2018 State of the Schools

Superintendent Richard Carranza

 

(Student + Robot introduce Superintendent)

Talk about techno-LOGIC! That’s right, it’s not just about technology, but about the logic behind the creation of this robot. See, this NOW robot and all its fancy dance moves were coded by these two talented tenth-graders from the Young Women’s College Preparatory Academy. Let’s give them, and their robot—the modern R2-D2—another round of applause. Now if they could only code humans, many of us, especially me, would be able to keep up on the dance floor. Ladies and gentlemen, that’s what the Houston Independent School District is all about: INNOVATION. This robot and the ones that you saw in the lobby were all coded uniquely by our students. As we REIMAGINE the possibilities of education through hands-on learning inside our classrooms, our students are already developing the skills they need to succeed in the 21st-century workforce.

The theme of today’s event is REBUILD AND REIMAGINE. Not only are we REBUILDING from Hurricane Harvey, but we are pausing at this unique time to really rethink and REIMAGINE the way that we educate our students and the extent to which we provide innovative opportunities for them. I was blown away when I walked in the foyer and saw how much originality we have in HISD… at such an early age. Did you see what’s going on at Hartsfield Elementary? Students combined their training with their imaginations and used a 3D printer to create a wheelchair cart for Maya, a dog who could not use her hind legs. How about the students from M.C. Williams Middle School? They used similar techniques to 3D print a prosthetic arm for Anderson Accord, a sixth-grade student at the Mandarin Immersion Magnet School. Every few months, students from both schools adjust the prosthesis to make sure it provides the maximum benefit to Anderson as he grows. How’s that for applied science?

These are kids who are developing and using their skills in science, engineering, and design to make the world a better place. That’s a lesson we can all learn. And it’s something we can all support and get behind to make sure ALL students at ALL our schools are exposed to innovative programs and hands-on learning. That’s why your donation today to the HISD Foundation is so important. It will go directly to the Foundation’s Innovation Fund to provide grants for teachers and schools to purchase equipment, supplies, and other items to enhance teaching and learning in the classroom. There is still time to give today. In fact, let’s see what we are up to.

(check the thermometer)

There is still time to give folks. Click on the text that was sent to you when you arrived today and follow the prompts. Our goal today is $100,000. A special thanks to Chevron, our presenting partner, for coming through every year and to BP for donating $30,000 to the Innovation Fund. Your generous donation to the HISD Foundation Innovation Fund will directly benefit our teachers and schools. In fact, the funds raised at our luncheon last year are now in the hands of our teachers, who are using them for projects and learning like you saw in the foyer area outside the ballroom. Earlier this month, we searched through hundreds of applications from teachers and schools who submitted proposals to the Innovation Fund. Let me tell you, it was tough to pick the winners, but we did, and all of them have been notified. All of them, except the two President Skillern-Jones announced before lunch. And, SURPRISE, we have one more! We saved it so I could make the big announcement!

So are we ready?! This campus is getting a $20,000 check to purchase supplies, equipment, and all the materials needed to fund a digital storytelling project that not only will help students improve their literacy and communications skills, but will allow them to share their stories.

Stories of where they came from, their challenges, where they want to go, and how we at HISD are helping them realize their dreams.

It’s called the Sharpstown Storytelling project, and the winner of a $20,000 HISD Innovation Grant is of course Sharpstown High School! Congratulations!

This was all made possible because of generous donations to the HISD Foundation’s Innovation Fund. So, if you haven’t done so already, get out your phone and GIVE so we can surprise more schools and teachers, but more importantly, so we can ensure all of our students are experiencing cutting-edge innovation in the classroom.

