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Houston ISD’s Furr High School awarded $10 million grant

Principal Bertie Simmons, right, receives the award at a XQ Institute award ceremony in Washington DC, along with nine other schools nationwide.
Principal Bertie Simmons, right, receives the award at a XQ Institute award ceremony in Washington DC, along with nine other schools nationwide.

September 14, 2016 – HISD’s Furr High School has won a $10 million Super School Project grant, beating out thousands of other schools who applied from across the nation.

The five-year grant, awarded by the XQ Institute, began with a call for innovative ideas for redesigning traditional American high schools to prepare students for college and the workforce. Only 10 schools were awarded grants.

Accepting the award at a ceremony in Washington D.C., Principal Bertie Simmons said the grant will help elevate Furr to a new level of achievement.

“Pretty good is not enough for us,” Dr. Simmons said. “We want to be a Super School. Just wait and watch and see what we do. It’s going to be amazing.”

HISD Trustee Diana Dávila, who represents the Furr community, said the grant will further strengthen the neighborhood high school.

“I want to commend Dr. Simmons and her team for taking the initiative to go after this highly competitive grant,” Dávila said. “HISD is a district of choice, and strong neighborhood schools such as Furr are the foundation.”

HISD has a strong record of winning competitive grants to benefit schools. In 2013, HISD was awarded a $30 million federal Race to the Top grant. That grant is funding HISD’s Linked Learning initiative that enables students to begin early college and career readiness through project-based learning. That same year, HISD won a $12 million grant to start six magnet schools emphasizing science, technology, engineering and math instruction.

The youthful, energetic 82-year-old principal Bertie Simmons reflects, “We were referred to as a throwaway school. I came out of retirement and went there on a mission.” She is determined to transform this school, and says, “Pretty good is not for us. We want an amazing school.We want to be one of the best schools in the nation.” Furr will focus on project-based learning and environmental sustainability.

The XQ grants are really big compared to anything prior. Their expectations for innovation are really high as well. Unlike other grant programs requiring matching and lots of fundraising, the winners can get to work knowing they’ll have multi-year support.