3 Ways to Explore
Learning From Kindergarten to College
One of the highest priorities for relocating families is locating a new school for their children and providing a smooth transition so that learning can continue and new friends can be formed. This chapter will provide a good overview for learning more about the many educational resources available in the Houston area. You’ll also find information about private schools, a list of recommended immunizations for children from newborn to 18 years of age and data about Houston area independent school districts.

The Texas public school system celebrated its 150th birthday on January 31, 2004, marking the anniversary of the Common School Law of 1854. Now, school attendance is compulsory for every child between ages 6 and 18.

The Texas Education Code provides the framework for the current public education system, which is overseen by the Texas Education Agency (TEA) (www.tea.state.tx.us) and the State Board of Education. Led by the commissioner of education, the TEA is the administrative unit for primary and secondary education and, among other duties, develops a statewide curriculum, administers statewide assessment programs and rates school districts under the statewide accountability system.

In 2011, the state of Texas spent more than $75.5 billion on education to improve learning in core subject areas like mathematics, reading and science, and has proposed targeted incentives tied to achievement in the classroom.

State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR)
The State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) is a standardized test that will be replacing the current Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS). The STAAR test was created to fulfill the new requirements of House Bill 3, which was passed by the 81st Texas Legislature and incorporated into Texas Education Code (TEC) Chapter 39. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) is developing the new State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR).

The STAAR test is a more rigorous assessment program that will provide the foundation for a new accountability system for Texas public education. The following guide will provide implementation information based on current legislation.

STAAR will replace the TAKS test beginning in spring 2012. The STAAR program at Grades 3–8 will assess the same subjects and grades that currently are assessed on TAKS. At the high school level, however, grade-specific assessments will be replaced with 12 end-of-course (EOC) assessments: Algebra I, Geometry, Algebra II, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, English I, English II, English III, World Geography, World History and U.S. History.

Education in the Houston Region
There are 67 school districts and 66 independent charter schools in the 10-county Houston area that includes Austin, Brazoria, Chambers, Fort Bend, Galveston, Harris, Liberty, Montgomery, San Jacinto and Waller counties. The Top 20 districts combine to educate more than 755,000 students each year. Houston educators and the community are committed to creating a high-quality educational environment to serve the needs of an increasingly diverse student population.

As the largest city in Texas and the fourth largest city in the United States, Houston is home to the Houston Independent School District (HISD), the largest public school district in the area as well as in Texas and the seventh-largest public school district in the country. HISD educates more than 203,000 students, employs 24,440 full- and part-time professional and support personnel and operates 306 campuses and educational programs within a 301-square-mile area. HISD schools are organized within five geographic regions (North, East, South, West and Central) by feeder patterns composed of specific elementary, middle and high schools; an Alternative and Charter Schools Office oversees those types of schools. Each regional office is managed by a regional superintendent who coordinates a team of executive principals to ensure the quality of instruction throughout the region’s feeder patterns. Regional managers serve to strengthen the district’s outreach to parents by handling parental concerns and working to improve parent, volunteer and business-partner programs. Each of the five regions manages four or five of HISD’s 23 feeder patterns. HISD’s organization is designed to emphasize teaching and learning, align school goals and programs for sustained improvement, eliminate duplicated services and provide greater oversight of data and compliance with state laws and regulations.

All Houston-area ISD operate with the basic premise that every child can and should learn. Composed of a diverse student population, Houston educators and the community are committed to creating a high-quality educational environment.

Similar to other U.S. schools, Houston-area schools are divided into three levels: elementary schools for pre-K through fifth grade, middle schools for sixth through eighth grade and high schools for ninth through 12th grade. State law requires that each school district employ enough teachers to maintain an average teacher-to-student ratio of 1-to-20 and that a school district cannot enroll more than 22 students per teacher per classroom from kindergarten through fourth grade. English language arts, fine arts, languages other than English, mathematics, science and social studies compose the core curriculum.

Generally, teachers use numerical grades, with report cards sent to parents of elementary students every nine weeks and to parents of middle and high school students every six weeks. Students are promoted based on academic achievement, measured in certain years by statewide tests.

In 1995, the Texas Education Code established the charter school concept—a type of public school operated under a state-granted charter or contract. TEA charter schools are autonomous, open-enrollment institutions that use state funding to offer innovative learning opportunities with greater flexibility than traditional public schools. Although subject to fewer state laws, charter schools still are monitored and accredited under the statewide testing and accountability system. Many school districts in the area also have charter schools that operate with the approval of the State Board of Education and within the jurisdiction of their particular district.

School Selection
Chances are that before you moved to the Houston area, you were in contact with a real estate agent and already know where you’ll be living. However, some new residents with school-age children first examine the education landscape before deciding where to purchase a home. Either way, you’ll want to explore the area’s school districts and determine the best education options for your children.

