Declaring "we can't afford to press the pause button on our children's education," Houston ISD Superintendent Terry Grier vowed to continue doing the things he believes have to be done, even if the Texas economy is in the crapper.
In a State of the Schools luncheon speech that started about an hour later than predicted, Grier unveiled nothing especially new, at least not to people who work for the district and/or follow the school board and district news. He reflected on the usual glories of the past year (national recognition for some HISD schools and students), named the challenges (massive budget cuts, students not performing on grade level) and rallied the troops to avoid "the path of low expectations."
Not everyone got to hear him say those final words, since the program that started at 11:30 a.m. didn't wind down till about two hours later and people started leaving long before that.
Mayor Annise Parker was there, but had to leave, Board President Paula Harris told the more than 1,000 attendees. (An HISD press release said nearly 2,000 were there, but Hair Balls wasn't able to make a count in the fourth-floor ballroom at the Hilton of the Americas so we're not exactly sure. If they were counting tickets sold, there were a lot of empty tables whose food went begging in the back of the room.)
In terms of inspirational performances, Glenda Reyes, a junior at Booker T. Washington High School, was the hands-down winner. She talked about coming to the United States from El Salvador when she was seven years old, not speaking any English. She started school at Sherman Elementary and teachers encouraged her to study robotics and engineering. Now she wants to be an astronaut, thanking HISD as "like a second family to me and who never gave up on me."
Other highlights from Grier's speech:
-- He's scrapping the present system of teacher evaluation in favor of one that "includes student academic performance as a major component." -- He addressed criticisms that he is going too fast. "We've heard folks say: 'Slow down. Why the rush?' or 'Don't invest in a plan to fix failing schools until you can guarantee it will work across the district.' He said his response is: "Would you want us to wait if your child were sitting in a failing school? Would you want us to wait if your child were among the 30 percent of high school students who don't graduate on time?" -- "Teachers who struggle after getting adequate help need to know they will not continue to teach in our classrooms." -- He called for an end to what he labeled a "patchwork of disjointed reading programs," saying it will be replaced with a "district-wide literacy initiative." HISD is a district "where 20 percent of students change schools in a given year," he said, adding that this new approach will be a priority for him in the coming year. He insisted, however, that "this is not an effort to recentralize decision making." -- He will continue to support the district's "outstanding magnet programs." But he will also recommend they close the ones that aren't attracting students, aren't big enough or "are not meeting our academic expectations." -- Even in the best Vanguard programs "we've got to step it up."