HISD adds 11 schools to Apollo 20 program

February 11, 2011 3:06:23 AM PST
The Houston Independent School District Board of Education on Thursday named the next 11 schools that will be part of the Apollo 20 school turn-around initiative.

The schools, all elementaries, are: Blackshear, Davila, Frost, Grimes, Highland Heights, Isaacs, Kelso, Robinson, Scarborough, Tinsley, and Walnut Bend.

The proposal passed on a 5-4 vote, with trustees Paula Harris, Greg Meyers, Manuel Rodriguez Jr., Harvin Moore and Larry Marshall in favor. Trustees Michael Lunceford, Carol Mims Galloway, Juliet Stipeche and Anna Eastman voted against the measure.

The Apollo 20 initiative began in the fall at nine middle schools and high schools, which have implemented a longer school year, longer school days, and intensive tutoring during the school day and on weekends. So far, students at those schools have posted significant gains on math tests used to track their learning. Attendance rates at Apollo schools are up, and suspension rates are down.

Parents of children attending the Apollo 20 schools should be excited about the extra help they'll be getting, Superintendent Terry Grier said in a prepared statement from the school district.

"This is not a way to stigmatize schools. This is a way to offer extra help. All of our children need help," Grier said. "We would want to do this in all of our schools, even the best schools. We're taking kids from where they are and trying to raise them to where they can be."

The Apollo 20 elementary schools will not have a longer school year or a longer school day. But the tutoring and focus on effective teaching that contributed to the early gains at the secondary Apollo 20 schools will be integral parts of the elementary program. The five strategies guiding the Apollo 20 initiative are:

1. Human capital (effective teachers and principals at every school)

2. More instructional time

3. Data-driven instruction

4. Intensive tutoring

5. Culture of high expectations and no excuses

The Board voted to pay for the Apollo 20 elementary program with about $1.6 million in savings from HISD's renegotiated contract with Community Education Partners, the company that operates the district's disciplinary alternative education program. Grier said finding the money to fund the Apollo 20 initiative is critical, even during the state's school funding crisis.

"We can't push a pause button on our children's education during hard financial times," Grier said.

The Board also took action Thursday in preparation for deep cuts in state funding that will likely result in employee layoffs that will include teachers. In an effort to get an early indication of how many full-time employees intend to voluntarily leave HISD at the end of this school year, the board agreed to offer financial incentives to those who are willing to give early notification of their plans. Typically, the majority of such notifications come in May or June.

The program approved by the Board on Thursday offers financial incentives ranging from $500 to $2,500, depending on years of service, to employees who give notice by March 1 of their intent to resign or retire.

The Board also agreed Thursday to locate the new all-female college preparatory academy at the current location of the Contemporary Learning Center (1906 Cleburne). The school will open in the fall for the 2011?2012 school year.

In addition, trustees approved a timeline and schedule for gathering public input regarding the proposed relocation and repurposing of the Contemporary Learning Center from its current site to the H.P. Carter Career Center (1700 Gregg).