Dear HISD Community: Early last fall, the Board of Education tasked my administration with taking a critical look

at the Houston Independent School District's magnet program offerings with the ultimate goal of finding a way to build on our successes while rethinking the things that are not working. We hired a third party to evaluate our magnet schools from an outsider's perspective. We conducted dozens of town hall meetings across the district to hear what our students, parents, and community members had to say. We gathered principals, magnet coordinators, and teachers to give us their boots-on-the-ground perspective. We reviewed lessons learned from past failed attempts at addressing HISD's magnet program shortcomings, most recently in 2006. What we learned and confirmed was that Houston parents value real choices when it comes to deciding where to send their children for school. Parents here expect that their children should have the same access to high-quality programs regardless of where they live. Parents want assurance that, when it comes to getting their child into one of our selective schools, the decision will come down to merit. And when it comes to getting their child into a strong program that was created to address the needs of any child, regardless of how prepared they are, parents want all children to have an equal chance. We all agree that for true school choice to exist in HISD, it should not matter who you know or where you live in our city. We also reaffirmed through this process that this is a school district that wants to improve. We are not satisfied with having just a handful of phenomenal schools, while the rest of our schools struggle to produce graduates capable of thriving in college or in the workforce. Last Thursday, our administration presented the Board of Education with a plan for retooling magnet programs in a way that encourages fair competition, allowing our top magnet programs to continue and replacing our ineffective programs with ones that hold real promise. We would offer new options to meet students' interests while rejuvenating neighborhoods. The proposal is the result of months of studying, listening, and working. I'm proud of it, and I believe it represents the first tangible progress toward addressing problems in HISD's justifiably popular magnet programs in many years. But an even larger challenge has emerged since we began our magnet program review. Last fall, the implications of the current fiscal crisis were unclear. We did not know that we would be facing unprecedented budget cuts with potentially devastating consequences across the entire district. Therefore, I am recommending that the HISD preliminary recommendations on the magnet programs be held in abeyance this year and that few changes be made to the magnet programs for 2011–2012. I am recommending that all current magnet programs continue to receive funding and transportation next year. This will allow our staff and stakeholders the opportunity to focus their time and energy on making tough spending decisions. We will resume planning for magnet program improvements before the end of this school year and have an updated plan to present for the 2012–2013 school year by September 2011. This will enable us to work closely with our principals and continue to engage the community in building upon the proposal we provided as a starting point in this important work. In the meantime, I urge everyone to spend some time reviewing the many magnet program review

documents we have posted online at There, you will find our preliminary recommendations and the funding, enrollment, and capacity data we consulted to formulate them. Make no mistake about it: There are problems with the current magnet program. Right or wrong, too many parents perceive inequities in the current system. They do not understand how some students gain acceptance to the perceived elite programs, while others do not. Some magnet programs get much more money than others, and for no justifiable reason that applies today. Some magnet programs continue to receive extra funding despite a lengthy record of weak academic performance and having no magnetic attraction beyond their neighborhood. For now, though, our collective energies must be focused on preserving our schools and standing together to protect the future of our children. The passion, energy, and enthusiasm we have witnessed around the magnet program review must be channeled toward the greater challenges that confront us in these uncertain economic times. Our most pressing priority today must be the HISD budget and ensuring that we get the funding we need to provide our students with a quality education. The choices we make in the coming months will have swift and lasting implications for the future of every one of the 204,000 students counting on HISD to prepare them for life. These are the children who will drive Houston's economy in the years to come. I know you stand with me in pledging to put our children's interests first as we make decisions that I am certain can lead us to accomplishing our goal of HISD becoming the best district in the country.

Terry B. Grier, Ed.D.
Superintendent of Schools Houston Independent School District

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