Bertie Simmons is the septuagenarian principal of Furr High School on Houston's East Side, where 15gangs have been identified on campus. Despite this, calmness prevails and test scores are rising, thanks to the former district superintendent who came out of retirement to take over the then-troubled school in 2000 and uses "positive reinforcement" as her motto. Biggest exploit to date: She got on a plane with 32 gang members from Furr who'd earned a trip to New York City to visit Ground Zero (they didn't believe 9/11 was real) after she extracted a promise from them to keep trouble off the campus for one school year. They even took in a Broadway showing of 42nd Street. And liked it.

Nowhere else on the Houston dial this past year could you hear Wilco and Death Cab for Cutie, both within the same hour, at least on a major corporate radio station. It was sometime last fall that we heard the former's single "You Never Know" while driving around town, and we immediately had to make sure we didn't have our iPod plugged in. The next hour we heard not only Amy Winehouse and Jackson Browne, but some disco-era Rolling Stones. Say what you will, but that's a sight better than Ke$ha and Justin Bieber over on the pop stations.

READERS' CHOICE: 740 AM

While a few Republican babies were thrown out with the bathwater of the 2008 Democratic courthouse landslide — Caprice Cosper, anyone? — such was not the case with the election of veteran defense attorney Shawna Reagin. In defeating crotchety old Jack Rains, she had support from both ends of the political spectrum and both sides of the bar. Somewhat miraculously, she has disappointed neither. Her legal mind has been honed to a razor's edge by years of appellate and writ work, and defendants with bogus stories tend to find little sympathy in her court. But here's the thing: She can be compassionate and is unafraid of doing so. Unlike so many of our judges in Hang 'Em High Harris County, she never throws away some poor young soul's life if there are viable alternatives. To paraphrase one prosecutor turned defense attorney, "She's tough when she needs to be, compassionate when she can be and always smart enough to know when to be either."

Children caught — through no fault of their own — in the bureaucratic maze of the court system: It can be a recipe for disaster. Someone has to stand up for them, but it can be a frustrating job. For the past 26 years, Child Advocates has been taking on that job, working on behalf of kids who are in protective custody because they've been abused, neglected or abandoned. They fight for kids who can't fight for themselves — more than 16,000 at last count — and in many cases save lives that easily could have gone down the wrong track.

READERS' CHOICE: Star of Hope

Want to know what that new construction is all about on your street, or why there is a wrecking crew aiming for that quirky little building on your favorite corner? With its fingers on the pulse of the Houston real estate game, Swamplot more than likely has the skinny. This mostly daily blog keeps you abreast of the happenings both inside the Loop and in outlying areas. In the past year, the blog was the first to report on plans about a supposed move for venerable indie club Walter's on Washington, and it has also been keeping keen tabs on the proposed Walmart development in the Heights. Got a nagging question about that "For Sale" sign you just noticed? Ask Swamplot.

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www.todayonthelightrail.com

How many places in the world have to shut down a whole city block because chunks of concrete are literally falling from the sky? That happened in Houston when pieces of the old Savoy Apartments — built in 1906 and the first building in Houston to have electricity — started crumbling away after years of neglect. But the city jumped to action, guarding the building with police officers, cruiser cars and yellow "Caution" tape until the apartments could be taken down, piece by piece.

No one paid a great deal of attention to the memorial statue for victims of Galveston's 1900 hurricane when it first went up on the seawall in 2000. Then came Ike. Gripping, dramatic shots of Ike-powered waves crashing over the wall and above the statue were irresistible to photographers and were published all over the world. Now people flock to the statue to get their picture taken, hopefully without any huge waves exploding in the background.

READERS' CHOICE: Space Center Houston

For the crowd that enjoys touring cemeteries in hopes of having a paranormal experience or just to take in a bit of history, the Old City Cemetery in Galveston is a favorite. Parts of the cemetery are starting to deteriorate and the grounds are often covered in yellow wildflowers, a combination that gives the place an extra-spooky feel. Many of the people who were killed during the 1900 hurricane are buried at Old City Cemetery, which is another big draw. If you visit, stay away from the New City Cemetery. It's not nearly as old or interesting.

If not the shot heard 'round the world, it was at least the beating seen 'round the country: Jamie's House teacher Sheri Lynn Davis whomping on a 13-year-old boy. Thank goodness some enterprising student thought to record the event, rather than rush to the child's aid, because the video will no doubt be the centerpiece of the lawsuit against Davis and the school that as of this writing has not fully gotten underway. And it's in that video where we can see Davis trying to punch the boy as he scurries helplessly on his back. Davis said later that the boy was taunting a female classmate; apparently she felt the need to show the lad that females were indeed capable of opening cans of whoop-ass. Although maybe that should've been administered by one of the boy's peers, and not a 40-year-old woman. Live and learn.

Children's Museum of Houston

It's a given that it's much easier to meet women in places that are less threatening — just try to hit on a stranger in, say, a parking garage for negative confirmation of that adage. And where on Earth is less threatening than a children's museum? And where are adults more starved for a little adult conversation than after an hour or so in a mass conclave of shrieking children? At the Children's Museum, a casual, friendly word is likely to fall on the receptive ears of many a baby mama at her wits' end. Ease of meeting is just one advantage. You can also get a good read on what sort of future you might have. When you meet their kids right at the start, you're jump-stepping lots of potential down-the-road drama. All the cards are already on the table: You can see right before your eyes the finished products of their past reproductive efforts. If they look like Gaby Solis's kids from Desperate Housewives, you'll be warned. Even more important, you'll get a peek at their parenting styles, so before you ever hop in the sack, you can avoid those crazy, sexy lovers who turn out to be quasi-abusive or neglectful parents.

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