Thursday, January 29, 2015

Passionate About Learning- Meet Our New Superintendent, Dr. Howell Wright.

As everybody already knows, Dr. Howell Wright is our new superintendent.  Heck, you probably have already seen him around your campus. (And if you haven't, wait a few minutes because he will probably be back by pretty soon! )

Dr. Wright meets a candidate for the macho man contest- wait, is that HHS's Chijindu behind that giant moustache?

Not only is he quickly getting to know the district, he's also on a mission to get to know us and the children we teach.  We caught up with him last week and thought we would share here a little bit of what we found out about him.

Dr. Wright faces the media for an interview and photos in the corner of a busy journalism classroom.

First and foremost, the man is focused on our students, and student engagement.  He understands that one thing that we as teachers and staff can control with each of our students is the way we treat them.  We can't control where our students come from and the circumstances that got them there. The OTHER thing we can control is the quality of the work we design for them. 

Dr. Wright at the January meeting of the Walker County Retired Teacher's Association.
We depend on this active group's support, and we appreciate the time and effort they consistently deliver.

We control the type of relationship that we cultivate with our students.  That can be a relationship that is filled with rigor and accountability, as well as compassion and kindness. The choice is ours.

Dr. Wright chats with retired educators to help promote new membership among outgoing teachers.

For Dr. Wright, his focus on student engagement goes beyond any one technique or buzz phrase, and it's the solid rock foundation on which all lasting learning (and education) is built.

After the sit down, a snapshot.  HHS Hive's Grace and Dr. Wright.

To borrow a literary exercise from our schools, if Dr. Wright was assigned to write a Three Word Biography, it might very well read, "Passionate About Learning."

He would be clear to choose his words carefully, and acknowledge that he chose the word "learning" over "school."

That's because he is clear to draw a line between the two. The term "learning" transcends both the school day, and the years we spend in school.  Dr. Wright also is quick to point out that unfortunately (and tragically), school doesn't always include learning.

Dr. Wright meets Kyleigh and Myra, the photo editors of the

In talking to him about his school days, there are a few episodes that stand out to Dr. Wright and, like almost all of us, much of his personal journey was determined by remarkable educators.

That first encounter came from his second grade teacher.

The previous year, Dr. Wright had four first grade teachers.  Personnel issues caused the class to have several teachers, the last teacher which was (in hindsight) not only an ineffective teacher, but plain mean and borderline abusive.

Dr. Wright gives the editor some feedback on his project!

Compliance seemed her only goal.  She handled students who talked too much by taping their mouths closed, and kids who couldn't sit in their chair were tied to it.

It was a low point, but it set up Dr. Wright to meet one of the most important people in his life- his second grade teacher, Mrs. McCaffey.

Danielle Park, Cherie Countz & Dr. Wright listen to Brenda Moss at Scott Johnson Elementary.

Mrs. McCaffey was a year from retiring, but in no way ready to slow down.  She used all sorts of ways to engage students (role playing, peer tutoring, games) that allowed students to get into the learning and stretch and grow.

Long before he was a teacher, a coach or superintendent, Dr. Wright was Howell Wright, a second grader in need of a good teacher.

Seeing Eye to Eye:  Dr. Wright hangs out before the retired teacher association meeting.

In eighth grade at Dick Dowling Junior High in Houston, he was getting a little lazy, and science was getting a lot harder. When it came time to take a test, he opted the easy way out and he cheated.

Dr. Wright had a copy of the answers, and his teacher caught him in the act.  The teacher took up the test and the answers, and told Dr. Wright to see him after class.  Mortified, Dr. Wright's mind raced, thinking of all the trouble he was going to get in with every adult he knew (mom, dad, teacher, principal, coaches, et al.).

But what happened next took him by surprise and changed his life.  His teacher told him that he was to get one more chance, and that he was to retake the test the next day.

Dr. Wright seized this chance, dug deep into the subject, and discovered that, not only was science hard but that it was interesting, too!  The next day, he took and passed the test.  From there, he realized he actually really liked science.  Years later, Dr. Wright would graduate in the top ten percent of his class in New Caney and major in Biology at Stephen F. Austin State University.

Of course neither Dr. Wright nor his teacher had any idea what lay ahead for that kid who got a second chance.  However, this teacher realized that how he treated students determined their success or failure.

At Nurse Mary Carden's (a.k.a. Nursey's!) Retirement Party at Scott Johnson Elementary
L-R:  Dr. Wright, Cheri Countz, Danielle Park, Brenda Moss & Diana Teel

And now for some questions that you may have about his family.

As his father spent twenty one years in the navy, Dr. Wright and his family moved around many times before settling in Houston, Texas upon his father's retirement as Chief Petty Officer.

