This time last year, Richard Carranza was just trying to get his sea legs. Now, however, he’s ready to hit the ground running in his second year at the helm as HISD’s head man.
Houston Independent School District’s captain knows the 2016-2017 school year was about getting to know the district and its school sites while understanding some the historical and contextual issues surrounding the community — and familiarity has bred a confidence in his plans for HISD’s future.
“I have a better understanding of where the schools have been, what some past initiatives have been, and I think the board has a clearer picture of where we’re going. I think we’re starting in a much better place to hit the ground running than we were last year,” he said.
Upon taking the position, Carranza stressed in last year’s conversation with The Leader that communication was the key to uniting the multitude of distinct communities within HISD, including within our local communities in the Heights, Garden Oaks and Oak Forest. To do so, he embarked upon his district-wide “Listen and Learn” tour, vowing to take the community’s concerns under consideration before enacting any sweeping measures; and while 2016-2017 was the beginning, he believes there are still hurdles to clear.
“I feel like we’ve done a pretty good job at communicating this year, but we’re nowhere near the level of communication we want to have,” he said.
To aid in such efforts, Carranza said HISD has revamped its communications office with new members fixing to be instrumental in telling the district’s story far and wide. Doing so, he said, will not be only by written and spoken word, but also by becoming more active on social media and producing video segments to share with the community in multiple languages on potential policy changes.
“More than anything, we’re trying to reach out to community members so they have a voice in some of the policy decisions we’re making,” he said.
One such example, he noted, was the implementation of an advisory review board for a look at potential changes to some of HISD’s programs and policies. This third party advisory board is going to interview community members about special education, special educations services, and how well (or not so well) the current policies and procedures are (or are not) working in HISD.
“There’s going to be an unprecedented opportunity for parents and community members to be involved, and as we go forward transparently, they’ll have the opportunity to lend their voice,” Carranza said.
Additionally, 2017-2018 will see the beginning of a program to aimed at involving parents and the community in the district’s Magnet School review.
“We want to review how we establish it, fund it, how we hold ourselves accountable to make sure everyone has an opportunity to attend a good magnet school, and how we improve them if they’re not helping accomplish district goals,” Carranza said. “Parents are going to have a voice in that process and the ideas that come before the board for any changes. That’s different than what I heard of the way this used to be done in the past.”
Carranza senses that people are very eager to have a voice in how decisions are made, and that people see that equity is an issue — in other words, making sure HISD is meeting the needs of all students, and campuses have all they need to be successful. How that is to be accomplished remains an unknown for now, but he senses no apprehension in the community despite the waters they must wade through.
“I think they’re interested in understanding how we develop programs, where those programs get placed and how to go about evaluating whether those programs are effective. People want to know what the direction of the district,” he said. “As we’ve discussed our global graduate profile and what we’re trying to accomplish on a day-to-day basis, I think people get excited—but I also think they want to understand what their role and voice can be in helping us accomplish that.”
And though that was the goal, Carranza may not have expected opportunity to present itself so soon. Carranza and the community got an early crash course in discovering their voice in 2016-2017 as they endured a tumultuous and sometimes contentious legislative session involving K-12 education as well as multiple votes on the district’s Recapture obligations.
“That process was educational for the entire community, but took up a whole lot of time and space for us to wade through all the different permutations of what that could mean for the district and the greater Houston area,” he said. “I think there have been a lot of opportunities for people to get an understanding of these things. Above all, people want to know how they can make sure there’s a good school in every neighborhood.”
“We have a long way to go, but I feel we’re making tangible efforts to include the voice of the community”
HISD’s head man may still be feeling out HISD a bit, but make no mistake — the future is now with Carranza.