New in Texas Edu in 2014

In addition to being recognized as the best urban district in the country, Houston ISD puts out a great weekly newsletter.  It inspired this recap of a few of the exciting initiatives launching this year in Texas schools.
Houston Superintendent Terry Grier notes that the “PowerUp digital transformation is expanding, with the addition of 21 high schools where students will receive their own laptops to use in the classroom and at home starting in January, and partial launch of the PowerUp HUB, our digital teaching and learning platform that will become fully operational next school year.”
Eight high schools are kicking off our new Linked Learning approach, bringing their 32 feeder campuses with them to expose youngsters to both college and careers from the youngest age. Houston added two new Middle College High Schools to re-engage disconnected youth (see feature), put two Futures Academy programs at Jones HS for college and career prep, and turnedWestbury HS into an AP-focused school. They expanded from  14 to 28 dual-language schools. HISD Is piloting yoga as physical education in 13 of our schools this year.
There’s a new cyber safety website and a parent notification system. HISD launched new transportation and food services apps.  All students in 166 HISD schools receive free breakfast and lunch without filling out applications.
Grier notes, “Our biggest focus — our “main thing” — is literacy, literacy, literacy. Our Literacy By 3 program aims to have every HISD student reading on level by Grade 3.”  They  installed specialized libraries in every elementary school and classroom, and we have excited teachers who have trained over the summer.  Eighty kindergarten and first grade teachers from throughout the district are undergoing training on a program called TeacherMate, which uses technology to support and help teachers provide differentiated literacy instruction.
El Paso ISD has a new leadership team and a new direction.  After a decade of test prep, El Paso schools are focused on active learning—personalized and engaging experiences for every student. Superintendent Juan Cabrera said, “A large part of my excitement about active learning as a change at EPISD also stems from the fact that moving towards active and engaged learning will begin the process of teachers feeling safe to take more  risks in the classroom–we hope to release all the creativity and ingenuity that exist within our teachers!”
Other district priorities also include community partnerships, honesty & integrity, and a renewed commitment to great schools in every neighborhood. Watch for an exciting Open Education Resources initiative.
Uplift Education operates 14 college prep schools in metro Dallas including a new school in
Grand Prairie- Uplift Grand Preparatory initially serving students in grades K-2 and 6-7th.
Each student must be accepted into a two- or four-year college institution in order to receive their diploma from an Uplift high school.
CEO Yasmin Bhatia said, “Two big instructional initiatives to support our students in being 100% college ready include 1) increasing student voice/ inquiry in our classrooms and strengthening our student’s math problem-solving skills, and 2)differentiating our Adult Learning Environment through the roll-out of Blackboard for our teachers.
KIPP Houston Public Schools has 22 schools serving serving11,500 students including two new schools, KIPP Connect Primary and MS, which are our first Purpose Built Community schools as outlined in the Houston Chronicle
Mike Feinberg said, “We have several other blended learning and character ed pilots going on, as well as a new teacher residency effort to add another talent pipeline, but mostly we’re trying to ensure we execute well on the stuff that’s not new!”
IDEA Public Schools is a growing network of 30 schools throughout the Rio Grande Valley, Austin and San Antonio, including a new third campus in Brownsville. IDEA is committed to “College For All Children” and has sent 100% of its graduates to college for six consecutive years.
All campuses K-12 are now implementing some type of blended learning during the school day and 18,000 IDEA students are benefiting from this approach. They have a growing cadre of blended/individualized learning staff at the campus of over 85 teachers and growing daily as our core teachers become more immersed in blended learning.
Catalyst is a re-imagined intervention and acceleration initiative launched this year at 14 college prep campuses impacting over 10,000 students. The intervention block features online classes, project based learning, and a variety of adaptive software during this time to allow students to individualize their instructions and for teachers to have small intervention groups to meet the needs of our students most in need.
IDEA has a 2:1 laptop to student ratio at each of the college prep campuses providing better access to all students including access to teachers in a small group setting and peer-guided project-based learning.
The Hub is an internal system for collaboration and resource sharing–it’s a precursor to our data dashboard system that will include integration of teacher data and blended learning data as well as some really interesting predictive analytics.

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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