I can’t keep up with all of the HISD stories, so I’m going to just highlight a couple of recent ones.
The family joined a Wednesday afternoon rally alongside dozens of parents, students and neighbors who gathered on Ernestine Street outside Cage Elementary and Project Chrysalis Middle School, waving posters and chanting together in an effort to push back on recent changes at the NES-aligned schools.
Superintendent Mike Miles has said his systemic reform model is geared toward improving academic achievement at campuses in struggling feeder patterns, and he often emphasizes the need for high-quality instruction, extra support for teachers and high-quality teaching.
The event marked the third such rally at the campus in recent weeks and followed rumors that Miles planned to merge the schools with other nearby campuses, an allegation HISD denied. The families have been joined by students and parents from neighboring schools as well as other community members who say they want to stand alongside the targeted school community.
The East End campus has perhaps shown the most visible resistance so far to the NES model introduced by Miles, with parents and teachers alike voicing concerns. Earlier this month, a senior district leader reprimanded Cage and Project Chrysalis teachers for failing to embrace the new program, and at least four teachers have left or been pulled from the campus in the first weeks of school.
Both schools, which serve a largely Hispanic population and are co-located at the same campus, scored As with distinctions on the most recent Texas Education Agency ratings. Project Chrysalis has won two National Blue Ribbon awards, most recently in 2019.
This year has been full of changes, however, since the principal opted into the NES-aligned program over the summer. In the first week of school, the district appointed a new principal, Mary Lou Walter, who worked as an administrator in Dallas ISD during Miles’ tenure as superintendent, according to her LinkedIn profile.
Rumors about a potential closure or merger began on Tuesday after Miles visited the campus.
Yecenia Lizardo, a parent of two children at the campus, said she spoke with multiple teachers who said they overheard the superintendent talking about merging Cage and Chrysalis with nearby schools, effectively eliminating the unique, academically challenging school environment beloved by many families.
“He came to the school, and they heard him talking about it in the hallways,” she said.
Lizardo shared the information in a parent group on Facebook, noting that it had not been verified, in the hopes that the community could drum up answers.
Members of the teachers union and Community Voices for Public Education, meanwhile, picked up the information and shared it with their followers on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.
The district dispelled the rumor Wednesday morning, stating the groups were “intentionally spreading lies on social media to scare families and divide the HISD community.”
“There is no truth to any of the rumors about changes at Cage Elementary or Project Chrysalis Middle School,” the district said. “This shameful behavior needs to stop. It is only hurting students and families.”
A spokesperson confirmed that Miles visited the Cage and Chrysalis campus this week as part of his broader efforts to tour schools across HISD.
I don’t know what the situation is at these schools. It may well be that this was a completely unverified rumor that got taken as fact – Lord knows that’s an all-too-common occurrence in the year of Our Lord 2023. But I will note two things: One is that Mike Miles’ go-to response for all criticism is that the people making it, whatever they are saying, are “uninformed” about what he’s actually doing. I’ve yet to see him acknowledge that anyone who has anything critical to say about him or his programs has a point. He doesn’t have to defend himself to the Board of Managers, so maybe he thinks he doesn’t have to defend himself to anyone. And two, as I’ve said before, regardless of how successful in test scores and reading comprehension levels the Mile agenda is, if people hate the experience and think it was shoved down their throats, they’re going to vote with their feet. Teachers, too. I fear this at least as much as I fear the programs not working.
Buchanan’s class is one of several new options offered to students at Lawson this year as part of the Dyad program that HISD state-appointed superintendent Mike Miles has introduced at 85 New Education System and NES-aligned schools.
In addition to the school’s 14 typical elective options, students can take classes in photography, gardening, yoga, fitness, cosmetology and other subjects taught by professionals from the community. Professionals from the community teach classes on a wide range of topics to students in third through eighth grade. Miles has said the program is a good way for the district to leverage the expertise of local professionals.
As part of the program, sixth-graders at Lawson during one class in September used rakes, shovels and other gardening tools — with the assistance of their instructor — to prepare soil and start the early stages of a garden, where they’ll eventually be planting a variety of vegetables that are expected to ripen by the end of the school year.
