Over the last few years, school districts across the country have made the difficult decision to close campuses in order to stretch already thin funding for public education. The Houston Independent School District's Board of Education currently faces such a decision. In March, the Board will consider the closure of five schools on the east side.
The Board is accepting comments from the community at meetings preceding their March 13th meeting. On February 11th at Jones High School, one of the campuses up for closure, one community member expressed the frustration and outrage felt by many in attendance:
Now you charge us with low enrollment but you have allowed all of these things –You have provided the environment for low enrollment to happen. And you sit around here and you act like, “Hey, I didn't do nothing wrong!”
More on the proposed closures facing Houston's east side below the jump.HISD has said the proposal is based on demographic changes and focuses on distributing enrollment and services across the district. Superintendent Terry Grier explained, “While these types of changes are always difficult, it's important that we constantly evaluate enrollment levels to utilize our facilities to best serve our students.”
Both those for and against the changes cite the environment of the east side in their arguments. Sheleah Read, a spokesperson for HISD, pointed to the “changing” nature of the neighborhoods. “Industries are coming, so there may not be children in that area anyway,” Read explained, “…keeping a school there does not exactly help the community.”
At the February 13th Board meeting, Richard Farias pointed out that industrialization is nothing new to this community. “It has always been plagued with the constant roar of 18 wheelers,” Farias said. “It is a neighborhood with one way in and one way out and has always been surrounded by industrial businesses.”
HISD based these proposals on an “extensive study” that looked at enrollment and trends in demographics across the city. All of the schools slated for closure in this proposal are suffering from low levels of enrollment. Jones High School, the location of the first community meeting to discuss the proposal, is a perfect example. According to KUHF News, less than one fourth of the high school students zoned to Jones attend the high school. The rest of the students use HISD's transfer options to attend other campuses in the district.
One such school receiving transfer students is Carnegie Vanguard High School, which sits on the other side of downtown from Jones. In 2002, the vanguard program at Jones was moved to Carnegie. Carnegie has since become nationalized recognized for its achievements. Jones instead now has a Magnet program focused on technology, engineering, and math. Despite support for the program, “The kids just aren't coming,” according to Michael Cardona who works with HISD.
The study and commentary from the school district seem to fault changes in the communities for lack of enrollment. Their position is neutral, based on statistics and maps. For community members who disagree, this isn't business – this is incredibly personal.
Jones alumna Reba Wright said at the meeting,
…There's nothing here that you're offering for the people to bring the kids here. So it's [not]the community. It's not the students. It's not the teachers. It's the administration. You guys have failed our community and I don't want my community to die because you guys are neglecting Jones.
As the Board moves towards the March 13th meeting, it is unclear whether the proposal will have the support of enough trustees to pass. There are two more opportunities for community members to voice their concerns before the March deadline, and if the meeting at Jones is any indication, residents of these neighborhoods will not let the Board close their schools without a fight.