Before I continue bragging about all the amazing things happening at HISD, please join me in thanking the Trustees of the HISD Board of Education for their invaluable time, contributions and love for our students. I meet with them on a regular basis, and I can tell you that they spend countless hours working on behalf of our students and teachers. That is true leadership and commitment. Special thanks to Trustee Wanda Adams for her instrumental leadership as President of the Board in 2017. Stepping into her shoes is Madam President Rhonda Skillern-Jones. She is someone who knows the district inside and out, and we are fortunate to have her lead the way. I also want to welcome our new trustees Sue Deigaard, Elizabeth Santos, and Sergio Lira, who along with trustees Jolanda Jones, Anne Sung, Holly Flynn Vilaseca, and Diana Davila, are devoted to making sure that all of our children receive the high-quality education they deserve.

Lastly, I want to thank our teachers and principals for the lifelong lessons and the difference they make in children’s lives every single day. Joining us today are the principals from our 284 schools along with their campus 2017 Teacher of the Year or administrator. Would our teachers and principals please stand to be recognized for your service?

Now, you might be reading or hearing that there’s no possible way for us to be successful in the face of our challenges, but I have seen firsthand the strong spirit of the Houston community, and I know that we can live up to the promise of EQUITY. These teachers in the room, along with their colleagues, serve 214,000 students, out of which 76 percent are economically disadvantaged. We have students dealing with intergenerational poverty and a vast array of issues that affect their focus in the classroom. Some of them are homeless, suffer from addictions or have parents who are incarcerated. Some of them have nothing to eat at home, and the only meals they have each day are in school. That, my friends, is REAL LIFE for many of our kids, and that’s why we have a commitment to educate the WHOLE child. Every day, through our in-house Nutrition Services Department, we serve 265,000 meals to our students, providing breakfast, lunch and now, even dinner. Just last year, we served more than 44 million meals to our students, including during the summer months. We want our children to focus in school and not go hungry.

As part of that commitment to educate the WHOLE child, we are REIMAGINING how we support our students outside the classroom and expanding services such as housing, food, or healthcare. Students who might feel lost at school because they don’t speak the language or are going through tough times now have the help of WRAPAROUND SERVICES COORDINATORS like WASHMA ISAQ-ZOV. She is in the business of saving lives at Wisdom High School. One day, you might see her distributing Metro passes to students whose families have no transportation, and later, you might see her meeting with a lawyer to help a family avoid deportation. During the recent ice storm, WASHMA was scrambling to find warm clothes for her students and families. She is part of HISD’s Every Community Every School initiative, which has taken root at 50 schools to address the non-academic challenges that hinder a student’s ability to learn. The truth is, we can never have enough WASHMAS. You might have seen her story on one of the cards that’s in front of you, like the one I’m holding. If you haven’t, how about you watch it with me. It’s pretty neat technology: You hover your smartphone over the image and the video shows. Let’s see how it works. Take a look at our screens.

(Story shows on screen)

Oh, and by the way, we also got this idea from our students – they are working with augmented reality in our classrooms.

Last year, I was standing on this same stage during my first State of the Schools, and I made a promise to support ARTS education. Today, I am proud to announce that our new K-12 Fine Arts Department has been creating a fine arts master plan to ensure that all students can develop emotionally and socially through the arts. This upcoming school year, we plan to expand our arts programs to ALL elementary schools. We as a district want to nurture the passion for the arts in all our students to improve academics and promote better attendance, and just like with coding, the arts helps our students develop a nonverbal language that makes them more effective communicators. Look at me. I am a musician, a passionate mariachi singer, and as my wife will tell you, I can talk for hours. No need to worry today — I plan to finish up before dessert.

One of our goals as a district is to ensure that our students are prepared for higher education and industry certification. With your help, we can continue to achieve that goal. We want to multiply our partnerships with business and industry leaders to expose students to different careers while they are still in high school. Through our College and Career Readiness Department and our partnerships with community colleges, MORE students are taking college-level classes while they’re still in school. In fact, students at HISD can graduate high school with an associate’s degree, free of charge, saving their families thousands of dollars. We saw a 9 percent increase in the number of students passing Advanced Placement exams, to 9,513 in 2017 from 8,765 in 2016. That means our students earned an estimated 28,539 college credits, which saved Houston students and families over $9 million in tuition. Last year, our students received $388 million dollars just in scholarships.

