A Houston ISD administrator said the district could not find any grounds to successfully appeal the state accountability rating for Wheatley High School, which received a seventh consecutive failing grade last month from the Texas Education Agency.
HISD’s trustees, whose future is in jeopardy because of Wheatley’s continued academic struggles, want the district to appeal anyway.
At a Sept. 5 meeting of the HISD Board of Education, the trustees voted 7-1 to instruct interim superintendent Grenita Lathan to appeal Wheatley’s grade of 59 – one point shy of a passing report.
In a Sept. 3 letter to HISD, Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath said state law would require him to close the Wheatley campus or replace the HISD trustees with a board of managers if the school’s preliminary accountability rating did not improve to a passing score by the time it becomes final. Morath said an appeal likely would be resolved in December, at which point the grade would be finalized.
“We’re already at the end of the rope as some would say it, so I’m not afraid to keep going if it has to do for kids,” Diana Davila, HISD’s board president, said during the Sept. 5 meeting.
The lone dissenting vote came from Jolanda Jones, who is not seeking reelection this year. She said an appeal should not be filed on behalf of the trustees and that giving Lathan such a directive would violate governance procedures.
Rhonda Skillern-Jones, one of two HISD trustees representing area schools, was not present and did not vote. The other trustee representing area schools is Elizabeth Santos.
Carla Stevens, HISD’s assistant superintendent of research and accountability, said during the school-board meeting that district administrators had “scrubbed everything we possibly could” in an attempt to find a valid reason to appeal Wheatley’s grade and did not find one.
Santos suggested Hurricane Harvey, which flooded much of Houston near the beginning of the 2017-18 school year, contributed to Wheatley’s substandard performance. Wheatley and every other HISD campus received a special waiver from accountability ratings for the 2017-18 school year.
The TEA did not grant such a waiver for the 2018-19 school year and, according to Morath’s letter, had previously indicated that the 2017 and 2019 grades would be considered consecutive.
House Bill 1842, enacted by the Texas Legislature in 2015, requires the Texas Education Commissioner to close a campus or replace its district’s trustees with a board of managers if a public school receives five consecutive failing grades.
On Aug. 15, the day the TEA released its 2018-19 accountability ratings for every school and district in Texas, three state legislators said Morath should leave Wheatley open and replace the HISD board.
Morath didn’t say which way he was leaning in his letter. He ended it by in saying that if Wheatley’s final grade is an F, he “will notify the district of my specific decision in future correspondence.”