Are Houston ISD trustees and Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan (and her administrators) not talking at all?
How otherwise to explain last night's 7-0 vote solidly against the administration's proposal to shut down High School Ahead Academy, a special school set up during former Superintendent Terry Grier's reign designed to serve older students who had fallen so far behind that they remain stuck in middle school?
Didn't this come up at an agenda review? Didn't at least one board member take Lathan aside and say, 'Hey, you don't have the votes. Remove it from the agenda.'"
Or perhaps someone did and this was a point of honor for Lathan and her subordinates. After all, no matter how many students (150 at last count) come from eight home campuses all over the district to attend the school and try desperately to catch up with their age group, High School Ahead Academy has not covered itself with glory.
According to HISD administrators who've studied the program, the school doesn't do well academically and a lot of its students skip classes from time to time. They proposed instead to return these students to their home schools, an idea that trustees didn't think was all that great — for the students themselves or the other members of the student body they would be rejoining. And then there was the whole matter about shutting down another minority dominant school in a black or Hispanic neighborhood.
"This school does not have a history of any dubious financial situation so I am against closing this school," trustee Sergio Lira said.
Felicia Adams, area superintendent for the Achieve 180 program that HISD established to boost low-performing schools, said "When you look at the screening data for High School Ahead, there was no progress made. They are the lowest in the district." She said the home schools the students come from are doing better academically than High School Ahead.
However when Sue Deigaard asked if the students from High School Ahead were being compared to similar students who were years behind but staying in their home schools, Adams said that data had not been pulled.
"If we are sending a 16-year-old into the sixth grade, how are we going to know they're going to achieve what they need to achieve with such an age gap?" Deigaard asked.
Jolanda Jones said "I really struggle with closings more schools in the Northside in historically disadvantaged areas." She added later: "I don't know how you have really older kids going back to schools with really younger kids. There's some issues in my mind with criminal law that could be affected."
Trustee Anne Sung followed up with the safety question. Lathan responded that "A number of these campuses have overage students now. What we need to do is look at the needs of these children. There's ways on the campus to keep students together, to ensure they receive the interventions they need."
"Our students are not a one-size-fits-all type of thing so that's why we have to have alternative education," Elizabeth Santos said. She added that the cost savings the administration had estimated of about half a million dollars by closing the school, was not worth it to her.
Adams pointed out that one important component of a good education is attendance and that students can't learn if they are not in their seats. "Almost 50 percent of the [High School Ahead] students have excessive absences from traveling all across the city."
Board president Diana Davila picked up on that point saying: "It's interesting to hear how far students will travel for this campus to get those additional services or those alternative services. To get up that early and take a bus and travel 16 miles in the city of Houston in the morning and then travel back home shows commitment. Shows dedication. Shows desire for those students to be in that environment and the parents to send them in that environment."
Trustees Wanda Adams and Rhonda Skillern-Jones were not in attendance at last night's board meeting.