I’m a bit of a hypocrite, or maybe more than a little, I’ll just admit that right off the bat. I do not send my children to my zoned elementary school. When application time came around a few years back, I applied to every ‘established’ school in my area. The ones I heard good things about. The ones where people I knew sent their children. We ended up at a school we love with lots of volunteer support, resources and a great administration.
The rub is that school, as is the case with many in our area, has gotten so popular that if we had applied in 2015, there would have been a snowball’s chance in Hawaii that we would have gotten in. It’s no accident that parents with elementary age and middle age school kids are taking a second look at their zoned school.
That’s what Heights mom Patty McGrail did. She is zoned for Field Elementary and even though all the buzz was about Harvard and Travis, she wanted to find out about her neighborhood school. A lot of people might have looked at HISD report on Field and then looked elsewhere once they noticed that over 90% of students are classified as economically disadvantaged. But not McGrail.
A couple of years before her son turned five, she got involved. McGrail found a Field group on Big Tent and with the help of a friend started a school supply drive for Field students. When she went to deliver the supplies, she said she was “blown away.” While the school’s curb appeal may not have matched up with some other schools, McGrail really liked what she saw on the inside.
So much so that that she started going to PTO meetings and later at Principal John Hendrickson’s invitation, attending the Shared Decision Making Committee meetings at the school. She also decided to resurrect the Friends of Field community group and get the neighborhood involved in helping Field while dispelling the rumors that it wasn’t a good school.
“I saw how well the teachers liked the principal, and at the end of the day when they should be tired, they were laughing and having fun,” she told The Leader in 2013. “I thought that they were the kind of teachers I’d want to teach my son. I just kept seeing all these really positive things.”
Along with all the intangibles, there was tangible evidence of momentum at the school. In 2014, Field met all the standards that the TEA had set and also earned distinctions in reading, math and post-secondary readiness. The Children at Risk organization gave the school its Gold Ribbon Award and ranked Field one of the top 15% of elementary schools in the state.
With all her data, and her gut feeling, McGrail then did something that many would consider a leap of faith. She turned down a spot at Harvard Elementary and sent her son to Field, along with a handful of other families she knew. And she hasn’t regretted it.
“We love it,” she said. “It’s a great community. My son is doing really well. All the children in his class are. The majority of them are reading well above grade level. ”
Everything may not be perfect, but no school is. McGrail, who is now the PTO president, could really use more volunteers. Part of the issue is where the students are coming from – while 246 students at the school come from the Field zone, there are also more than 200 students who come from 53 other school zones around Houston.
Due to transportation issues, job commitments or other concerns, many of these parents can’t be the kind of volunteers that other schools enjoy, but they care enough about their child’s education to do the research and send their kids to a school with a good academic reputation. While ‘economically disadvantaged’, Field’s students come to school with book fair money and on picture day, they are as spruced up as anyone else.
And while true diversity at a school doesn’t mean a 90%+ Hispanic population, which is what Field has, McGrail wonders why more people in the Heights don’t take another look at Field like she did. About 100 children who are zoned to Field attend other Heights schools, notably Harvard, Travis and Helms.
“People move to the Heights in the first place because they appreciate the diversity of the area and all the personal growth and creativity that diversity can bring,” said McGrail.
Principal John Hendrickson says that his goal for Field is for it to be the school of choice for the surrounding neighborhood. Maybe with more people like Patty McGrail, it will.