HOUSTON, TX – What if you threw a party and nobody came? You might not have the party next year, right?. That’s kind of what’s happening with the schools facing possible closure in the Houston Independent School District.
Enrollment has dropped significantly, nearly 400 students zoned to Fleming Middle School in the Fifth Ward have chosen to go elsewhere. That’s saying something, considering the school only had 539 kids enrolled there last year. HISD’s proposed solution is to shut ’em down and send ’em elsewhere.
As you’d expect the community hasn’t been too keen on that, with one man calling it ‘racism’ at a recent public forum.
But Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, in town Monday to visit three of the schools on the chopping block, isn’t pulling the race card. Instead, she says it’s something almost as controversial, “Some of the schools will be closed, and they will be prime real estate for someone else… The school district should not guide its education policy by real estate. That’s what’s happening!”
HISD board member Rhonda Skillern-Jones says she doesn’t think that’s what’s behind this, but she recognizes there ‘is’ a serious problem with kids transferring elsewhere. “If they left to go to a fine arts program that is a robust one, then why not replicate that here so they don’t have to go across town for it?” she proposed. “There are reasons people are leaving, and we are not addressing those reasons… we blame it on the residents. Well, I wouldn’t shop in a half open grocery store either.”
Jackson Lee cited HISD’s change in the way schools are funded as a key problem. “A few years ago HISD decentralized, put the burden of funding on schools and regions. If you can afford a nurse, you get a nurse. If you can afford a counselor, you get a counselor. Why have a principal have the responsibility of raising money for their school?”
Fleming 6th grader Kyzer Simmons, 13, says closing her school might be the best thing, “It’s an iffy education. Some teachers we learn from; some teachers we don’t.”
Her mom Nikki A. Keyser agrees, “Closing the school is really not the issue. Put just a little ruffle and fire underneath the teachers who are willing to just sit around and collect their check.”
Jackson Lee says she hopes to meet with HISD superintendent Terry Grier as soon as their schedules line up and thinks the private sector could sponsor individual schools to continue and thrive rather than shut down. HISD told us they are still open to advice on the closings and, at this point, nothing is set in stone.
UPDATE: Three of the five schools (Fleming Middle, Nat Q. Henderson Elementary and Port Houston Elementary) were taken off the chopping block Tuesday by HISD Board president Juliet Stipeche, who cited the need to give these schools more time to find way to enhance their programs and increase enrollment. Jones High School and Dodson Elementary still face closure, something the school board is scheduled to vote on next Thursday, March 13.