He has a brother Joe, two years younger who lives with his family in Houston and works in Global Operations.

Dr. Wright met Dorothy, his wife of 20 years, in just about as far East Texas as you can travel- she a teacher in Kirbyville and he a teacher and coach in nearby Burkeville.

In addition to teaching Biology, Physics, Chemistry, Earth Science, Health--and you name it, Dr. Wright coached track for 18 years, was a basketball coach, served as an assistant principal, principal, a deputy superintendent and superintendent before joining us here in December.

The couple has six children (Amy, Colleen, Cassi, Holly, Tim and Haley), and they all live either here in Texas, or nearby in Louisiana.

Their youngest is Haley, who is in her first year at Texas A&M.  Other children have graduated from Sam Houston State University and Stephen F. Austin State University.  And, like a lot of our students, not all of his kids chose to pursue college.  He has two teachers in the family and a golf management professional.  Dr. Howell and Dorothy are happy and grateful to be grandparents.

To answer perhaps one of the most burning questions on everyone's mind- Texans or Cowboys?- Dr. Wright says that he is fan of both, and has never really seen a conflict, as they have never played in the same division.  What he really is hoping for (ever since the original Oiler days in the 1960s), is an all Texas Superbowl.  Then he'll really have to decide.

One more thing. Dr. Wright made a slight but not insignificant change to the title of Superintendent.  If you ask to see his card (or you can check the website) it doesn't read "Superintendent of Schools," but rather something much closer to his heart:  Superintendent of Education.

See you around the District!

Matthew Lahey Huntsville Independent School District HISD

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

AutoTech Students Aren't Afraid to Get Their Hands Dirty With Leading Edge Technology

Everyday a group of students make their way to the back of the High School, change into into their work clothes and begin their work day at their Garage.

Austin tests a battery.

These are the students that make up Auto Tech I and Auto Tech II. Their boss is also their teacher, Mr. Doug Johnston, and their 'class assignments' are the work they do for their clients.

Felix checks a connection.

Their clients consist exclusively of the Huntsville Independent School District family, and Mr. Johnston only chargers for labor (clients provide the parts).

Jacob changes a tire.
Oil changes, wheel balancing, brakes, alignments, diagnostics and general repair are all available for students, parents and staff.  (Mr. Johnston's team doesn't accept any non-HISD work, as he doesn't want to interfere with the local repair industry.)

Jonathan working on brakes.

After almost half a life spent in the auto repair industry, Mr. Johnston came back to Huntsville High School to share his passion for the work and love of teaching.

Do you understand this wiring diagram?  Nah, me neither.
Mr. Johnston is in his second year here teaching the Auto Tech program, and he took over for longtime teacher Mr Larry Goines. Mr. Johnston himself was a student of Mr. Goines here at the high school.

Clients provide the oil and filter, students provide the oil change.

He minored in electronics in college,  and it comes in handy with the investigative side of mechanics that make up so much of the work. There's always a need for electrical diagnostics, and it's a specialty of Mr. Johnston that he can share with these student auto techs.
Mr. Johnston demonstrates the operation on the simulator.
First students master operation on the simulator  (computer system). 

The program has been able to purchase a few large and powerful pieces of equipment recently, one of which is the Hunter Hawkeye Elite Laser Alignment System, the other the Snap On Solus iScanner.  These are leading edge technology that have replaced some well loved, very well used and now very out of date equipment.

Once comfortable on the simulator, students can move on to the "real deal."
Here, Auto Tech II student Nelson steps up to the machine.

The alignment system consists of three parts- the computer system,
the wall unit that projects the lasers, and the pieces that
are strapped on the wheel to receive the laser.

The lasers are reflected in these pieces attached to each wheel.
Once these are lined up, then you know that you have that correct alignment.
(Yes, we used the word lasers!)

The Auto Tech program is under Career and Technology Education (CTE), and CTE Director Mr. David Rosser and Mr. Johnston would not have been able to make these purchases without the deeply discounted rates that both Hunter Engineering Company and Snap On Tools provided.  We appreciate their support, as well as the superior prices and service that Jerry Larrison provides Auto Tech with his Reliable Parts, Co.  Thank you!

Jonatan keeps hold of the oil drain plug while the old oil drains out of the crank case.

One more thing before you go: A student fills out a "next oil change" sticker for the client's windshield.

Not just a code reader- this recently purchased SnapOn Solus Ultra iScanner can read codes,
read live data, aid in trouble shooting and allows operators to do functional testing.

This is an oscilloscope reading of an injector wave form.
(Used to diagnose issues with vehicles using an electronic fuel injection.)

Checking out the under carriage.

