HISD: Still No Specifics Named in Planned Magnet School Reformation

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"We're paying for these people to be our consultants?" one mother whispered to another, rolling her eyes. They and about 13 other parents were gathered in the HISD board room late yesterday afternoon, waiting for a presentation to begin by two former school administrators-turned-consultants from Wake County, North Carolina. HISD is entertaining the idea of a centralized lottery application process -- one divorced from merit, where every student has an equal chance of getting into a school -- and Wake County's two representatives, Ramey Beavers and Caroline Masengill, claim they did it successfully.

But Houston has vastly different priorities than Wake County, not to mention 60,000 more students. The consultants repeatedly said that if HISD chose to adopt a centralized selection process, it would look nothing like that of Wake County. "Ours will not be like yours," Beavers said. "It has to fit with your school district. It's going to need to be built and modified to reflect what you want."

What the parents wanted was a spelled-out plan for Houston's schools. Instead, they got show-and-tell from North Carolina.

The centralized lottery is just one option HISD is floating as a solution to demystify HISD's veiled application process. As the process stands now, every school has a different set of criteria not made public, said Lupita Hinojosa, Assistant Superintendent for School Choice. By putting all students in a lottery, everyone would have an equal chance of getting into a school.

The parents worried that students who had worked hard to get into the good schools would have less of a chance of doing so, since the process would be random and not based on merit. "You've reduced my gifted child's choice to a computer spitting out a preference," said one mother. "That is unsatisfactory for me."

HISD hasn't decided on a centralized system yet. In fact, the district didn't offer any hint of how they'd build it, much to the frustration of the parents gathered. "We cannot give comment or opinion on anything that is ambiguous and vague," said another mother. "To continually ask for feedback is kind of pointless."

Yesterday's meeting was a prelude to Thursday's special meeting at 6 p.m., where the magnet question will continue to go unanswered. What will be divulged at Thursday's meeting, Chief of Staff Michele Pola said, are proposed changes to funding allocations broken down by school.There won't be any voting, but residents can address the board if they submit a registration form by noon tomorrow.

One thing's for sure: Even at the risk of wasting your time, HISD's more than willing to listen to your feedback.

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