Students in a photography Dyad class pretended to be celebrities walking down an imaginary red carpet, while the rest of the class acted as members of the paparazzi, snapping photos with their Canon EOS R10 cameras and shouting for the attention of the “celebrities,” before reviewing photos with their instructor.
A little over a month since the Dyad classes began, multiple HISD students told the Chronicle that they enjoy their Dyad classes because they provide them with additional class options that fit their interests and allow them to learn from unique instructors.
In Houston, “allowing organizations (or community members) to partner up with schools provides opportunities for tapping into this amazing wealth of arts resources that we have in our community,” said Daniel Bowen, the co-director of the Arts, Humanities and Civic Engagement Lab at Texas A&M University. “That’s definitely a huge positive.”
Dawn Stienecker, an assistant art education professor at the University of Texas, said she agrees that the Dyad program provides a positive opportunity for students. However, she expressed some trepidation about whether instructors with no background in education would be successful in creating the best possible curriculum or ensuring students are truly learning.
“If you don’t have training for how to be an educator, if you haven’t done an internship, if you haven’t done observations and really learned how to work with these kids, some people might not get the support they need to be successful,” said Stienecker, a former Houston ISD middle school art teacher.
This all sounds good, and you should read the rest. I’m surprised I had not heard of this before, and I’m surprised there hadn’t been anything like it (if indeed there hadn’t been) before now. I don’t know if I missed earlier stories or if this just got buried under everything else.
One month into HISD’s school year, significant curriculum and instructional changes have crept into campuses that were supposed to be exempt from Miles’ overhaul, teachers and families at 15 non-NES schools told the Houston Landing in recent weeks. The new practices appear to contradict comments made earlier this summer by Miles, who said he planned to largely leave most schools to operate as they were while he transformed 85 other campuses under the NES umbrella.
In interviews, the educators and parents said many of the changes they’re seeing include elements initially advertised as only for NES schools. Thirteen of their 15 schools scored A or B ratings under the state’s academic accountability system in 2022.
For teachers, the new requirements include removing classroom decor, writing daily lesson objectives on whiteboards at the front of the classroom and repeatedly incorporating the every-four-minute learning checks into their lessons.
In addition, principals leading nearly two-thirds of non-NES schools are choosing to use new reading and math curriculums, Amplify and Eureka, that are mandated in the overhauled campuses, HISD officials confirmed Thursday. Educators at those schools must use the teaching practices recommended by the curriculum providers, such as a daily quiz, called a Demonstration of Learning.
“It sure does feel like NES,” said Melissa Yarborough, an English teacher at the non-NES Navarro Middle School, who now has to use the new curriculum after her principal chose to adopt it this year. “If you don’t get to that Demonstration of Learning by the time you’re supposed to get to it, then that administrator is going to be telling you your pacing is wrong.”
After his June appointment by Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath, Miles toured HISD describing what he called a “split screen” approach. Miles declared that 28 schools chosen by HISD’s administration would undergo an immediate overhaul. Weeks later, another 57 voluntarily joined the initiative.
Meanwhile, the rest of HISD’s roughly 190 schools would see minimal changes, such as principals observing classrooms more often, Miles said.
“We’re not going to upset the applecart in all of the schools,” Miles told the Landing in an interview published June 1. “There’s a number of schools that are already doing a good job, so we need to leave those schools to do what they’ve always done. They’re getting good results. … With regard to curriculum or engagement strategies, that’s probably going to be the same for schools that are doing well.”
HISD spokesperson Jose Irizarry said principals at non-NES schools — and not Miles’ central administration — have chosen the new approaches to curriculum, instructional policies and classroom decor, among other practices.
However, Irizarry acknowledged that teacher evaluation processes have changed district-wide, and that non-NES schools using Amplify and Eureka are required to adjust their lesson delivery.
“Those campuses are expected to support teachers to implement those materials and lessons with fidelity,” Irizarry said in a written statement.
Miles argues the new curriculums are the most effective state-approved teaching materials, and repeated student learning checks are a characteristic of skilled, engaging instruction.
So which is it, then? Leave these schools alone because they’re already doing a good job, or let them low-key opt in without telling anyone up front that’s what they’re doing? If HISD is just going to wink at these principals undermining what Miles said as he took over, then what was the point of that “not going to upset the applecart” statement? Just add this to the long list of reasons why there are trust issues with Miles and HISD.