By Christina Autry
HD Chambers has worked on behalf of Houston’s public school students for over 30 years. As Superintendent of Alief ISD, his decisions impact families from all over the world who have made Alief home. The International Management District (IMD) largely overlaps with Alief ISD, necessitating shared goals, challenges, and successes between the two organizations. As HD Chambers is also a member of the International District Board, he is in a unique position to encourage collaboration between these two influential entities, promoting a holistic response to community needs.
What are your contributions as a board member of the International Management District?
My role as a board member is to represent both the management district as a whole, and specifically to represent Alief ISD. The purpose of the IMD is to promote quality of life, business, and economic development. Our school district plays a significant role in that goal. Both entities have a reciprocal impact on each other. The IMD supports the school district by making sure the community is a good place to live and work.
What are your key functions in your role as board member?
I am the conduit between the school district, the tax payers, and the students. I attempt to break down barriers to allow the IMD to continue moving forward with economic development in the community. In a large organization like a school district, there can be bureaucracy and various barriers to building productive partnerships. I make sure those barriers are minimized. I try to use my role as a board member to grow the IMD and further its mission, by allowing the two entities to work together.
What are some of the advantages of having a superintendent on the IMD board?
Our school district has a large number of international students. Our student population in Alief largely mirrors the IMD. I serve as a voice for any parents and students of international origin in our community. I try to be consistent in removing barriers that they face, and most importantly, to make sure we are making decisions that benefit the students.
A big part of that work is making sure families are aware of available opportunities both in the community and in their child’s school. Alief provides business opportunities for workforce development, business development, and educational attainment for students, as well as adults.
We want to make sure the international families new to our country, or are learning English, are aware of opportunities and have a chance to compete for those like anyone else.
What are some ways that Alief ISD and the IMD can collaborate?
IMD has helped develop an international high school called the Alief International Academy. The school opened this past year, and currently has 9th and 10th grade. It has a specific internationally focused curriculum. IMD has helped support and raise awareness for this school, through strong partnership with our district.
We also started a Mandarin Immersion Program beginning in kindergarten housed in Petrosky Elementary. About 45-50 students in that program are speaking Chinese, most of whom are not from China. It is amazing to see these young students picking up and speaking the language so quickly.
We partnered with IMD in creating a community garden at Dairy Ashford and Beechnut. Alief ISD donated the property and the IMD and other Alief neighborhood groups participate in managing it. Students go up to the garden to learn about horticulture, plowing and tilling and managing their own sections of garden. Since we’re not a rural community, we wanted to create a rural environment for the kids to learn from.
What are some of the focuses or initiatives that you are working on right now in Alief ISD?
One initiative is attempting to have every student in our district reading on grade level by the end of 3rd grade. What that entails is making sure we can offer full day Pre-K to every student. We are piloting full-day Pre-K programs at 5-6 elementary schools rather than half-day programs.
On the other end of the spectrum, we want kids graduating high school to either be ready to go to college, ready to enter the workforce, or join the military. Our Center for Advanced Careers is in its first year, and is designed for students to earn credentials in fields like cyber security, plumbing, health sciences, HVAC, construction science, and much more. There is a demand in our economy for these kinds of schools, and students are interested in participating in these programs.
Another district objective is to get a better handle for providing a safe and secure environment for students and staff. Except for our mental health professionals, we don’t have the training to recognize or address mental health concerns in students or adults. We want to provide appropriate training to our staff, and hire professionals dedicated to recognizing mental health issues and are equipped with the right tools to address them. It’s in our best interest as a district to improve in this area.
We are always working to overcome barriers that our international students face. In the IMD, the language barrier and lack of continuous enrollment are barriers to learning. 45% of our students do not speak English at home. Our families across the district speak about 95 different languages. We have to overcome the challenge that this poses for English language acquisition. We want to have enough staff able to communicate with these students in their native languages as they learn English.
Mobility refers to the many children who are moving constantly, transferring between schools, with no stability with regard to teachers, friends, school environment, or place of residence.
We emphasize to parents that moving during the school year harms their child’s academic growth. I also work with apartment complexes to ask them to not incentivize families to relocate during the school year.
What message would you give to families as this school year comes to a close?
Alief has many opportunities for kids in a great school system. I want to encourage families to reach out and learn about the quality programs that they can take advantage of.
Over the summer, it is absolutely critical for students to have dedicated reading time. Students should be reading picture books, novels, articles, anything – for at least 30 or 45 minutes a day. We see so much regression over the summer. Many gains made during the school year are lost when kids aren’t practicing the skills they’ve learned. Our students who only hear their native language over the summer have to catch up once the school year starts again. I want to encourage families to make reading a regular part of their day.
I’m excited about graduation. I get excited about shaking kids’ hands who have successfully completed a very rigorous curriculum and earned a diploma, as they hear their families applaud their accomplishments. When they walk off the stage, you hope that you did a good job. It’s like parenting. When your kids grow up and leave the house, you sincerely hope that everything you’ve done for them will pay off in their future success.