HISD Trustee Manuel Rodriguez Sends Out Letter Defending CEP

Houston ISD board member Manuel Rodriguez has sent out "an open letter to the Taxpayers of HISD" in which he defends the private firm Community Education Partners' operation of its two alternative schools in Houston.

HISD Superintendent Terry Grier has proposed ending the contract

with CEP, saying it costs the district far too much money and there are other options that would make more sense.

When Grier discussed this at a March 8 board meeting, Hair Balls noted a distinct lack of amens from the trustees. At that meeting, Rodriguez questioned Grier's proposal of a "swap system" in which some students who run afoul of school rules will be moved to another district school and given a second chance there.

In his letter, Rodriguez takes issue with anyone calling CEP a reform school and calls it "quite effective" in educating students. He also argues that to talk about discontinuing the program before an independent investigation of CEP is completed and its results reported back to the board, is putting "the proverbial cart before the horse." He also argues that the investigation will find that CEP is the best route to take.

Here's the letter:

The Honorable Manuel Rodriguez, Jr.
HISD Trustee, District III

"They have it wrong" was my first thought after reading the Houston Chronicle editorial, "CEP and other options." CEP is anything but a "reform school setting with inferior educational instruction."

Two important things to note when considering what was written:

A visit to CEP's Ferndale School will quickly dispel the notion that it is a reform school setting. It is a structured, positive educational environment where students are attending school more often than in their home school and are on task. The "reform setting" comment negatively strikes at the students HISD sends to CEP rather than credibly painting a picture of what one finds at CEP, and I find that offensive. The Texas Public Policy Foundation published a highly critical review of Texas school disciplinary and juvenile justice programs in 2006, and CEP was the only program cited in the report as a "DAEP that works."

Everything I have seen and heard about CEP's ability to educate students, most of whom were failing at their home schools when referred to CEP, has been positive. To suggest that they deliver "inferior educational instruction" is a misguided characterization and, until the promised evaluation is completed and suggests otherwise, is wrong.

Promised Evaluation of the CEP Program
In the Opinion, it is stated that Superintendent Grier is asking the Trustees to "effectively discontinue...its contract with Community Education Partners." To do this would put the proverbial cart before the horse. Why? Because the Trustees agreed that nothing regarding CEP would be considered until the evaluation of their Program was done by a third party evaluator. This still has not been done; therefore, no other options should be considered until the evaluation reveals the effectiveness of the CEP Program.

The Opinion wrongly lauds the idea of a "swapping program," where problem students would be sent to another campus in the hope that a school move would be better for the student. Such a program has failed here and in other urban school districts before and, if replicated in any form, will send more vulnerable students to the street as dropouts.

We wrongly condemn teachers and administrators by suggesting that they cannot control their students, and that they are too quick to refer them elsewhere for minor infractions. Last school year, there were 100,200 student incidents reported in HISD schools. Only 2,900 of these HISD students who committed these offenses were referred to CEP. On average, students referred had seven Code of Student Conduct violations, two in-school suspensions and one out-of-school suspension prior to a CEP referral. We must acknowledge the negative impact these students have on school safety and student learning. We must do what is best for the total population of students and teachers, insuring the best learning environment for all.

The District cannot experiment with the educational process for all students at the expense of students who have proven that they will not change or improve their personal behavior.

It is time to take a step back, let the promised evaluation of the HISD-CEP Program be completed, and then consider the best options for the future of our students. I believe the facts will speak for themselves and we will find our best option is the one we have now.

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