Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Houston’s Via Colori Street Art Festival to Showcase SBISD Student Artists

Over 200 international artists will converge on the streets of Houston to create public art and raise funds for The Center for Hearing and Speech, a local non-profit that serves children with hearing loss, as part of the city’s Via Colori Street Art Festival.

The festival, Saturday, Nov. 18 through Sunday, Nov. 19, will transform sidewalks near downtown City Hall into a massive outdoor gallery space.   Click here for event highlights and times.

This year, Spring Woods High School artist Raul Gomez, Spring Woods High School Class of 2018, will represent the Spring Branch Independent School District (SBISD) in the annual event.

Gomez loves creating art and it’s something he wants to pursue as a profession after high school graduation. Gomez’s design for the festival, a 3-dimensional drawing of a Volkswagen bus, was created to honor the festival’s theme of decades.

Smiling as he shares his sketch for the work, it’s obvious he’s excited and proud to be representing the school district at the festival. For Gomez, it’s about being part of the larger art community while sharing with those around him.

“It’s about my teachers, my friends, my school and my school district. There are a lot of things to make me feel proud about this,” said Gomez. “It’s not just me. It’s all of us. It’s about everyone coming together and sharing this experience.”

Ask art educator Rene Kleaver, fondly known as Miss K at Spring Woods High School, what she thinks about Gomex and her high school representing the district at the annual festival, and it’s obvious she is beyond thrilled to be part of a collaboration that extends the positive impact of the creative arts.

Kleaver is assisting fellow art educator, Rebekah Tee, to coordinate student artist for the festival. Students will be actively engaged in creating art during the festival, doing chalk work as well as running a face-painting booth.

Both educators see the opportunity as a way to expand the campus art program and empowering students to be part of a much large dialogue about what it means to be a community.

“We’re having our students be leaders,” said Kleaver. “We have great talent here. It’s about showcasing that talent and giving back.” As part of that giving back, high school participants will mentor middle school art students in their feeder patterns to train them on the ins and outs of a community art project experience.

This focus on growing and connecting student artist within the school community and across the district is something that Kleaver and Tee see as critical when defining what student participation and success look like.

“Art is incredibly important to the development of the individual and to the collective,” said Kleaver.

“Being part of something like this connects kids to the idea that they can do this as a profession. It creates a situation where kids see artists making art and being successful. It connects them to the steps necessary to be successful. If you want to be an artist you can do it. There is power in that.”

Connecting students to real-world experiences and pathways to career success directly supports the district goal of Spring Branch T-2-4.

“This is a little seed we’re trying to grow a big tree from,” said Kleaver. That tree is being watered and grown by District Arts Coordinator Sally Doyle.

Doyle is making an investment by purchasing street art kits for use across the school district.  District art students can connect and collaborate across the system using these resources.

“Proud. It’s amazing. I am proud to be part of this work,” said student artist Dorian Jordan, Spring Woods High School Class of 2018. Dorian is a Leading Junior Artist for the Via Colori Festival. This is the third street art festival for Dorian.

“This is what it is,” says Dorian. “This is the group, and it’s amazing. It makes you want to be part of something bigger than yourself.”

General admission tickets for the festival are currently on sale for $10. Click here to learn more. For directions and a map of the festival, click here.

 “This is not the end goal. This is the beginning of great things,” said Kleaver. “This is setting the tone and the bar for student artist in our school district. The power of public art and giving back is bringing our art and campus communities together, and that’s a wonderful thing to be part of.”

If you’re interested in supporting the outstanding art programming in SBISD, contact district Art Coordinator, Sally Doyle at sally.doyle@springbranchisd.com.

Friday, November 10, 2017

NASA Engineer Inspires SPIRAL Students

Former NASA engineer Jerry Woodfill was among the first to hear the Apollo 13 crew’s call for help, “Houston, we’ve had a problem.” Today, he reaches out to students to help them reach for the stars in their own lives.

On Nov. 6, Woodfill spoke to the district’s SPIRAL program for gifted and talented students at The Bendwood School. He shared his experiences as a NASA engineer and as a young student, including his own failing grades in elementary school.

