Tuesday, November 24, 2015

CHOICE Festival 2015

Hundreds of families flocked to the Spring Branch Independent School District’s CHOICE Festival held at Cedar Brook Elementary on Thursday evening, November 19th, to discover the unique options available for children within our district.  

Popcorn overflowed and smiles beamed as each school represented shared the opportunities they offer and families listened eagerly as they learned of the possibilities available to them.

One family flew from Alaska to search for the right place to send their children in their upcoming move to Houston.  When they arrived at the CHOICE Festival, they said they knew the right place for each of their three children was in Spring Branch I.S.D.  Their 10th grade daughter was Facetimed in from Alaska to meet future classmates present at the festival and the positive energy from Houston was felt from across the country and well received. 

Several families who currently send their children to private schools were intrigued and impressed at the public and charter options available to their children within their district and close to home. 

With so many dynamic learning environments available, the CHOICE Festival was the perfect place to learn and embrace the possibilities that exist within the Spring Branch community.  To learn more about each school, please see www.springbranchisd.com/choice.  

Monday, November 2, 2015

Houston Chronicle: SKY Partnership

Dippel: Next HISD board should seek charter partnerships
By Colleen Dippel
Published 6:18 pm, Friday, October 30, 2015

Next Tuesday, HISD voters will select four individuals to sit on the Houston Independent School District's board of trustees. This board could create a unique opportunity to chart a new path for HISD by promoting an environment of collaboration with our city's highest-performing public charter schools.

Tens of thousands of Houston families are put on waiting lists each year for a seat at a KIPP Houston, YES Prep or Harmony public school. In the 2014-2015 school year, the waiting list included more than 35,000 students in Houston. Early data show a similar trend for the current school year. We also know that thousands of families languish on the district's magnet school waiting lists.
Parents recognize and are looking for high-quality schools. Parents don't care which label - traditional public, magnet, public charter school or private - is applied to the school capable of providing that quality education for their child.

My experience comes from the grassroots. The mission of my nonprofit organization, Families Empowered, is to empower families to engage in the marketplace of schools. We work with thousands of HISD-zoned parents who are attempting to navigate a complicated system to find the best educational environment for their children, and we do so without advocating for any particular school or model. We work with all schools of choice: district schools, private schools and open enrollment charter schools.
Choice doesn't have to be an either-or proposition. HISD should take cues from districts that partner with charters like the Grand Prairie Independent School District or look closer to home at the innovative collaboration that is taking place between the Spring Branch Independent School District, KIPP and Yes Prep, known as the SKY Partnership. These traditional districts are proof that collaboration is a productive option, and that innovation is not a threat.

Under the SKY Partnership, KIPP and YES Prep staff are contracted to provide instruction, while the students (and their publicly funded education dollars) stay within the district. This allows the district to keep zoned students inside their district, while giving parents the freedom to consider an educational model that is a better fit for their student. Charter teachers and "traditional ISD" teachers work in the same building and are sharing best practices and engaging in shared professional development.

Grand Prairie ISD has created a similar partnership with the Uplift network of charter schools. Superintendent Susan Simpson-Hull and the Grand Prairie school board turned the district into an open enrollment district that allows any child to apply to any school. Instead of seeing only competition, as charter schools "steal" their zoned students, Grand Prairie ISD put the interest of the students first. District staff is regularly invited to and engaged with the "education reform community," which brings innovators and cutting-edge researchers and best practices to the district.
In both of these examples, the innovative opportunities were made possible because a forward-thinking school board supported a progressive and thoughtful superintendent. There is nothing to prevent HISD from engaging in similar partnerships. 

As leaders of the seventh-largest district in the country, HISD school trustees should work to offer our community not only schools of choice - but rather, schools that would be any parents' choice. The next board should seek a new superintendent who will be open to collaboration with public charter schools. 
We should focus on a common goal: bettering the education for all our kids, rather than focusing on which "provider" gets credit for student outcomes. District/charter collaboration and innovation can make Houston a truly progressive city, one that prepares all students for a productive future.

Dippel is founder and executive director of Houston-based Families Empowered.
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