Dressed in a dapper suit, moving easily across the stage, Superintendent Richard Carranza gave his first State of the School District speech Wednesday, clocking in with about 55 minutes of bright ideas to a packed room (at least at the start) of business leaders, Houston ISD teachers and administrators.
Not one to be tied to a podium, Carranza’s only break in his routine came at about the 30-minute mark when a fit of coughing led to him asking for some water. This was followed in short order by the arrival of a drone (yes, really), capably managed by a student from Booker T. Washington High — underscoring Carranza’s point that new teaching methods are called for and students are capable of exciting accomplishments in the sciences, math and technology and the arts (STEAM not STEM).
The annual address was held at Hilton Americas-Houston, but anyone can watch it online if they couldn’t get a seat. Carranza’s speech was preceded by any number of performances and student speakers, including a young bilingual duo from Law Elementary that charmed everyone and was brought in specially by Board President Wanda Adams.
After first speaking about the unfairness of the Texas public school funding system that would have a district like HISD with its high level of low-income students returning money to the state, Carranza went on to applaud Houston’s diversity and pledged that HISD schools “are and will remain safe havens for all of our students,” adding: “We will educate anyone who shows up on our door.
“No matter what is happening out there, in the Houston Independent School District we value, we celebrate every person. We will not discriminate. We do not discriminate and we will not stand for those who do.
“Our board of trustees has also taken the courageous step of adopting a resolution in support of our immigrant community affirming that HISD will be an education environment free of insecurity and fear for all of its students no matter where they were born.”
He called for more coordination among the district’s programs – traditionally a contentious point for strong supporters of continuing with campus-based decision making – but insisted that he was not advocating one size fits all. And he wants HISD to work more closely with the city of Houston, Harris County and local social service agencies “to connect students and families with the supports that they need,” which he termed “a community-schools approach to student success.”
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“I am here to tell you that we must invest in every child,” Carranza said. “Regardless of where they live, where they were born, the color of their skin, their religion or the language they speak. Every child at every school deserves a high-quality education that prepares them for a successful future."
Just as many superintendents before him have pledged, he said, HISD needs to rebuild public trust and confidence. "We must be transparent and we must be accountable. We must foster authentic engagement, particularly with those historically underserved communities and disenfranchised populations that feel like they're an afterthought or never-thought."
Equity will only be achieved, he said, when every school in every part of town has high-quality programs. Carranza concluded by asking people in the community to donate money to the Friends of HISD program to fund computers, scholarships and books throughout the district, investing in the district's students.
Likely, he'll have more luck with that than getting more money from the state.