The Academic Excellence Indicator System (AEIS) reports provide a great deal of performance information about every public school and district in the state. These reports also provide extensive profile information about staff, finances and programs. The TEA recommends that you narrow your search to neighborhoods you like and then print AEIS reports for the schools there. Once you have this background information, contact the principal and/or counselor of each school to get a more complete picture of the school. It’s recommended that you visit and tour the school to get a general feel for the atmosphere and programs available. Look at several ones to determine which offers the best curriculum. Visit www.tea.state.tx.us to access AEIS reports.

While your child’s previous school is responsible for sending records of all grades and in-school testing, it’s wise if you can have these records with you once you’ve selected a school:
  • The most recent report card
  • Any education or psychological test results from private or in-school testing
  • The Individualized Education Program (IEP) for special education students
  • Immunization records
  • Any medical records indicating learning or diet, which would include diabetes

— District Ratings
Each year Texas school districts given an accountability rating by evaluating performance on the TAKS, completion rate and annual dropout rate. The districts are rated as Academically Unacceptable, Academically Acceptable, Recognized or Exemplary. Currently, about 30 Houston-area school districts are rated above average with a Recognized status and one district has earned the top rating of Exemplary. Following are the districts going beyond the minimum requirements for their 2011 rating.

As the Houston area’s largest county, Harris County currently has 12 schools that have Recognized ratings and provide excellent educational opportunities for their communities.

Alief ISD (Harris County)
Founded in 1917, Alief ISD is located in southwest Houston and encompasses 36.6 square miles. Virtually every culture is represented in its population of 45,000 students with more than 80 languages and dialects are spoken at its 41 campuses.

Channelview ISD (Harris County)
Channelview ISD is a rapidly growing school district with 8,600 students at its 12 campuses, ranging from a Pre-K center through high school, and including two alternative schools. The district is located in an unincorporated area on the Houston Ship Channel approximately 15 miles east of downtown Houston.

Cypress-Fairbanks ISD (Harris County)
With 84 campuses and an enrollment of 105,860, this is the second largest recognized district in Texas for the second consecutive year. Three new schools opened in the 2009–10 school year, and Cypress-Fairbanks ISD is preparing for an additional 16,620 projected five-year enrollment increase.

Deer Park ISD (Harris County)
This district encompasses most of the city of Deer Park as well as parts of the cities of Pasadena and Baytown. The average number of years of experience for Deer Park ISD teachers is 13, and the district’s teacher turnover rate is a low 8.8 percent compared to the state average of 11.9 percent.

Galena Park ISD (Harris County)
Committed to rewarding its dedicated teachers, this district has created grants that award teachers monetarily who have a record of improving student performance using quantifiable, reliable, valid and objective measures of student excellence and quality.

Humble ISD (Harris County)
Beginning more than 100 years ago as a one-room schoolhouse with 12 students, one teacher and a four-month school term, today Humble ISD has 40 schools, almost 36,000 students and more than 5,000 employees. The district is listed among the 25 fastest growing districts in Texas and is currently the 31st largest in the state.

Katy ISD (Harris County)
This flourishing suburban school district encompasses 181 square miles in east Texas. Its eastern boundaries stretch to Houston’s energy corridor approximately 16 miles west of downtown Houston and extend along Interstate 10 to a few miles west of the city of Katy. In the 2011–12 school year, student enrollment has grown to more than 60,500 served by 53 schools, including seven four-year high schools.

Klein ISD (Harris County)
Approximately 3,000 teachers educate the students of Klein ISD, which was established in 1928. Although the land has undergone tremendous changes since its beginning, a commitment to education has remained.

La Porte ISD (Harris County)
La Porte ISD is located on the northeastern shore of Galveston Bay and is a public K–12 school district serving approximately 7,800 students. The district serves the cities of La Porte, Morgan’s Point and Shoreacres as well as small portions of Pasadena and Deer Park.

North Forest ISD (Harris County)
Only a few miles north of downtown Houston, North Forest ISD has an early childhood center and eight schools as well as a career and technical education program with curricula in many areas of study. North Forest ISD employs more than 1,000 teachers to serve approximately 7,500 students, many of whom graduate to attend Tier 1 universities throughout Texas and the nation.

Pasadena ISD (Harris County)
The music programs offered to students in Pasadena ISD spark rave reviews. For the fifth consecutive year, this district’s music programs were named among the nation’s best in the NAMM Foundation’s “Best Communities for Music Education” survey. The survey included 110 school districts across the United States. The designated programs exemplify community commitment to include music education as part of a quality education for all children.?

Tomball ISD (Harris County)
Named for local congressman Thomas Henry Ball, the Tomball ISD serves areas in northern Harris County, including Tomball and Creekside Park Village as well as part of The Woodlands. With 17 campuses, Tomball ISD serves approximately 10,000 students. The Class of 2010 achieved an average SAT score of 1,031.

The surrounding nine counties that make up the rest of the greater Houston area each are home to at least one top-notch school rated as Recognized, which provides ample choice of quality schools.

Brazos ISD (Austin County)
This small district of just 821 students has proved to be capable of meeting the criteria to be named a recognized district with the help of a committed staff and dedicated parents.

