Monday, August 31, 2009

Our Neighborhood Schools

My husband and I don't have any kids yet, so we haven't had to face the stressful question of where to send them to school. According to most the families I've talked to within our neighborhood, my top-choice for elementary school should be Travis, and if I can't get in there, Harvard should be my next choice.

It saddens me to look at other schools in our neighborhood, some of which wouldn't be at the top of my list.

It seems to me that those of us who are parents-to-be and parents-of-young-ones (and anyone else who cares about our neighborhood) should join forces to help the schools in our neighborhood become the kind of schools that are at the top of our list. We have beautiful neighborhood schools that have a lot of potential.

But where to start?
  1. Step One: Recruit a core group of people interested in helping our schools reach their potential (including administrators and teachers from the schools who want to be part of the process).
  2. Step Two: Solidify a vision of what an excellent school looks like, sounds like, and feels like. During the vision-setting stage, it would be helpful to observe at excellent schools in the area (both public and private).
  3. Step Three: Diagnostically assess where our schools currently are. This diagnostic process could take the form of observations, meetings with the administration and teachers, focus groups with families of currently-enrolled students, etc.
  4. Step Four: Generate a strategic action plan that delineates how to get our schools from where they currently are to where we want them to be.
  5. Step Five: Implement the plan, collect data about how it's going, and make adjustments as necessary. Schedule regular meetings to ensure that the action steps are being implemented and that the momentum is carried forth.
Of course it sounds a lot easier than it actually is. School reform is a Herculean task, but it's definitely possible with the passion, commitment, time, and energy of dedicated families and community members. We have a living, breathing example of families impacting the school system right up the street.

I started my new job this past Monday. I now teach in a Montessori classroom at Garden Oaks Elementary (1st, 2nd, and 3rd graders). Garden Oaks Elementary is a mere three miles from my house, and it's a unique school because it's a traditional HISD school that has a public Montessori program within it. As you may or may not know, Montessori is an approach to education that seeks to create autonomous, competent, respectful, critically-thinking, joyful children who identify and follow their passions in life. The approach has been around for more than a hundred years, although it is typically primarily available in a private school setting.

There are a few other public Montessori programs within HISD: Whidby Elementary and Dodson Elementary are similar to Garden Oaks. Wilson Elementary in Montrose is actually a full Montessori campus from pre-K through 8th grade.

Public Montessori in HISD exists due to the concerted efforts of concerned and committed families in collaboration with educators, administrators, and HISD. Over a decade ago, a group of families started an organization called Friends of Montessori. The non-profit group works tirelessly to advocate for Montessori options within the public school system and raise money to support all the public Montessori programs.

This particular organization has shown that community members and citizens can make a difference if they work with the school system and commit to making it happen. The same thing can be done in our neighborhood with our schools.

Is something like this already underway? I'd love to be part of it.


  1. The Houston Heights Association's Education Committee works to address many of these issues for the schools in their area. They meet on the fourth Monday of most months during the school year.

  2. @ markwmsn: Thanks for the heads up! What kinds of things has that group accomplished?

  3. I love Montessori education and have looked into the public option for my kids. I called Wilson, but got the feeling that I just shouldn't even try to get in because they have wait list every year and have for 3 years (as I was told on the phone). My kids currently goto a private Montessori school, but I would love for them to be closer to home. I am still concerned about the standardized tests. Montessori was very against testing--how do the public schools deal with "No Child Left Behind" and still stay aligned with Montessori principles?