“Mr. Woodfill did a great job inspiring and entertaining our SPIRAL students,” said program teacher Molly Nipper. “He shared his challenges as a young school kid, up through college at Rice University. He overcame challenges. I think that all kids and adults should hear his story.”

Woodfill worked for NASA at the Johnson Space Center for 52 years. Working as a warning system engineer, He contributed to the designs of both the Columbia and Eagle spacecraft warning systems.

He was at his duty station when the Apollo 13 crew radioed in to confirm an alert from his own warning system about the dire situation that might have resulted in the loss of the entire crew.

An explosion on board forced the Apollo 13 to circle the moon without landing in 1970. With only limited power, little potable water and increasing carbon dioxide levels resulting in critically needed, makeshift repairs, the crew returned to Earth safely six days after launch on April 17, 1970.
For his work, Woodfill was later awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom as a member of Apollo’s Mission Operations Team.

He arrived here in 1960 after earning a Rice University basketball scholarship, and later graduated with an electrical engineering degree from the private college. So impressed by hearing President Kennedy’s famous 1962 Rice Stadium “Moon Race” speech, Woodfill joined NASA three years later.

He was the Apollo Moon program’s Spacecraft Warning System Engineer, the only NASA employee to serve in this critical role.

In addition to the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Woodfill has received NASA’s Power of One and Educational Outreach Volunteer awards, to name a few. One thing he shared with students, along with his life and career story, was the oath created for the Apollo Team:

Oath of an Apollo 13
I will do my best to achieve success in my goals.
Neither fear, failure, nor frustration shall overcome me.
I am unstoppable, unmovable, and unshakable.

Woodfill also gave every student at the Bendwood event a wrist band that stated, “Failure is NOT an Option – I have the Right Stuff.”

Spartan Spirit in the Streets of NYC

Report compiled from stories written by the Stratford High Oracle’s Maddie Suerth and Dina Kesbeh of the Memorial Examiner

This year’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade will be extra special for the Spartanaires, because they are going to be dancing in it. The New York City-based parade has been a tradition since 1924 and takes place on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 23.

In the midst of all the colorful floats and groups participating, the Spartanaires drill team will be dancing with many other drill teams in this year’s televised event. During the weeklong Thanksgiving break, the team will fly out to New York to take part in the event and festivities.

As it continues to impact so much, Hurricane Harvey led to a pause on travel planning. Several Spartanaires and their families were impacted directly by storm flooding. But a way forward was found to make the trip affordable for all the team members.

“I think that it will be good to meet drill teams from other schools. It will be very interesting to get to know the girls we are going to be performing with and see where they come from. This is also a good performance opportunity for our team to showcase what we can do,” junior Morgan Vandervoort said.

To participate in the parade, the Spartanaires had to score above a certain rank for their team routine at competition last year and they found out they qualified for the parade during the award ceremony that night. After flying out, the Spartanaires will take a few dance classes and learn the routine they will perform in the parade. They will rehearse it many times before showcasing their work.

“While I am ecstatic to perform in the parade, what I am most looking forward to is getting closer as a team. We are going to be spending a whole week together in New York and I am excited to bond with everyone. We still have the rest of the year together and being united as a team [in New York City] will make us stronger as a whole and will allow us to be more successful,” senior Spartanaires Col. Erin Collins said.

The team will also be doing many other activities while in New York, including seeing the Broadway plays Wicked and Anastasia, as well as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

On the morning of the parade, the Spartanaires will wake up at 3:30 a.m. in order to get ready for event roll call at 4:30 a.m. Later, they will walk in the parade.

Stratford Spartanaires have participated in the Macy’s Day Parade before, the most recent being 2013 with a different batch of dancers. This will be a new experience for all Spartanaires, whose annual trips have been to Disney World and Dallas.

“I am most excited about hanging with my friends in New York, as well as performing in the parade. It will be so much fun to experience this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity together,” junior Mary Kate Guerre said.

The parade invitation to the Spartanaires was made by invitation by Spirit of America Productions. The team submitted several videos of their dance routines, and had to be rated high enough on each one to earn a parade invite. The Spartanaires Director told the Memorial Examiner that the production company lowered its participation costs because of Harvey’s impact on many team members and their families.