Alvin ISD (Brazoria County)
Alvin ISD covers 250 square miles and serves the communities of Alvin, Manvel, Iowa Colony, Liverpool, Amsterdam and parts of Rosharon, Arcola and Pearland. Like many Houston suburbs, Alvin ISD has experienced a growth of 33 percent, in student population since 1999. Also increasing in the last five years are property values, from a little more than $1 billion to almost $5 billion.

Angleton ISD (Brazoria County)
Established in 1897, Angleton ISD encompasses 396 square miles. The district provides a quality education and special education programs for all grade levels as well as a career and technology education program at the secondary level. The district serves a community of more than 37,000 with a school-age population around 6,400.

Damon ISD (Brazoria County)
Located in a community with a population of about 500, the single-campus Damon ISD encompasses 62 square miles in Brazoria County, about 50 miles southwest of Houston. With approximately 135 students in Grades Pre-K–8, the student-to-teacher ratio of 18:1 affords the maximum amount of teacher-student interaction.

Danbury ISD (Brazoria County)
Located on Spur 28 two miles off State Highway 35 and five miles northeast of Angleton. More than 9 percent of students from Danbury ISDs only 3 campuses are in gifted and talented programs.

Pearland ISD (Brazoria County)
More than a century after the first school was built in 1893, the district has an enrollment of more than 18,600. The Pearland ISD Board of Trustees has been proactive in addressing the growth of the district and has had the support of the district’s patrons in passing schoolhouse bond elections to build additional facilities.

Sweeny ISD (Brazoria County)
Sweeny ISD is currently serving 1,970 students while operating one high school, one junior high and one elementary school. Students have consistently scored above the state and national averages on the American College Testing (ACT) used for college entrance and above the state and regional average on (TAKS) the state-mandated assessment.

Anahuac (Chambers County)
This tight-knit community has an average district size of 1,200 students with about 90 graduating each year.

Barbers Hill ISD (Chambers County)
This suburban district brings its four distinct communities together by a common bond: the school system. With a fast annual growth rate, Barbers Hill ISD has approximately 4,200 students, and new elementary campuses are planned for the near future. Currently, every student in Grades 6–12 has a laptop to use for academic purposes, keeping Barbers Hill at the forefront of educational technology.

East Chambers ISD (Chambers County)
With a population of approximately 3,250, Winnie maintains a neighborly environment with a hometown feel that attracts many to relocate here. The faculty and staff of East Chambers prides itself on offering a conducive learning environment with a stimulating curriculum.

Lamar CISD (Fort Bend County)
With about 24,500 students on 36 campuses, Lamar CISD’s student-to-teacher ratio stands at about 16:1, which makes for a great learning environment. Of the teaching staff, 20.4 percent hold advanced degrees and 41 percent have more than 10 years of experience. The district’s TAKS passing rates for 2011 were almost exclusively above 88 percent at all grade levels and across all subjects.

Needville ISD (Fort Bend County)
Since the first graduating class of 1949, Needville ISD has come a long way. The rich history of academic and co-curricular success along with high expectations of student behavior has sustained this recognized school. Currently 2,587 students attend Needville ISD and 8.9 percent are bilingual.

Clear Creek ISD (Galveston County)
Nestled between the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston and the boating waters of the Gulf of Mexico, Clear Creek ISD proudly serves the educational growth of around 38,250 students every year and continues to be one of the most desirable places to raise a family in the Greater Houston area.

Dickinson ISD (Galveston County)
In the past eight years, Dickinson ISD’s enrollment has increased by more than 3,000, with an additional 200–500 added each year. The current student population of 9,300 is served by 1,300 employees at 10 schools and various learning centers. To meet this growth, about $40 million in expansion and renovation is happening at Dickinson High School in 2012.

Devers (Liberty County)
Devers is located on Highway 90, about 10 miles east of Liberty, Texas, and about 28 miles west of Beaumont. A low student-to-teacher ratio in all grade levels and a safe and secure small-school atmosphere has helped bring this district to a recognized status.

Hardin ISD (Liberty County)
Servicing more than 1,200 students at five schools, this small rural district offers an intimate 13:1 student-to-teacher ratio to provide the best in one-on-one instruction. Hardin ISD provides its students with “School Weblockers,” an online portal system for student to house documents and projects and access them from anywhere.

Conroe ISD (Montgomery)
Covering 348 square miles, Conroe ISD is located approximately 35 miles north of the Houston metropolitan area. The district serves the communities of The Woodlands, Oak Ridge North, Conroe and Grangerland as well as several other smaller towns, communities and unincorporated areas. Of the 1,033 districts in the state, CISD is the 21st largest district and one of the fastest growing districts in Texas.

Magnolia ISD (Montgomery County)
With a diverse student population of 11,855, Magnolia ISD is located just outside Houston and covers 147 square miles of the countryside surrounding Magnolia. The district’s ALPHA Academy program provides an alternative route to graduation for students who have not been successful in a traditional setting.

New Caney ISD (Montgomery County)
Located approximately 30 miles northeast of Houston, serving the residents in the Porter, New Caney and Kingwood communities. The district houses more than 10,000 students on 14 campuses. The district’s second high school, Porter High School, opened in Fall 2010. A ninth elementary school opened in Fall 2011.