In order to create modern scholars for today’s modern world, we have to provide a modern learning environment. That’s why HISD is REIMAGINING how schools and classrooms are designed. Thanks to the 2012 Bond Program — and all of you who supported it — we have new schools that are bright, open and modern. They feature lots of natural light and open, flexible spaces that foster project-based learning and collaboration among students — just the skills you need to be successful in college and the workforce. We’re halfway through the 2012 Bond Program right now. That means half of all projects have been completed and opened to students. That’s a major milestone for us. We’ve opened 13 schools since September, and we’re on track to finish almost 20 more by the end of 2018. But that’s not enough for us. We believe every child in this district should have access to modern, state-of-the-art, 21st-century spaces. That’s why we’re developing a 20-year capital campaign that outlines all school and facility replacements and district needs. This will be key as we plan ahead for anticipated needs – long before we need them. We are using a strong facility assessment and student growth data – not politics and loud voices – to determine where new schools are built and when old schools are replaced. The campaign will include a call for a series of four thoughtful and carefully planned bond referendums over the next two decades. We aren’t announcing a bond just yet. But I want to be transparent and tell you that we are, in fact, already thinking about our future needs and actively developing a plan to meet them. With your help, we will reinvest in students and communities all across this district. And we will all be better for it.

Now, in case you would haven’t visited one of our bond schools, we provided 3D reality goggles in the lobby that can take you inside our schools. If you didn’t get a chance to use them, how about we take a look together?

(Richard puts on goggles) (Video shown on screen)

WOW!! We didn’t have that when I was in school. I feel like going back to school.

Another amazing feature of our bond schools is that they sustained little to no damage during Hurricane Harvey, which proves that these schools are built to last.

Unfortunately, though, many of our schools did suffer significant damage, and Harvey left many of us in this room literally under water. Our schools flooded, many of our teachers and staff lost their homes, and in a matter of seconds, hundreds of our students and their families saw water engulf everything they own. We worked diligently and were able to open our schools as soon as possible. But seven of our campuses were destroyed beyond repair, and we had to think INNOVATIVELY to find ways to continue serving our students. We want to thank the Houston community for coming together and lending a helping hand. The HISD Foundation raised $13 million dollars in Harvey relief, and those funds were used to support our teachers with supplies, provide resources to schools, and replace lost equipment. Special thanks to Aramco for their generosity in making a significant investment in our seven displaced campuses to support purchasing technology and providing funds to rebuild libraries and playgrounds, provide after-school tutorials, and replace instruments. Representatives from Aramco are with us today – please stand. Thank you for your support. We were also able to award $180,000 dollars in grants for teachers to rebuild their classrooms after Harvey. We awarded 140 teachers up to $1,500 in grants to replace what was lost in the storm.

After previous hurricanes, like Rita and Ike, impacted school districts were given an almost immediate REPRIEVE by the Texas Education Agency from state accountability standards. Here we are, after the worst natural disaster in Houston’s history, and there is NO reprieve in site, despite the emotional trauma our students, staff, and families haven been through and continue to deal with. We, along with other school districts, have requested a “pause” in accountability for one year, so our families can regroup and recover. However, we are about to enter STAAR testing next month with NO clear picture of the standards we are aiming for, let alone a pause. We are walking in the DARK.

In addition, Harvey has left us in a financial storm that, when coupled with the consequences of RECAPTURE, add up to a $208 million deficit for the 2018-19 school year.

This year, we’re going to have to write an estimated $260 million check to the state of Texas because of RECAPTURE. As we all know, we depend on property taxes to fund education, and even though almost 80 percent of our students are economically disadvantaged, Houston is considered property-wealthy and must give money, lots of it, to the state. In fact, Texas collects $5 billion a year from recapture districts. Ironically, if we did not have a recapture payment and the state of Texas would step up to its constitutionally required duty to properly fund public education, we could eliminate the deficit at HISD and have additional funds to provide resources for our students in the communities that need it most.

