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A Busy HISD Board Renames Wilson Montessori, Re-ups With Teach For America and Adopts New Calendar

Dani Hernandez, one of several former TFA teachers on the HISD board, who voted to continue working with TFA Thursday.
Dani Hernandez, one of several former TFA teachers on the HISD board, who voted to continue working with TFA Thursday.
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Fifteen additional days of school have been dialed into the 2021-22 Houston ISD school calendar to help students catch up with all disruption caused by what COVID-19 did to attendance in the last year.

Following state guidelines means the first day of school will not be until Monday, August 23, but in the two weeks before that students will have a chance to attend for "enrichment opportunities."  Other extra days set aside for enrichment include the first two days (December 20 and 21) of the two-week winter holiday vacation and the first three days (March 14-16) of Spring Break.

Without opposition, Houston ISD trustees embraced changing the name of Woodrow Wilson Montessori to Ella Josephine Baker Montessori.

The name change came about because of more widespread acknowledgement in recent years of Wilson's racist attitudes including his opposition to admitting African American students to Princeton while he was president of that Ivy League school. He also segregated the previously integrated federal civil service employee ranks.

In a unanimous vote, trustees approved renaming the school after Baker, an African American civil rights leader who among other accomplishments was the first director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. She also helped organize the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in 1960. A naming committee at the school which included students, school personnel and community leaders.

Open to more debate was approval of contracts with Teach For America with the usual concern about whether teachers who come to the district through that program will actually stay with education or are just using it as a resume builder to go on to other endeavors including public office. On the current HISD board, Anne Sung, Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca, Dani Hernandez and Judith Cruz all were TFA teachers. Sung was the only one of them to abstain from the vote Thursday night, saying she had received campaign funds from Leadership for Educational Equity "an organization created to develop TFA alumni as leaders."

Elizabeth Santos, a former teacher in HISD. who has long spoken out against TFA contracts and board President Patricia K. Allen voted against the contract in the final 6-2-1 vote which extends the contract with TFA through the 2023-24 school year.  Those in favor argued that the effects of COVID on the teaching ranks, HISD could not afford to look away from where it might find good teachers. And they pointed out that in accepting a contract with TFA, HISD was not mandating that principals hire anyone from that program which seeks to find people who will teach for at least two years in low income schools. 

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