Arne Duncan, the federal Secretary of Education, had to cut his trip to north Houston's Sam Houston High School a bit short, because there were more pressing matters. Duncan was headed to the Third Ward.
"I want him to go see what a good team they had over at Yates," Terry Grier, the HISD superintendent, told the crowd in Sam Houston's library. "I really don't think he believes how good they really were."
Grier added, "[Duncan] was the captain of his high school basketball team, you know."
But high school basketball wasn't the only matter discussed during Duncan's hour-long stop at Sam Houston, which was renamed Sam Houston Math, Science and Technology Center a couple years ago, after continued poor performance by students caused the state to close the school.
Poorly performing schools were actually the theme of Duncan's trip to Houston -- he toured different campuses all day -- and Sam Houston was a fitting place to hold a public event.
Sam Houston, you see, has turned it around.
"I wish there still weren't high schools to turn around," Duncan said. "I could go to the Bahamas and retire. But we're not there yet."
For about the last 15 minutes of the presentation, Duncan listened to ideas from people in the crowd about how other schools could be set on the right track. One woman suggested that a sense of outrage about poor-performing schools needed to be instilled in the communities surrounding the schools.
"I agree that there's not the sense of outrage that we think there should be," Duncan said. "But let me turn that on its head and say there should be a sense of hope."
He continued, "Parents are beaten down. Parents need to see what's possible."
Grier, in the same theme of making the Yates basketball team shoot baskets with an old white guy, suggested that state legislators provide the money to allow some HISD schools to start earlier each year, ensuring a longer school year.
It wouldn't be every school, Grier said, just the 20 or 30 schools that needed the most work.
"Our students need more time," Grier said.
And because no event would be complete with U.S, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee:
"We just want to get more money, more money, more money," Lee told Duncan. "We'll be standing in line to make sure Texas does the right thing."
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