HISD Principals Get A Homework Assignment and That's Just For Starters

Superintendent Mike Miles explains the training and evaluation course he's charted for HISD principals.
Superintendent Mike Miles explains the training and evaluation course he's charted for HISD principals. Photo by Margaret Downing

The heavy-duty sighs  that swept across Houston this week were probably from more than a few of the principals in the Houston ISD as they scrapped plans for a summer vacation in favor of a deep dive into the action plans they all must deliver to new Superintendent Mike Miles by August 15.

Action plans that show they are the master of their ships and know how to tackle the next school year in approaches both nurturing and demanding of both students and employees — all to better foster improvements that must be made in a district that has been taken over by the Texas Education Agency.

Over at the downtown Marriott, Miles had already begun training sessions for nearly 1,000 school leaders (HISD doesn't have a room large enough at the Hattie Mae White Administration Building) about his new principal evaluation plan that clearly will be greeted as a welcome challenge by some and less heartedly embraced by others.

"How do you know [someone] is proficient or effective as a principal ," he told the group of principals and repeated for a media briefing Wednesday. "That's the context by which we started today's training."

Yes, Miles wants principals to receive more pay. The asterisk is that they have to earn it and do so by  meeting the standards he considers crucial to education success. Those who do will see their base pay increased with extra stipends depending on, for instance, the number of years they've been a principal, the size of the school they manage and whether their school is considered one that is especially troubled to start with.

Financially, the rewards can be pretty impressive with top-tier principals making as much as $195,000 a year in base compensation at the high school level. It should be noted that Miles said there would be few principals who reached "Exemplary II" status and none in the first year because first they have to be at the Exemplary I level for a year.

Most principals at all education and evaluation levels would be in the $110,000 to $165,000 a year range.

On top of that, however, there would also be stipends handed out ranging from $1,000 to $12,000 depending on principals' experience level and size of school they were over.  Additional stipends will be available for principals working in one of the 29 NES  — New Education System Schools — designated by Miles as needing more intensive help as well as the "D or F" High Needs School.

"An organization can't maximize its effectiveness if what it values is disconnected from how it compensates its employees.," Miles said. After meeting with the principals over two days of training, he said, "Overall my impression is that the principals are ready for a change. They needed information. And once we gave them a lot of information their anxiety went down."

The assessments will be completed by year's end with the money allocations set up for the following school year (2024-25). Principals who don't measure up, at the end of a school year, will not have their contracts renewed. Teachers will begin the same process in the 2024-25 school year, except forthose in the NES category.   Principals at NES schools will receive extra training beyond what the leaders at other schools receive.

Principals will be judged on their performance which includes leadership, developing staff and improving the quality of instruction. The second criterion is student achievement which covers students' proficiency levels, academic growth and their performance on state and national tests. The third part is somewhat vaguely described as "performance measurements that are assessed during the year and that are aligned with the other metrics."

There is a special emphasis for the 2023-24 year on Special Education as part of the assessment. Meeting special ed standards has continued to be problematic for the HISD administrations and its boards and has been the subject of constant criticism by parents as well as the Texas Education Agency. Miles has dedicated a full 20 percent of the evaluation of a principal's effectivenes to how special education is being handled at that school.

The details are delivered in a 34-page, color coded-document (see below) in which Miles not only sets up the criteria, but assigns percentage and point values to each assessment area.

As it begins, he writes:

"Being a principal in a district challenged by poverty is one of the most demanding jobs in the nation. And there may be no more important work for any group of people in society at this time. The urgency of the work requires a high level of responsibility and accountability for results. This means that districts should invest heavily in the recruitment of first-rate principals and develop their capacity to transform schools."

If you'd like to take your own deep dive, here it is:

And now, if you've made it this far, as a reward and for your listening pleasure we bring you David Bowie's "Changes" and Bowie and Queen's "Under Pressure."

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Margaret Downing is the editor-in-chief who oversees the Houston Press newsroom and its online publication. She frequently writes on a wide range of subjects.
Contact: Margaret Downing