Thousands of kids head back to school today


HISD is beginning a new year with some new opportunities for students in the state's largest school district. Of the 279 campuses in HISD, four buildings are new this year.

Students saw some changes at existing schools. There are also many new schools in Houston and the surrounding areas.

HISD's Carnegie Vanguard High School, a brand new school, is one of four opening in HISD today. It's called a "Houston Innovative Learning Zone Academy." The HILZ Academies provide students with the opportunity to earn a college associate's degree and career certifications while in high school.

The HILZ academies are also offered at Furr, Kashmere, Long, Sterling and Booker T. Washington High Schools.

For high school students like Phillip Omrow, what he accomplishes in school this year could affect what he does for a living long after he graduates.

"I want to go into business so that I can open my own mechanics shop," said Omrow.

Phillip is one of 32 students out of 700 at Scarborough High School who are enrolled the HILZ Academy. The program allows students to earn an associate's degree, industry certifications and receive college credit, all while attending high school. There are six HISD schools participating in the program with a total of 200 enrolled so far.

"It means that we can have more of an education and where can learn more and get the experience reality of some college experience. And we could also experience the high school life in one program together," he said.

HISD's Superintendant Dr. Terry Grier, says there is value in this program for every student, whether college is in their future or not.

The startup cost was $5 million with 1.5 of that covered by federal funding. Eventually the goal is to enroll 1,200 students at a cost of $135,000 per school each year. But for a student, it is free college-level education, half of it taught by Houston Community College professors online.

"Once they get a degree from here, a high school degree, they'll come back and they'll do two more summer sessions at HCC and they'll have a two year associate's degree," said Dr. Grier.

Each of the six HILZ schools focus on a specific set of job skills from network and computer administration at Scarborough, to pharmacy technology at Long High School. Students can also earn up to 60 hours of college credit.

At least 15 of those hours can transfer into any public university in Texas, helping students to avoid paying four years of tuition.

"I want to graduate and go to A&M and pursue architecture, and this gives me the step forward. Instead of falling back, I can be a step ahead of a normal freshman in college," said student Demi Mitchell.

Other new HISD schools include Lockhart Elementary, Neff Elementary and the Billy Reagan K-8 Education Center, which will feature bilingual English and Spanish language instruction in kindergarten, teaching kids both languages from the start.

HISD currently offers the two-way dual language program at seven elementary schools, two middle schools, one high school and one K-8 Academy. HISD will also launch its first Mandarin Chinese language immersion school.

"To have a foreign language not only gives you an edge when you are applying to college, it gives you an edge when you are applying for a job. It gives you an edge when you are in a job and you are able to communicate. It also makes you smarter," said HISD school board member Harvin Moore.

Aldine, Conroe, Alvin, Tomball, and Klein districts each opened new schools today as well.

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