Highland Heights Elementary is one of six struggling Houston schools that may be closed and then reconfigured.

Houston district proposes major changes for 14 struggling schools

Feb. 3, 2018
The district needs to overhaul the campuses to avoid a possible state takeover

Administrators in the Houston Independent School District have announced preliminary plans to close and reconfigure six chronically low-performing schools, a process that would force hundreds of students to leave their home campus and result in the replacement of all staff in those schools.

The Houston Chronicle reports that district leaders also proposed handing over control of hiring, curriculum and governance of eight other schools to two nonprofit organizations. That step would enable students at those campuses to continue attending their home schools. 

The two proposals are design to stave off a potential state takeover of the district operations, a possible punishment mandated under a new Texas law. If any district has a single school that fails to meet state academic standards for five consecutive years, the Texas Education Agency must replace the district's school board or close the chronically failing school.

Ten schools in the Houston district must meet state standards this year to avoid triggering the law. Before it gets to that point, district administrators are proposing major changes to the 10 schools, as well as four other low-performing campuses.

The proposals would need school board approval.

The six reconfigured schools -- Blackshear, Highland Heights, Hilliard and Wesley elementary schools, Cullen Middle School and Woodson PK-8 – would serve fewer grade levels in 2018-19 than they do now.

The four elementary schools and Woodson PK-8 would reopen with only pre-kindergarten and kindergarten, and Cullen Middle School would offer only sixth grade. The six campuses would add a single grade level each year.

Students not in those grade levels would have to transfer to nearby campuses.

The eight remaining schools would all become "partnership" campuses with outside organizations; that would enable Houston to avoid state intervention for at least two years. The "partnership" campuses would serve all grade levels.

Under preliminary plans, Dogan and Mading elementary schools would partner with Children's Learning Institute at University of Texas Health. Henry Middle School and Kashmere, Madison, North Forest, Wheatley and Worthing high schools would partner with Talent Development Secondary, a Baltimore-based nonprofit.

All 14 affected schools are in high-poverty areas, and nearly all serve predominately black or Hispanic student populations. In the past few decades, campus closures have been largely concentrated in those areas, a pattern that board members want to avoid repeating.

The proposals have been forced by a law, known as HB 1842, that the legislature enacted in 2015. Twenty-six districts in Texas face the punishments outlined in the law.

Proponents of the law say it will force school districts to address their lowest-performing schools. Opponents in Houston have argued the punishments are draconian given that the district has about 280 schools, yet a single chronically failing school could trigger a state takeover.

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