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Heating Up Houston

Terry Grier has had a busy few months since taking charge of the Houston Independent School District in September. Here’s a look at some of his initiatives so far.

Month Two

In his first school board workshop in October, Grier says the district must change how it selects principals to make sure they have high expectations for all children. He rolls out a new structured interview system to assess job candidates’ values and problem-solving skills. The process is rooted in the research of Martin Haberman, a University of Wisconsin- Milwaukee professor emeritus who studies the qualities of educators who succeed with disadvantaged students.

Month Three

Grier announces in November he wants every elementary and middle school to serve students a free breakfast every morning in their first-period class. The First Class Breakfast program is being phased in this spring, with all schools slated to be on board by the fall.

Month Four

Grier reveals his plans in December for reorganizing the district. Starting next school year, the district will not be divided into five geographic regions run by a regional superintendent, who generally ran their regions as islands, separated from the other regions. Instead, schools will be organized by grade levels, with a chief elementary school officer, a chief middle school officer, and a chief high school officer. This will help schools share best practices across the district, not just regionally, Grier says.

Month Five

New computer labs, run by newly hired graduation coaches, open in the district’s comprehensive high schools in January. The $4 million dropout prevention program, which Grier announced in November, allows students to retake courses they had failed.

Month Six

The Houston school board, with Grier’s backing, unanimously approves in February a policy that allows teachers to be fired if their students consistently fall short on standardized tests, based on a value-added analysis.

And Grier took additional steps:

In his State of the Schools speech, Grier says he wants the district to pay the fees for students to take Advancement Placement and International Baccalaureate exams. Students enrolled in the courses would be required to take the exams starting next school year.

All the prisonlike barbed-wire fencing at 68 schools is removed, costing $147,000, at Grier’s request, to improve curb appeal, in part, creating a more positive atmosphere in at least one school.

Grier says he wants to study whether the district should continue to pay stipends to teachers with master’s degrees in education, because research consistently shows no link to improved student achievement.

Month Seven

Grier proposes in March to sever ties with Community Education Partners, the for-profit company that runs the district’s disciplinary alternative schools for about $20 million a year. He suggests starting a smaller, less expensive program only for students with serious discipline problems. Less serious offenders would be sent to traditional schools under an exchange program between principals. The plan awaits school board approval.