“Most of the girls that were impacted by the flood thought they wouldn’t be able to go, but now can because of this discount,” said director Julie Vinyard.

Watch the Macy’s Day Parade on local NBC station KPRC-TV2.

Service Puppy Pumps Up Veterans Day Event

Left to right: Gabby Carrelli, U.S. Marine Corps Retired Col. Stan Horton, Christina Pleasant and Catherine Piskurich gather at Spring Forest Middle's Veterans Day celebration with Astro, who will soon be trained as a service dog for a qualifying U.S. military veteran.
Astro, a 10-week old Golden Retriever puppy who will soon be trained as a service dog for a qualifying U.S. military veteran, won the hearts and minds of attendees gathered Friday morning at Spring Forest Middle School.

The playful puppy joined two other service dogs in training, labradors Beau and Dude, at the 17th annual Veterans Day Celebration hosted at this west Houston campus.

Patriot Paws, the College Station, Texas,-based service dog training group, bought Astro through donations from Spring Forest Middle students, faculty and families. Patriot Paws has attended the veterans celebration for years.

As part of the school’s Astro fund-raising effort, students were able to name their retriever. Friday was his first campus event appearance., but based on his popularity may not be the last.

Astro will begin training for a later match with a returning veteran physically disabled or suffering from anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) issues. Nationally, Patriot Paws has about 60 service dogs in training, with its College Station branch sponsoring about 18 dogs and puppies.

“In the beginning, it was the dogs that really drew me in, but I quickly fell in love with the puppies and the overall program, especially the veterans. The veterans’ lives and the stories that they share about their service dogs is so important to me now,” said Texas A&M University student and Patriot Paws puppy trainer Jackie Fruit. She has worked with the group several years.

Left to right: SBISD Trustee J. Carter Breed, Army veteran Ed Dyer and Spring Forest’s program keynote speaker, U.S. Army veteran Katherine Meadows
In addition to heartwarming Astro and brothers in training Beau and Dude, Spring Forest’s program keynote speaker this year was U.S. Army veteran Katherine Meadows. She holds the Bronze Star and Purple Heart for her years of overseas service as a military logistics and transportation officer.

She joined the U.S. Army after her graduation through a ROTC commission She was commissioned in 2004. Her Iraqi military assignments were varied and included warehouse development and operations, soldier deployment, troop monitoring and movement, cargo delivery for five Army brigades, and logistics for future doctrine and force structure design.

Meadows retired medically from the U.S. Army in 2011. She now works for the Houston-based Defense Logistics Agency Energy Americas East. As a specialist in inventory management, she manages the bulk fuel distribution system in areas ranging from pipelines to tanker trucks for 22 fuel sites.

She holds a bachelor’s degree in business management from Jacksonville State University in Alabama. Today, the Army veteran officer is studying to earn a master’s degree in business administration and qualitative analytics through Indiana University, located in Bloomington, Ind.

In addition to the Bronze Star and Purple Heart, Meadows holds numerous military awards. They include the Army Commendation and Achievement medals, National Defense Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal with Campaign Star, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Ribbon and the Combat Action Badge.

Masters of ceremony for this year’s Veterans Day Celebration were students, Ana Ramirez, Paige Clark, Ainsley Lewis and Catherine Piskurich. SBISD’s Naval Jr. ROTC students presented the colors.

Special music was provided by the Spring Forest Middle Orchestra, Star Spangled Banner; Stratford High’s Gavin Young, Reveille and Taps; Spring Forest Middle Symphonic Band, American Patrol; and Spring Forest Middle Choir, A Salute to Our Veterans.

Dozens of area veterans of all ages were honored inside the campus gym with an overwhelming and a sustained standing student ovation during the Procession of Veterans entry. Each veteran was also introduced, by name and military division. A special slide show honored them, too.

Bobcat sponsors included BBMC Mortgage; Jennings Orthodontics; Chick Fil A-Dairy Ashford; Laird Law Firm PC; Girish Bharwani, DDS; Leigh-Leigh’s Little Lagniappe; J. Carter Breed; Medi Weight Loss; Norton Creative; Hudella Real Estate Companies; and Heritage Texas Properties.

