Incorrect info on Houston's only full-time dual language program

Kim Potowski kimpotow at
Tue Jun 24 00:49:41 UTC 2008

Begin forwarded message:

> From: "Alexander, Jennifer" <jalexan3 at>
> Date: June 23, 2008 10:55:21 AM CDT
> To: "Kim Potowski" <kimpotow at>, "Beatriz Ponce de Leon" <beatrizpdl at 
> >
> Subject: RE: Houston: shuttering Houston's only full-time dual  
> language program?
> Dear All,
> Suffice it to say that there are some very serious  
> misrepresentations in this article. This school was not ever slated  
> to close. EVER.  It was slated to be moved due to several reasons-  
> including needed repairs, and the fact that it is so successful that  
> the parents of the programs have demanded that the school now be K-8  
> not just a K-6 grade campus.There is no room to accomodate those  
> grades at the present location. Latest information is that the  
> school will be moved to a neighboring school within only a few  
> blocks. It is wonderful though when a school can make a group  
> (actually a parent group) so inspired like this one has to save this  
> one historic campus.
> Jennifer
>> From: "Harold Schiffman" <hfsclpp at>
>> Date: June 17, 2008 7:51:10 AM CDT
>> To: lp <lgpolicy-list at>
>> Subject: Houston: shuttering Houston's only full-time dual language  
>> program?
>> Reply-To: lgpolicy-list at
>> Summing up a school
>> Wharton Elementary is a high-performing school with community  
>> backing.
>> Why shutter it?
>> Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle
>> Houston Independent School District officials probably reckoned they
>> made a thrifty choice when they planned to close William Wharton
>> Elementary. Because many Wharton students come from neighborhoods
>> outside its zone, administrators must have assumed that shuttering  
>> the
>> school, consolidating its student body with that of a bigger  
>> facility,
>> and perhaps selling the pricey Montrose real estate was a winning
>> formula.
>> They failed to do their homework. A small army of Montrose residents
>> organized to save the school. The residents have spoken out at public
>> hearings, met with Superintendent Abelardo Saavedra and launched a
>> tidy new Web site called In the process,  
>> the
>> coalition revealed the central role a healthy school plays for its
>> community. Wharton, the Montrose activists argue, is not only an
>> academic success story. It is a catalyst for political participation,
>> as neighbors return there year after year to vote. With cozy,
>> mini-Alamo style architecture, it's one of a handful of HISD
>> elementary schools considered architecturally significant. And it
>> hosts an Urban Harvest community garden, a neighborhood playground  
>> and
>> a baseball field, which cost the Neartown Little League more than
>> $400,000.
>> HISD, of course, is not the park service. Much as neighbors like
>> Wharton, administrators could argue, the district must pass only one
>> exam in deciding its fate: whether it benefits Houston students. Yet
>> Wharton, it turns out, educates well. Uniquely well. Home to  
>> Houston's
>> only full-time dual language program, Wharton offers a carefully
>> calibrated program that immerses native and non-native speakers in a
>> mix of languages. By the time these children get to secondary school,
>> all of them — native speakers or not — are bilingual. Intriguingly,
>> the system enhances the test scores of both English- and
>> Spanish-speaking children.
>> Wharton, which has 378 students in its 397 available slots, just
>> finished educating its second set of dual-language sixth-graders.
>> Here's how they did on TAKS. In reading, 94 percent met the district
>> standard; 32 percent achieved Commended Performance. In math, 100
>> percent met the district standard; 68 percent achieved Commended
>> Performance. All these students, moreover, have the language skills  
>> to
>> take the TAKS in English or in Spanish. As one school administrator
>> put it in a letter to activists, "Those are clearly 'Exemplary'
>> results. ... Wharton is going to be a Recognized School again this
>> year. And our reward is ... ?"
>> HISD, of course, isn't hunting down good schools to persecute. The
>> district needs to economize: Recent state legislation essentially
>> flattened the district's revenue, and overall enrollment is ebbing.
>> According to HISD policy, Wharton fits the category of schools too
>> small to be cost-effective. Renovating the 1929 building will
>> certainly cost more than tweaking the new construction funded by
>> recent bond issues.
>> But the district neglected several critical calculations. The first:
>> unilaterally uprooting an institution in a community fast changing
>> from renters to homeowners, and from largely single, transient
>> residents to young families who are firmly committed to the  
>> community.
>> Consistently, Montrose activists and at least one school board member
>> complain that HISD refuses to act with transparency and respond to
>> local input. When, how and where the planned consolidation will occur
>> remains a mystery.
>> HISD also failed to set a clear protocol for closing small schools.
>> The district has chosen not to shutter several small facilities,
>> typically underperformers, partly because of their historical meaning
>> to their neighborhoods. Throughout Houston — and Montrose is no
>> exception — many neighborhoods have two schools serving the same age
>> group, puzzlingly close together. This is a legacy of past  
>> educational
>> segregation, when blacks and whites went to separate, decidedly
>> unequal schools. HISD has rightly avoided shutting down some small
>> institutions that faithfully served their neighborhoods as community
>> centers over generations. Though Wharton was originally a white  
>> school
>> (it's now mostly Hispanic), it plays a similar role in the  
>> surrounding
>> neighborhood.
>> Least forgivable, HISD wants to dismantle a school that is  
>> succeeding.
>> How many other successes can the district claim? According to recent
>> research, Wharton probably plays a role in its students' scores. If
>> so, closing it is no economy. It's easy to imagine why parents  
>> cherish
>> this school. It's far less ordinary to have a school inspire equal
>> support and gratitude from neighbors without children there. If
>> Wharton's closing goes forward, the district will rob Houston — and
>> itself — of a badly needed success story.
>> -- 
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Kim Potowski
Associate Professor of Spanish
Director, Spanish for heritage speakers
The University of Illinois at Chicago
Department of Spanish, French, Italian & Portuguese
1722 UH, MC-315, 601 S. Morgan St.
Chicago, IL 60607
kimpotow at

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