In North Forest, "Back to School" Means Brand New School District
by: Laura Isensee, August 26, 2013 3:08:00 pm
It's bright and early at Thurgood Marshall Elementary. A boom box is playing upbeat music. Parents are walking their children to the door where teachers greet them with big smiles.
"Good morning, good morning, buenos días."
Parents smile back.
"I'm hopeful about this year," says Latrice Keels.
Her son Jhordan feels a little differently.
"Not really excited."
He's 10 years old. He has some goals for the fifth grade.
"Just try and do my best and try and get A's."
His mom says one reason she's excited is because his school is now part of the Houston Independent School District. This summer, the state closed the North Forest Independent School District and put HISD in charge of educating its 7,000 students. Keels sees a lot of benefit in that.
"The curriculum will be different. The teachers are going to be different, so that was the main thing. I mean, a lot of work has been put into getting things in order under HISD. So that to me was exciting."
The new principal Hilarion Martinez is expecting 800 students to enroll at Thurgood Marshall. He's been surprised by the demographics in the historically black community. About 80 percent of the students are Hispanic. Twenty percent are black. All of them come from low income families. Martinez says he and his team have been working nonstop to get ready.
"As you can see we worked on everything from the murals to the flooring, painting, new classroom desks, new technology. So we've been working nonstop, hiring the best, the brightest teachers."
Martinez says they're asking parents to "be our partners," to stay in touch with teachers and to help at home with their child's education. Overall, the Houston district has spent $17 million to fix the schools in North Forest. Superintendent Terry Grier says that includes basic safety measures like fire alarms.
There's a lot of problems, a lot of safety issues. One of the schools here we had to discard all of the books in the media center because mold and mildew."
Besides fresh paint and new books, the schools in North Forest have new programs, like a longer school day. Grier says they are planning a special summer camp next year.
"Prekindergarten, kindergarten, first, second graders would be able to go to school in the summer, about eight weeks. And it would be a complete day. And in addition to math and reading tutorials, you would have enrichment activities. That's next summer, of course, but we have to start now planning for it."
Grier says that special camp wouldn't be just for North Forest families. It would be for 13 of the lowest performing elementary schools in Houston.