A vote over whether the Houston ISD should contract with the failing Victory Preparatory Academy to try to save its two charter schools that the state has ordered shut down because of continued poor academic performance laid bare some sharp disagreements among board trustees Thursday night and prompted a harsh exchange.
The fact that the current management at Victory Prep would continue to lead the school gave pause to both Anna Eastman and Greg Meyers. But Chief Student Support Officer Mark Smith, who presented the administration's recommendation to the board, said there have been improvements at the school with recent changes in its management and with additional support from HISD that Victory Prep could serve the needs of students there, many of whom are high risk and who do not want to attend HISD schools.
“They are not where they need to be but we're seeing steady progress,” Smith said. “But we wouldn't be running the school; they would be running it?” Eastman asked. “That's correct,” Smith said.
“I'm going to have a really hard time in supporting this,” Eastman said. “We have space in our schools there that we run and we have oversight over and I am very concerned about the district taking a school system under our umbrella that has continually struggled to meet the needs of their kids."
Trustee Rhonda Skillern-Jones said she had visited one of the Victory Prep campuses because she had some concerns as well. She asked for data, talked with the principal and says since that administrator been there there has been “almost instantaneous improvement.”
Board member Jolanda Jones said she was supporting Skillern-Jones. “Clearly the district is not meeting the needs of all of its students,” said Jones. “And some parents have said 'I don't trust HISD because my child has not been successful so I'm going to try Victory Prep.'”
Jones went on to say: "Us damning them to go back to the schools they left in the first place is like asking a woman who is married to an abusive man they lived in a house for however long to go back because you got a place to stay. When she went to the shelter in the first place.”
Eastman followed that by objecting to the comparison Jones made, saying, “ I would have never made that analogy.” Myers spoke next saying “I would agree with that."
Attorney Jones offered her rebuttal: “It was absolutely an appropriate analogy. I happen to be a survivor of domestic abuse. I'm really lucky to be alive. If these parents thought it was important enough that their kids not go to the schools they went to and were not successful at, to close down Victory Prep and not take them in and to tell them to go back to where they were not successful for whatever reasons was exactly analogous.”
“As we sit up here and pretend everything is perfect and everyone is being treated fairly, the statistics don't bear that out,” she said. “When my colleagues want to chastise me – which by the way I will be 51 this year – about what I need to say, I respectively submit to you, this is America. … Don't tell me what I should and should not say, because if you want to cross that line, I'm just telling you be careful what you wish for because I will cross it and every time you say something that I believe is inappropriate or disrespectful of a certain constituency in HISD we can go there. So don't start it so I don't have to finish it.”
The board then voted to approve the change in a 5-2 vote, with Myers and Eastman casting the nay votes.
In other business:
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The board heard a report from Hank Gmitro from the superintendent search firm Hazard, Young and Attea search firm that outlined the agreements and “challenges” in reconciling some divergent opinions across the district as to what the new superintendent should do. He or she is either going to have to be in favor of choice or not, centralization or not, and where that person should fall on distribution of funding is a toss-up.
Trustees unanimously approved making the Rusk K-8 school a middle school campus and medical and health magnet.
And three speakers addressed the board saying that if Dowling Middle School is renamed they do not want to name it after the late Audrey Lawson, and complained that District IX trustee Wanda Adams (who was not at the meeting) has been pushing Lawson's name. They say that Lawson had nothing to do with their community and they prefer to rename the school after the district's first female principal Carrie McAfee.
The board meets again next Thursday to go over budget news. That should go smoothly.