Donations were also made by Kolache Factory and Pro Shop Embroidery.

Service Puppy and Army Transportation Officer Share Spotlight at Spring Forest Middle Veterans Day Events

Keynote speaker, U.S. Army veteran, Katherine Meadows, is a Bronze Star and Purple Heart recipient.
A Golden Retriever puppy sponsored by student donations and former U.S. Army Logistics and Transportation officer will be featured during the Friday, Nov. 10, Veterans Day Celebration at Spring Forest Middle School.

The middle school celebration has been held 17 years in a row. It begins on Friday with an 8 a.m. family breakfast and 9 a.m. gym program. Spring Forest’s live event is the largest campus-based Veterans Day observance held on Houston’s west side. The school address is 14240 Memorial Drive.

This year’s observance will include at least two highlights. Patriot Paws, a service dog training group based at Texas A&M University, is expected to exhibit a Golden Retriever puppy. The young service dog, named Astro, is in training and was purchased with funds donated by Spring Forest Middle students, staff and families.

In addition, keynote speaker is a U.S. Army veteran, Katherine Meadows, a Bronze Star and Purple Heart recipient. She holds her bachelor’s degree in business management from Jacksonville State University in Alabama. She joined the U.S. Army after her graduation through a ROTC commission as a Transportation Officer. She was commissioned in 2004.

Her overseas Iraqi military assignments were varied and complex, including warehouse development and operations, soldier deployment, troop monitor and movement, cargo delivery involving five Army brigades, transportation networks, and logistics for future doctrine and force structure design.

Meadows retired for medical reasons from the U.S. Army in 2011. She now works for Defense Logistics Agency Energy Americas East in Houston. As an Inventory Management Specialist, her manages the bulk fuel distribution system in areas ranging from pipelines to tanker trucks for 22 fuel sites.

The Army veteran officer is studying to earn a master’s degree in business administration and qualitative analytics through Indiana University, located in Bloomington, Ind.

In addition to the Bronze Star and Purple Heart, Meadows holds numerous military awards. These include the Army Commendation Medal, the Army Achievement Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal with Campaign Star, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Ribbon and the Combat Action Badge.

Read biography of Katherine Meadows >>

To RSVP for Friday’s breakfast event, please call 713.251.4618. Separate Veterans Day events are scheduled on Friday at other SBISD campuses, including Spring Branch Middle School.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Treasure Forest Elementary Celebrates with Astros Mascot Orbit

Thumping music and the cheering of hundreds of students at Treasure Forest Elementary Schools filled the air as a large, fuzzy, green visitor took center stage to lead a campus celebration of books and literacy earlier this week in SBISD.

Rocking some spectacular dance moves, the Houston Astros’ mascot, Orbit, made his way through the crowd, high-fiving students, and bebopping to energetic tunes along the way. The timing of the celebration could not have been more perfect and was one of two visits the mascot made in Spring Branch ISD, the other being to Hollibrook Elementary School earlier in the week.

Watch Video >>

The fun began with a rousing reminder of the Houston Astros’ recent World Championship win. Both students and adults went wild, and the energy didn’t stop there.  Through cheering contests, t-shirt giveaways, and a lively three-strikes activity the room was alive with excitement about the visitor and the message of achieving excellence through education.

The event, supported by the Barbara Bush Foundation, was one of the several activities the Foundation’s supported at Treasure Forest, Hollibrook Elementary, and other schools around the district.

Treasure Forest received support to launch the My Home Library initiative last school year with every student receiving six new books to build an at-home, personal reading library. Campus Librarian, Shanda Fraser, is preparing for an additional six books for each student this semester from the organization.

Earlier this month 700 students at Hollibrook collected their six new books as part of the initiative, and in the wake of Tropic Storm Harvey, the program has expanded to include additional campuses impacted by storm flooding.

In all, up to 2,500 SBISD students will receive My Home Library books this school year through the organization; up to 25,00 students across the Houston area. Read more about Hollibrook’s My Home Library book giveaway here.

