Wednesday, May 27, 2009

School Board and Superintendent Set Two Year Plan for Houston Elementary

Houston Elementary may still be on the chopping block after two years. It is time to put up or shut up - the sentiment much more nicely worded by Superintendent Dr. Lorenzo Garcia and supported by each of the Trustees. Dr. Garcia explained that a Central Office team will be selected to work with parents, community members, neighbors and other stakeholders to define measurable goals for each of the three schools with under enrollments: Houston, Schuster and Zavala. At the end of two years, if no progress has been seen, then the schools will be closed and students transferred to other campuses whose facilities are more cost effective.

The task force will be looking to see increased enrollment and participation in PTA; more partnership in education; campus improvement teams; work with neighborhood associations, City Council representatives and other community leaders; and increased volunteerism. They will want to see how attendance and participation can be improved.

Trustee David Dodge said, "We will move forward together or we won't move forward at all."

District 3 (which includes Houston) Trustee Carlos Flores was confident that the communities involved will help to define the future of each campus.

All of the speakers from the public were Houston Elementary stakeholders or parents. Jim Tolbert indicated that the Newman Park Neighborhood Association has solid communication tools and conveyed to the Board and Superintendent a willingness to work as a team member to improve the attendance at Houston.

Parent David Williams said that "Save Houston" is now a Facebook friend and "Save Houston Elementary" is a Facebook group. Those interested in working with David and others can email

Teacher Barbara Bustamonte reported that faculty, students and the community are all committed to saving Houston.

City Council Representative Susie spoke first and read aloud her letter to the Board:

Dear Board of Trustees:

I want to thank you for reconsidering closing Houston Elementary and giving the City and the neighborhood a chance to develop an action plan to keep the school open and to utilize the full capacity of the school.

As you know the City has made significant efforts to revitalize our urban core including focusing job creation efforts on Downtown redevelopment and the Medical Center of the Americas. In addition, we have developed a whole host of tools to encourage more investment in our central core including tax incentives for historic neighborhoods, overcoming regulatory hurdles to infill development and significant public investment in aging infrastructure. Last year with your help, we saved a tax foreclosed property under threat of demolition and are working with the Preservation Alliance to renovate and restore. This home is across the street from Houston Elementary.

These efforts plus new housing demand have begun to create real change in many of our older neighborhoods, particularly those neighborhoods surrounding Houston Elementary. What we have seen in the last two years in these neighborhoods is an increase in building permits and more demand for housing reflected in increasing sales prices and fewer days on the market. We are seeing new families move into the neighborhood, many of them young professionals with young children.

What I would like to call to your attention is that while we are seeing an increase in population in this area, our schools in this feeder pattern are seeing a decrease in enrollment in these important neighborhood schools. We would like to work with you to reverse this trend and use existing capacity in the system. Working with Carlos Flores, we have developed a working team of parents, teachers, residents and neighborhood leaders to develop an action plan to increase enrollment at Houston
Elementary. We will need your help and support in this effort.

We have identified the following areas of work:

Investment in the school, including
1. New programs such as dual language magnet
2. Renovation of existing building
3. Investment in recreational facilities including the new multipurpose center
4. Investment in the campus, including landscape improvements.

Investment in the neighborhood, including
1. Infill housing program
2. Marketing historic incentives to encourage renovation of existing homes
3. Public investment that improves the neighborhood

Marketing the neighborhood and the school
1. Word of mouth usually sells homes and schools. We want to work with you to put the right pieces in place so that we have a lot to sell folks on both the neighborhood and the school.

We are hoping to meet at the school next week on June 3 to increase participation in this effort. I thank you for your time and for your willingness to give this school and this neighborhood a chance.


Susie Byrd

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