Waller ISD (Waller County)
Waller ISD is the second largest school district in total square miles in the Houston area. It is located 40 miles northwest of downtown Houston in a semi-rural and -agricultural region that currently is undergoing rapid residential and commercial development. The eight Waller ISD campuses serve more than 5,400 students.

One district in the Houston area has gone above and beyond expectations, therefore garnering the rating of Exemplary as it provides superb public education to its students.

Friendswood ISD (Galveston County): Exemplary
Friendswood, Texas, is primarily a residential area located in the northwestern corner of Galveston County, approximately 25 miles south from downtown Houston. The Friendswood community has its origins as a settlement of Quakers who valued education. The community has a long history of supporting its schools and continues to do so today.

Spring Branch ISD
By embracing technological advancements geared toward teaching and learning, Spring Branch ISD installed more than 1,100 interactive whiteboards in all core curriculum classrooms (mathematics, language arts, science and social studies) for Grades 1–12. Extensive training complements the new instructional technology.

Aldine ISD
As the education environment evolves so must our schools, which is why delivering education in innovative ways is important to retaining and better serving students. Aldine ISD’s Virtual School is an online learning opportunity that provides students with the flexibility and connectivity to meet their individual needs. Students consist of those who want to enhance their high school experience, want to graduate at an accelerated pace, are experiencing scheduling difficulties on their home campus, need to recover credits for graduation or are home-schooled. The most outstanding feature of Aldine’s Virtual School is its highly qualified, certified teachers. Virtual School teachers instruct, monitor and motivate students as they work through the course curriculum.

— Checklist in Selecting a School
While touring schools in your area, have your checklist handy to make remarks and pose questions.
  1. Is the school close to home? Or will it be necessary to drive or take the bus?
  2. How does the school look? Is it clean and well maintained? Do you see litter or graffiti around buildings?
  3. Is the local PTA active and involved? What is the website or contact person’s phone number?
  4. Is the school academically successful? What percentage of the students in college-bound programs are admitted to competitive colleges?
  5. Are the textbooks and equipment up-to-date and printed within the last three years? Are there computers available?
  6. How rigorous is homework?
  7. Is counseling available for students at elementary and secondary schools? Can parents also meet with counse-lors?

Upon arrival to the Houston area, one main priority can be determining child care, especially for children under the age of 6. Many couples are both professional, dual-income earners and may not have close or extended family nearby to help. Luckily, the region can offer many options and resources.

Daycare: It’s important to find the right facility that makes your child feel emotionally secure while also providing stimulating activities. The future success of your child depends on the quality of early care. Visit Collaborative for Children (www.collabforchildren.org) for ideas on where to begin. It’s a nonprofit organization that works to improve the quality of early care and education in the Houston area. Partnering with families and community-based organizations, it focuses on young children, from birth to age 6, and offers programs and services. The collaborative also provides information on the availability of early care and educational programs, which are provided at no cost to the community.

Preschool For All, a joint project of the Collaborative for Children and the Center for Houston’s Future (CHF), the strategic planning affiliate of the Greater Houston Partnership, has involved more than 100 community members from the early childhood, public education, business, government and philanthropic communities to expand access to quality preschool programs to all 3- and 4-year-old children in the greater Houston area.

Early Connections (www.earlyconnectionserie.org), a project of the Collaborative for Children, provides free information and helpful tips and resources about early childhood development and learning for parents, teachers, child-care providers and others who are interested in helping children develop to their fullest.

There are numerous private daycare facilities in the Houston region.

Nannies: According to the International Nanny Association (INA) (www.nanny.org), you can look for a nanny in many places, including help-wanted ads in newspapers and magazines, bulletin boards and referrals from friends. These approaches can be time-consuming and also can result in negative experiences. INA suggests that you contact nanny-training programs about the availability of their graduates or that you take advantage of the services offered by nanny-placement agencies.

A placement agency is a service company that matches the skills and qualifications of nannies with the needs of families looking for in-home child care. The agency charges a fee to locate and screen nannies for you to consider hiring for your family. A reputable agency carefully will consider your needs and preferences when helping you find a suitable candidate. Placement fees range from $800 to $5,000 and should include a provision to replace the nanny or refund a portion of the fee if the placement does not work out within a certain period of time.

As part of its screening process, the agency should verify the nanny candidate’s personal and employment references and previous child-care experience. Many agencies also take nanny fingerprints, check for a criminal records, check driving records and require a blood test, TB test and/or request a doctor’s statement that the candidate is in good health and free of contagious diseases. Some agencies also require psychological testing or evaluation. In the United States., the agency should verify that the candidate is an American citizen or is eligible to work legally in the country.

Just as the agency will want to ensure that nannies referred to you are suitable candidates, for the nanny’s protection, the agency also may ask you for references. Most agencies will assist you in preparing a job description that summarizes your family’s job duties, comprehensive package and other important considerations.

