The phrase “it takes a village” has certainly come into action at Mount Airy’s Henry H. Houston Elementary School and, according to new principal Reginald Johnson, the village has come.
When the Philadelphia School District budget crisis struck in 2011, schools suffered many losses, including supplies and teachers and later, actual schools and buildings. Now that the dust is settling, Houston Elementary is making strides to succeed, despite the cuts, with a new leader and a new direction. They strive to get the community back on board.
Even though Johnson was appointed as the new principal of Houston in early June, his name and great reputation can already be heard around the school and the community.
Houston’s Home and School program’s president, Meredith Haskins, a mother of two Houston students, believes the new principal has shown a vital role in the school community.
“We really love our new principal,” said Haskins. “He’s doing an excellent job. He comes around and he’s not afraid to get his hands dirty. He’s a hands-on type of man.”
However, along with his active presence within the building, Johnson did not waste any time gathering the community together to create a new set of guidelines to lead Houston to excellence.
“We had almost one hundred people in the library talking about steps we need to take in order to create a culture of achievement,” Johnson said. “And that culture of achievement is really in Houston’s B.A.S.E.”
Houston’s B.A.S.E. stands for Behavioral, Academic, Social and Emotional expectations. B.A.S.E. is the theme of Houston and can be found on posters all-around the school building.
“[B.A.S.E.] drives everything we do because we’re talking about the whole child,” said Johnson.
Other than B.A.S.E. to build school culture, the school stakeholders came up with another system. They decided on having five focus initiatives: physical plant, school culture, teaching and learning, assessment, and community and parent partnerships. These five objectives are what now guide Houston Elementary.
Every 30 days, Houston has a focus in terms of B.A.S.E., which came about because of the five critical initiatives.
For physical plant, Houston educators and students aim to beautify the school and take ownership of its appearance. Teaching and learning focuses on student learning – reading, math, science, music and all academic areas. They want to teach the children and teach them how to use that knowledge. For assessment, they look at how the staff can do a better job at knowing where students are and giving them ownership within their learning.
What is truly keeping Houston pushing forward despite the budget is the community and parent partnerships initiative.
“We’ve had parents doing unbelievable things,” said Johnson.
Parents have stepped up to the plate in various ways at the school,, he said. They volunteer daily, aim to form a school advisory board and want to join the Home and School program, which assists any needs Houston may come across. Community members and volunteers have been coming in Wednesdays and Thursdays to do extra tutoring in reading and math, a program titled Community Tutors.
One parent who volunteers his time at the school is Allan Bradley. He volunteers as a part of Men of Houston, which Haskins describes as a voluntary program to have positive male influences in the school. They walk around the halls to make sure the students are ok and to make sure they do not need any assistance, said Haskins.
“I want to help the kids,” said Bradley. “I want to make a difference in schools. If I can do anything to stop bullying, I want to be involved in that.”
The relationship with the parents is not a one-way street. Haskins said Johnson is always there for the parents as they are for Houston.
“He does take parents without an appointment,” said Haskins. “If they have a concern, he’ll make it his business to accommodate the parents.”
They also make sure to keep the parents informed weekly with emails and letters.
“When they’re able to be included in all of this and they have a voice, they’re more apt to partner with the school,” said Johnson.
Other Houston contributors have been Abington Friends, Germantown Academy, and Springside Chestnut Hill Academy, all of which donated books and helped establish an after-school program for second, third and fourth graders to accelerate their reading levels. Mount Airy USA has donated paper and supplies such as pencils, pens and markers.
“I think [the budget crisis] does have an impact,” said Johnson. “However, it hasn’t impacted Houston as much as it could have had we not had these true partnerships and the adults saying we’re going to make sure that we still thrive no matter what.”
Johnson hopes all of Houston’s new plans that are set in action will bring back the positive view of Philadelphia public education. He believes the negative perception of the public schools revolves around the cut in resources, which is driving away the middle class families and the families that truly know how to navigate the educational system.
“We want to bring them back,” he said. “We believe that we do have a product that can really help – not just reading and math, but also developing the whole child.”
As for the future, Houston has an anti-bullying assembly for the Initiative for No Hate Dec. 18 to keep the set momentum going strong.