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Fast-Tracking Ch-ch-ch-anges at HISD

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David Bowie could have been singing in the background as HISD Superintendent Terry Grier demonstrated this morning why he's gained a reputation as a top administrator who doesn't wait around long before trying to institute changes.

He reiterated at a Tuesday morning media briefing that while he's not in favor of "witch hunts," he's also not inclined to keep on a teacher or principal who has been doing a lousy job helping students meet standardized-test-score goals for three or four years.

HISD's school board is expected to approve his proposal at its Thursday meeting that would add a 34th item to its list of reasons for firing a teacher. This one would look at how a teacher's students do on standardized tests and if there are negative returns for at least three years, then this would be a reason to fire them (if, of course, counseling and other interventions didn't work).

The district already collects the test-score data and uses it as part of its yearly evaluation of teacher bonuses given for exceptional jobs. Grier wants to now turn this around and look at the scores on the lower end of the scale.

"For us to have access to this data and not to use it is immoral, unethical," he said.

The news of his plan was unveiled in a Houston Chronicle story by reporter Ericka Mellon on Monday, was discussed at Monday afternoon's board agenda meeting and again at the media briefing. There's already been some push back from teacher union representatives.

"I like Gayle Fallon. I don't know if she likes me today or not," Grier said with a laugh this morning. He described Fallon, the longtime president of the Houston Federation of Teachers, as "a great person. She's got a role to play and a job to do and I respect that."

It was clear that Grier thinks he has a role to play as well and that he thinks the district hasn't been especially diligent in its removal of bad teachers. "Last year we had 36 teachers that we let go. That's out of 12,000 teachers in the district," he said.

Later in the briefing he acknowleged that he's "heard since I've been here that political connections" have to do with the retention of certain administrators who are either left in place in their schools or moved to the safety of a regional office job.

Asked if that was going to continue, he said it was not. "That's changed," he said, later saying he doesn't believe in what he termed "the dance of the lemon."

He described a teacher in one of his former districts who gave her kids all As and sent cards to the parents on their anniversaries and birthdays, who baked muffins, was beloved by all, and whose students did terribly on outside standardized tests. "It would have been better for the kids if she'd stayed home."

Elsewhere in the great land of proposed district changes, Grier said plans are still in the works to move away from regional superintendents to his new system which will have a "chief school officer" at the elementary, middle school and high school positions, thereby condensing from six to three positions. Some of the present regional superintendents have applied for the new positions, others have not, he said. Candidates also include former superintendents and some who have never been superintendents, he added.

Another thing he wants to look at is possibly discontinuing the bonus given out to teachers because they've gotten a master's or Ph.D. "Do we continue to pay teachers for master's when the data shows it doesn't make a difference [in classroom effectiveness]?" He said teachers should be paid for the service they give, the work they do. "We need to talk about the results we get."

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