The little school in the Houston Heights has a lot going for it. But one thing it may not have is a future. The Houston school system is considering closing it and three other elementary schools at the end of the school year.
Parents, teachers and others at Love, Grimes, Rhoads and McDade elementaries are now trying to make their cases to the Houston Independent School District to save their schools. And they can’t help but wonder, out of nearly 300 schools in the district, how did their four schools get picked to be shut down?
“It just seems like (HISD) just slipped in the fact that these schools might be closed,” said Bronwyn Lauder, parent of a student at Love, and president of its parent-teacher organization. “It seems like it was an afterthought. There just hasn’t been much discussion.”
Given that the Houston school system is working so hard to fix its struggling schools, such as the efforts of the turnaround program called Apollo 20, parents and others also wonder why the school system is closing four schools that are successful.
Love, Rhoads and McDade received the highest academic rating from the state this school year, “exemplary.” Grimes received an “academically acceptable” rating from the Texas Education Agency, a passing grade that is one step above the lowest rating of “academically unacceptable.”
All four schools are considered “Vanguard neighborhood schools,” teaching students using a traditional curriculum while providing more academically vigorous activities for students who are extremely smart. All four schools also receive “small school” funding from HISD.
Love Elementary Principal Robert Chavarria referred questions to HISD’s press relations staff. Messages left for the principals at McDade, Grimes and Rhoads were not returned.
The Houston school system is bracing itself for up to $348 million in cuts from the state. Along with considering closing the four schools, it is looking at district-wide layoffs, eliminating some education programs and reducing funding for campuses.
The four schools are among those the school district considers to have too few students -- the so-called “small schools.” Closing them would save HISD $1.7 million next year.
Love currently has 425 students, 75 fewer than HISD thinks an elementary school needs to run economically. Grimes has 380 students and Rhoads has 320, while McDade -- squeezed in between the Key Middle School campus and the north end of the 610 Loop -- has the fewest students of the four, with 272.
This school year HISD expects to spend more than $10 million in additional funding for the 60-plus small schools. The extra funding is awarded to campuses through a “small school subsidy” and can be used for anything from hiring a music teacher to paying for a school nurse.
To receive the subsidy, a school must meet low-enrollment thresholds designated by HISD: 500 or less for elementary schools, 750 or less for middle schools and 1,000 or less for high schools.
Some parents at the four schools say they’re in the dark about the possible closures.
“We submitted about 10 questions to (HISD) and haven’t received any answers yet,” Lauder said. She and other members of the Love PTO began contacting HISD the day after HISD trustees approved beginning the process of possibly closing Love and the three other schools.
Included in those questions were how and why the four schools were chosen. That question and others were submitted by Lauder to HISD Chief Elementary School Officer Sam Sarabia at a community meeting held at Love three weeks ago.
HISD says low enrollment is just one reason why these four schools were chosen.
“Schools were chosen based on enrollment, facility, availability of space at surrounding schools,” HISD spokesman Jason Spencer said in an e-mail.
The schools were picked by the HISD administration, Spencer said, and whether they’ll actually be closed will be up to the school district’s trustees.
Schools that could absorb Love students. Green balloons: Schools that
could absorb McDade students. Blue balloon: Woodson, which could
absorb students from both Rhoads and Grimes. Graphic by
Lynn Walsh/Texas Watchdog.
View HISD elementary schools considred for closure in a larger map
“There are some schools smaller than the ones being considered,” Spencer said. “Keep in mind that some of the other small schools may have plans in the works (consolidations into new schools, other programs to be added, etc.)”
If the schools are closed next year, students would be spread to other neighboring schools.
For students at Love, those schools are Field, Sinclair and Harvard elementaries. All three schools have the highest academic rating of “exemplary,” like Love, and all are two miles or less from Love.
“I think small schools are actually better,” said Travis McGee said, a civic leader in the Sunnyside neighborhood of Houston, where Grimes and Rhoads are located. “Why would you stuff kids in a classroom that have 30-to-1 (student-teacher) ratios? That does not make much sense.”
Students from Grimes and Rhoads would be sent to Woodson, a pre-kindergarten-through-eighth grade school 1.4 miles from Grimes and a half mile from Rhoads.
McGee says transportation is one of his biggest concerns for students if the school is closed.
“Grimes has a better location than all of the schools,” McGee said. “It is directly in a neighborhood without any major intersections where kids would have to cross dangerous streets. This is a high-risk, minority area. These parents lack transportation to get their kids to a new school,” he said.
The four schools’ possible closure could mean students could move to a better school or a not-as-good school, according to the TEA ratings.
For instance, if McDade -- an “exemplary” school -- closed, some students could wind up at Paige Elementary, which is “recognized,” or one step below “exemplary.”
On other other hand, none of the four schools has a magnet program, and some of the recipient schools have magnets. For instance, Ross Elementary, one of McDade’s possible recipient schools, has a magnet program that focuses on math and science. Two of Love Elementary’s recipient schools, Sinclair and Harvard, also have magnets.
(Story continues below the interactive spreadsheet.)
(To see how all of the schools compare, including their demographics, attendance rates and number of disciplinary actions, check out the chart below. You can also search and filter information based on categories.)
"If they (HISD trustees) would take time out and listen to the community and put new programs into the school, they would see a difference,” McGee said. “The programs being offered at other schools are driving parents and students away from Grimes.”
But Paula Harris, president of the school district’s trustees, says the district is looking at what’s best for the children.
“I know (state) Senator Rodney Ellis went to Grimes. And I know alumni want to keep these schools,” Harris, who has Grimes in her district, said at a recent school board workshop. “They would probably want to keep them even if the small school subsidy was taken away. But is that going to be best for the students? They would have less resources than they already have.”
The Love PTO sent a binder of letters and petitions to HISD trustees in an effort to try to “Save Love Elementary.” Inside the binder were letters from parents, community members and Rather, who graduated from Love. “I am in full support of those who oppose the closing of Love Elementary … The proposal was done in private and with no transparency. This is not, should not, be the Houston way,” Rather wrote.
Parents and community members can give feedback on the proposed school closures at a series of public meetings that began last weekend at Rhoads. Meetings are also slated for April 5 at McDade, April 7 for Love and April 13 for Grimes.
Trustees are expected to vote on whether to close the schools on April 14 -- a day after the community meeting at Grimes.
Photos of Love, Grimes, McDade and Rhoads elementaries and photo illustration with "closed" sign by Jennifer Peebles/Texas Watchdog.
Thursday, 04/07/2011 - 10:52AM
HISD has a strange way of budget cutting. 277 central office positions were cut with 95 vacant and 85 from maintenance department (construction & facilities services) So it looks like Grier only loses a handful of his over-paid staff....www.houstonisdwatch.com