HISD School Closings: Would You Feel Better If They Called Them Repurposings?

Today's 9th, 10th and 11th grade students at Jones High School could be allowed to finish out their high school careers at the school targeted for closure, if trustees adopt one of several options tossed around in a lengthy Houston ISD board workshop Thursday.

Houston ISD Superintendent Terry Grier proposed the idea in passing about halfway through the meeting and then with more detail at the end of the long meeting in which trustees and audience members were presented with 39 pages of PowerPoint and accompanying staff and superintendent explanation -- while trustees asked a lot of questions.

Yes, Grier still wants to close Jones (supporters of this shutdown in the administration, and on the board say they've thrown millions of dollars at the school, replaced all of the staff, put in new programs and still the desired academic progress isn't there and most kids don't want to go there), but said there might be an avenue for the present 9th, 10th and 11th graders to stay.

No one new could transfer in and there wouldn't be a 9th grade class next year. There also wouldn't be any extracurriculars. But that way those few remaining students could graduate from the school they want to go to. The school would be converted to a swing facility at some point, housing students from other campuses while their schools were being renovated. Jones would still close, but not for a while.

Thursday's meeting was supposed to start at 7:30 a.m. but most board members didn't make it there on time. Board President Juliet Stipeche called things to order just before 8 a.m. but a quorum wasn't achieved until a while later.

Chief critic/questioner was new trustee Wanda Adams who appeared to think the district hadn't done a good job of letting people know Jones was potentially on the chopping block. That inspired a polite uumph from trustee Anna Eastman (last year's board president) who pointed out that Jones was up for closure last year and was granted another year and so yes, Jones folks did know about it.

Communications Director Tiffany Davila-Dunne said that when they held a recent community meeting at Jones to discuss the proposed closings, a common refrain from the audience was: "You come back to us every year with this issue."

The other schools up for closure consideration are Dodson Elementary, Henderson Elementary and Port Houston Elementary as well as Fleming Middle School.

Grier said much of the problem in Houston is that because it a district that gives parents the opportunity to choose the schools their children attend, that people will send their kids where they will have better opportunities. (He also stressed that he loves school choice).

Dodson Elementary houses a Montessori magnet school program, but there has been declining interest in it, Grier said. The district wants to move its kids to Blackshear, Rusk and Lantrip elementaries. Even though Dodson is not a failing school, Grier said it should be closed and the building used for something else.

There was a lot of discussion about "repurposing" the schools up for closure.According to the PowerPoint presentation:

Besides getting to serve as swing facilities for other construction projects, renovate Jones "to house a career training high school similar to Barbara Jordan HS for students in the southern part of the district."

Dodson Elementary could be transformed into a middle school magnet program for energy or law enforcement.

Port Houston could become the destination spot for the REACH program now housed at Furr High School and "establish it as a stand-alone alternative high school for recovered dropout students."

Fleming Middle School could be repurposed "as the HISD Professional Development Training Center." Or used to "create a stand-alone health and medical science academy 'Baylor-like' for middle school students."

And Henderson Elementary could become "a Twilight High School to serve students in the Wheatley [High School] and surrounding attendance zones." Or "create a day care/early childhood center to serve students [with children] and the community."

Of course, any building that remains vacant and out of use for 18 months has to be "considered for demolition," the last page of the PowerPoint stated.

The board is expected to meet again on March 6 at 7:30 a.m. (ha!) to consider further questions from trustees. Grier said his administration will make his final recommendations after that.

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