Monday, February 21, 2005

Privatization is Put On Hold

Feb. 21, 2005, 10:30PM

Privatization is Put On Hold

Saavedra opts to create advisory groups to improve 3 low-performing HISD high schools
Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle

Houston school administrators will not replace the management of three low-performing high schools without the support of parents and community leaders, Superintendent Abe Saavedra said Monday.

After meeting with leaders of the NAACP and other groups opposed to privatizing Yates, Kashmere and Sam Houston high schools, Saavedra said he will form advisory committees of parents and community leaders to help develop reform plans for each school.

In his State of the Schools speech last week, Saavedra called for reforming the schools, saying HISD would solicit proposals to "totally redesign" them because incremental reform efforts had failed. The state has ranked the schools as low-performing since 2001.

"No recommendation to outsource will move forward (to the school board) unless the community has embraced it," Saavedra said Monday.

He said the advisory groups will consult with Houston Independent School District officials as they seek proposals from nonprofit groups, for-profit firms or HISD employees to improve student performance at the three schools.

James Douglas, the general counsel for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's Houston chapter, said the organization would oppose any plan to shift management of the schools away from HISD. Opposition to outsourcing was overwhelming among more than 200 parents who met with Saavedra later Monday at Kashmere, said U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston.

"They (Kashmere parents) equate outsourcing with closing the schools," Jackson Lee said, adding that outside managers would not understand the schools' or communities' history. Her district includes Kashmere and Yates.

School trustees on Friday approved Saavedra's plan to seek proposals for new management at the schools. Jackson Lee said Kashmere parents want trustees to amend their vote to reflect Saavedra's commitment not to move forward without community support.

The NAACP, along with some other groups and parents, has said problems at the three schools are the result of years of neglect and inadequate funding.

U.S. Rep. Al Green, D-Houston, said the three high schools have historic importance in their communities. Kashmere and Yates are predominantly black schools, while Sam Houston is predominantly Hispanic.

"Yates is one of the most historic schools in this city," Green said. "It is a shame that during Black History Month we are having this conversation."

Green said misconceptions had arisen in the aftermath of Saavedra's speech, including the idea that HISD was considering closing the high schools.

Saavedra said that was never his intention.

"HISD totally agrees that these schools will not be closed," he said.


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