It’s not a secret that the funding system for public education in Texas is broken, and we urgently need a REFORM. Even the Texas Supreme Court has ruled that it’s barely constitutional, urging lawmakers to implement real reforms that amount to more than a Band-Aid. The last time the state of Texas updated its school funding system, Ronald Reagan was president of the United States. That was 1984, and a lot has changed since 1984. Our students are growing up in the Digital Age, and they need the resources to keep pace. It's going to take all of us working together to help advocate for a funding system that can benefit our children. I call on every single one of you – teachers, principals, business and community partners, education advocates, parents, students, and everyone who cares for the future of our children – to join me. Let’s flood the halls of Austin and put pressure on state lawmakers to help us fix the antiquated funding system for public education. Legislators reconvene next year, but we have a lot of work ahead of us, so we must start now. We need a school finance system that will reflect the needs of today’s students and does not so heavily rely on local property taxes to fund the schools. We continue to do more with less because the state does not give school districts its fair share toward public education. We have lawmakers in the room right now who want to fix this, and we urge them to support a system that provides a better education for our children in the 21st century.

On top of a broken school finance system, we are still in the process of REBUILDING from Hurricane Harvey, which had a financial impact on our district of $70 million dollars. From experience, we know that the last time we faced a hurricane, which was Hurricane Ike in 2008, our enrollment declined tremendously because many families could not rebuild. Likewise, we may see a significant decrease in student enrollment this coming school year, which will mean a decrease in state funding. We also anticipate Harvey will have a significant impact on the city’s property values, and we project a 3 to 5 percent decrease, which translates to millions of dollars in funds lost for HISD.

But even in an austere budget environment, we must NOT lose sight of our obligation to educate the whole child and provide the essential services they need to be successful. We are ALWAYS going to be on the side of children. We currently have some schools that have struggled to meet the basic needs of their students and cannot afford essential positions, like a nurse. Some small schools, which are literally right next to refineries and the Ship Channel, where asthma is not an uncommon challenge that our students face, share nurses under the current funding model. That is NOT acceptable but, unfortunately, inequity still exists in Houston’s schools. We are determined to change that. Our vision is to shift to a staffing funding model in the upcoming school year and ensure that every school, regardless of its size, has the ability to provide services and, at the same time, every principal continues to have the flexibility to innovate at their campus. We are working closely with our school leaders in REBUILDING what the model will look like to provide all schools equitable access as we REIMAGINE innovation in the classroom.

HISD is one of the largest employers in the area. In fact, we have 31,000 employees with 214,000 direct constituents – our students – and half a million indirect constituents – moms, dads, aunts, neighbors, friends, and volunteers. By the way, those 214,000 students will soon be your workforce. So, let’s talk about how we can work together to build some academies so we’re infusing the kind of skills and innovation that you want when we graduate those students. Your partnership now is crucial because together, we are educating the future economic engine of our community. In the face of a more than $200 million deficit and without the investment of people like you, innovative programs will not be available for our students, and that is NOT fair for our future workforce.

This past year, we launched our action plan to transform our historically underserved campuses. We called it ACHIEVE 180. We have been providing extra support and resources to improve academic achievement in these schools. However, we have 10 HISD campuses that have struggled academically for four or more years and are at risk of being closed. According to state law, if any school is designated by the TEA as “improvement required” for the fourth year or more, and it does not meet state standards by August of this year, the state can close the school or they can come in and appoint a board of managers to run the school district. I will NOT allow for our schools in our historically underserved neighborhoods to be closed. An appointment of a board of managers, who by the way will most likely NOT live in our city and will NOT understand the unique needs of Houston and the urban core of poverty that exists here, is NOT the solution. Taking over our board and appointing a board of managers would affect ALL schools at HISD, not just those 10 who are improvement required and are at risk of being closed. We need to control the destiny of ALL of our schools, and particularly those that have struggled for far too long and that, frankly, WE have failed for far too long. That’s why we as a district have been exploring options for these campuses that could prevent their closure. Senate Bill 1882 gives us a few options. One allows us to partner with an outside organization like a nonprofit or a college or university. Another option is what I call a “restart” or “rebooting” of a campus. We essentially would end the 2017-2018 school year and restart the campus the coming school year with limited grades. We are still considering the options. We want our communities from those historically underserved schools to know this:

We hear YOUR VOICE.

