HISD's Very Own Blackboard Jungle

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Fondren Middle School is "a blackboard jungle. The efforts that are required there are Herculean...The kids at Fondren have to learn how to come to school and where the school is located."

Trustee Larry Marshall, not known for mincing words when he considers something unacceptable (famous Larry Marshall mantra heard at most board meetings: "Unacceptable is unacceptable,") did not deviate from form at this morning's Houston ISD board workshop as he weighed in once again about what should be done with troubled schools in the district.

Marshall is not at all sure that the administration's proposed approach to seek $12 million in federal grant money from the Department of Education is going to be the cure-all for certain district schools, As regards poor-performing Fondren, which will be transformed into an International Baccalaureate school by the 2011-12 school year, Marshall added that if the IB approach doesn't work, "special treatment is still needed there."

As for the plan to transform Garden Oaks Elementary from a neighborhood school with both traditional and Montessori classes, Marshall isn't buying, calling it an unnecessary "destabilization" of a community.

Other board members including Anna Eastman, whose district includes Garden Oaks, said that while she understands why some parents are upset but that the Montessori classes have operated there for 16 years with no extra money from the district and have survived, prospered and have a waiting list that includes students in traditional classes at the school. Meanwhile, other nearby elementaries are not full, she said. (Oak Forest is the lone exception).

In a bow to the protests by parents who don't want Garden Oaks to go all Montessori, the administration is now planning to delay implementation for a year. Traditional students would still be able to enroll for kindergarten classes there in fall 2010 and there would be a six-year transition period. The cost of the program is estimated at $2.4 million, some of it for the specialized furniture Montessori classes require.

Garden Oaks is the only one of the schools in the federal grant application whose plans would come to a halt if federal grant money doesn't arrive. The others will use already allocated magnet school money from the state or in the case of Jones and Fondren, turnaround money for failing schools.

Fondren's costs are estimated at $2.1 million; 2010-11 would be a planning year, with the changeover starting in fall 2011.

The administration proposes to spend $2.4 million on failing Jones High School to turn it into a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics magnet school starting in fall 2010. Most of the costs are to outfit the school with computer and science labs and teacher training..

It will cost $2.2 million at Dodson to absorb the Montessori program at Whidby. Traditional students at Dodson will be allowed an extended transition. Whidby Elementary will become a heath science magnet at a cost of $2 million. Both schools are already magnet schools.

Superintendent Terry Grier pointed out there will also be additional transportation costs that may or may not be offset with federal funds.

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