THURSDAY: WUES Attendance Issues Back on Agenda For HISD Board

May 11, 2015

Parents of students at West U Elementary School are engaged in a massive email and letter-writing campaign, in an effort to convince the Houston Independent School District’s Board of Trustees not to vote on a plan that could re-zone some students at the acclaimed elementary school.

The HISD board might consider a plan aimed at addressing classroom overcrowding at elementary schools across the district as early as Thursday. A meeting to set the agenda is typically held on the Monday afternoon before the board’s regularly scheduled meetings.

In a recent letter to parents of WUES students, Principal John Threet said the HISD board is scheduled to vote May 14 “on a plan to give students zoned to Roberts, Twain, and West University elementary schools the option of attending their zoned school or the Rice School. Currently the Rice School has no attendance zone.”

“HISD is committed to partnering with parents to develop a plan that benefits all students, and we appreciate your feedback,” Threet said.

Earlier this year, the HISD board postponed consideration of a similar plan, which might have required students at WUES to be zoned to the Rice School. That plan could have resulted in some siblings attending different elementary schools.

HISD’s proposal earlier this year — to cap enrollment at some district elementary schools — is a result of a decision by the Texas Education Agency to limit “class size waivers” that exempt many elementary classrooms from the state mandated teacher to student ratio of 22 to 1. HISD last year sought 1,500 such waivers for elementary schools. District officials aim to cut that number in half by the 2015-2016 school year, with plans to continue the decreases incrementally through 2019.

The email and letter-writing campaign, which is being promoted by the West U Elementary PTO, includes the email addresses of all of the 9 members of the HISD board, HISD Superintendent Terry Grier and other top HISD administrators.

A “suggested” text for letters and emails includes support for WUES, which is academically successful despite “slight” overcrowding.

The text states: “We should not be fixing schools on the backs of our children.  The district needs to first address a myriad of other problems in our struggling schools before we ever use children as pawns to fix what the administration, and you as policy makers, should first address…our actual struggling schools.”

The suggested letter makes five key points to HISD’s leaders, including:

“Please do not attempt to fix what is not broken.  At West University Elementary, there is indeed “overcrowding” by strict adherence to the state guideline of 22:1.  However, the overcrowding is by 1 or 2 students in each classroom.  The school IS working based on HISD criteria, non-profit ranking criteria, and state ranking criteria.  Please tell me if you disagree.  In various HISD meetings, West University Elementary is always highlighted as an example of what IS working, so why fix what is not broken?”

The lengthy letters also express concerns about pushing some children out of The Rice School, where many parents have chosen to send their children as a better option than their zoned schools.

“It is neither fair, just, nor right, that students from West University Elementary, Poe Elementary, Twain Elementary, and Roberts Elementary should take those spots,” the suggested text states.

The letter also suggests that the state mandated class size limits of 22 students for 1 teacher may not be the best alternative for struggling students. Calling the rezoning efforts a “haphazard plan,” the suggested text states that a better way to fix failing schools is to provide them with “good teachers,  good leadership, and good facilities. “

And, the suggested letter questions the motives of the HISD board.

“You as board members enjoy the luxury of school choice as is evidenced by the fact that several of you have children that attend elite private schools and other magnet schools.  We send our kids each day into a district that we believe will do right by our children.  Your current proposals undermine that belief.  Instead of expending time and energy into “fixing” schools that are not broken, please first focus on the struggling schools that need new facilities, quality teachers, quality leaders, and spend time and resources on efforts that will ensure a quality education for all.  And please ask yourselves this: are you making policy for your own children, or for other people’s children?”