Houston ISD serves more than 215,000 students.
A total of about 40 people showed up to Jan. 23 meetings at Heights High School and Frank Black Middle School, where community members were given the chance to chime in about HISD’s nationwide search for a new superintendent.
“It is not going to matter who the superintendent is if the (school) board cannot get its act together,” said Heights High School parent Amy Maddux, who also is the president of the parent-teacher organization at Frank Black Middle School.
The Texas Education Agency recently opened a special accreditation investigation into the HISD Board of Education, which also faces the possibility of a takeover by the TEA if any of four consistently underperforming schools do not meet state academic standards in 2019. That casts a cloud over the country’s seventh-largest public school district as it searches for a new leader.
The two community meetings at area schools were among 15 hosted by HISD and Illinois-based firm Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates from Jan. 14-24. The board is in the process of consolidating feedback from those meetings to finalize its superintendent profile and begin searching for candidates to potentially replace interim superintendent Grenita Lathan.
Lathan took over in March after former superintendent Richard Carranza departed the district to become New York’s head of public schools after just 18 months on the job.
“HISD needs a superintendent who values stability at the school level,” Maddux said. “It’s been proven that strong leaders are essential to strong schools, but HISD has a history of moving principals around so that very few stay at one school for long. That lack of stability erodes community trust and causes good teachers to leave. It also causes students to leave, which in turn exacerbates the district’s funding issues since districts are funded based on enrollment.”
Representatives from Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates said there are 12 applicants for the position, but did not disclose whether they come from inside or outside of the district. An HISD spokesperson said the board voted to keep the applicants’ identities confidential.
Some of the meeting attendees at Heights High School echoed Maddux’s sentiment that the district should ensure its next superintendent makes a long-term committment to the district. A parent at the Frank Black Middle School meeting said she wanted a community-builder and collaborator.
“He or she will need to lead the district with integrity, compassion and a willingness to work with HISD leaders from all walks of life,” added Jessi Heiner, president of the parent-teacher association at Wainwright Elementary School.
For several of the meeting attendees, former administrators or candidates from within the district would be preferred. Others felt that a bigger fish would not necessarily be the better choice.
“HISD is not a Fortune 500 company,” said the father of a Heights High School student. “(I) just want someone to stay, (and) if they leave don’t give them money.”
Northside High School teacher Ryan Penner, the husband of board trustee Elizabeth Santos, said there is an overemphasis on standardized testing in HISD. He wants a superintendent who would find “innovative ways to evaluate campuses and teachers.”
Penner talked about the “sacred cows” or inequities in the magnet system.
“We don’t value the neighborhood schools,” Penner said.