On March 13th, Houston Independent School District Trustees voted, 6-3, to repurpose Jesse H. Jones High School into a dual-enrollment-model Futures Academy without an athletic program. This came after several weeks of consistent public outcry in opposition to the school closure plan initially proposed by the district.
While the decision means the doors to Jones High School will remain open, many students may still make the decision to transfer to Sterling, Worthing, or another campus within the district, thus leaving the school in a precarious position.
The uncomfortable truth is our neighborhood schools are suffering, which in turn has a detrimental impact on the adjacent communities. To address this issue, we must examine one of the underlying triggers for potential school closures. HISD utilizes the public school choice model, specifically open enrollment, which allows students to attend a school outside of their designated attendance zone. As a result, numerous students, including the top performers, are leaving neighborhood schools, thus contributing to lower enrollment numbers.
Lower enrollment numbers leads to less funding and financial resources coming into the school, as those dollars follow the students to other campuses. Less funding can translate to limited teaching resources, subpar facilities, and failing academic programs, which is what causes many parents to remove their children from the school in favor of other options. This is a vicious cycle, which must be effectively addressed, in order to prevent these troubling situations from reoccurring.
The public school choice model is weakening the very foundation of our traditional, non-magnet public schools, which still serve as educational centers for hundreds of youth within our communities. Subsequently, as our neighborhood schools begin to deteriorate, what follows is a steady decline in the quality of life for the surrounding community. The City of Houston is only as strong as the residents and neighborhoods within. Therefore, this is bigger than a single school, or single community. This is a city-wide issue.
What follows are recommended policy recommendations designed to protect our traditional public schools.
Policy Recommendation #1: Infuse new technology, resources, and initiatives to address chronic school underperformance and create a substantive transformation through the implementation of student-specific interventions and community partnerships with engaged stakeholders.
Policy Recommendation #2: Implement a school-based lottery system, which will permit only 10% of students at each campus to transfer based on specified academic or athletic eligibility. All other students zoned to the neighborhood school should be required to attend based on residential proximity.
In conclusion, the future economic vitality of our communities depends on the strength of our schools and ensuring that students will graduate equipped with the tools they need to effectively contribute back to society. That is why it is vital to save our Houston public schools.
Let’s take a moment to reflect on the school motto at Jones High School: Together We Can - Whatever It Takes - No Excuses!
By putting into practice what we teach our students every day, we can show that together, we will fight to keep our schools open, fight for proper funding and resources, and fight to preserve the history within our communities. No excuses.