HISD OKs plan to rezone Ryan MS students despite NAACP, community opposition

March 7, 2013 7:33:42 PM PST
The Houston Independent School District has approved a plan to rezone students of a historic middle school to another campus despite opposition from leaders of the NAACP and other community members.

During an HISD meeting Thursday night, trustees voted 5-3 to approve the plan to permanently rezone Ryan Middle School's 263 students to Cullen Middle School. As a result of the consolidation, the historic campus will now become The Medical and Health Professions Academy at Ryan Middle School, a district-wide magnet middle school that would allow more students to compete for admission into the highly selective DeBakey High School for the Health Professions.

The district says it has good reasons to consolidate the schools, but many new voices in the community spoke out against the plan before the vote.

Some concerned community members are fired up, saying they fear HISD's consolidation plan is just one step before closing some of this city's historically black public schools.

It's an historic African-American school building some call the education anchor of the Third Ward. But HISD's decision to move Ryan Middle School students nearly four miles away to the Cullen Middle School campus has some people fired up.

"We are not going to allow HISD to come in and destroy this community," said Dr. Carolyn Evan-Shabazz with the NAACP Houston. "Third Ward, South Park, Sunny Side are not for sale. We are proud, proud communities. And we care about our children and their education and it's time now to educate our children in the way that we know they can be educated, and we want them educated in our own communities."

Members of NAACP Houston branch and several concerned community members gathered outside Ryan earlier Thursday, speaking out against the plan to consolidate schools beginning this summer.

"African-Americans should not have to travel outside of their communities in order to be educated," said Dr. James Douglas, NAACP General Counsel.

These community members say they fear the consolidation plan is part of a perceived pattern of closing schools in minority communities. We spoke with HISD's Erica Hilliard about the district's rationale.

"Right now, Ryan has the lowest attendance of all the schools in HISD. There are only 300, a little less than 300 students, right now that attend Ryan," Hilliard told us.

She says HISD believes by consolidating Ryan with Cullen the district would be able to offer more resources and services to students at the combined school.

But opponents see it another way.

"It sends a message that children of these communities cannot get a quality education in their own community," said Rev. Reginald Lillie with the NAACP.

Trustees Rhonda Skillern-Jones, Manuel Rodriguez Jr., and Juliet Stipeche opposed Thursday night's decision. Trustee Paula Harris was not present.

HISD also is planning to permanently consolidate Jones and Sterling high schools and turn the Jones campus into a district-wide Vanguard magnet school for gifted and talented students.

A vote on that part of the plan was postponed Thursday night, but if approved, students from both schools would attend Jones until a rebuilt Sterling High School opens in late 2016 or early 2017. At that point, all students would be rezoned to the new $72.3 million campus. This plan would make both schools operate as a single campus, with all students joining together to compete on the same academic and athletic teams.

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