Does the physical condition of a school building affect student learning?
Yes. Recent research by the Environmental Protection Agency suggests that a school's physical environment can play a major role in academic performance. Leaky roofs and problems with heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems can trigger a host of health problems — including asthma and allergies — that increase absenteeism and reduce academic performance. Research links key environmental factors to health outcomes and students' ability to perform.
Some of the individual schools HISD is rebuilding or renovating would have capacity for more students than their current enrollment. Why is that?
In HISD, parents have a wide range of options when the time comes to choose a school for their children to attend. This makes it more difficult to predict future enrollment for schools in HISD than in other school districts.
However, history tells us that when HISD opens new schools, the neighborhoods they serve tend to embrace those schools. This is especially true when these schools offer rigorous instruction, quality teachers and strong campus leadership. The last two new comprehensive high schools that HISD opened – Chavez and Westside – are full with more than 2,600 students each. Reagan High School, which was fully rebuilt in 2007 with a capacity for 1,781 students, now enrolls 2,000 students. The number of students transferring into Reagan (about 950) is triple the number of students transferring out of the school.
Are all schools being rebuilt to their current capacity?
No. Many of the schools that HISD will rebuild under the 2012 bond program wil be rebuilt with lower capacity than their current campuses. These decisions were based largely on multi-year enrollment trends. For instance, the present Yates High School was built to accommodate 2,325 students. Because the Yates student body is not projected to return to that size, the proposed new building would hold a maximum 1,500 students. Other schools that have outgrown their current capacity will be rebuilt larger. For example, Bellaire and Lamar high schools will be built at a capacity for 3,100 students each. Their current buildings were built to accommodate 2,606 and 2,194 students, respectively.
What are the enrollment trends in HISD?
HISD's overall student enrollment has remained relatively constant for 20 years. In the 1991-1992 school year, HISD's enrollment was 197,413 students. In 2011-2012, HISD had 203,066 students. Unlike many urban school districts in America, HISD's overall enrollment is not declining.
What is HISD doing to raise the level of academic achievement for all students?
To address the need to raise the level of academic rigor in all schools, HISD worked with the community in 2010 to devise a Strategic Direction that drives every initiative happening in the district. The five Core Initiatives of HISD's Strategic Direction are:
- An effective teacher in every classroom
- An effective principal in every school
- Rigorous instructional standards and supports
- Data-driven accountability
- A culture of trust through action
Under the Board of Education's direction, HISD has taken aggressive measures to raise the level of academic rigor at all schools across the city. These actions include:
- Implementing new appraisal and development systems for principals and teachers that, for the first time, use student academic achievement as a significant factor.
- Requiring that all HISD high schools offer a broad range of college-level Advanced Placement (AP) courses. The district also covers the cost for students who take AP exams that help them earn college credit.
- Opening Grad Labs at all HISD high schools where students who are in danger of dropping out take computer-based courses to catch up academically.
- Launching modern career and technical education programs in partnership with Houston Community College at six HISD schools – Furr, Kashmere, Booker T. Washington, Sterling, Scarborough and Long. Graduates of these programs will leave high school with associate's degrees and valuable professional certifications to help them land high-paying jobs.
- Partnering with teachers to overhaul the district's academic curriculum to help students meet tougher standards.
- Unveiling the nation's most ambitious school-turnaround program that aims to transform 20 of the district's struggling schools. Using research-based methods that have proven to be successful at America's best charter schools, HISD's Apollo 20 schools offer increased instructional time, intensive tutoring, and most importantly, strong teachers and principals.
Are these academic initiatives working?
There are many encouraging signs of the progress being made by Houston students. Among them:
- HISD's graduation rate has increased for four consecutive years, while the dropout rate has declined for four consecutive years.
- HISD schools are retaining 92 percent of highly rated teachers each year, compared to 45 percent of low-performing teachers.
- The number of college-level Advanced Placement exams passed by HISD students has increased 45 percent since 2009.
- The total value of scholarships offered to HISD graduates in 2012 topped $180 million, compared with $51 million in 2009.
- Students in Apollo 20 schools, previously our lowest performing schools, are catching up with their peers in other HISD schools.
- This year, HISD is the only school district in Texas to be named among the four national finalists for the Broad Prize for Urban Education. This is the most prestigious honor in education, recognizing school districts that make the most progress toward raising academic achievement for all students.
Is HISD building environmentally responsible facilities?
As with the 2007 bond program, all new schools in the 2012 program will be designed to meet Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building standards. These facilities will be energy efficient and environmentally responsible, resulting in lower operating costs for the district.
Will classes still be held at those schools being renovated or rebuilt?
Administrators, in conjunction with each school's Project Advisory Team, will look at the best ways to phase construction to ensure student learning is not disrupted during the construction phase. In some cases, students may be relocated to other district-owned facilities during the construction work. In addition, the district plans to eliminate/limit the use of temporary buildings for swing space needs during construction. The cost of providing short-term temporary buildings can be better spent to improve our school facilities.