Meet the AutoTech II Team (From Left to Right)
Jacob (red cap), Nelson (dark hair & grey shirt), Chris (back, blue shirt & cap), Mr. Doug Johnston, Spencer (glasses tank top), Austin (in back, safety glasses on top of head) Jonatan (front, blue T-shirt) and Laine (pink shirt, ball cap)

Huntsville High School Auto Tech is open for business- Go see them!

Friday, January 16, 2015

Internet Access "Grant-ed": HHS and MPMS Students Check Out Mifis and Chromebooks for Learning from Awarded TEA's TLP Grant

With a computer and an internet connection, there is little a student can't research for a project or paper.  Online learning doesn't stop at the school house door, as long as you have that laptop and the Internet.

Huntsville High's Katy is good to go for her Journalism projects.
But what about those students that don't have one or the other? Or neither?

Michael and Halli-Sue both appreciate the opportunity to check out a Mi-Fi at Mance Park.
At Huntsville High School and Mance Park Middle School, students can (with permission from their teacher) go to their corresponding libraries and check out a mifi and a Chromebook if needed to complete assignments. (At this time, Mance Park Middle School is offering mifis only.)

The teacher fills out a survey, hits submit and...

...then the campus librarian can view all the pertinent information.
(This form is made on the Google Application called Forms, which is available to all teachers)

This is thanks to a program that's now entering its third year, and it's made possible by the work of Amy Mayer, HISD's Director of Staff Development and District Initiatives.

Amy Mayer, our district's "Money-Getter"
(Not her official title! She's the Director of Staff
Development and District Initiatives...and a money getter!)

She wrote and submitted a Technology Lending Program grant that's offered by the Texas Education Agency.  Over the last three years, our district has been awarded over $200,000 (that's two hundred thousand dollars- $100,000 in 2012 and $100,000 in 2014)  that has allowed us to make these and other purchases related for the lending of technology.

Mance Park Teacher Mrs. Lisa Hoke feels better knowing that students
have access to a Mifi if they need it to complete her assignments.

That means that kids are getting access to the Internet.

Katy and HHS Librarian Mrs. Carol Nichols humor the photographer as Katy picks up a Chromebook.

By the way, for those who may be unfamiliar with the terms, a Chromebook is a small inexpensive laptop that runs the Chrome browser and software, and a mifi is a portable wireless device which allows a user to access the Internet.

Meanwhile at Mance Park, Halli-Sue and Mance Park Librarian Ms. Jean Qualtrough
also act natural for another pose!  Thank you all!

But wait, there's more!

Stay tuned to the blog for an upcoming post regarding our plans for the other TLP grant we have been awarded.  We are diversifying the way that we serve our students as they gain access to the Internet, and we'll tell you about that soon.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Scott Johnson's Fourth Graders Reading Has Gone to the Dogs!

On any given school day, if you happen to stop by Scott Johnson Elementary School you may come across something that will give you pause (or is it,"paws"?)

Well, what are you waiting for? Read to me!
Just through the front door in a little alcove in the corner is a special spot reserved for reading- and frankly, it's gone to the dogs!  

Sasha is a good listener.  (This part is getting good!)

"Five Little Monkeys" is a favorite with everybody- dogs included!
That's because this is the place where fourth graders regularly read to dogs.  Dogs like Sasha (a puppy who has a taste for comedy and adventure) get to listen to their favorites while the students hone their skills by reading aloud.

Hello there- story time!  Sasha is ready to listen!
Let's do this! Amber is ready to read!
The mission of  READ (Reading Education Assistance Program) is "to improve the literacy skills of children in a unique approach employing a classic concept: reading to a dog."  The program has been going strong for years, and hundreds of kids have participated.

Sasha and Diane Carpenter are one of the several reading teams.
Each dog is a registered therapy animal, and READ is one part of the Huntsville Pets Helping People organization's outreach, so you may see some volunteer teams at the hospital, or assisted living and retirement homes in the area, too.

Shhh.  Quiet Please. :-)

But make no mistake, the only people reading to these dogs are these fourth graders.

Daniel sports a Sasha sticker he picked out after his reading session

Can I please see some license and registration?....
OK, you check out- thank you!

Sasha and Millie are among the several dogs that visit. 

Think of these stickers as Sasha trading cards you can wear!
In Huntsville, the group is made possible by Target (Huntsville Pets Helping People is a Target community partner).  Thanks also go to individual donors including but not limited to the Suzanne Huber Foundation, Subway (Donice Wade, Owner),  Innovative Charitable Solutions, Inc., the YMCA and Huntsville Memorial Hospital.

Huntsville Pets Helping People is a local non profit organization affiliated with the Intermountain Therapy Animals as well as Reading Education Assistance Dogs.