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05 March 2014 Written by  Dr. Reba Wright

“Six Misleading Justifications HISD Is Using To Close Minority Schools”

Students bear the most burdens once decisions are made to close schools. HISD’s proposal to close five schools, (Dodson, Henderson, Port Houston Elementary, Fleming Middle School, and Jones High School), in predominantly African-American communities have many questioning equity. HISD’s justifications for these closures include: low enrollment, high transfers rates, high budget cost per students, and changing demographics.

"No matter the difficulties associated with closing schools, the tough decision has to be made," argues Dr. Grier, HISD superintendent. "Students in low enrollment schools are not benefitting from programs offered at larger schools."

HISD has told its version of the story, but there is another version, another chapter in this discussion. I conducted an analysis of 24 of HISD high schools to determine the validity of HISD’s school closure report.

During my research, I discovered SIX major findings.

FIRST, Jones’ enrollment is not much different than other high schools. Case and point: Jones current enrollment of 440 students is only 60 students less than Kashmere 500 current enrollment. Jones enrollment is not remarkably different from Carnegie Vanguard 590 enrollment. As a matter of fact, 38% of the high schools have an enrollment population of less than 1,000 students.

Considering the above fact, is it reasonable for HISD to close down an entire high school, change the face of a community, and dis-place students, simply because Jones has 60 students less than the next low enrollment school?

SECONDLY, Jones has 915 transfers out, meaning there are over nine hundred children zoned to Jones who have opted to attend other schools. However, Jones’ transfers is not much different from other high schools in the district. At least six other high schools: (Lee, Houston High, Sharpstown, Sterling, Westbury, and Wheatley), have over a thousand transfer requests. Meaning more students are opting not to attend their home schools. Jones and other high schools are experiencing a phenomenon known as "negative enrollment." However, the school district is obtaining taxes from the residents, which is taxation without (a school) representation.

THIRDLY, another justification that HISD is touting - "it cost twice as much to educate students at Jones… HISD is spending over twelve thousand dollars per student at Jones, and the district needs to allocate resources more effectively." These statements are misleading the community into believing that Jones is the only school in which HISD is spending high dollars per student. On the contrary, Jones’ total budget operation expenditure per student is $12,096. However, Kashmere expenditure per student is $12,235. Other high schools have similar expenditure cost per student. This justification boils down to a numbers game; when enrollment numbers increase, the cost expenditure decreases!

FOURTHLY, HISD stated, "the demographic is changing in the area." South Park, where Jones is located, is growing like many areas in Houston. According to the census, the African-American population will increase 2% and Hispanics 46% by 2014. Based on the census’ numbers, the increased populations would be a justification for keeping this neighborhood school open. In my opinion, HISD has defended Jones’ closure because the increased Hispanic population would also account for (77%) of Jones’ transfers.

FIFTHLY, Dr. Grier said, "it hurts students because they are being robbed of the opportunity of advanced educational programs that schools with larger enrollment have." What Dr. Grier did not share is the fact that HISD has robbed Jones of programs. Jones has 13 programs (at least six geared toward supportive services) compared to popular high schools such as: Bellaire with 19 programs, Lamar 20, Chavez 19, Milby 19, etc.

What has not been touted by HISD is that Jones has a STEM, (science, technology, engineer, and math), program that uniquely sets the school apart from other schools. However, STEM is designated as a SWP (school-wide program). Meaning, all students who enter through the doors of Jones must enroll in either architecture or engineer. On the other hand, other high schools are designated SWS (school within a school); meaning, along with specialty or magnet programs, these schools have other options and opportunities for students. For instance, Bellaire has a World Language magnet program. In addition to magnet, students at Bellaire have options to take other courses such as Agriculture, Business Management, Career Development, Fine Arts, Health Science, Human Services, International Baccalaureate and Marketing. (Carnegie was Jones’ SWS).

Jones’ SWP designation is too restrictive, forces students to take courses, and limits Jones’ competitive edge. Although architecture and engineer are commendable courses, not all students are gifted in these areas. Some students may want to focus on music, art, business, environmental or vocational studies. Perhaps, some of those 915 students who transferred out of Jones would have opted into the school if more programs were offered.

I agree with Dr. Grier when he said, "it hurts students when schools do not have program opportunities…" However, I do not agree with Dr. Grier’s decision to close Jones because it is not the fault of Jones: the students; or the community that enrollment is low at Jones. It is HISD’s fault! Some of HISD’s adverse decisions affecting Jones include: removing its Vanguard program which attracted hundreds of students, replacing the Vanguard with a restrictive SWP program which further limits student enrollment. Additionally, HISD’s continual threats to kill the school discourages new enrollment and encourages student bail out.

Worth noting: If HISD had not removed Jones’ Vanguard program (currently known as Carnegie) of the campus, Jones current enrollment would be 1,030 students!

FINALLY, has anyone asked, what will happen to the students when dis-placed from Jones? Hopefully, HISD is not just looking at the dollars and cents, given that their primary business is educating! Additional data reviewed included the Texas Educational Agency that noted Jones’ students scored equal or higher than some schools, as shown below.

Considering all these facts, it is no wonder why the community is alarmed by HISD proposed closure of a school that is making progress? What is outrageous is HISD sending Jones’ students to schools they are out performing?

In summary, Jones has 60 less than Kashmere. Jones’ budget cost is less than Kashmere. Jones’ high student transfers out is no different compared to other high schools and the district. Jones students are progressing and out performing other schools. Additionally, Jones’ enrollment has suffered over the past years from HISD’s underhanded removal of the Vanguard program, and replacing it with a restrictive, non-competitive SWP program. HISD dismantled the school by removing half of the school’s enrollment - Carnegie was once Jones’ SWS.

HISD has no substantial or material justifications to close Jones. On that note, I’m urging HISD Board Members to stop, take a step back, take a breath, and rethink the proposal to close Jones.

 

  Performance Area

Jones out performed:

Student Achievement

Kashmere, Worthing, Wheatley

Student Progress

Kashmere, Worthing, Scarsborough, Washington, Sterling, Wheatley, Yates, Furr, Chavez, Milby, Westbury, Madison

Closing Performance Gaps

Kashmere, Worthing, Sterling, Wheatley

All Subjects

Kashmere, Worthing, Wheatley

Reading

Kashmere, Wheatley

Math

Kashmere, Worthing, Scarsborough, Sterling, Wheatley

Writing

Kashmere, Worthing, Sterling

Science

Kashmere, Worthing, Wheatley

Social Studies

Kashmere, Worthing, Wheatley

 

(A complete copy of the report has been uploaded to www.charity-production.org).