The Rice School: Dialogue, Diagnosis and Diatribe
Tim Fleck's article on the Rice School ["What Went Wrong at the Rice School?", August 21] was an accurate depiction of HISD's inept handling of what should have been its crown jewel. However, the reasons that many parents and teachers remain committed to the school were not adequately explored. We do not believe we are sacrificing our children's futures to have them participate as guinea pigs in some experiment. Our outstanding faculty is working hard to uphold the school's principles, including the goal that each child should reach his or her full potential, rather than be bound by a prescribed grade-level curriculum.
Our middle school scores have steadily improved to the point that they are comparable to scores at Lanier and Pershing. Many students have graduated with four high school credits. They, along with some of those who have left the Rice School in "droves," have found places at the best schools in Houston, where admission standards would surely keep out students who had fallen behind.
Dissatisfied parents who believed that they wanted a break-the-mold education for their children balked when faced with a report card or a math curriculum that didn't include the products of a traditional education. The school may have been a mismatch for them, but hundreds of us have watched our children's academic and social growth with increasing confidence that we have made the right decision.
Joan Murrin, Alison Randall
As a parent of a child who has attended the Rice School since it opened, I very much enjoyed Tim Fleck's article. His conclusion that various racial/ethnic groups are wary of one another was dead on. As a white (mostly, except for 1/64 Cherokee blood) parent who does not reside in West U, I feel like a real minority. The white West U parents are typically obnoxious yuppies who are rude and overbearing toward everyone, and the black parents demand preferential treatment because of race and hate white people. The Hispanics and Asians don't make too many waves.
When Kaye Stripling opened the Rice School, however, she was able to bring these diverse groups together and had an almost magical ability to make parents, teachers and students of all races believe in themselves, in each other and in the potential of the school. The school initially had a remarkably harmonious atmosphere. While it drifted after Stripling left, some of this racial harmony was preserved. When a young black classmate of my daughter was killed in an auto accident last year, I took my daughter and one of her white classmates to the funeral at a black church, which was attended by students and teachers of all races, as well as the principal, Sharon Koonce.
Mr. Fleck's article left the impression that the two black assistant principals, Marcellars Mason and Karen Williamson, had been the victims of racism. In fact, both of them reportedly had demonstrated in an objective way that they had significant failings as administrators.
Mr. Fleck characterized the meeting of parents at St. Mark's Episcopal Church as a "protest" against HISD actions in terminating Koonce, Mason and Williamson. In fact, the organizers of the event secured the attendance of parents, including myself, by promoting the meeting as merely an informational event at which district superintendent Ronnie Veselka would explain what had happened at the school. At the meeting itself, the organizers (primarily "activist" West U white women) reported that Veselka had refused to attend. This small group of women then tried to turn the meeting into a demand for the return of Koonce and for the firing of Veselka. In what I believe to be a cynical ploy to get the support of black parents, these women then asserted that the firings of the black assistant principals had been racially motivated. It was at that point that I left.
Koonce appears to have been a classic victim of the "Peter Principle" (i.e., she was promoted to the level of her incompetence). While she had great press clippings for her tenure as principal of Oak Forest Elementary, the Rice School (a kindergarten through eighth-grade school) is the equivalent of an elementary and a middle school in the same building, and the job is much more demanding than being principal of an elementary school. Koonce proved to be inept at the Rice School, and had none of the unifying leadership abilities of Kaye Stripling.
Robert E. Walls
Thanks for your essentially accurate depiction of the problems faced at the Rice School, where great expectations were not supported by sufficient planning, leadership and continuity. Unfortunately, Mr. Fleck's article did not outline the strides that the Rice parents and excellent teaching staff have made in filling the void left by HISD, Rice University and the school's administration. Parent volunteers and teachers have developed a strategic plan for the school (one of the few HISD schools with such a plan), they have identified the greatest obstacles to our realizing our potential and have convinced Don McAdams and the HISD administration to provide us with the resources needed to reach our goals. As parents, we realize that any ambitious endeavor will result in problems and setbacks, but we strongly believe that with a stronger commitment by HISD, Rice University and a new school administration, we can develop a school that will surpass the original expectations.
Jim and Gay Sasser
As a parent, I have a choice to send my children to the Rice School or to other good schools with traditional classrooms. My choice has been the Rice School, because it has allowed my children to move beyond their grade level curriculum and experience technology integrated throughout the curriculum, all within a diverse setting. The staff and faculty support the parents and students as well or better than any school in which we've been. I would like to see Mr. Fleck write a positive feature, "What's Right with the Rice School?"
