HISD considers charter partnership

They’ve got to do something to keep the TEA at bay.

Energized For STEM Academy Inc., an organization run by NAACP Houston Branch President James Douglas and former Houston ISD trustee Paula Harris, has been selected as the potential partner to run 10 long-struggling HISD schools at risk of triggering major state sanctions this year.

HISD trustees are scheduled to vote Tuesday on negotiating and executing a contract with Energized For STEM Academy, which already runs seven in-district charter schools in HISD, to take over operations of the 10 schools ahead of the 2018-19 school year, according to a public meeting notice posted Friday. District officials haven’t released terms of a contract, but it’s expected Energized For STEM Academy would be responsible for hiring, governance and operations at each school.

District officials have recommended temporarily surrendering control over the 10 schools as part of an effort to stave off sanctions due to chronically low academic performance. In exchange for relinquishing control, HISD would get a two-year reprieve from a potential state takeover of the district’s locally elected school board or forced campus closures.


Douglas, who has previously served as president of Texas Southern University and helped form Energized For STEM Academy’s governing board in 2008, said he’s been in discussion with HISD leaders about the arrangement for three weeks. A contract hasn’t been drawn up, and many details will be worked out in the coming days ahead of an April 30 deadline to submit partnership plans to the Texas Education Agency, Douglas said.

“We know we have to do in a few days what normally would take months to do,” Douglas said. “But that’s what has been handed to us, and that’s what we have to deal with. We can’t waste time worrying about what we need.”

There’s not a lot to go on here, but then it’s not like there are a ton of other great options out there. Reaction is mixed, as you might expect.

A long-awaited proposal from Houston ISD to temporarily surrender control over 10 of its lowest-performing schools is facing mixed reviews ahead of a crucial vote Tuesday.

Case in point: the president of Houston’s largest teachers union, Zeph Capo, blasted the proposal to allow Energized For STEM Academy to run all 10 schools as ill-conceived and hastily arranged, saying he has “no confidence that this is in the best interest of children.” Meanwhile, Board of Trustees President Rhonda Skillern-Jones defended the arrangement as “the best choice of all the bad choices” available to HISD, which faces forced campus closures or a state takeover of its locally elected school board without a partnership.


Energized For STEM Academy currently operates middle and high schools with roughly 1,000 students combined. The campuses are overseen by Lois Bullock, who has operated in-district HISD charters since 1998. Its two high schools had graduation rates, state standardized test scores and SAT scores that were well above HISD averages in 2016-17. However, one of its middle schools was rated “improvement required” by the state in 2014 and 2016.

Douglas and Bullock oversee three additional in-district HISD charter schools with a similar name, Energized For Excellence Academy, but those campuses have a different governing board.

Capo, who heads the Houston Federation of Teachers, said he has deep concerns about Energized For STEM Academy’s ability to improve academic performance after conducting initial research. He questioned how an organization educating about 1,000 students can oversee an additional 6,000-plus students.

“What evidence do we have that says they can actually do the job?” Capo said.

Capo added that residents and local education advocates, including his union, haven’t had enough time to vet Energized For STEM Academy for possible improper ties to for-profit entities or other conflicts of interest. The organization has filed annual 990 tax forms, which detail many spending patterns, but they don’t post annual financial audits or governing board meeting minutes on their website.

“(Trustees) need to grow a backbone and pay deep, close attention to what’s happening before they vote,” Capo said. “There are far too many questions left unanswered before they vote on Tuesday.”

Skillern-Jones said she supports forming partnerships if it means keeping local control and avoiding campus closures, which she called “devastating” to neighborhoods that are predominately black and Hispanic. She said her constituents, who make up six of the 10 schools, wanted a partner with local ties. The only other organization under consideration for a partnership, Generation Schools Network, is based in New York.

“I’m still looking through all the information, but I know they have a good track record in the district for 20 years, which says to me that we’ve kept them around for a reason,” Skillern-Jones said.

See here for the last update. I get Zeph Capo’s concerns – this is all happening very fast, with not much public input, and while Energized For STEM seems to have a decent track record this is asking a lot from them with no guarantee that their methods will translate or scale to a larger group of students. On the other hand, the remaining options are to find a different charter operator, to close the affected schools and reconstitute them as smaller institutions (which is really unpopular with the affected communities), and hope for the best with this year’s STAAR results. Some activists are calling for HISD to sue the TEA; I’m not qualified to assess the merits of such a strategy, but if it works it would at least buy some time. Energized For STEM may well be the best of a bad lot, but that’s not the same as being good.

