13 Investigates: Parents worry A-rated school will be 'dismantled' under new HISD system

Friday, September 1, 2023
Parents worry school will be 'dismantled' under new HISD system
Parents at a top-rated Houston ISD school worry they'll lose their edge under superintendent's New Education System.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Whenever Sophie Rojas started fourth grade last year, her mom said she was reading at a grade level several years behind her peers.

After being diagnosed with dyslexia and working with a special teacher throughout the year, Sophie's mom, Jessica Campos, said her daughter was back on track.

Now, Campos says she's worried her daughter might fall behind after her school, Pugh Elementary, was one of 28 campuses designated as a New Education System (NES) school.

Under the system, teachers will have to use a new, standardized curriculum.

"The lessons teachers teach and the pace at which content is delivered will be constructed by the school supports team," according to the Houston Independent School District's website.

But, Campos said she knows her child best and doesn't believe standardized curriculum on a tight timeline will allow her child with dyslexia to succeed.

"(I'm concerned) that maybe someone might not have patience for her and that she'll fall behind. Really my fear is for all the children, to be honest with you. I don't only think about my child. I think about all those kids," Campos told 13 Investigates.

The NES as a model was implemented at the Houston ISD this year to turn around struggling schools.

Superintendent Mike Miles was appointed to be HISD's top leader this summer after a state takeover that was spurred by Wheatley High School receiving failing accountability ratings year after year.

But, it isn't just struggling schools, like Wheatley High, that will follow the new NES model. 13 Investigates went through the state accountability scores for all 28 schools in the program and found the overall rating is 81 out of a 100.

Pugh Elementary has one of the highest scores, with 95 out of 100, leaving parents like Campos confused about why their child's curriculum will also face the overhaul.

"It feels like it's been dismantled and taken apart, and now we don't know what to expect. And when you say that you're going to change our curriculum to a scripted curriculum, it worries me because I have children that have different abilities," Campos said. "I have one that has (attention-deficit/hyperactive disorder) and one that has dyslexia. They don't both learn the same. You can't teach them the same way, and if you're just reading off of a script, I don't think that that's going to capture their attention."

Miles said "feeder" schools, like Pugh Elementary, are a part of the NES system because their students often end up attending the struggling schools.

"Doing something to 'fix' a school is kind of fleeting and not sustainable if you do not address some of the feeder schools, so we did it by feeder pattern. Yes, there were some A and B schools in those feeder patterns, but in any case, the NES program is going to improve the instruction and the outcomes, even for those A- and B-rated schools," Miles said at a news conference ahead of the first day of school.

Houston ISD initially told us it didn't have time to do an interview with us about the concerns Pugh Elementary parents have reached out to us about.

Officials told 13 Investigates the district's "primary focus is on ensuring a successful start to the upcoming school year, which includes significant changes in our district's plan accompanied by a period of adjustment" and to "please feel free to reconnect with us in September. By that time, we will have navigated through the initial phase of our initiatives and may be in a better position to discuss the feasibility of coordinating an interview."

So, we asked our questions at a news conference last Friday.

"I get it. It is different. It's not a tweak. I've said that, too - wholescale reform and all that. I've used that word, and to be fair to people, it's hard to understand what you mean by wholescale reform and systemic change and things like that, so my word to the parents are these, 'Look, it'll be OK. At the end of the day, your child is going to go to school. They're going to have an effective teacher,'" Miles said. "For a child, it won't look much different."

Maria Morales, whose daughter Sophia is also dyslexic and attends Pugh Elementary, said it's been emotional to watch her daughter struggle to read and work with her teachers to build her confidence in school. Now, she said she fears all of her daughter's hard work will be lost this year.

"My concerns will be how is (she) going to struggle maybe, because I'm not sure how the teacher is going to be now," she said.

At Houston ISD, students do not have to live in a specific school zone to attend a particular school, so although Campos said she could pull her daughter out of Pugh, she said it's not something she wants to do.

"I like the community. I love my community," Campos said. "Before I moved to Denver Harbor, I heard so many bad things about it, but financially, it was the only area that I could afford, so I moved my family here and I love my neighbors. I have a lot of elderly people that live around me. We all are in the same boat, so we take care of each other."

But, Campos said, before the school year even started, her daughter, Sophie, already started asking if she can go to another school.

Sophie said she started fifth year nervous about meeting new teachers and is worried her teachers this year won't have the same talent as the one who showed her techniques to help her read efficiently.

"I don't think I'm going to have a teacher like that because no one's like him," 10-year-old Sophie said. "He helped me read a lot and he would always come to my class to help me read and do math and sometimes he helped me really much. He even gave me snacks while I was doing my stuff."

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