HISD Trustees Perform a Mass Mea Culpa, Apologize and Welcome Back Grenita Lathan

It was like a trip to the principal's office.
It was like a trip to the principal's office. Photo by Margaret Downing

click to enlarge It was like a trip to the principal's office. - PHOTO BY MARGARET DOWNING
It was like a trip to the principal's office.
Photo by Margaret Downing
With pledges of transparency, with acknowledgement they have let down the community, and with vows to do better, the nine members of the Houston ISD school board lined up Monday night to announce that they are reinstating Dr. Grenita Lathan as interim superintendent.

"As we move forward we cannot change the past but must learn from it," said trustee Jolanda Jones. "We will work to improve our behavior as adults and treat each other with respect and embark on the right focus of doing all that we can do on improving academic achievement for all our students."

All in all, it was a remarkable acknowledgement for the battling bunch because, of course, it's pretty rare for an entire group of elected officials to acknowledge their brokenness, say sorry, and not issue any defensive excuses. It was a command, coordinated performance and the only jarring moment was at the end, when in English and Spanish it was announced they would not be taking any questions.

Instead they marched out into a back room, just as they'd come in, as various people cried out "What about transparency?  What happened since last Thursday to change your minds? How did you guys come up with this? Parents and teachers have questions." All went unanswered.

Last Thursday, in a 5-4 vote, trustees decided to replace Lathan with former Superintendent Abe Saavedra. The uproar was immediate among the three African-American board members who said they had no idea some other trustees had this in the works. The controversy only intensified as it became known throughout Houston as civic leaders and others cried foul.  So Saavedra will not be returning to the district after all and that action will be rescinded, they said, Monday in a special 8 a.m. meeting at the Hattie Mae White administration building on Thursday.

Trustee Diana Davila who offered the initial motion to hire Saavedra back last Thursday announced: "Our actions have not modeled the behavior we desire to instill in our children. This Thursday we will meet to consider the rescission of the board's action on Thursday to appoint Dr. Abelardo Saavesdra as interim superintendent. We will also consider the reinstatement of Dr. Grenita Lathan as interim superintendent of HISD.

"We sincerely apologize to all of you and we would like to thank you Dr. Lathan for the service that you have provided to our district up to this point."

And the people in the room, many of them principals, stood up and cheered.

"Safety and improving the educational outcomes of our students are core values and today we recommit to those values," said Jones. "We realize we cannot accomplish that without the trust and confidence of the community. And we know it will take hard work to build that with you. However, words without actions are meaningless."

Jones then laid out the trustees' plans for the weeks ahead.

"We plan to A) consider a date for the completion of the superintendent's search as we have been without a permanent superintendent since March. B) Consider adopting a resolution concerning reconciliation C) Consider submission of a request to the Texas Education Agency to change the district's assigned governance conservator. D) Consider approval of an executive coach for the board and an executive coach for the interim superintendent and E) Consider policies on transparency, equity and more frequent board and superintendent team building."

Lathan then took to the mike to thank her supporters. "There is no doubt that these past few days have been a difficult time for this district but know that my work never stopped." She called on everyone "to look to the future." And she thanked the board of education "For reaffirming your confidence in my ability to lead."

Trustee Sergio Lira then repeated in Spanish what Jones and Davila had said.

Whether the trustees each smacked their foreheads after last Thursday's meeting and said oops or someone or several someones stepped in and told them to cut it out, well that's anyone's guess. A commitment to cooperation and civilized behavior seems to be a good sign for their future, though, and the Houston community can certainly use that.

click to enlarge Lathan's supporters turned out in force. - PHOTO BY MARGARET DOWNING
Lathan's supporters turned out in force.
Photo by Margaret Downing
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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