forest. "If you haven't fixed the problems in your own district, how are you going to get it done by taking on more schools with the same problems?" she asked.

Even in 2011, when North Forest had not yet officially been annexed by HISD, Grier was certain enough of getting North Forest that he put Issa Dadoush, then general manager of facilities for HISD, to work making plans on the logistics that would be required to get North Forest schools cleaned up.

At the same time, HISD was as guilty of neglect as North Forest or any other school district working to juggle budget cuts with educational needs and the maintenance that keeps district buildings in good condition, Dadoush said. "When there is a budget reduction in any facility anywhere, the very first thing they'll attack is the maintenance budget," Dadoush said. "Before you know it, there's a tidal wave of problems and facilities in desperate need of attention." Dadoush left HISD in 2012 because he was frustrated by the lack of transparency in a system that was both time-consuming and inefficient and was tired of the cost-cutting that continually sliced deep into his department budget, he said.

Grier presented the news to the HISD board that HISD would be taking in North Forest as an unalterable fact, Galloway said. TEA officials never met with the school board, instead going directly to Grier. "They told us HISD would be getting North Forest and that was it," she said. "I'm sure they could have opposed it if they'd wanted. They've opposed anything else they've wanted to."

Those issues may have been part of the appeal for HISD in accepting North Forest, Galloway said. Grier's much vaunted Apollo 20 turnaround program hasn't been the unqualified success he'd hoped it would be three years in, Galloway said. Pouring money and focus into the funding-starved schools of North Forest should provide fast, discernible results that will give Grier something to show off in place of the program that Galloway and other critics say is turning out to be a bust, she said. "We'll probably see some changes over there just because everyone is watching," she said.

And the changes will have to be more than just academic or financial.

At a teleconference town hall held by HISD officials, a mother told how her son had been bullied last year but that her complaints were ignored by the teachers and administration. Another mother asked about safety at Forest Brook Middle School for the coming year. Last year, her nephew's lunch money and shoes were stolen repeatedly on the Forest Brook campus. Now, with her daughter starting sixth grade there, she wanted to know what HISD planned to do about safety.

Rick Fernandez, the new principal, reassured her, telling her the district had just installed a security system that would provide surveillance over the entire campus. The school would also be staffed with two HISD police officers who would be provided with all-terrain vehicles so they could move around the campus quickly. "That way they'll be able to go from putting out one fire to putting out the next," Fernandez said.

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3 comments
RinHiroishi
RinHiroishi

Also Hispanic students and parents in the NFISD boundaries may have access to more bilingual and Spanish-speaking services within HISD.

RinHiroishi
RinHiroishi

Remember the state also closed Mirando City, and that was majority Hispanic and rural. NFISD and WHISD were in urban areas so annexation is fairly easy and did not have to put hardship (when WHISD was first annexed, though, DISD sent its students to faraway DISD campuses due to the poor state of WHISD campuses. Now DISD built new schools in the WHISD area).

The "performance drop when schools close" made more sense with WHISD than with this one because all but one of the NFISD schools did stay open (WE Rogers closed) BUT the teachers were almost completely replaced.

With Kendleton it is more similar to a "hardship" case since it is still in a rural area. I'm hoping Lamar Consolidated re-opens the school someday.

Also since NFISD's population was spiraling down, it was bound to "collapse" someday anyway.

RinHiroishi
RinHiroishi

There are other arguments: By having NFISD merged they can attend other HISD schools. Even if NFISD performances tank later, the more motivated students can travel to other HISD schools. Property values can rise: After WHISD merged, property values in that district increased. There can be an argument that the voting base in NFISD was too apathetic or unable to save their own district from decay, so why should they still have exclusive political power over their own schools that other neighborhoods in Houston don't have.

 
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