Houston – In the chaotic aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, Principal Jonathan Trinh feared the worst for his Houston high school.

He took in a hundred new pupils displaced by the storm, his students’ overwhelmingly low-income families were struggling with lost jobs and other distractions, and Trinh worried this would be the year that test scores sank enough to make his Wisdom High School a target for state intervention.

But when the scores came out recently, there was only celebration. Wisdom and other Houston schools with some of the largest populations of at-risk students defied expectations and showed improvement in state scores – a feat attributed to perseverance in the face of adversity, and changes to the state accountability ratings that put more emphasis on progress.

Trinh gives credit to the resilience of the school community. He has lived in Houston since arriving as a Vietnamese refugee in 1978, and his immigrant background is a bond he shares with the large majority of the school’s students.

“Our teachers, our students – somehow they made it work,” Trinh said. “A lot of us endure so much.”

Lorena Alaniz, an 18-year-old senior at Wisdom, maintained a 3.5 GPA despite having to work part-time to help her family rebuild their flooded home.

“Some days I would wake up in the morning and tell myself, ‘I want to drop out. I want to just leave. But I can’t,’” Alaniz said as she sat in her school’s cafeteria. “I know I can and I have to keep going for myself, for my family. So I chose not to give up.”

As the Carolinas are now experiencing in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence, the storm that hit Houston was hugely disruptive for schools. The Category 4 hurricane that hit in August 2017 caused an estimated $125 billion in damage and closed Houston-area schools for weeks on end. About 10 percent of students in Houston schools were displaced by the storm, state records show.

For Houston school leaders, there was extra motivation in the decision by Texas officials not to excuse all schools in the Houston Independent School District from state testing ramifications. A third of the district’s 281 campuses, including Wisdom, were not eligible for a state waiver, which was determined by the number of teachers and students displaced, school closure days or physical damage to the buildings.


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