Letters to the Editor

School Reports

A suggestion: Thanks for a ranking of schools that's not based on TAKS scores alone ["Houston's Best Public High Schools," February 23, and "These Kids Go to the Best Public High School in Houston," March 2, by Todd Spivak]. Perhaps next time you can stretch this to a "best of" format, as with other things you rate. For example, Lee High School is probably the "best high school for newly arriving immigrants," while it wouldn't necessary show up in your broader ranking.

Scott Hochberg
State representative, District 137

Rank robbery: Last Thursday I picked up the latest copy of the Houston Press on my way to my co-op job downtown, as it featured the "best" public high schools in Houston. As I was reading, I noticed a variety of the high schools weren't even in Houston. Friendswood? Katy? Humble? Cypress? They're all well outside what is considered Houston city limits. I did see the few schools that made the list from Houston ISD, such as Michael E. DeBakey, Bellaire High School and Lamar High School.

Not to brag, but in the district, my school, Westside High School, had the No. 1 highest TAKS scores. The school is evenly culturally mixed, and there are plenty of opportunities for involvement in extracurricular activities, from water polo and football to Quizbowl and the ecology club. There truly is something for everyone here. As a senior at Westside High School and a student for all four years, I can truly say I'm proud of the education I've received from Westside across the board. Even though our school is only six years old, we make up for it with the best teachers, resources and spirit any typical high school student could ask for.

It doesn't make sense for Westside to not be one of the "Best Public High Schools in Houston." I, for one, personally feel the education I've received at Westside High School is the equivalent of a college preparatory without the expensive tuition. You can't get a better college counselor than the ones provided for us at Westside. Their help is phenomenal. Last year the class of 2005 alone attained more than $1.5 million in scholarships. Now, if that doesn't show how dedicated our teachers are in helping us to succeed, I don't know what does. Next time the Houston Press should look a little harder for schools like Westside. It makes no sense to mark us off as unworthy of such a title as the "Best Public High School in Houston."

Sherrin Perkins
Class of 2006
Westside High School

Madness in the method: Although the articles about Houston's best public high schools have good intentions, the methodology is flawed because of the manner in which Houston ISD imbeds its magnet and Vanguard programs in its schools.

The best HISD schools, in the article, are exclusively specialty schools. The article/study ignores the other magnet and Vanguard programs, the schools within schools. These programs have the same missions and motivated students as your two top-rated schools (which, as stated, are exclusively magnet).

Because the students choose to be at these schools, graduation is a foregone conclusion. The methodology in the article/study weighs heaviest on graduation probability, and this is where the flaw is most apparent.

I would not use your articles as a basis for choice (at least for HISD magnet/Vanguard).

Our family is now going through the process of determining which high school (with a magnet or Vanguard program) our older child will go to. In my opinion, the following is a better list of top high schools for HISD (in the magnet/Vanguard genre):

1. Westside High School
2. Carnegie Vanguard High School
3. Michael E. DeBakey High School for Health Professions
4. The High School for the Performing and Visual Arts
5. Lamar High School
6. Booker T. Washington (High School for Engineering Professionals)

I used the HISD School Profiles, from their Web site, for my data.

Mark Janzer

A plan of her own: I'm writing in response to your sidebar "The Also-Rans" [by Todd Spivak, March 2] in conjunction with your best public high schools piece. Because school districts like Cy-Fair High School graduate only about half their students in the State Recommended High School Plan, Dr. Robert Sanborn claimed this meant that the students were therefore "taking the easy classes." I don't have a problem with including the recommended graduation plan as a criterion for your methodology, but I do have a problem with assuming that because students aren't graduating with the state's recommended graduation plan that they are necessarily taking easier classes.

I am a graduate of a Cy-Fair High School who didn't graduate with the recommended graduation plan. I was sixth in my class, I graduated summa cum laude from a selective private university, and I'm working on my second master's degree. My senior-year classes were AP English, AP calculus, AP government/economics, AP biology, AP American history and Debate III. I chose not to take a computer science class on the recommended plan, and I donÕt think I've suffered intellectually or in my career because of it.

Having taught high school, I can tell you that many students choose not to get the recommended graduation plan because they prefer to take more elective courses, and I don't think they should be discouraged from doing so. I think students get a lot more out of taking classes like band, journalism, debate, literary magazine, etc., than they do out of another social studies class or an extra year of math. Not only do students develop leadership skills in these classes, but these are the classes that get and keep students interested in school, and where students get teacher-mentors who know them well (a difficult feat in a large public high school). These things are all tied to graduation rates.

Furthermore, schools work hard to develop innovative classes with industry partners, and students have a hard time fitting these classes into their schedules if they are taking the courses required for the recommended plan. Yet these classes give students the much-lauded "real-world experience" we want them to have, as well as valuable career-exploration opportunities. Everyone involved in policymaking and counseling should encourage students to take meaningful elective classes. (I am obviously not talking here about spending three periods working in the school office instead of taking social studies.)

I think it is a disservice to students to encourage them to get the State Recommended High School Plan at the expense of more valuable elective classes. Beyond the basic classes required for graduation, students should be encouraged to take classes they enjoy that give them skills they'll use well beyond a few more facts and a few extra textbook quizzes.

Sheryl Stoeck

A Bigger, Better Burger
Robb Walsh honored for his ode to Texas hamburgers

Houston Press food writer Robb Walsh has been named a finalist in the International Association of Culinary Professionals' Bert Greene Awards competition.

Walsh was named one of three finalists in the newspaper category for "Texas Burger Binge," an account of his sampling of burgers across Texas combined with a history of burgers.

Each year the IACP honors outstanding food journalism in newspaper, magazine and Internet categories in its national competition. First-place winners will be announced in April.

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