As the cheering faded and Orbit waved goodbye, students began to file out of the gym and toward class exiting through the campus library. Librarian Fraser watching them face beaming and a bebop in her step. 

Learn more about the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation and related philanthropic opportunities.

Spring Branch ISD Voters Approve $898.4 Million Bond

Nov. 8, 2017
Download press release >>

SPRING BRANCH ISD – Based on complete but unofficial returns, voters in Spring Branch ISD approved an $898.4 million bond referendum by a 4-1 margin. With 46 of 46 precincts reporting, Harris County’s unofficial returns show 12,185 total ballots cast, with 9,599 district residents voting for the referendum and 2,459 voting against it.

“We’re very grateful. It’s a significant win for the kids and for our community. I’m humbled by the margin of victory,” SBISD Superintendent Scott Muri, Ed.D., told the Houston Chronicle newspaper as the overall voter approval margin approached 80 percent last night.

“We are deeply appreciative of the Spring Branch ISD community’s support of our students, our teachers and our schools,” Superintendent Muri also said. “Our community has voted for the future of Spring Branch schools despite Hurricane Harvey’s impact on families. We will now proceed thoughtfully and with great sensitivity as we move forward with our long-range facilities plan. SBISD continues to be inspired by our community and its determination to meet the educational needs of every child.”

District voter approval followed an Aug. 21 call for a bond election by the Board of Trustees, which voted unanimously shortly before the arrival of Hurricane Harvey on the Texas Gulf Coast. The hurricane caused extensive local flooding, although SBISD’s schools and facilities were mostly unscathed by storm waters. On Oct. 11, SBISD Trustees voted unanimously to authorize reappraisal of hurricane-damaged properties inside the school district.

Bond approval will allow SBISD to begin design and planning for replacement of nine elementary schools and Landrum Middle School; construction of new classroom buildings at Memorial and Northbrook high schools and a classroom wing at Cedar Brook Elementary; replacement of the Stratford High auditorium; and renovation of Spring Woods High’s cafeteria and library. Other 2017 Bond initiatives will upgrade safety and security, building systems and technology at all campuses.

In addition, bond funds will be used to replace older district buses, install four high school synthetic turf fields, replace aged musical instruments and uniforms, and also replace Career & Technical Education classroom equipment.

Dr. Muri and SBISD Board of Trustees President Karen Peck joined together to thank parents, business representatives, retirees, teachers and other patrons from every feeder pattern who served on several crucial, community-based groups that worked for months to identify facility needs and review current and future district needs. These key working groups included the SBISD Long-Range Facilities Committee and the Bond Advisory Committee.

“On behalf of the entire Board, I would like to thank not only our voters, but also the many community members and district staff, and especially the Long-Range Facilities and Bond Advisory Committee members, who were part of nearly two years of assessment and study to identify our system’s needs. The bond package approved by voters reflects our community’s priorities and core values, and addresses the needs of our students and teachers,” Board President Peck said. “The Board believes that the many votes for this bond initiative shows that our community is prepared to continue the work of transforming SBISD schools while remaining committed to the district’s reputation for high quality education.”

With bond approval, the Board of Trustees and district leaders are expected to act quickly to appoint a Bond Oversight Committee to ensure the bond projects remain faithful to the priorities identified in the 2017 Bond Plan, similar to the community group that monitored the successful 2007 Bond program for the past decade.  Planning and design work for the 10-year bond program, with a focus on campus and community input will also begin soon.

Visit www.springbranchisd.com/bond2017 for more details.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Pittsburgh Students Donate to SBEF Harvey Relief Fund

North Allegheny Intermediate High School is more than 1,300 miles from Houston, but students there reached out to help.

When Brendan Hyland began seeing news reports about the devastation Hurricane Harvey caused in Houston, he started looking for a way to help.

Hyland is principal of North Allegheny Intermediate High School (NAI) in Pittsburgh, PA. His students and staff are Tigers, and he felt sure he could find some Tigers in Houston. He found them at Spring Branch ISD’s Spring Woods High School. When he saw SBISD Superintendent Scott Muri’s Twitter appeal for the SBEF Harvey Relief Fund, he shared the possibilities with his students.

