Students Lend Their Voice To Change At North Forest

North Forest High Principal, Pamela Farinas (in the middle), with a group of students. Students in a group called "The Voice" advise Farinas on issues students are facing and things they'd like to change at the school.
Earlier this year the Texas Education Commissioner took the dramatic and rare step to close down an entire school district here in the Houston area. It was driven by years of poor academics and financial problems. So this year North Forest schools and students became part of the Houston Independent School District.

Perhaps no one better than the students at North Forest High know the school’s reputation:

“Chaos.”

“You can walk out or step out in the hallway. You’ll see thousands of us students that are supposed to be in class, they’ll be in the hallway walking around — Undisciplined.”

That’s what senior football players Chanzce Jones and Jarvis Harris say North Forest was like last year.

Now when they think of their school, different things come to mind.

“Organization”

“Just basically everything positive reinforcement.”

“Teachers who actually care.”

“Everybody being close and being a family, so I think of family.”

About a dozen students, mostly seniors, are gathered here in the principal’s office at North Forest High School.

They’re not in trouble. In fact it’s pretty common for students to sit and share what’s on their mind with the new principal, Pamela Farinas.

Senior Stefany Williams explains how a certain group of students is taking an active role in changing the culture at North Forest.

“The Voice is a group of students who was here from previous years. And we came in the summer. We just gathered to help improve our school and also the future school.”

Stefany says they asked about getting better cafeteria food and other things

“In the classroom, how some of the teachers weren’t here all the time and they improved that and now the teachers are here, they’re active with us and everything, and we talked about how behavior was last year and how we should improve that.”

Principal Pamela Farinas says she listens to these students.

She says her top priority is building a positive culture and relationships.

“These are students that had built relationships with their teachers and administrators and then they return to campus one day and those faces weren’t familiar so the person you trusted the most may not have been here.”

Farinas says building relationships is a slow process but it helps improve other things like academics.

“People learn better when there are relationships. I think students want to know that you are someone who has their best interests at heart when you’re providing them with information and knowledge.”

Farinas has also made the school day longer, added a second social worker and scheduled more time for students to talk with counselors.

In time there will be hard data like test scores and graduations rates to see how the North Forest students fare under the Houston Independent School District.

Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee was one of the most vocal critics of the merger. She suggests another way to measure success.

“I also think a likeability rating if you will, is the children happy. I hope that is the case. I have no judgment on that but I hope that is the case.”

Principal Farinas says she has her own personal standard.

She wants to create a school where she would send her own children, where they will be prepared for college and careers.

Bio photo of Laura Isensee

Laura Isensee

Education Reporter

Laura Isensee covers education for KUHF, including K-12 and higher education.

Previously, she was a staff reporter at The Miami Herald and regularly contributed to WLRN, the local NPR affiliate and Miami Herald news partner...