High school once called "drop-out" factory awarded $10M grant

HOUSTON (KTRK) -- Furr High School was once called the "drop-out factory" -- a high school where many students' only goal was to survive and make it out alive.

Now, 15 years later after taking over, the principal of Furr High School, Bertie Simmons said the graduation rate is more than 90 percent. Last month, the school won a national $10 million grant.

"Nobody ever thought that this school, that this school, would be a winner," said Dr. Bertie Simmons, Furr High School principal.

Dr. Simmons still can't believe her school beat nearly 700 others nationwide for a $10 million grant. Part of the XQ: The Super School Project.

"That's a lot of money," she said.

She said it started off as wishful thinking but as she wrote her proposal, her kids and their future were in the back of her mind.

"I want to be a doctor," said Jamarus Johnson, a student.

"(I want to) be a mechanical engineer," said Stephan Morris, student

Those dreams are goals, the principal said, were non-existent at Furr High School about 15 years ago.

"It was so much violence and it was called a drop-out factory," she said.

She found herself out of retirement, and back in school, surrounded by gangs.

"And (the kids told me), 'Miss, nobody cares about this school'," she said.

In their eyes, Simmons was the first person to truly care.

"Every single day she inspires me to do good stuff," said Ivan Hernandez, a freshman.

Now with this $10 million grant, she's getting the chance of a lifetime.

"What we wanted to do was not just meet the needs of the bright kids, but every kid in this school," she said.

Part of her goals: Improve technology at the school, such as purchasing iPads, develop a community center with a computer lab and a clinic for students and families to have access to use, and also establish a radio station where students in communication can get true hands-on training.

"We're determined that were are going to turn education around," said Simmons.

And at 82 years young, Simmons said she doesn't plan on going back into retirement any time soon.

When I'm not making a difference, I'm going to quit," she said.

The school will receive $2 million every year for five years to carry out their future school project goals.
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