SOME critics of urban school districts in general - and Houston in particular - say the systems have grown to an unmanageable size. ``Houston Independent School District is too huge and cannot do justice to addressing individual needs,'' says Richard R. Farias, executive director of the Association for the Advancement of Mexican-Americans. ``Until we find a way to break down this monster, there isn't going to be significant progress.''
When Houston superintendent Joan Raymond first arrived in 1986, she abolished the district's existing six administrative areas and created 14 areas. But that wasn't enough, Mr. Farias says. ``Why not have four school districts that operate singularly?'' he asks.
Farias's organization oversees the George I. Sanchez School, an alternative program for students dropping out of the Houston public schools. The program has served about 3,000 students since it began in 1974. Most of the students are minorities, predominantly Hispanic.
``These are kids who dropped out or were pushed out,'' Farias says. Many of them eventually reenter the public schools.
``What we keep hearing from the kids is that no one cares,'' Farias says. ``They feel like they are just numbers in the system.'' He credits the success of his program to its small size and individual attention to students' needs.
``Kids don't learn in a vacuum,'' Farias says, ``and they bring whatever problems they have into the classroom.''
In half a dozen interviews with former Houston students now enrolled in the Sanchez school, the common refrain was that the public schools are just too big.
``In a big school, it's harder for me to learn; I get kind of tense,'' says Raquel Coronado, an 18-year-old Sanchez student who graduated in May and will have a baby in July.
``There was too many kids in one classroom,'' says John Esparza, about Jackson Middle School, where he was enrolled for 2 1/2 years.
``When I didn't understand I would hold my hand up for a long time. But they wouldn't take time to explain it to me.'' John, a 15-year-old ninth-grader, remembers running from floor to floor to get to class on time.
``I wasn't really learning anything and I used to be in the office every day,'' he says. But even if he got sent to the office, John might not get the principal's attention. ``I'd wait there half the day or skip before they called me.''
John doesn't want to attend Stephen F. Austin High School along with almost 3,000 students.
``I wouldn't go,'' he says seriously. ``I might get lost in there for a whole week.''