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13 Responses to HISD considers charter partnership

  1. Mark Kerrissey says:

    This whole affair has been botched at multiple level including at the TEA. It all stems from the flawed 2015 hb 1842 and later SB 1882. Bad laws make for good legal business. There is a Thurgood Marshall out there to defend HISD from state over reach into its poor black and brown neighborhoods. Now we know why the board declined to commission a legal strategy. The insider game was at work.

  2. Mark Kerrissey says:

    This is a rush job full of potholes and mistakes. Energized for Stem is unlikely to turn these schools around vis a vis STAAR scores in two years. But all this nonsense stems from the flawed HB 1842, SB 1882 and Chapter 41 Recapture. Bad law makes hay for attorneys. I believe there is a Thurgood Marshall in our mist who can build a powerful case against TEA/Morath overreach. Two forces are merging. Recapture deficit resulting in staff downsizing and Partnership which means charter. On top of this is the Carranza departure.

  3. Mark Kerrissey says:

    Sorry for the duplicate post. Apparently there is a time lag. Delete the second.

  4. Ross says:

    From Facebook and news, the HISD board meeting degenerated into chaos, and they had police drag people out of the board room. There was no vote on a partnership. There is a serious lack of leadership on the HISD board.

  5. HISD is not all bad. They got to miss class to protest gun control, right?, wrong?.

  6. Bill Daniels says:

    HISD had five years to do something. It is time to let the state fix it, because HISD’s core competency seeks to be renaming schools, not educating poor minority kids.

  7. C.L. says:

    Gasp.. I’m with Bill on this.

  8. Ross says:

    @Bill, if you think the State can “fix” the low performing schools, you are on some good drugs. The entire intent of the State takeover is to put money in the pockets of operators of charter schools and other private organizations. Charter schools do better than average because they don’t have to take special ed students, can expel pretty much any student they want, and they are totally unaccountable to anybody.

    If my research and data examination is correct, the IR schools are made up mostly of underachieving students, and students whose families either aren’t interested in education, or are unable to help their kids do better. Many, if not most, of the higher achieving students at the IR schools have transferred to other HISD campuses or magnet programs. It doesn’t help matters that the STAAR tests are graded on a curve, and a certain number of students will fail. HISD could make the schools be not IR by forcing all the transfer out students to go to their zoned school, but that wouldn’t help the students that are there now, they will just be hidden in a normalized population.

    Yes, the HISD board screwed up by renaming schools, but I am not judging the district on that action alone. My kid is in an HISD magnet program, and we are happy with the school. I don’t want to see the State take over the district, and revert to a one size fits all philosophy, where all schools are exactly the same, with no effort at all to provide programs for students whose learning schools are better suited to another style, like project based learning, Montessori, etc.

  9. Pingback: HISD nixes charter partnership – Off the Kuff

  10. C.L. says:

    Dollar to donuts the disruptive parents who got tossed from the HISD meeting are the same ones who have little to no involvement with their child’s education (both academic and moral) the other 364 days of the year. If the charter schools and other private organizations are going to attempt to right HISD’s wrong, I don’t give a shit where the money comes from.

  11. Ross says:

    @CL, The parents that were at the meeting were there because they do care, and are involved in their kid’s education. The charter schools limited success is due to being able to pick and choose the students they accept. HISD has to accept all students, not just the best ones.

  12. C.L. says:

    @Ross… Let’s look at the three high schools under consideration, Kashmere (71% graduation rate, 7.5% dropout rate, 11.9% with limited English proficiency), Wheatley (68.1% graduation rate, 5.8% dropout rate, 18% with limited English proficiency) and Worthing (67.7% graduation rate, 7.7% dropout rate, 7.5% with limited English proficiency). All of these were 2016-2017 figures.

    If you’re not vested enough to get your child to school or to keep them in school, they sure aren’t going to graduate…. Will a private organization or charter school do a better job in bringing these kids up to speed ? Time will tell, but continuing to fiddle while Kashmere, Wheatley, and Worthing burn certainly ain’t helping.

  13. Manny Barrera says:

    Public education is what made America great, the destruction of public education will turn America into a third world country.

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