Many placement-agency owners are members of INA, and the association suggests that you select an INA member if you decide to use a placement agency’s services to help you locate a nanny.

Considering that selecting a child-care provider is one of the most important decisions you can make, it’s important to ask the right questions of a provider. One Houston resource that can help you locate and evaluate child care is the Collaborative for Children (www.collabforchildren.org). The collaborative offers more information about the school-selection process and other tips.

— Health and Safety
  • Check child-care-licensing compliance history on the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services website, www.txchildcaresearch.org.
  • Observe cleanliness of the center and diaper-changing and hand-washing procedures.
  • Ask about the security of medicines and chemicals in the facility.
  • Ask if the caregivers are certified in CPR and First Aid.
  • Ask about the meal and nap-time routines.
  • Ask about transportation procedures if children are taken on field trips.
  • Ask about discipline procedures when children act out or break classroom rules and how positive behavior is encouraged.
  • Observe indoor and outdoor play areas and safety precautions used by staff.

— Activities
  • Ask about planned activities and observe equipment, toys and materials.
  • Ask if the children are read to daily and look for the quality and quantity of books in each room.
  • Ask about the amount of time spent each day on the playground. (30–45 minutes morning and afternoon is recommended.)
  • Ask about the use of technology (TV, DVD, computers) in the facility, recognizing that limited use is recommended for young children.

— Quality Factors
  • Remember that consistent, positive relationships with caring adults will allow your child to grow, develop and learn.
  • Observe whether the caregivers are warm, caring and enjoy their work.
  • Ask if the program is accredited or certified by a recognized respectable agency, such as the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYE) (www.naeyc.org), with higher requirements than minimum child-care licensing standards.
  • Ask about the experience, education and regular training of the caregivers.
  • Ask about the number of children assigned to each caregiver and the number of children in each room to understand the opportunities for individual attention.

— Parent Involvement
  • Ask if parents are welcome to visit and how they are encouraged to participate.
  • Ask how and how often caregivers will communicate with you about your child’s progress.

In the last six years, the state of Texas has spent more than $7 billion on education reform as well as to improve learning in core subject areas like mathematics, reading and science; and it has proposed targeted incentives tied to achievement in the classroom.

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) research has established guidelines for all Texas pre-K programs that support effective teaching practices; these have been shown to lead to important growth in children’s intellectual and social development. To review the suggested curriculum guidelines, visit http://ritter.tea.state.tx.us/ed_init/pkguideliness/.

In the 2002–03 school year, there were only 157,498 children in state-funded pre-K. By the 2007–08 school year, that number had increased to 193,869; of these, 169,183 were economically disadvantaged students. In 2005–06, the state spent $715 million on pre-K programs or $3,426 per student. By the 2007–08 school year, spending had increased to $799 million or $3,650 per student. Sadly, funding in recent years had seen dramatic cuts (in the millions) because of state budget issues.

The quality of the state’s pre-K programs also has increased. In 2007–08, 401 classrooms were utilizing the national recognized Texas Early Education Model, which relies on research-based comprehensive curricula to ensure that students are school ready. In addition, from the first year of the Texas School Readiness Certification System (2005–06 school year), the Texas School Ready! certification has been awarded to almost 3,100 preschool classrooms across Texas for the 2011–12 school year. Children who graduated from these classrooms entered kindergarten with the reading and social skills needed to be successful.

The majority of Houston Independent School District elementary schools maintain pre-K programs for children whose parents qualify. HISD is offering pre-K on a tuition basis to students who do not meet the eligibility requirements to attend pre-K at no cost. Parents may enroll their 4-year-old child (child must be 4 years of age on or before September 1 of a given school year) in a full-day, tuition-based pre-K program at participating neighborhood schools on a space-available basis. The state-set fee is $4,200 per year, which may be paid in 10 payments of $420. To obtain additional information about tuition-based pre-K, call the HISD Early Childhood Department at (713) 556-6882, or a participating school. You can also visit the district’s website at www.houstonisd.org.

Houston A+ Challenge (www.houstonaplus.org), an independent, public-private organization that has supported public school improvement in the Houston area since 1997, recognizes the best practices of schools throughout the Houston region through its programs and rewards.

Elementary schools, such as Pine Shadows Elementary (Spring Branch ISD) received a Replication Grant from Houston A+ Challenge. The grant is designed to encourage the replication of best practices in the Houston region’s schools. Pine Shadows’ fine arts initiative called Project AIM, expanded its highly effective visual arts integration program to fully incorporate music into student curriculum.

Houston A+ Challenge also recognized Beacon Schools, 11 schools that have proven records of reform to better serve their diverse students. To be recognized, each school must display whole-school reform, a personalized learning community, a community of adult learners, powerful community connections, impressive student achievement, careful planning and mentoring.

One Beacon School is Robert Browning Elementary, which serves the predominantly Hispanic community of Brooksmith, a neighborhood located on the eastern edge of the Houston Heights area. It serves a diverse population, with programs, such as Title I, Head Start, bilingual, English as a second language education, inclusion and accelerated academics.

