Local Leaders Urge Community to Join High School Transformation Effort
Matt Johnson graduated from Howenstine High Magnet School in 2006, where he learned the value of giving back to the community that he says has given so much to him.
“At Howenstine, I learned to build houses with Habitat for Humanity,” Johnson said. “Without Howenstine and the housing program, I wouldn’t have graduated… I wouldn’t be where I am today…And I still volunteer in my community.”
It’s because of students like Johnson that many refer to Howenstine as the “hidden gem” of Tucson’s public schools. The school is modeled around a service learning philosophy, which incorporates teaching opportunities with service-oriented projects that demonstrate volunteerism and community awareness through real life examples of how the classroom relates to the world around them.
The service learning model is especially important to the diverse population the school serves, including a high special education population. Johnson, who suffers from hearing loss and a profound speech impediment, spoke with courage and poise at a press event announcing Howenstine’s participation in the National Education Association’s Priority Schools Campaign on December 6, 2011.
Johnson was joined by local education leaders, including Howenstine Principal Maritza Nunez, Tucson Education Association President Frances Banales , Arizona Education Association President Andrew F. Morrill, and Tucson Unified School District Superintendent John Pedicone, as well as Arizona State Senator Paula Aboud and Habitat for Humanity Tucson Executive Director Michael McDonald.
The leaders asked Tucsonans to join the national Priority Schools Campaign (PSC) working in their community to help transform a struggling school. They’ve already made some gains – the school made AYP last year and increased reading scores by 17 percent in one year – but there are still challenges to overcome.
“Howenstine needs our help. And the students who come here to learn and grow each day deserve our help,” said TEA President Frances Banales. “The students—current and former—say the environment here has respected their individuality, celebrated their strengths and helped them work on their weaknesses. They say their Howenstine experience has made a profound difference in their lives and helped them know what it means to make a difference in their community.”
Howenstine was selected to be a part of PSC because of its dedicated staff, dynamic new leadership and service-learning focus. The practice is praised by NEA and the education communities because it has been found to boost achievement, build leadership and strengthen ties to the community. Association leaders are also hoping another benefit seen at some of the other 37 schools in 16 states that comprise the Campaign take root in Tucson.
“We’re proud to say that not only is PSC helping to transform low-performing schools, we’re also promoting a new model for education reform. PSC is based on collaboration. Here is an education agenda that puts students at the center,” said AEA President Andrew Morrill. “All across the country, we’re seeing success because of partnerships among students, parents, educators, districts, government, community organizations, businesses and foundations. For long-term, sustainable school transformation, shared responsibility and collaboration are essential.”
The importance of partnerships and the value it brings to all was a thread that ran throughout the event, one underscored by Howenstine partner, Habitat for Humanity Tucson. “Since 1995, Habitat for Humanity of Tucson has partnered with local high schools to give students the opportunity to learn and develop skills related to the construction industry,” said executive director Michael McDonald. “We’re all the better for it. Students get the opportunity to apply what they learn to a hands-on apprenticeship. Educators get partners in the cause of public education. The District gets access to the only home construction technology program in the southwest for secondary school students. And, Tucson gets productive and engaged citizens, ready to assume their roles as the next generation of home builders and affordable-housing advocates.”
The highlight of the event was when the leaders took—and then urged the public to take—an online survey aimed at gauging perception of Howenstine. The quick four-question survey is part of KEYS (KEYs to Excellence for Your Schools), a comprehensive school-based assessment and improvement system that gathers data for improving teaching and learning conditions. Community data will be coupled with survey results from parents, teachers, education support professionals and administrators for a picture of where Howenstine stands on some 42 indicators research shows exist at high-performing schools.
The 42 indicators KEYS tracks fall into four broad areas of school culture and operations: creating a culture of reflection and collaborative inquiry; making important decisions together; making continuous improvement second nature; and building partnerships and community support.
“Research shows these characteristics are present in high-performing schools and are needed in struggling ones,” said TUSD Superintendent Dr. John Pedicone. “This is a phenomenal opportunity for Howenstine and TUSD. We’re excited about the possibilities of PSC in Tucson and appreciate the value it brings, especially in these tough economic times.
The survey will be open to the public on the school’s website, www.howenstinehawks.com, until January 6, 2012.
Acknowledging it has struggled in the past, but with PSC support and recent appreciable gains on state assessments, Howenstine Principal Maritza Nunez pointed out the future looked promising. She urged Tucson parents to take a closer look at the school.
“Open enrollment continues until December 13th and if you think your child could benefit from smaller class sizes, qualified, caring, committed teachers and education support professionals, and a curriculum that connects students to the real world—our doors are open.”
Listen to AEA President Andrew Morrill talk about priority schools on KAWC.