Mr. Fleck failed to mention one more negative aspect of HISD's handling of the school. From the beginning, HISD has promoted our staff and teachers to district positions with higher pay, leaving our classrooms and students without the continuity necessary to achieve our goals. Kaye Stripling's departure was only the beginning.
I read Tim Fleck's article with interest, because my youngest son has attended the Rice School for the past three years and has just begun third grade there. I have been a paid substitute there for two years, and for the past three years have read each morning with second graders. Even so, I am not an insider or one in the know.
In my opinion, Fleck never answered his own question. Instead, he interviewed disappointed parents and administrators who have moved on to other schools. The comments attributed to Rice University make me wonder why these effete intellectuals must be coaxed into participating in the Rice School. Surely Rice University should be more persuaded to "go full blast in making this school a really big success" if the Rice School is mediocre than if the Rice School is exemplary. Show us what Rice University can do!
Much is written about Nancy Ross and Gena Sylvester, both of whom are known to me. My impression is that these two have only a slight interest in the best interests of the students and instead are motivated entirely by motives of self-aggrandizement. I really do not believe that Nancy Ross is interested in black issues or represents blacks, or that Gena Sylvester is interested in white issues or represents whites. Both seem more interested in enhancing their own personal power, prestige and profile.
Kaye Stripling, given time, could have brought the founder's vision to reality. Sharon Koonce was unable to make a decision on anything important. I hope that the new principal can remember who counts and look to the best interests of the students and teachers and ignore the many Nancy Rosses and Gena Sylvesters who will surface in this new school year.
Tim Fleck's article makes several points which are well taken. However, he did not note that the Rice School is across North Braeswood from the sewage plant (in Houston) of the city of West University Place. In short, there's crap on both sides of the street!
Name withheld by request
I read Jasmine Van Volkingburg's letter in the August 7 Press ["Real Waste"] with both wonder and confusion. While there can be little doubt that the "war on drugs" as currently prosecuted is both short-sighted and ineffective, Kristen Pain ["Pain for the Prosecution," by Steve McVicker, June 26] was not "incompetent simply because of her drug use." She was unfit to serve as an assistant district attorney because she was regularly violating the laws she had been appointed to enforce. It could have been kleptomania, or wire fraud, and the result would have been the same: A criminal would have been in charge of meting out justice.
One can argue the rightness or wrongness of the particular law that brought her down -- the illegality of cocaine -- but there can be little dissent regarding the inappropriateness of her behavior, given her sworn duty to enforce all of the laws we live under.
As far as our government "defrauding" Ms. Pain by investigating and eventually prosecuting her illegal activities, well, that's their job. It was also Kristen Pain's.
I won't even get into the notion of drug use as a victimless crime. Spend some time with an addict, or visit the neighborhoods that serve as hubs of the drug trade, both here and abroad, and I think you'll find plenty of victims.
Yeah, He Was Off Sunbathing in the Buff
Surprisingly prurient article ["Skin Deep," by Randall Patterson, August 21] -- bit of an off day for the editor, perhaps?
Yoakam and Wilonsky: Two Righteous Dudes
I just want Robert Wilonsky to know that his was the best and longest review I've read about Dwight Yoakam in one helluva long time ["Hats Off," Music, August 14]. It was excellent, and I want Robert to know that he's high up in my book, and I'm sure the same goes for all the other Dwightaholics.
Closure: A Voice of Moderation Offers the Final Word on Ezra
The raging Ezra controversy is a textbook example of why life is better outside the music business. When my old cronies called me up convulsed in laughter as they read me the now-famous "... never mind ..." letter ["Ezra's Second Thoughts," June 26], I almost didn't believe it. Only when I saw it today on the Press's web site did I realize they were serious.
It's easy to be cute and/or take cheap shots at such a display of "confusion." However, I as well as anyone can understand the rigors of the music scene, particularly at the local level.
Whether you like or don't like Ezra Charles's music (or Ezra) is an individual and personal matter. I certainly wouldn't make my views public one way or the other. However, you do have to give the devil his due -- the old boy has been around doing his thing professionally for quite awhile. And for that, as an ex-professional, I'm compelled to give him a modicum of respect on longevity alone! Not a simple trick in that business.
And to Charlie: Relax! Take a pill. Have a beer. Or as I would advise one of my beloved New York Jets, Keyshawn Johnson: "Shut up and play!" I learned that when I was starting to take it that seriously, it was time for me to get out. Try not to go insane.
The Last R.T. Castleberry Letter We're Ever Printing. He Has Hurt Our Feelings Terribly.
If you took out the bitchy little headlines you run over your letters, you'd have more room to run readers' comments, and you could give the irony-overloaded office punk who writes them a real job.
P.S. I was going to refer to him as a smarmy little shit, but that would be cruel.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Houston Press' biggest stories.