Plan to help struggling schools in HISD

January 21, 2011 3:35:43 PM PST
Even as Texas schools consider major cuts because of the state budget shortfall, the Houston Independent School District is going ahead with its Apollo 20 program aimed to reform under-performing schools and students. But not everyone on the list believes they should be there. Some parents question if Apollo 20 will work in their school.

"I don't think so," said parent Mike Beasley. "I don't think my son gets enough work and I don't hear enough from the teachers. My son doesn't bring home hardly any homework."

HISD released the list of 11 elementary schools proposed for the Apollo 20 program. They are Blackshear, Davila, Frost, Grimes, Highland Heights, Isaacs, Kelso, Robinson, Scarborough, Tinsley and Walnut Bend. They are added to the list announced earlier this year including Jones, Kashmere, Lee and Sharpstown high schools and Attucks, Dowling, Fondren, Key and Ryan middle schools.

"You need to do something with your struggling schools," said HISD Chief Elementary School Officer Sam Sarabia. "It's unconscionable for us to not do something. So what we're looking at is if these are the schools that are struggling, what assistance can we provide them with."

The Apollo 20 program is unique to HISD, the brainchild of Superintendent Dr. Terry Grier. At the elementary level, the Apollo 20 schools will receive a different approach than the middle and high schools. HISD says there will not be an extended year and longer school days will be an option left up to individual principals. However, elementary schools will get increased tutoring for struggling students.

One parent at Walnut Bend Elementary remains skeptical. She questions if Walnut Bend needs to be on the list.

"I think frankly the statistics don't tell the whole story," said parent Karen Wallace. "There has been an enormous improvement at our school this past couple of years."

The Apollo 20 program is funded in part by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. It pays top performing teachers to transfer to the Apollo 20 schools.

The program calls for an extended school calendar, starting a week before other schools. Also, each school day is longer, starting at 7:30am and ending at 4:30pm, Monday through Thursday, and ending at 3:30pm on Fridays. Math tutoring is available for part of the school day for all sixth and ninth graders.