More than 100 people spoke to Houston ISD trustees Thursday night, nearly all of them urging the board to name Grenita Lathan the lone finalist for the superintendent's position. In the end, however, they and Lathan were disappointed when a 6-3 vote left her interim status unchanged.
Instead and by the same margin, trustees voted to resume the search for a new superintendent, a position left unfilled since March 2018 when Richard Carranza left Houston behind for the chancellor's position in the New York City school district.
Lathan's defeat sparked an emotional diatribe from outgoing trustee Wanda Adams, a longtime Lathan supporter. She accused the trustees of operating in bad faith and said of any superintendent brought in from outside: "They're not going to get us no further than we are today."
She went on to refer to "undermining deals" and behind the scenes discord on the part of school board members. "We're in this position because of what board members have done in the past. Take the blame for it. It's your fault. Are we a team of ten? No, we're not a team of ten.
"We bicker behind the scenes, We fuss, we yell and scream at other people," she said. The decisions we have made lately has not been for kids." Adams is leaving the board after just being elected to a Justice of the Peace position. "Everything that y'all say you're looking for, Dr. Lathan has done it. She's done it!"
There were a few public speakers who argued against naming Lathan, saying the call for her appointment was made abruptly and without giving the community much of a chance to weigh in on it. A few said too many things had continued to go wrong — particularly lack of improvement in special ed operations — while she has been in charge of the district. Representatives of the Houston Federation of Teachers repeated the union's statement from the day before that they would support a one-year contract for her as superintendent.
Kathy Blueford-Daniels, the driving force behind the latest move to promote Lathan said the interim superintendent has hit all her marks. "We can't continue to treat someone like a ping pong ball or watching a tennis match," adding that Lathan should have the job "Not because she's black — that's pretty apparent — but because she's qualified."
Those voting against Lathan included the three trustees who tried to oust Lathan in October 2018 and replace her with former HISD Superintendent Abe Saavedra: Anne Sung, Holly Marie Flynn Vilaseca and Elizabeth Santos, as well as Board President Sue Deigaard, Judith Cruz and Dani Hernandez. Patricia Allen joined Adam and Blueford-Daniels in voting in favor of Lathan get the job.
Trustees followed this up with another 6-3 vote along the same lines, this time in favor of a resumption of the search for a superintendent. Allen argued against this, saying the money it would take was needed for other things in this time of COVID.
Deigaard said she would be looking for a superintendent candidate with shown abilities in the areas of preparing pre-K kids for kindergarten readiness, emphasis on third grade reading levels with particular attention to African American students, closing the gap for four-year college entrance rates and a concentration on special education. She and other trustees did not rule out Lathan as a future superintendent candidate, along with other applicants.