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19 March 2014 Written by  TaShon D. Thomas

Houston ISD Is Too Big To Educate

48. That’s the number of the 2006 Graduating Class of Middle College for Technology Careers High School, a now defunct Houston ISD magnet program. This was not only the last graduating class for Middle College, now the technology magnet program of Phyllis Wheatley High School, but it was also the graduating class that produced me. At its peak, MCTC boasted more than 300 students, a small high school compared to the now 4000 students packed inside of Lamar High School and nearly 3000 inside of Bellaire High School. In the past few years, Houston ISD has begun the process of closing schools with “low enrollment” and “no possible future of gaining in population”. This course of action has become detrimental to the neighborhood schools that we have called home.

In what had to have been the most tense board meeting in its recent history, HISD Trustees voted to keep Jones High School open as a specialty school and close Dodson Elementary. When I first heard former Council Member Andrew Burks state “Houston ISD is no longer in the education business, they are now in the real estate business!”, I thought he was insane. But since 2003 Houston ISD has closed 31 schools (20 of which have been closed under the watch the current superintendent), and has sold the property of several former schools to charters and private schools. When you have more acres of land for sale than the amount of well-prepared students graduating, then you have a problem. When you have more percentage of central office employees than you have percentage of individual school employees, then you have a problem.

Houston ISD has worried so much about demographic numbers of the district that the central administration has forgotten the reason they exist: to educate the children of Houston and produce productive citizens of the world. You cannot expect a teacher with 30-40 children in his/her classroom to be able to reach every student. Yes it is true that Houston ISD’s graduation rate has increased over the years. But my question is: How many of those students are actually ready to tackle the world? As HISD closes more schools, the number of students “just getting by” will increase and the city of Houston’s future will be at risk. If Houston ISD truly cared about the students, then they would understand that as long as one child attends a school, it should not be closed. Smaller schools and smaller school districts work and I am a true testament of that fact.

Small schools work because the faculty and staff care about the student as a whole not just another number. At MCTC, we were and still are a family. We encouraged each other’s endeavors and sympathized with each other’s losses. Whether it was Ms. LaShawn Porter, the principal, emboldening us to be leaders or Ms. Sylvia Jones and Ms. Yolanda Foster, the counselor and magnet coordinator, ensuring that we took any opportunity that came before us, or Ms. Cheryl Peterson, the English teacher, forcing us to go beyond the norms of society; each student who attended MCTC left better prepared for the world than many of our cohorts.

Small schools work because teachers are able to give students the one on one attention that need. Anyone who knows me knows that I am not as strong in math and science as I am with everything else. In other others, if its not as simple as 2+2, then do not ask for my help. In the small school environment of MCTC, Ms. Rhonda LeDuff, the Biology teacher, was able to use different creative techniques that gave each of us an interest in the environment around us. Mr. Lawrence Steiner, the Algebra teacher, used comedy and props to correlate math to real life. Dr. Robbie Moses, the Economics teacher, gave us the capability to understand the basics of the US stock market. So when it came to the old TAKS test, each student at MCTC was more than prepared to ace the exam. In fact, at this peak the graduation rate was in the mid 90%.  

Smalls schools work because they can focus on other initiatives outside of the normal curriculum. Though my high school was technology magnet, we competed and won several contests throughout the Houston region. For many years, Ms. Bennie Jenkins and Ms. Shawn Wynn-Brown would spend countless hours helping us prepare for our Business Professionals of America competitions. It was because of them that I was able to become a State finalist/winner each year I was in high school. Ms. Bonnie Hill, the 12th grade English teacher brought out the creative side of us. After we would read African American classics such as Raisin in the Sun and Invisible Man, she would make us act them out. In fact, our senior class took 3rd place in a UIL competition with one of our plays. Mr. Kevin McDonald and Mr. Olukunmi Akingbola, not only taught us how to network and build custom computers; they also encouraged us to use that knowledge for good. Many of my colleagues competed in Robotics competitions and even became CISCO and A+ certified.

The success stories that have come from MCTC could be the same success stories from the separation HISD into a smaller school district. Here is my plan of action.   HISD needs to be split into four to five different school districts, which would be no smaller than neighboring Alief ISD (which has 45 schools total) and no larger than Aldine ISD (which has 75 schools total). In a school district that has more than 230 schools, it is impossible for the central administration and the school board to give the attention to each school that they rightfully deserve. Though Aldine and Alief ISDs have their fair share of issues, as does every school district, they can manage their schools much better. Once again I say, small schools and small school districts work.

HISD’s decentralized governance style does not work and has lost touch with the community. We cannot continue to let anymore of our children fall through the cracks because of the district’s lopsided policies and preferences towards affluent neighborhood schools. Creating these new smaller school districts will ensure that every child in the Houston region will receive the education I did at MCTC, as well as have a caring faculty and staff.  

Just remember what I was taught my freshman year of MCTC from Ms. Deborah Yoakum, 9th Grade English Teacher: “Bigger is only better in the bedroom, not the classroom!” #ijs