We hear your PAIN.

We hear YOUR STRUGGLES.

We, too, share the same vision: Provide what’s best for these schools and the communities surrounding them. We want the community to CONTROL THE DESTINY of these schools, not the Texas Education Agency.

As we strive to ensure that all students have equitable access to programs, resources, and even staff at every school, we MUST take that same EQUITY LENS and apply it to district programs. And that includes our district’s magnet programs. Last June, the HISD Board charged me and the district to take a hard look at our system of school choice and magnets. And we did. A committee of principals, parents, higher education, community agencies, and other stakeholders took a comprehensive look at how we create magnets, how we fund magnets, and how we determine if a magnet is successful. They asked hard and probing questions like, “Why do some of our magnets look nothing like the ethnic makeup of our district or city?” The committee made several recommendations, and you may have heard about them. Though what you heard may not be the complete story. Right now, these are just recommendations. Nothing is final. I will, however, tell you that much of what they reported back to me and my staff does not surprise me. Our magnet and school choice program as it exists right now has INEQUITIES.

It has inequities in funding.

It has inequities in staffing.

It has inequities in where our top programs are located.

Now, I understand that this can be a very personal and passionate issue for many of our parents, especially when it comes to their child.  And I get emotional as well when I talk about it. If I know one thing about our parents, and being a parent myself, it’s that ALL parents want the best for their children. Wouldn’t you agree? But as the Superintendent of HISD, I have 214,000 children, and they ALL deserve the best. No matter what part of Houston they live in, they deserve access to quality school choice programs at HISD. And they shouldn’t have to get on a school bus and travel across the city to find a quality fine arts, STEM, or other choice program. They should have one in their OWN neighborhood. Friends, as we try to find solutions to these challenges, our goal is not to take anything from one magnet program to pay for another. Our goal IS to improve EQUITY and access to our stellar magnet programs and to create a magnet system that works for students in EVERY corner of the district, regardless of socioeconomic status. Unfortunately, when you bring up the topic of equity, it can make people uncomfortable. But we have to get uncomfortable. We have to serve ALL of our students. Not just your child, or your friend’s child, or your grandchild. ALL CHILDREN! Our city’s future and workforce depend on ensuring ALL of OUR students have access to quality programs and resources that prepare them for success.

We are only weeks away from the March 5 deadline when work permits will begin to expire for young immigrants under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, DACA. At HISD, many of our students and teachers are DREAMERS, and I want to say to you, OWN YOUR STORY and BE PROUD of it. As long as I’m your superintendent and as long as you’re a student of the Houston Independent School District, we will do anything we need to make sure you have the opportunities to be successful. It does not matter where you were born – we support ALL of our students, regardless of their immigration status. We stand with YOU, and we are advocating for YOU on the state and national level. OWN YOUR STORY and BE PROUD. We, at HISD, are PROUD of you. A nuestros jovenes sonadores les quiero decir: SIGUE SONANDO y NO te des por vencido. Cuenta TU historia. En HISD, seguiremos apoyandote y ayudandote a lograr tus suenos.

Join me, and together, let’s control our destiny. Let’s unite to save our schools. Let’s use a lens of equity to provide a quality education to all children regardless of where they live, their legal status, or their livelihood. We are confident that with your support and contributions, we will be able to ensure that our students can still get a rigorous, innovative education that will prepare them for success in Houston and beyond. Our students need you, and our city needs you. Together, let’s REBUILD and REIMAGINE the future of HISD because we are BUILDING Houston’s future, RIGHT NOW.