End-of-Year Message from the Superintendent of Schools

June 03, 2011
Title Image of Superintendent of Schools Terry Grier  

When the final bell rings on the 2010–2011 school year, it will mark the completion of what was, by almost every measure, a great year for the students, parents, teachers, administrators, and everyone else on Team HISD. So, as our students and teachers head out the school building doors for a much-deserved summer vacation, I'd like to take the opportunity to thank them and the entire Houston community for bringing the Houston Independent School District significantly closer to achieving our ambitious, and attainable, goal of making this the best school system in America.

Every lofty goal requires a plan. In August, the Board of Education adopted HISD's Strategic Direction that calls on every initiative we undertake to be focused on delivering an effective teacher in every classroom, an effective principal in every school, rigorous instructional standards and supports, data-driven accountability, and a culture of trust through action. This school year, HISD has been awarded nearly $140 million in private and government grants. This investment on the part of charitable foundations, corporations, and the government demonstrates confidence in the vision of the Board of Education and how we are executing our Strategic Direction. With the Strategic Direction driving our work, HISD delivered some very impressive results in 2010–2011.

Students Reaching New Heights

Just last week, we announced that the percentage of HISD students passing all subjects on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills increased 9 percentage points from 2010. The percentage of students meeting the tough "commended" level on all TAKS subjects increased 5 percentage points. The improvement is especially impressive in math and science, two subjects that gave our students the most trouble five years ago. Since then, the math passing and commended rates are up 13 and 10 percentage points, respectively. In science, the passing and commended rates improved by 20 and 15 percentage points. This is what happens when students have quality teachers and attend schools run by effective principals.

Many of us will be attending graduation ceremonies in the coming days, and I want you to know that the Class of 2011 is prepared to succeed in college. Scholarship offers to these students topped $121 million, compared with $97 million last year.

And our graduates are not just armed with money. Many will arrive on campus having already earned many hours of no-cost college credit. Although the final numbers are not in yet, we are optimistic that our Advanced Placement students will build on the phenomenal success of 2010, when HISD students performed well enough to pass more than 6,200 AP exams. In addition, HISD students are expected to have earned 21,000 college credits through dual-credit partnerships, a 100 percent increase from last year.

This year, we also saw a record 25 HISD high schools listed on the Washington Post's High School Challenge Index, which identifies schools that are the most successful when it comes to providing all students access to rigorous AP courses and exams. Sixteen HISD schools made last year's list, and seven of our schools were listed in 2009.

HISD is a school district run by educators who believe that given a fair chance, every child is capable of becoming college material. This is why we offered all HISD juniors the chance to take the SAT college entrance exam for free during class time earlier this spring, and almost all of them took us up on the offer. This was also a year when thousands of students who had fallen behind academically took advantage of the second chance offered by HISD's new Grad Lab on-line credit recovery centers. Our students made up 4,200 courses in these self-paced Grad Labs and as a result, many of them are now back on track to graduate on time.

Great Teachers and Principals Leading the Way

HISD's great teachers are driving all of these achievements. We know that at the end of the day it is teachers, not programs or initiatives, who have the greatest impact on our students. I encourage you to visit our website and spend some time watching the excellent videos we produced this school year that feature a sampling of HISD's best educators.

No policy decision we made in 2010–2011 will have a more enduring legacy than the Board of Education's adoption of a new, robust appraisal and development system for teachers. Created in partnership with teachers, principals and the entire community, this new system promises to give teachers in-depth feedback on their performance throughout the school year, helping them to tailor their lessons to every child's needs as they go. It's a system that takes student achievement into account, which is essential if we are to ask parents to entrust their children to HISD schools.

We know that leadership is critical to our schools' success, which is why this year we created HISD's leadership program to identify potential leaders from within our own ranks and begin preparing them to be principals. Fifty assistant principals entered the program this year, and 10 of them so far have been promoted to head some of our schools.

Fiscal Excellence

HISD also showed taxpayers that we take pride in spending their money wisely. The Council of the Great City Schools recently honored HISD with the prestigious Award for Excellence in Financial Management. This award is so difficult to earn that no school district in America was deemed worthy in 2010. In 2011, HISD was the only recipient. Meanwhile, HISD is making good on promises made in 2007 when voters authorized an $805 million school construction program. Those projects are being completed on time and on budget, and this summer you will see construction crews working hard at dozens of sites throughout the city.

Apollo 20 Lifts Off

Finally, this was the year that HISD launched the nation's most ambitious effort to identify a research-based model for turning around schools in need of transformation. With one full year now under their belts, Apollo 20 schools are already showing encouraging signs that this transformation is taking hold. Test scores are up significantly, especially in math, thanks in large part to the intensive tutoring our Apollo 20 sixth and ninth graders received from highly educated Math Fellows. Ninety-three percent of Apollo 20 high school graduates have been accepted into college. Houston's philanthropic and business community has demonstrated its faith in Houston's most needy children by pledging $12 million so far to the three-year program, which expands into 11 elementary schools in the fall.

Building on Our Momentum

While we celebrate all these accomplishments, we know there is still significant work to be done if HISD is to properly prepare every child for college and a rewarding career. Many of our schools are still not meeting expectations and 70,000 of our students are reading below grade level. At the same time, we are anticipating a significant cut in state funding that will require all of us in HISD to push toward our goals with fewer resources. Much is riding on our performance. Nothing impacts a city's future prosperity more than the schools that educate its workforce. For Houston to remain attractive to businesses and homebuyers, HISD must thrive.

So, over the summer we will be working hard to ensure that every school has a great leader and high-quality teachers. Our principals and teachers will receive valuable training in the coming months, because we want them to have all the tools they need to help children succeed. Meanwhile, we are working to develop a robust districtwide reading curriculum that we believe will help our students reach new heights.

This was a school year in which the entire HISD community pulled together in the same direction for our children's sake, and that work paid off. I am excited to see the great things Team HISD accomplishes in 2011–2012.

I invite you to stay connected with HISD during the summer by visiting our website at www.houstonisd.org. You can also follow us on Twitter at @HoustonISD, on YouTube at www.youtube.com/thehisd and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/HoustonISD.

Terry B. Grier, Ed.D.
Superintendent of Schools
Houston Independent School District