As the Houston Schools get approval for funding new and existing facilities, they may also stand to save land costs and reap benefits from a partnership with the Greater Houston YMCA. Public discussions between the two involve a shared facility that would house both a YMCA campus and a Summerwood Middle School. The proposed site involves 18 acres of land owned by the YMCA.
As more reports are released on childhood obesity, more findings link a sedentary lifestyle to diseases like diabetes, and television watching and video games seem like national pass-times, parents of Houston Schools would love to see the middle school facility merged with the YMCA. Houston Schools are in a better position than some other large cities such as Detroit where voters refused to fund another penny for critical issues like leaky buildings and out of date technology. Still, the potential cost saving of this project could mean a lot to Houston Schools.
While Houston Schools would gain about $600,000 from the shared land arrangement, many details are still unresolved. For Houston Schools the benefits list is pretty promising. They include saved land costs, state of the art facilities, and ease of promoting healthy behavior with students. Assistant Superintendent for Support Services of Houston Schools Mark Krueger has said that the partnership could work since the two entities have similar schedules. So what concerns exist?
YMCA Trustees point to the safety, personnel and upkeep responsibilities that need to be addressed before giving this project a green light. Liability issues of having Houston Schools’ students on the same ground will need to be considered. At this point only a single entrance exists for both the YMCA and the Houston Schools’ building. Also, some YMCA personnel would have offices in the school. Will the two cultures mix?
Partnerships with corporations, businesses and other non-public entities like the YMCA seem to be the new direction of education. Mega grants from companies like Microsoft and smaller partnerships are giving inner-city schools funding they no longer get from the public sector. For Houston Schools the YMCA partnership may only be the beginning of this approach.
Donald McAdams, in his book Fighting to Save Our Urban Schools…and Winning! Lessons from Reforming Houston Schools elaborates on the twelve steps taken in this successful assessment of school reform. Among his lessons are that “Non-traditional superintendents might be the best reformers” and that “Business leaders play an important role in urban reform.” Houston Schools do have one of the better reputations among large cities.
As for the YMCA and Summerwood Middle School, the anxious parents and students of Houston Schools will have to be patient just a little while longer. This partnership would be the first of its kind and needs more exploration by everyone involved.