Through funding and assistance from Houston A+ Challenge, the Kennedy Elementary School (Alief ISD) strengthened and expanded its reform efforts. Specifically, school leaders enhanced professional development by expanding the Summer Transformational Leadership Symposium; providing tuition for national, regional and district in-services; expanding the Rice Storytelling Project; and providing release time and resources for new staff training.

Personalizing the learning environment is another goal of the school’s leadership. Ideas include expansion of flexible grouping practices, such as the Mixed-Age Program, and producing videos in the various languages spoken by the students and their families as an orientation tool.

Parents have concerns and questions about their children’s transition from elementary to middle school, and any transition program must include the extensive participation of parents. According to the National Education Association (NEA), a well-planned, systematic transition program involves all the stakeholders: students, school personnel and parents. Here are some things to consider.

Incoming middle school students should be involved in a variety of activities preparing them for middle school. They should have the opportunity to meet middle school students and teachers in their elementary school. They should have the opportunity to visit the middle school in the spring and meet the staff and students, particularly their homeroom teacher and classmates. Educators in both the elementary and the middle school should provide activities for students to lessen their concerns, build their confidence and reduce their anxiety.

Current middle school students also should be prepared for and included in orientation presentations through a leadership/student government class, a “buddy” system or other planned ways.

School leaders should plan and provide for several events that involve students, teachers and parents. These events should focus on providing a positive message about middle school that it is safe and fun. They also should focus on providing information about the changes that early adolescents will be experiencing.

Elementary teachers, counselors and other licensed staff members should be aware of the concerns of their students and the anxieties of moving into middle school. They should be upbeat and reassuring—and they should not use middle schools as a “threat” or misplaced motivational tool. They should know about the developmental issues and changes some of their students in the elementary schools already experiencing.

Middle school teachers should be well versed in the developmental issues of their students. They also should be aware that students will experience anxieties associated with the change, and they should begin before school starts to work to neutralize these anxieties. Visiting elementary schools in the spring so the students know the teachers and addressing any questions or concerns on the first day of the school year are two ways to facilitate easing into the year.

Parents should attend the spring incoming parent night to meet homeroom teachers and begin to establish a relationship with the teachers.

Parents should attend school meetings to learn about the concerns and questions their children have and will have. They should talk with their children about the upcoming school year and emphasize the positive aspects of attending middle school. Parents should watch for signs of depression and be ready to address them.

Parents need to learn about young adolescents and their developmental issues and stages so they will better understand this new and wonderful person with whom they live and be able to interact with them in positive ways that build relationships.

Making the transition into middle school is the first and most significant step to ensuring a successful middle school experience. It is one that deserves time and attention. A well-planned transition program helps parents and students have a greater peace of mind by taking some of the stress out of the summer before middle school and providing the groundwork for a successful beginning of the new adventure.

Middle School (Grades 6–8)
Project Chrysalis Middle School is a charter school designed as a small-school alternative for children in Houston’s East End. Housed at the Cage Elementary Campus since 1995, Chrysalis has grown from a team-taught sixth- and seventh- grade class to an established middle school with approximately 150 students and eight faculty and staff members. It provides an extended-day and extended-year program, which emphasizes project-based and interdisciplinary learning.

Middle school children should be taking the right courses in middle school to prepare for high school and college. Studies show that if students take algebra and geometry early—starting in the eighth and ninth grades—they are more likely to go on to college than students who don’t. By taking algebra in earlier grades, a child more likely will be able to enroll in chemistry, physics and advanced mathematics courses before finishing high school. Then there will be room in a student’s high school schedule to take a second language, art or Advanced Placement courses. Making good grades in these kinds of tough courses can be a big plus in helping a child get into college.

Some other helpful hints for parents include the following:
  • Expose your child to people, events and places that light up their imaginations and lift their aspirations.
  • Encourage reading habits. The content doesn’t really matter as long as the child is interested in reading. Regular reading outside of school is key to the critical reading and language skills that will determine their placement in advanced courses.
  • Encourage your underachiever to pull up weak grades because colleges are impressed by improvement.

HISD also offers challenging high school-level classes in middle school. Students with demonstrated language abilities can start taking AP Spanish in eighth grade. Eligible students from Johnston Middle School take on an AP courseload meant to prepare high school juniors and seniors for college.

High School
There are many successful examples of high school programs that emphasize high standards and provide a solid foundation for college-bound students.

Challenge Early College High School is a small high school with personalized instruction for each student. It is the brainchild of the HISD, Houston Community College System (HCCS) and Houston A+ Challenge. The school, which opened in August 2003, served approximately 90 students in Grades 9 and 10 its first year. The campus added a grade level each year, and now educates 442 students in Grades 9 through 12.

The college provides an accelerated, college-preparatory learning program, allowing students to combine high school and college-level classes for free. (The traditional process takes six years—four years of “free” public high school and two years of college classes for which one has to pay.)

