Education Opinion

For Houston ISD, The Talent Pipeline Flows Both Ways

By Tom Vander Ark — May 13, 2014 6 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

By Dr. Terry B. Grier

Superintendent, Houston Independent School District

Initiatives are successful at attracting - and retaining - effective leaders and teachers

In Houston, we’re finishing one massive bond program and already deep into another - the largest in Texas history -- that are creating dazzling 21 st century schools with a technological infrastructure that will allow us to personalize learning and prepare our students for higher education
and careers as never before.

But the most important building that has been going on in HISD’s ecosystem is in developing our human capital. We know that our 21st century
campuses are only as good as the principals who lead them and the teachers who create magic in each classroom. For that reason, we’ve enacted bold
initiatives to hire - and hold onto - the most effective educators possible.

In the past three years, the number of applicants for teaching jobs in HISD has nearly doubled to more than 10,000. Why? We have a national reputation for
innovation in tackling the complex problems of a diverse urban district. We’re the only two-time Broad Prize winner, and recently received $30 million from
the U.S. Department of Education for a model to link rigorous academics to preparation for higher education and the workforce.

We’re capitalizing on those assets to recruit actively in top college teaching programs, have a strong relationship with Teach for America, and we’re
making sure our principals are filling vacancies early to be able to skim the cream of the crop in a highly competitive market locally and nationwide.

Our most experienced and skilled HISD teachers who want to stay in the classroom don’t have to move into administration to find leadership opportunities
and higher salaries. We support 223 teacher leaders on 63 campuses who provide specialized support in instructional practice, intervention, data tracking
and analysis, campus induction, instructional technology, and STEM focus.

That kind of support - combined with performance bonuses that totaled $136 million from 2008-2012 - have helped our teacher retention rate swell to 90

With 211,000 students at 282 schools, and more than 28,000 employees supporting their learning, our ecosystem is vast and complex. A talent pipeline with a
one-way, unimpeded flow into our schools is essential to our success.

Reinventing ‘vocational’ education creates flow of prepared students to support local workforce

Too many school systems continue to operate in a vacuum when it comes to preparing students for rewarding, enduring careers that will support and enrich
the local, regional, and global job markets.

Houston ISD, though, partners with local employers, businesses, and industries - medicine, energy, computer technology, space, arts and humanities, Tier
One educational and research institutions - in a reinvention of elementary through secondary education that blends academic rigor with preparation for
higher education and career. After all, the skills needed to fill today’s jobs are strikingly similar to those needed to be successful in college.

We’ve forged strong collaborations to create unique schools that provide youngsters with challenging and relevant courses that include professional
development with experts. A sample:

  • A new middle school with Baylor College of Medicine that leads to our exemplary DeBakey High School for the Health Professions and readies students for
    medical and research careers;

  • The only Energy Institute High School in the U.S., created with and supported by the Independent Petroleum Association of America and Houston-area
    energy companies;

  • Our longtime High School for Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice and High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, both relocating to central
    Houston sites that will strengthen their professional partnerships.

The other part of our approach addresses the critical need for workers in the middle skills - skills that require education beyond what high schools but
traditionally offer, but not necessarily a traditional four-year degree. About two million jobs go unfilled across the U.S. because we’re not preparing
students properly. Domestic and multinational corporations move their jobs overseas, while school systems turn out students who frequently face
unemployment or underemployment.

HISD’s Futures Academies are innovative high schools that forge direct, industry-based, career-themed pathways in high-demand, high-growth fields -
logistics, engineering, biomedical and health science, energy, business and industry -- that both meet job market demands and provide students with a
real-world application for what they’re learning. There are benefits to HISD, too, in addressing the dropout rate, improving achievement levels, and
closing performance gaps. Relevant education that includes consistent workplace experiences makes students want to stay in school, set challenging goals,
and meet the academic rigor needed to succeed.

These academies feature blended learning programs that lead to industry certification or a two-year associate’s degree from a local community college,
earned in high school, at the student’s own campus. Futures graduates leave high school with options, both college- and career-ready.

This wasn’t just guesswork. We utilized data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, projections from our local workforce board, and employer research
from the Greater Houston Partnership to identify middle skills occupations in the Houston area where current demands exist and will for at least the next
10 to 15 years.

If educators aren’t making those important local connections, you may not know how preparation for the workforce is changing and how your schools can be
helping strengthen the local economy with skilled workers. Here in Houston, we learned that a career as a chemical plant process operator in a chemical
refinery that once required a Ph.D. now can be attained with an associate’s degree.

Jobs in process technology pay $60,000 a year and upward - and can be attained with two years of college - yet the local labor pool was small and workers
were being recruited from across the U.S. We’re helping to change that.

Arming students with a strong academic foundation, solid skills in viable occupational fields, along with workplace skills such as teamwork and flexible
thinking are essential. Houston is arguably the most culturally and socially diverse community ecosystem in the U.S., and public education plays a key role
in whether it struggles or flourishes.

Smart Cities
blog series catalogs innovations in learning in America’s great cities. We’re writing a book about what we’re learning--
and you can help.



‘s watch, in 2013, HISD became the first district in America to win the Broad Award a second time! HISD received high marks for its progress in
decreasing the achievement gap and increasing the number of minority students taking advanced placement test and scoring three or higher on the exam.
He is currently leading the district through the nation’s largest digital conversion, PowerUp, which provides all ninth through twelfth graders with a
laptop computer to use in school and at home.

The opinions expressed in Vander Ark on Innovation are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Schools Get the Brunt of Latest COVID Wave in South Carolina
In the past few weeks, South Carolina has set records for COVID-19 hospitalizations and new cases have approached peak levels of last winter.
4 min read
Two Camden Elementary School students in masks listen as South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster talks about steps the school is taking to fight COVID-19, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, in Camden, S.C. McMaster has adamantly and repeatedly come out against requiring masks in schools even as the average number of daily COVID-19 cases in the state has risen since early June. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
Education More States Are Requiring Schools to Teach Native American History and Culture
Advocates say their efforts have gained some momentum with the nation’s reckoning over racial injustice since the killing of George Floyd.
3 min read
A dancer participates in an intertribal dance at Schemitzun on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation in Mashantucket, Conn., Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. Connecticut and a handful of other states have recently decided to mandate students be taught about Native American culture and history. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Education Judge's Temporary Order Allows Iowa Schools to Mandate Masks
A federal judge ordered the state to immediately halt enforcement of a law that prevents school boards from ordering masks to be worn.
4 min read
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks to reporters following a news conference, Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in West Des Moines, Iowa. Reynolds lashed out at President Joe Biden Thursday after he ordered his education secretary to explore possible legal action against states that have blocked school mask mandates and other public health measures meant to protect students against COVID-19. Reynolds, a Republican, has signed a bill into law that prohibits school officials from requiring masks, raising concerns as delta variant virus cases climb across the state and schools resume classes soon. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Education Hurricane Ida Deals New Blow to Louisiana Schools Struggling to Reopen
The opening of the school year offered teachers a chance to fully assess the pandemic's effects, only to have students forced out again.
8 min read
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021. Louisiana students, who were back in class after a year and a half of COVID-19 disruptions kept many of them at home, are now missing school again after Hurricane Ida. A quarter-million public school students statewide have no school to report to, though top educators are promising a return is, at most, weeks away, not months.
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021.
John Locher/AP