October 28, 2005
HISD1 interview: Natasha Kamrani

Today I present the second Q&A session with a candidate for HISD trustee in position 1. My first such interview, with Richard Cantu, can be found here. Today's subject is Natasha Kamrani. Early voting has already started, so if you haven't cast your ballot yet, I hope these articles will be useful in helping you decide for whom to cast your ballot.

Without further ado:


1. Tell us about yourself - your background, your experience, your qualifications for the job.

I graduated from Miami University of Ohio in 1990 with a degree in History and a minor in Chinese. Upon graduation I applied to and was accepted into Teach For America, the national teacher corps of recent college graduates who commit to teach in inner-city and rural school districts that suffer from persistent teacher shortages. I was placed at the Houston Independent School District's Edison Middle School to teach English as a Second Language to recent immigrants from Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala.

Upon completing my commitment to Teach For America, I spent the following four years as the local Executive Director of Teach For America where I was responsible for the training and placement of over 200 teachers and raising funds to sustain the organization.

I left Teach For America in 1997 and, upon completing my studies at the University of Houston Law Center, I have practiced civil litigation at a private law firm for the past five years.

In 1998, I married fellow Teach For America corps member, Chris Barbic. My husband is the founding head of schools of the YES College Preparatory School District. We are the parents of three-year old Tatiana and twenty-month old Ramiz.

I currently sit on the Advisory Board of Teach For America, the Houston Heights Association's Education Committee and was a member of the task force which helped establish HISD's Wilson Elementary Montessori School.

2. If elected, what would be your top priority? What is HISD doing that you would most like to see changed, and what is HISD not doing that you would most like to see them take up?

My top priority would be middle school reform. Simply put, the only true method to address failure in high school is to address the widespread failure in our middle schools. The strategies that our district is employing at the high school level are worthy, but whatís the point if widespread failure in our middle schools isnít addressed at the same time? Some of the approaches that HISD is currently using to address failure in high school such as: creating smaller learning communities, and using student support to remediate and then accelerate instruction so that learning deficits are caught much earlier, are common sense ways to address middle school failure.

Students who are achieving at low levels in high school arrive in high school with major deficits. Students should not leave 8th grade unless they are on grade level and prepared to take a Distinguished Diploma track. Children who have been socially promoted through middle school donít have the skills to successfully handle high school academics.

This leads to the ďninth grade cliff,Ē in which these unprepared and overwhelmed students end up in high school where they must now earn credits in order to advance to the next grade level. When children who don't have the skills necessary to pass classes don't, they become part of our horrifying high school drop out statistics.

Currently, great attention is being paid to making changes at the high school level; however, I believe this attention is misdirected. To address the very real problems we face with our high schools, we must focus our energies on creating excellent middle schools. Excellent middle schools will, in turn, address the issues we're currently facing at the high school level including our high drop out rate.

3. The Texas Legislature has tried several times to change the way public schools are funded. What is your opinion of the things they tried to do? What should they have done, and what should they not have done?

Bottom line is that our state must be providing a larger share of public school funding. No two ways about it. The amount of funding we currently receive from the state, as opposed to the funding currently provided by our tax payers, is appallingly miniscule. Robin Hood, while an approach that on its face appears to provide positive solutions for many struggling districts, is simply a stop gap (and temporary) answer. We must call upon our state to step up to the plate and provide its fair share of school funding.

4. How has the No Child Left Behind legislation affected HISD? What can HISD do to better comply with NCLB's requirements? What should be done with the schools that failed to meet NCLB goals this year?

Since HISD, under the leadership of Rod Paige, was the birthplace of the efforts now named federally as "No Child Left Behind," our district has not, in any substantial way, been affected by this legislation.

Schools that fail to meet the Adequate Yearly Progress goals set out by NCLB must be reformed with a great sense of urgency. Failing schools must not be tolerated. However, what leads schools to fail may vary drastically school by school. Our district must make an effort to put in place an evaluation method which will determine why each school is failing. Based on this evaluation, the district must then devise a unique plan for each school--with the input of the community--for determining how to address the causes for failure and to then to implement a plan, including measures of success upon which the school can constantly be evaluated for improvement, to ensure that the school is taking the steps necessary to operate well for
children.

5. HISD Superintendent Abe Saavedra has promised policy changes that would lead to a reduction in the amount of classroom time students spend on testing. What is the right amount of time for this? What changes would you like to see made?

NCLB mandates testing at certain grade levels. To the extent that this testing is mandated, our Superintendent's hands are tied in reducing the amount of time actually spent taking tests. Where the district has room to move is in the amount of time spent PREPARING for tests. Since the test is a minimal skills test, the key to ensuring that "test prep" time is cut to a minimum is to ensure that the curriculum taught in our classrooms is of such a rigorous level that children will have no problem acing a minimal skills test. In addition, we need to have programs in place which remediate learning for children who arrive in school behind grade level and then
accelerate instruction to ensure that all our students leave performing on grade level--another important criteria in ensuring that children can take, and pass, tests without months of preparation.

6. What distinguishes you from your opponents in this race?

I am the only candidate for the board seat who has worked directly in
education--as a teacher and as executive director of Teach For America, an education non-profit. During my tenure as Executive Director of Teach For America, I visited every school in the district, I worked first hand with teachers, school administrators, district administration and board members. I am the only candidate who has this breadth of experience in and knowledge of our public schools In addition, my husband is also a former teacher and now head of schools. Public education is what my family has developed a
unique expertise in and it is our true passion.

In addition, my work as a lawyer involves countless hours of negotiation, mediation and settlement of cases. The skills I've developed working with people whose interests are sometimes in direct contradiction of one another will serve me well as I sit at a table with my eight fellow board members while we work together to negotiate strategies for improving our schools.


Thank you, Natasha Kamrani.

If anyone from Anne Flores Santiago's campaign is reading this, I would still like to get and print her answers. Send me an email to kuff - at - offthekuff - dot - com if you have any questions.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on October 28, 2005 to Election 2005 | TrackBack
Comments

Is Ms. Kamrani a Republican or a Democrat?

Posted by: Marie on October 28, 2005 10:24 AM

I am a Democrat.

Posted by: Natasha Kamrani on October 28, 2005 1:55 PM

Ms. Kamrani,

Who should determine biology curriculums?

Also, anyone have early election locations?

Posted by: Eric on October 28, 2005 4:15 PM

Eric - Early voting map and schedule (PDF). Non-PDF map is here.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on October 28, 2005 4:39 PM