Tuesday, October 29, 2013

A Healthy Competition for Heights Middle Schools??

Looks like we have a little healthy competition in the Heights! A couple weeks ago I made this post about positive changes and community involvement at Hogg Middle School under the leadership of their new Principal, Dr. Mina Schnitta. 
Now an email is circulating from the new Principal at Hamilton Middle School. Wendy Hampton has taken over from retiring Principal Roger Bunnell, who spent more than a decade at the school. Ms. Hampton is enthusiastic about her new school, which is always the first thing any school needs in an Administrator. Her excitement about the school is obvious in her letter, which outlines all of the successes Hamilton has had, making it the desired middle school in the Heights. But it's not just the current state of good things going on at the school that caught my eye in this letter. There is a little bit about the future of the school that made me smile. Because I love some competitive spirit...

Hamilton Middle School on 20th (photo: panoramio.com)
Dear Parents, 
Alexander Hamilton Middle School is a great place for students to learn! We have a long-standing history of success and most recently received two distinctions by the Texas Education Agency: Distinction in Reading/ELA and Distinction in Student Progress. Prior to the new state accountability system, AHMS remained a TEA Recognized school for six years in a row. 
As the principal of Hamilton Middle School, I am committed to ensuring that students are academically challenged and prepared for advanced high school coursework in a positive environment where they enjoy learning. 
Hamilton Middle School offers Pre-advanced Placement (PreAP) courses for both Vanguard and non-Vanguard students. We believe all students should have the opportunity to complete advanced coursework that prepares them to take up to four classes for high school credit in 8th grade. We also know that fine arts enhance student performance academically. It also gives students an outlet for their creativity. We currently have an award-winning band program, beginning to advanced art, theater arts, and choir. 
Our "FUN FLEX" program adds an additional opportunity during the school day, four days a week, for students to participate in activities, including UIL Number Sense and Calculator competition, Name that Book, Odyssey of the Mind, Speech and Debate, Tennis, Dance, Robotics, and more! If also offers a time for students to receive support academically during the school day when they are not available to stay after school. 
Keeping active and physically fit also supports adolescent development and Hamilton has a wide selection of athletic events for both boys and girls, including an indoor heated pool for our swim team! 
It is a very exciting time for parents in the Heights Community. At Hamilton Middle School we are more committed than ever to remaining the best middle school in the Greater Heights and surrounding area, a top middle school in the district, and the number one choice for students and parents. 
Our doors are always open and you are always welcome on our campus! Come see what we have to offer by attending one of our scheduled tours, or set up an appointment for a tour at your convenience. 
For more information, please visit our newly designed website atwww.houstonisd.org/hamiltonms and follow us on Facebook atwww.facebook.com/hamiltonms1 . 
Wendy Hampton, Principal

Did you see it there? The highlighted part? 

Now I am not saying this email is a direct result of the ongoing efforts at Hogg. I am pretty certain any motivated and caring school administrator wants to see good things for all public schools. I can't help but see the slightly competitive nature of that paragraph, though. And it's exciting! It can only mean good things for our neighborhood kids when our two local middle schools strive to be the best. There are no losers in this type of contest.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

I45 Project Moving Again

I just received this email from Jim Weston of the I45 Coalition. If you're new to the neighborhood or haven't been following this development, PLEASE READ! 

This project WILL have a major impact on our community. Participating in these meetings is the way we can all decide of that impact with be positive or negative. It's amazing how much work our friends and neighbors have already done and how community involvement has changed the scope of the project, but there is still much work to be done. We can't let TxDot think we have become complacent, so PLEASE join me and your other neighbors for the next round of public meetings!
TxDOT is starting to roll again on the I-45 project! 

TxDOT has just scheduled the 3rd round of public meetings to be held Thursday, Nov 14 at Aldine Ninth Grade School, 10650 North Freeway & Tuesday, Nov 19 at Jeff Davis High School, 1101 Quitman. Both meetings will be open house format from 5:30 pm to 7:30 pm.

As a brief recap to remind you where we are ... because it has been a while:
TxDOT wants to ‘improve’ the I-45 Corridor to alleviate current traffic and plan for future traffic.
1)      TxDOT held its 1st Public Scoping meeting in November 2011 to hear from the public on what to do in the I-45 corridor. 
After analyzing the input from the public from that meeting:

2)      TxDOT held its 2nd Public Scoping meeting in October 2012. TxDOT broke the project into 3 segments: Segment 1 (Beltway 8 to 610); Segment 2 (610 to I-10); and Segment 3 (Downtown Loop System).

Each segment had 6 Preliminary Alternatives for a total of 18 alternatives for all 3 segments.  TxDOT was to determine the 3 most popular alternatives for each segment (for a total of 9) from evaluating the responses from the public.
Supposedly, “Within 2 months following each meeting, a report from TxDOT summarizing public comments and responses will be made available to the public”.
 After the 1st Public meeting, it took 10 months for the public comments to be available. After the 2nd Public Meeting, it took TxDOT a full year to post the comments .. it just went up this week!

TxDOT has also just announced the 3rd Public Meeting  in November 2013 (mentioned above).

3) This 3rd Public Meeting – is where they will announce the 3 alternatives for each segment (for a total of 9) and we, the public, will choose the final “winner” in each segment.  So this is a VERY IMPORTANT MEETING!  The results from this meeting will determine how & where the I-45 corridor will proceed!  Please mark your calendars now & plan to attend in November!  I do not know which 3 alternatives in each segment received the most favorable input at this time.  However, within the next 30 days, the I-45 Coalition will be evaluating all comments to determine which alternatives appear to be most favored.

You can find all the details of the 1st Public Meeting & the 2nd Public Meeting on TxDOT’s website for this project -www.IH45Northandmore.com.

PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE plan on attending either of the two upcoming meetings (they both should be identical) so you can (1) hear firsthand from TxDOT what they say are the 3 favored alternatives in each segment & (2) make an informed decision as to what you feel should be the final alternative!
If you made a comment & submitted it to TxDOT after the 2nd Public meeting, I would suggest that you check to make sure your comment is ‘on the record’, by going to TxDOT’s website & checking.  All comments are indexed, so it should be easy to find. If it is not recorded, or not accurate, please let me know.

If you are not on the I-45 Coalition email list, please add your name by going to www.I-45Coalition.org and sign up.  You can also find us on Facebook.  Once on our list, we will notify you of any updates, meetings or changes to the project.   Also if you would like to attend our Steering Committee meetings, just let us know!

Please get involved and/or stay involved!  This is important.  These decisions will affect you, your family, your home or business & your neighborhood. If you ever use I-45 or have any concerns about what will or will not be done on I-45 ... you need to be involved!


Jim Weston
I-45 Coalition

See you then!

Monday, October 7, 2013

Learn Local and Big Changes At Hogg

Well.... this blog has had some trouble waking up from it's summer nap. I can't even say I'm ready to really get back to it but some news is too good not to share!

Hogg Middle School. Photo: edutopia.org
As always, people in the Heights are willing to work to make their community everything they think it can be. Schools have always been a big focus for any neighborhood and the Heights has many urban pioneers who poured a lot of heart and soul in to making Travis and Harvard elementaries outstanding public school options. Middle school, however, has been a struggle. While Hamilton has thrived, Hogg has languished. Low enrollment and administrative turn over have left parents skeptical of the school. There were parents who tried to get involved but had trouble working with the school, especially when there were 3 new Principals in 3 years prior to 2011. 

Finally, in 2011, enter Dr Mina Scnitta. In just two years, Dr Scnitta has started an amazing turn around at Hogg. In addition to the amazing work she has done with her administration, Dr Schnitta has opened the school up to the community and has welcomed their involvement. Personally, I already know families who are ready to send their Harvard/Travis/Helms students to Hogg in a few years. 

Check out this list of what Dr Schnitta and Hogg have accomplished in just two short years:

■ Hogg Middle School recently achieved authorization as an International Baccalaureate (IB) World School. This makes Hogg, along with Lanier, one of only four authorized IB middle schools in HISD. (read more about IB certification for Heights schools in this THL post)
■ Hogg's enrollment has increased by 100 students over a one-year period. 
■ Applications to the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) magnet program at Hogg increased by 72% for the 2012-13 school year. Students in the STEM magnet program learn hands-on by launching hot-air balloons (6th grade), creating straw rockets to learn principles of aerospace engineering (7th grade), and building mousetrap vehicles, catapults, and trebuchets (8th grade). 
■ Work will begin soon on $9 million in renovations, including brand-new science labs and major infrastructure improvements at Hogg. The work will include upgrades to the school's mechanical and electrical systems, improved interior finishes, new lighting, restroom upgrades, and more. Through bond funds, HISD is investing in the future at Hogg.
■ In addition to the general education track, Hogg offers the Pre-Advanced Placement (Pre-AP) curriculum to challenge students and prepare them for the Advanced Placement courses offered in high school. Hogg offers Pre-AP classes for each grade level in the four core subject areas: Math, Science, English Language Arts, and Social Studies. 
■ Hogg offers the following classes for high school credit: Algebra, Concepts of Engineering (the 8th grade STEM magnet class), Spanish, Art 1, and Journalism.
■ An overhaul of the Hogg library is nearly complete. The budget was roughly $30,000 for new books alone. The library also has 16 new computers, and plans are in the works for a relaxed seating area to give students an inviting space for reading and studying. 

Great things are happening at Hogg and Heights families are watching it! A group of parents with Harvard and Travis have started a group to support and facilitate needed changes at Hogg. Creating a group called "Learn Local," these parents have a mission to "Establish a bridge for our children between our successful Heights neighborhood elementary schools and Hogg Middle School, an IB World School and STEM campus, enabling progression within our strong, unique community." The first Learn Local meeting was held on August 20th at the school with Dr. Scnitta. It was an amazing collaboration of over 40 parents from Harvard and Travis. Also in attendance were Anna Eastman, HISD District 1 Trustee; Michele Pola, HISD Chief of Staff; Ms. Berger, Reagan Principal; Mr. Day, Travis Principal; and Mr. Beringer, Harvard Principal. The group discussed the obstacles that families need to over come to make it their "neighborhood middle school of choice," and over the coming months they will work to create a plan "to break down those barriers." 

If you want to keep up with what this group and the school are working on, check out their 'Learn Local' Facebook page to learn more: www.facebook.com/LearnLocalatHogg

Want to see Hogg in action? Learn Local tours are being scheduled now and will eventually take place regularly on the 1st and 3rd Tuesdays of the month at 10 a.m. Interested families can also tour at their convenience. Please contact Dr. Schnitta, at 713-802-4700 or mschnitt@houstonisd.org to set something up.

Upcoming tour dates:
■ 'Learn Local.' tour, Tuesday, October 8 at 10 a.m.
For this tour only, RSVP to learnlocal.hogg@gmail.com
■ Tuesday, October 15 at 10 a.m. 
■ November 4-8, HISD Magnet Awareness Week, tours daily at 1 p.m. 

This is such exciting progress for the community. This is not only great for parents of Harvard and Travis kids, but for all kids zoned to Hogg and the students already enrolled at the school. All of our community students deserve an amazing education, so many, many thanks to Dr Mina Scnitta for believing in our school and sticking with it!