STEP BY STEP: The Furr Phenomenon Explained
Over a period of 10 years, the following actions were taken by Principal Bertie Simmons and the faculty and staff at
Houston ISD’s Furr High School, which brought about the dramatic change in the school in both climate and academics:
• Simmons got to know each student and treated each one with respect. “Initially, I examined each student’s data and
knew his or her academic needs. I learned about their home conditions and identified the homeless students on the campus.”
• Interviews were held by the principal with each new enrollee and parent to set expectations.
• Meetings were held with the parent of each student to discuss what needed to be done to ensure academic success.
• Homes were found for homeless students, and these students’ personal needs were provided for. “Some of these homes
were with our own faculty members,” Simmons said.
• Home visits were conducted throughout the year to find student “no-shows” and convince them to return to school.
• Expectations were set with the staff to ensure that students would be treated with respect.
• The school’s gang task force was removed from campus and replaced with those who were more student-centered and
willing to work with the administration.
• Simmons methodically re-staffed the school with teachers who believed that the students could and would learn, were
strong in their content area, used best practices, and were willing to learn.
• A campus leadership team was formed, which included administrators, teachers, and counselors. This team meets each
week with the principal to engage in book studies and conversations about student needs.
• Dramatic actions were taken to demonstrate a commitment to change, including the following:
• As a result of an agreement to stop the violence on campus, Simmons took 32 gang members to New York City to
prove that 9/11 actually happened.
• Twenty-one members of the leadership team went on a seven-day “Thinking Expedition” to Estes Park, Colorado, to
develop a vision for the school. While there, the team visited the innovative Eagle Rock School to learn about best
practices in that unique environment.
• A written covenant with the community was created. A commitment celebration was held, in which all members of
the school community signed the document.
• To practice a common belief system, the administration established traditions such as voluntary weekly gatherings
before school, which included students, parents, and staff.
• Professional development was provided in unusual settings, such as the water wall in Transco Tower Park, the Antique
Print Museum, Museum of Fine Arts, Museum of Natural Science, and the Health Museum in Houston.
• The entire faculty participated in a retreat at Camp Allen in the Piney Woods.
• Simmons personally prepared lunch for each teacher based on individual requests and put them in lunch boxes decorated according to each teacher’s strengths.
• Administrators were trained in classroom walk-through strategies and discussed observations in leadership meetings.
• Administration and faculty were immersed in campus data down to the individual student level, and this data drove
decisions about instruction, interventions, and professional development.
• A parent liaison was hired and held monthly meetings with parents to get input, keep parents informed, and provide
• The REACH (Realizing Educational Achievement in the City of Houston) Charter School was created on campus for
• Focus of the magnet program was changed to a fine arts program to reflect the needs and interests of the students.
• A literacy coach and school improvement facilitator were hired.
• Level of student expectations was raised by promoting the literacy coach, Angela Borzon, to dean of Instruction.
• Core content department meetings were scheduled with Borzon three times a week to plan instruction, schedule learning assessments, review data, look at student work, and provide professional development (which included filming of
classroom instruction and critiquing the films).
• More AP classes and support were added.
• Meetings were scheduled with students and parents during which the principal supported and explained the importance of the AP program.