While most Houston students celebrated the last day of school Thursday morning, Furr High School Principal Bertie Simmons donned a grass skirt and a flowered lei and joined her cheerleaders in a motivational chant.
“Let’s pass the test,” the cheerleaders yelled. “Read, study, tonight.”
Simmons, a spry 78-year-old, organized an outdoor pep rally, complete with beach balls, balloons and a blaring boom box, to encourage her students to return to classes over the summer. She’s especially targeting freshmen who failed the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, the new, tougher standardized exams that students must pass to graduate. The school will offer test tutoring, as well as help preparing for the SAT college entrance exam and make-up courses for students to recover credits.
“To get these kids to come (over the summer) is difficult,” said Simmons, who wore a green-and-white striped shirt to match her Hawaiian skirt. “They don’t live in the neighborhood. But I know we can get them to pass STAAR. Whatever it takes to get these kids to be successful, we’re going to do that.”
Simmons said she did not know exactly how many students failed the STAAR — the data is still trickling in — but she suspects many, as most enter her east side campus reading below grade level. Jason Spencer, a spokesman for the Houston Independent School District, would say only that a significant number of ninth graders failed, refusing to release specific numbers until the scores for all grade levels arrive from the test company. Students can retake the STAAR in July.