“We felt awful for your students,” Hyland said. “We looked for a way for Tigers to help Tigers.”

As an intermediate high school, NAI includes 9th and 10th grades. Fundraisers are student-led.

First, the students sold links for a paper chain that would extend down a long hallway. Students, staff and parents bought the links for $1 each, and the chain grew past expectations.

Next, the Student Council voted for $5 of each ticket to the school’s homecoming dance to benefit the SBEF Harvey Relief Fund. After the tickets were sold, the Student Council added another $2,000.
By the end of October, NAI had a check for $6,429 in the mail to the Spring Branch Education Foundation. Students are considering a third Harvey-related fundraiser.

Hyland said he’s proud of his students. “They’re good kids, just like yours in Spring Branch.”

“When we started the SBEF Harvey Relief Fund, we knew our big-hearted donors would want to help their neighbors,” said Cece Thompson, SBEF executive director. “To hear from schools across the country was a complete surprise. These are kids who can imagine what it must be like to go to school when you’ve lost all your clothes and familiar surroundings. They’ve never met our SBISD students, but they want to help.”

The SBEF Harvey Relief Fund has received contributions from nine schools, including NAI, and continues to hear from others.

SBISD officials estimate there are as many as 1,000 student and staff families displaced by Harvey. Others may be identified. SBEF continues to distribute $300 Target and Walmart gift cards to help families meet their most pressing needs, whether it’s food, clothing or supplies. There are no administrative costs, so all donations go to families to fill the gaps not met by other local and federal efforts.

Community members who wish to donate may visit the SBEF Harvey Relief Fund site.

About Spring Branch Education Foundation:
Spring Branch Education Foundation is committed to supporting SBISD students and educators. It partners with the district and community to fund programs that enhance education and ̅students for the future. In 2016, Caruthers Institute ranked SBEF 42nd in the nation among 188 K-12 education foundations and in the top 10 of its division of foundations with $1 million to $1,999,999 in revenues. Since 1993, the Foundation has donated more than $11 million to the district. SBEF is a 501(c)3 organization; all donations are tax deductible.

Waterous Energy Fund Donates $100,000 to SBEF Harvey Relief Fund

Memorial resident, SBISD parent and Waterous Energy Fund Managing Director Michael Buckingham presents a check for $100,00 to SBISD Superintendent Scott Muri and SBEF Executive Director Cece Thompson for the SBEF Harvey Relief Fund.

Waterous Energy Fund, a private equity fund focused on the oil and gas industry, has donated $100,000 to the Spring Branch Education Foundation (SBEF) Harvey Relief Fund to assist Houston families who have been displaced from their homes by Hurricane Harvey. The Spring Branch Independent School District estimates as many as 1,000 SBISD student and staff families were displaced by the storm. The SBEF Harvey Relief Fund was established to help families with their most pressing needs, whether it’s food, clothing or supplies and fills the gaps not met by local and federal efforts. SBEF also awarded a grant to Community In Schools – Houston to help families pay for temporary housing, utility bills and other costs associated with losing their homes.

“We have many friends and colleagues who live in the community and we wanted to do something to help Houston families impacted by the hurricane,” said Adam Waterous, the CEO and Managing Partner for the Waterous Energy Fund. “The SBEF Harvey Relief Fund directs 100 percent of donations to those in need and has allowed us to provide immediate assistance to displaced families. We are expanding our team in Houston, and we will continue to support this great city.”

The SBEF Harvey Relief Fund has raised nearly $500,000 and continues to grow. “Our donors see the needs of their friends and neighbors and want to help,” said Cece Thompson, SBEF executive director. “We appreciate the Waterous Energy Fund’s contribution and its recognition that our students and staff families continue to need help as they rebuild their living environments while maintaining their school responsibilities.”

Community members who wish to donate may visit the SBEF Harvey Relief Fund site.

About Waterous Energy Fund
Waterous Energy Fund is a new private equity fund formed in late 2016 to invest in the North American energy sector. The Fund is headquartered in Calgary and plans to open offices in Houston and New York in early 2018. More information on the fund is available at the website: http://www.waterous.com/.

