By: Rebecca S. Jones
HOUSTON – Last week, African-American News & Issues was privileged to sit down with the first African-American female to serve as Interim Superintendent for the Houston Independent School District, Dr. Grenita Lathan. Publisher Roy Douglas Malonson immediately begin in on the “Good Doctor”.
“Give it to us straight – what’s going on over there,” he asked in reference to the nation’s eighth largest district. He continued, “We want the good, bad and ugly; now tell us what you have been able to do within the last year over there…” Dr. Lathan did not hesitate to begin listing the many achievements the District has accomplished under her leadership.
Raising the Bar
At the top of the list of achievements for the nation’s eighth largest School District, is its recent rating by the Texas Education Agency (TEA). Overall, HISD earned “B” rating under the state accountability system for the 2018-2019 academic year, with 92 percent of its schools earning a passing grade. With a grade of 88, nine campuses exited from the state’s “Improvement Required” list to “Met Standard”.
Most impressively, Kashmere High School earned a “C” rating from the TEA for the 2018-2019 school year. This is no small victory for a school which has remained on the TEA’s “struggling list of schools for eight consecutive years.”
According to TEA ratings, “Fifty-seven HISD campuses earned A’s, 78 earned B’s, 86 earned C’s and 29 earned D’s” – “D” is the minimum grade of which a school may receive a passing rating.
But that is just the beginning. HISD has implemented several new and innovative approaches and initiatives under the leadership of Interim Superintendent Dr. Grenita Lathan; which are working to benefit the overall betterment of the district.
No Child Left Hungry
This year, HISD’s Nutrition Services has continued to offer free breakfast, lunch and dinner to students. According to HISD’s News Blog, parents are no longer required to complete the free and reduced-price meal application. Instead, parents are asked to complete a socioeconomic information form. The data retrieved from this form will help determine the amount of federal funding that will need to be disbursed to schools, as well as, a “performance indicator for student achievement”.
Training Young Minds Early
Understanding the dire need to begin training young minds early in order to produce positive leaders in the future; HISD has expanded to offer free, full-day pre-kindergarten programs at schools across the district. This effort will work to “provide more three- and four-year-old students with the opportunity to attend a high-quality program that will build a strong foundation of learning and support the needs of the families it serves.”
According to the District, “Students who attend pre-K in the 2019-2020 school year will benefit from engaging, age-appropriate, hands-on instruction, as well as: high-quality teachers in every classroom; optional bilingual classrooms; after-school care (available at some campuses); new furniture and instructional materials in every classroom; support to address mental and physical health, food and housing needs and parent education classes.”
To that regard, a total of 12 elementary campuses will be expanding pre-K classrooms for a total of 38 pre-K rooms. Those campuses include, Neff Early Learning Center, Isaacs, R. Martinez, Rucker, Love, Browning, Shadowbriar, Askew, Mitchell, Garden Villas, DeAnda and Wesley Elementary Schools. Additionally, Hillard and Oates Elementary Schools are implementing pre-K for the first time.
Preparing Students for the Real World
HISD is committed to taking the future by storm in preparing students for life after education. As such, its Career and Technical Education (CTE) certification platform has increased to over 2,000 student CTE certifications in the 2018-2019 school year – opposed to 700 students obtaining certification in the 2017-18 school year.
This year, the Interim Superintendent announced that, “CTE programs will be expanding to nine high schools throughout the district; including the addition of a graphic design program at Waltrip High School, a cosmetology program at Madison High School and a construction program at Milby High School.” CTE certification is a major step in the right direction for students to develop a trade early in life. Such credentials have the ability to allow students to market themselves in the ever-growing workforce of America. Having a trade, with experience in the industry will help to ensure many high school students are able to secure gainful employment and/or competitive salaries after graduating.
Ascending to Men & Resilient Outstanding Sisters Exemplifying Success (ROSES)
HISD launched its Ascending to Men Program in the 2018-19 school year. The program was designed to provide, “positive role models, resources and advocates for students who need guidance, opportunities for growth and success in a variety of areas”. In addition, it seeks to support student’s academically, emotionally and socially.
From the positive impact Ascending to Men has had on young males in the district, the Interim Superintendent recently announced a sister mentorship program designed to support young females – Resilient Outstanding Sisters Exemplifying Success (ROSES). Like Ascending to Men, ROSES seeks “to provide positive role models and advocates to underserved young women who need guidance and opportunities for educational, social, and professional growth”.
Currently, nine hundred students from 30 schools have been identified and personally invited by the Interim Superintendent and Assistant Superintendent of Equity and Outreach Kenneth Davis to participate in the program. According to HISD’s News Blog, “Students who join ROSES will participate in a tailored curriculum featuring workshops led by professional women from various industries, entrepreneurship tours, college visits and a ROSES summit at the end of the year.” Over 100 students have already signed up for the program.
Other recent achievements of the district include: creating a Special Education Intensive Intervention Team to increase behavioral support for the Office of Special Education; increasing the number of district psychologists and behavioral support teachers to better support mental health needs of campuses and students; extended the Imagine Learning and language contract to support more newcomers, beginner and intermediate English Learners and Tier III students; hired 37 additional fine arts teachers for elementary schools; reached 85 percent completion on the 2012 Bond program, resulting in the most modern, state-of-the-art portfolio of learning facilities in the nation and refined Achieve 180, – the district’s turnaround program.
Lastly, the district’s Parent University is still in full throttle for the second year in a row. Parent University is a support mechanism for parents and families. It is comprised of workshops which are held at four geographically dispersed locations. During the sessions, the District provides an introduction to programs, community resources and parent-engagement strategies. For the convenience of students and parents, dinner is served to attendees and childcare is available. For more information regarding the workshops, keep picking up African-American News & Issues of visit the district’s website at https://www.houstonisd.org/parentuniversity.
About Interim Superintendent, Dr. Grenita Lathan
Dr. Grenita Lathan was named interim superintendent of the Houston Independent School District in March 2018, becoming the first African-American woman to serve as in the capacity.
Dr. Lathan’s academic career began in 1991 as a teacher at Morehead High School in Eden, N.C. She swiftly rose through ranks and served as both assistant principal and principal at other campuses in North Carolina. In 2008, she was named chief elementary school improvement officer of the San Diego Unified School District and then interim deputy superintendent in 2009.
Dr. Lathan was then named the superintendent of Peoria Public Schools in 2010, where she oversaw approximately 14,000 students and 2,700 staff members. Five years later in 2015, Dr. Lathan moved to Houston and served as HISD’s chief school officer over elementary transformation schools for a year. During this time, she led more than 20 schools out of an “improvement required” state rating to a “met standard” rating. During the 2016-2017 school year, she served as HISD’s chief academic officer.
Dr. Lathan possesses a bachelor’s degree in business education from North Carolina A&T State University, a master’s degree in business education from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and a doctoral degree from Southern Illinois University.