Back to school today for some HISD students

HOUSTON Most of HISD starts school next week, but for students at nine select schools, it begins today. It's all part of HISD Superintendent Dr. Terry Grier's Apollo 20 program. The program is designed to transform a handful of the district's lower-performing schools. At least 8,000 middle-school and high-school students are starting one week earlier than other HISD students.

Nine schools are involved - Attucks, Dowling, Fondren, Key and Ryan middle schools, as well as Jones, Kashmere, Lee and Sharpstown high schools.

Students at those schools will have a longer day. For them, school begins at 7:45am and ends at 4:15pm. Many of them who are struggling in math will also receive specialized tutoring. According to the plan, the tutors provide what will add up to an extra month and a half of instructional time. And students performing below grade-level in other subjects like reading will get a double dose of that subject.

Flanked by school board members and advisors, HISD Superintendent Dr. Terry Grier made cameos at a handful of his district's historically lowest performing schools.

"It's one thing to have high expectations, it's another thing to demand and live the culture of high expectations," said Dr. Grier.

"Our students need the extra time, and so we're providing it for them because our goal this year is to become an exemplary school," said Kashmere High School Principal Paul A. Hardin.

Last year, only 54 percent of students at Kashmere High School graduated, a figure the principal calls abysmal and unacceptable. Now, through specialized math tutoring and longer school days, they hope to be well on their way to reaching their goal.

"I'm gonna study hard this year," said one student.

"If it helps the kids, then I'm with it 100 percent," said a parent.

Of course, it's hard to convince all teenagers a shorter summer and longer school days are a good thing.

"It's longer and then we have to stay after school longer for football practice and basketball practice, and by the time we go home, it's going to be dark and I don't think that's fair," said a student.

"I'm really not too proud of the idea, but it's going to help me out in the long run, so I'm alright with it," another student said.

However, with the future in mind, parents we spoke to all say they're on board.

"Anything that can help the kids get a better life for themselves, I think is real nice," said a parent.

This is all separate from the federally-mandated tutoring programs that have to take place outside the school day. The hope is to get started on these schools and add 11 elementary schools to the Apollo list for the next school year, bringing the total number of schools in the program to 20.

The rest of HISD's students start school next Monday.

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