HISD principals lead media on tours of campuses on 2012 bond proposal

Lamar and Madison high school principals point out current conditions of facilities

October 16, 2012

High School Principal tours - Images by Web Team

Just as Lamar High School Principal James McSwain was about to lead news media on a tour of his campus Monday morning, the bell rang. Hundreds of students swarmed the hallways making it difficult for the photographers to make their way through the crowds with their equipment.

Seeing them struggle to get video of the hallways, McSwain pointed out one of Lamar’s major challenges with its current facility – crowding.

Lamar High School was originally built in 1937 to accommodate about 10 to 15 students per classroom. Today, the average class size is 25 to 35 students.

"Students are always cramped in the classrooms," said McSwain. "That is not an adequate learning setting for our students or our teachers."

Once the hallways cleared, McSwain led the group to various classrooms, including one of the only two science labs on campus, which serves nearly 900 juniors. As a result, McSwain told HISD Superintendent Terry Grier, the students have to travel to the University of Houston during their winter break to complete the lab time required by Lamar’s rigorous International Baccalaureate program.

Early voting in the HISD bond proposition begins Oct. 22, and Election Day is Nov. 6. If voters approve the measure, Lamar would receive a new $108 million campus that would accommodate the entire student body. The new building would maintain the historic school’s architecturally significant features, including the façade.

"Lamar High School is one of the top-performing schools in Houston. Imagine what these students could accomplish if they had access to proper technology in class and a more suitable learning environment," Dr. Grier said. "We need to provide these students all the resources they need to further thrive."

Unlike many other American urban school districts, HISD’s student enrollment has remained stable for decades.

"Over the past 20 years, HISD has averaged about 205,000 students," said Grier. "We expect our enrollment to continue to grow, so it is imperative that our campuses are prepared for such growth."

The $1.89 billion bond proposition would address the structural and technological needs of 38 schools across the city. The measure also includes $100 million to upgrade technology at all HISD schools.

Just like the classrooms, the Lamar cafeteria was not built to handle the current enrollment of nearly 3,000 students, posing a major challenge during lunch every day. Because the cafeteria can only accommodate 350 students at a time, many have to eat outside or sit on the ground. Each day, maintenance workers have to wash down the outdoor commons area to get rid of the pigeon waste.

Aside from overcrowding problems, McSwain said Lamar also faces challenges with the lack of wireless internet in the classrooms, insufficient parking, and failing cooling and heating systems.

Such problems resonated at Madison High School where Principal Sonja Williams led media on the second campus tour of the day.

Built in 1966, Madison’s five main school buildings and 21 temporary buildings are not sufficient for the school’s growing enrollment. More than a quarter of students attend class in the temporary buildings, some of which are decades old.

Williams showed reporters an office in the school’s main office that is now used to store the campus computer network server, because the school was not built to properly accommodate modern technology. Williams also pointed out the lack of adequate science labs, some of which are housed in temporary buildings with no running water.

In addition, Madison lacks Wi-Fi connectivity throughout the campus, has insufficient parking and is unable to provide proper technology in its classrooms, in particular the career-technology lab. Inside the school auditorium, Williams pointed out that the space is too small and is outdated with broken chairs.

Under the HISD bond proposal, Madison would receive about $82 million to build a new facility that would accommodate 2,100 students.