Challenge Early College High School students attend a variety of advanced academics programs, college and technology classes and individualized educational courses. In this new model of schooling, students are given more time when needed to finish a course. They will begin taking HCC courses as soon as they finish the prerequisite high school-level material. Students will be encouraged to continue their studies and transfer to upper-level institutions.

Another educational program is the Houston Academy for International Studies, a small school with no more than 400 students in Grades 9–12, located on the HCCS Central Campus. The school emphasizes a personalized learning environment with each student assigned to a staff advisor. In addition to the HISD core curriculum, students complete a global studies program. They also complete at least four years of foreign language, two service-learning experiences, an internship program and a senior project concerning international topics. Initial languages offered include Mandarin Chinese and Spanish.

Asia Society, supported by a generous grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, has established the first national network of 100 urban secondary schools devoted to international studies and world languages. The model schools provide a rigorous, engaging education to prepare them for college, the changing workforce and the contemporary world.

Empowerment College Preparatory High School opened in August 2005 with a ninth-grade class of 81 students and add a new class each year. The 2010–11 school year had a graduating class of 18. Through a personalized environment, college preparatory curriculum and social action program of study, Empowerment equips students with skills to become socially conscious problemsolvers who make a positive impact on the community.

In addition, by taking academically challenging courses at Empowerment and dual-credit courses at HCC, students have the opportunity to earn up to 18 hours of college credit, transferable to most major universities. Empowerment enrolls students from HISD attendance zone. It provides a school of excellence and academics.

These are just a few examples of high school programs that challenge students and provide a core curriculum that allow students to succeed and be prepared for college.

In a June 2002 report, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) found that private school students scored higher on standardized tests, had more demanding graduation requirements and sent more graduates to college than public schools. The report said that students who had completed at least the eighth grade in a private school were twice as likely as other students to graduate from college as a young adult.

NCES statistics also showed that students in private schools are much more likely than others to take advanced-level high school courses. Joint reports by the NCES and the Bureau of Justice Statistics, and a private study by the Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans have found that private school students are significantly more likely than others to feel safe and be safe in their schools. Students thrive when allowed to learn in a safe and supportive environment.

The NCES reports that more than three-quarters of private school parents are “very satisfied” with their child’s school compared with less than half of parents whose children were assigned to a public school. Parents often look to private schools as an extension of the home in promoting the values they embrace, and private schools respond. A recent NCES survey found that promoting religious or spiritual life was second only to academic excellence in the goals of private school principals.

— Fast Facts About Private Schools
According to the Council for American Private Education, following are a few facts about private schools:
  • One in four schools is a private school.
  • One child in nine attends a private school.
  • Private schools produce an annual savings to taxpayers estimated at more than $48 billion.
  • Private school students perform better than their public school counterparts on standardized achievement tests.
  • Ninety percent of private high school graduates attend college, compared to 66 percent of public high school graduates.
  • Private school students from low socio-economic backgrounds are at least three times more likely than comparable public school students to attain a bachelors degree by their mid-20s, meaning that private schools contribute to breaking the cycle of poverty for their students.
  • Private schools are racially, ethnically and economically diverse. Twenty-three percent of private school students are students of color, and 28 percent are from families with annual incomes under $50,000.
  • Private secondary school students are nearly 50 percent more likely to take AP or International Baccalaureate courses in science and mathematics than public school students.
  • The participation of private school students in community-service projects is significantly higher than their public school counterparts.

In the Houston area, there are more than 390 parochial and private schools for pre-K through high school, giving parents a wide selection from which to choose.

Houston’s private schools offer parents a wide range of options from parochial to secular to international schools. Some are strictly for early learning while others educate children from pre-K through the eighth or 12th grades. Houston’s private schools are located across the region from The John Cooper School in The Woodlands to Crème De La Crème in Sugar Land to The Kincaid School in the Memorial area or the St. John’s School in River Oaks.

Just one specific example of the high level of private educational offerings in the region is St. Francis Episcopal Day School, which has created and patented its own arts appreciation program that is so dynamic that the school now sells it to other area schools.
For a list of private schools, see page 86 to begin thinking about the different area schools. Another site to search for private schools in the Houston region is www.houstonprivateschools.org.

A few tips to know before choosing a private school in Houston include the following:
  • Parents will need to visit the campus and most likely will need to interview with the school. This will be a great opportunity for both the parents and the school to ensure a good fit.
  • Parents will need to complete the application forms for their child to be considered a candidate.
  • Parents need to be prepared to have their children tested and will need to pay for those tests.
  • Many schools encourage a certain level of parental involvement, so parents need to clearly understand what is expected of them.

From daycare facilities to high schools, Houston-area parents can find the solution that fits their family’s lifestyle and the individual child’s needs. The Houston area offers parents a wide range of options designed to fit families’ educational, moral and religious beliefs and each child’s learning aptitudes and intelligence level. With a little research, parents will find the perfect fit for the whole family.

Higher education institutions abound in the Houston area, including two-year, four-year and business training schools to assist every type of student. Community residents understand the necessity of pursuing a degree or certificate to compete and excel in the workplace. As employment opportunities expand in the Houston area that require more education and training, pursuing advanced learning has become a necessity. In fact, many of the region’s occupation in top demand, including health care, energy, information technology and aerospace, all require a bachelors degree or higher.