About Spring Branch Education Foundation:
Spring Branch Education Foundation is committed to supporting SBISD students and educators. It partners with the district and community to fund programs that enhance education and ̅students for the future. In 2016, Caruthers Institute ranked SBEF 42nd in the nation among 188 K-12 education foundations and in the top 10 of its division of foundations with $1 million to $1,999,999 in revenues. Since 1993, the Foundation has donated more than $11 million to the district. SBEF is a 501(c)3 organization; all donations are tax deductible.

Monday, November 6, 2017

SBISD Collaborative Reimagines Learning

Barbara Bush once said, “The Texas Medical Center is Houston’s gift to the world.” In October, it was also a gift to Spring Branch ISD staff members who are looking at reimagining and redesigning schools to better meet the needs of every child.

Everyone knows the world’s largest medical center for its life-saving medical treatment. Most people know it’s an academic center where medical professionals are educated and trained and where researchers make life-changing discoveries. Fewer people know about TMCx Innovation Institute, which shapes the future of health care by connecting visionaries with the best minds in academia, science and medicine.

TMCx was the ideal setting for 53 SBISD employees who gathered to give birth to the Collaborative School Redesign. This is a strategic initiative intended to actively engage school communities in creating the best possible learning experiences. Funded by the New Schools Venture Fund, the initiative is led by SBISD’s Research and Design team, under the direction of Associate Superintendent Elliott Witney.

Participants agreed TMCx was the perfect venue for this creative work.

April Falcon-Blanco, principal of Terrace Elementary, said, “It was wonderful to be in a completely different arena and see how others go about their work. Yet, there are parallels to our fields. The medical field saves lives. Education builds them. Both are important.”

Ten schools were chosen to participate in the Collaborative’s first Cohort: Buffalo Creek, Hunters Creek, Nottingham, Pine Shadows, Ridgecrest, Sherwood, Terrace and Wilchester Elementary Schools; Northbrook Middle School and Spring Woods High School. Collectively, the schools serve 15,510 students; 64.5 percent are economically disadvantaged; 38 percent are English Language Learners.

The Collaborative is engaging in a rigorous, year-long design process that will produce two results: 1) a vision for the school’s future that aligns with the community’s wants and needs, and 2) a responsible, cost-neutral, plan of action for making the vision a reality.

That’s a tall order, but the Collaborative’s first three-day meeting put the task in perspective. The group discussed educational models; current trends in globalization, technology and employer priorities; Houston’s shifting demographics and more.

The discussions inspired Robye Snyder, principal of Hunters Creek Elementary. “For most of an afternoon, we moved from station to station examining trends: economic, health, demographics and others,” she said. “At each station, I felt an urgency to make a difference. As educators, we don’t have to produce students who test well. We must produce students who are problem solvers. Students who are creative, collaborative, resilient. Students who persist when things are hard.”

The Cohort also prepared to engage their communities in empathy work: holistically understanding how the schools’ stakeholders – students, parents, alumni, community leaders, families opting out of the public school system or whose children are not yet school age – perceive what works and what could improve.

One exercise, described by Innovation Liaison Jennifer Hickey, involved genealogy work with participants looking at their family’s origin stories. She explained, “As we learn more about ourselves and our team, we realize we’re more alike than different. This is great preparation for conducting empathy interviews.”

Principal Falcon-Blanco said the design process aligns with her staff’s goal of reaching Every Child. “This is a different way of going about our work, taking it step by step, beginning with empathy work, then moving forward with what we learn. The human-centered design concept designs with, not to. We are not saying to our community, ‘We have this great program…’ We’re asking our students, families and community what they need, then designing the program.

“My team walked away energized and hopeful for the opportunity to learn about teaching in a different way to meet all students’ needs. This is a chance to recreate what school can look like. Traditional school works well for many kids, but not for all.”

Principal Snyder wondered if the Hunters Creek community would ask, “Why change an already great school?” Yet, as she contacts parents to enlist help with the empathy work, she is met with support and excitement. The enthusiasm is similar to what she experienced at the October meeting. “Everyone on my team left ready to get started,” she said.