— Alvin Community College
Alvin Community College (www.alvincollege.edu) is a public community college in Brazoria County providing educational opportunities in workforce training, academics, technical fields, adult basic education and personal development. With a main campus on 113 acres in Alvin, there is also expanded service at the Pearland College Center. The Alvin campus is located 20 miles from Hobby Airport and 55 miles from George Bush Intercontinental Airport.

— Brazosport College
Located in Brazoria County, Brazosport College (www.brazosport.edu) is an open-door, equal-access higher education institution committed to providing the best courses, programs and activities that can be organized and presented to meet the identified needs of adult learners from varied backgrounds. Since its establishment in 1968, the college has played an important role in the personal successes of more than 125,000 students. In recent years, Brazosport College has graduated just more than 200 students annually and has become the key provider of a highly trained workforce for local industry employers in Brazoria County.

— College of the Mainland
College of the Mainland (COM) (www.com.edu) is located in Texas City, 15 miles north of Galveston and 40 miles south of Houston. The college offers a supportive, quality, affordable opportunity to acquire the intellectual, cultural, social and economic skills required today. The learning opportunities available at COM extend from pre-college adult basic education, ESL, GED and developmental studies to college core curriculum and general studies courses that transfer to senior colleges and universities. In addition, technical programs offer Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) degrees in process technology, computers, networking, business, child development, criminal justice and other fields.

— Galveston College
Galveston College (GC) (www.gc.edu) provides the citizens of Galveston Island and the surrounding region with academic, workforce-development, continuing-education and community-service programs. GC serves an ethnically diverse population of approximately 2,400 students each semester in credit programs and nearly 5,000 individuals annually in continuing-education and workforce-development programs. With a full-time staff and faculty of more than 150 employees and nearly 90 reserve faculty members, GC has proven to be a progressive, dynamic institution of higher education known for its partnerships with businesses and organizations and its commitment to providing a quality learning environment that is student-focused.

— Houston Community College System (HCCS)
HCCS’s (www.hccs.edu) student body mirrors the diversity, openness and opportunity of the world-class city that is Houston. Since its opening in 1971, HCCS has educated and trained more than 1.3 million students. The community college provides academic courses for transfers to four-year institutions, terminal degrees and certificates in more than 70 fields of work, continuing education and corporate training.

— Lee College
More than 9,000 Lee College (www.lee.edu) students are enrolled in academic, technical-education and noncredit continuing-education programs each semester. Basic education is available for those seeking to improve skills in reading, writing, mathematics and language in addition to a regionally acclaimed honors curriculum. The college is located 25 miles east of Houston in Baytown.

—Lone Star College System
Lone Star College System (LSCS) (www.lonestar.edu) consists of five colleges, including LSC-CyFair, LSC-Kingwood, LSC-Montgomery, LSC-North Harris and LSC-Tomball; six centers; LSC-University Center; Lone Star Corporate College; and LSC-Online. With more than 69,000 students in credit classes last in fall 2010, LSCS is the largest institution of higher education in the Houston area and third largest community college system in Texas. LSCS is a publicly supported, two-year, comprehensive community college system that involves diverse individuals, businesses and the community in quality education opportunities for the successful development of knowledge, skills and attitudes for a rapidly changing world.

LSCS University Center is a partnership of universities and the colleges of LSCS providing unduplicated bachelors degrees, masters degrees and continuing professional studies to the college service area. Utilizing partnerships, seamless credit-transfer programs, collaborative governance, shared facilities, interactive telecommunications and “first-stop” student services, the LSC-University Center serves as the critical link for community development and individual opportunity to more than 1.5 million citizens of North Houston, North Harris County and Montgomery County.

— San Jacinto College
San Jacinto College (www.sanjac.edu) is a public community college in Harris County serving a district defined by the combined areas of these independent school districts: Channelview, Deer Park, Galena Park, La Porte, Pasadena, Sheldon and Clear Creek. Students are offered academic courses that transfer to a senior college or university, technical courses that lead to a certificate or associates degree and provide job-entry skills, continuing-education programs and courses and contractual agreements with external agencies. To increase the number of graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, the San Jacinto College offers the Aerospace and Biotechnology Academy, an innovative P–20 education-industry-government collaboration designed to address the shortages of high technology practitioners and the mathematics and science teachers needed to produce that workforce.

— Wharton County Junior College
With a 2011 enrollment of nearly 7,000, Wharton County Junior College (www.wcjc.edu) offers an associates of arts degree for those intending to transfer to a four-year institution, associates of arts in teaching degree, associates of applied science degrees and certificate programs. Distance-education courses are available online via interactive television and videocassettes.

As the sixth largest metropolitan area in the United States, there are many highly respected and top-rated public and private four-year universities, law schools and medical institutions to support the higher education needs of the greater Houston area population and other nonresidents.

— Prairie View A&M University
Founded in 1876, Prairie View A&M U
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