HISD's Final Vote Closes Four Schools, Changes Teacher Evaluations

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"We're here for Stevenson," said the man standing outside the Hattie Mae White building Thursday night. He and his wife had worked to save the elementary during Superintendent Abe Saavedra's reign, but they weren't feeling so lucky tonight.

The hard times the Houston ISD has fallen on thanks to whomever you want to blame for the state funding crisis and how it's being dealt with, pretty well cleared the way for the closure of small schools. But still, he said, $1.6 million saved by shuttering Stevenson, McDade, Rhoads and Grimes is just a small drop in HISD's overall budget and the district's need to find millions of dollars in savings. He said he hoped there was still a chance.

Well, no there wasn't. Later in the meeting, as expected, in front of an audience dotted with people wearing T-shirts with their school's name on them, trustees voted to close the schools and move the kids to other buildings. There were lots of reassuring statements about HISD being a school district of choice and how they just need to make sure that these parents know their children can apply for school transfer.

The other big foreordained item of the evening was the 7-2 vote to approve a new teacher appraisal system that factors student test scores as a significant part of an employee evaluation.

The change has been opposed by the Houston Federation of Teachers, whose representatives argued for a pilot program rather than a wholesale implementation of an untried program across the district. HFT government liaison Zeph Capo told trustees that one of his "deepest concerns, backed up by many researchers in the field, is that by taking a very high stakes new system and not implementing an appropriate field trial program is potentially detrimental to our entire workforce, to the kids and schools that we are talking about assisting."

Elementary teacher Susan Morris asked about the cost of the program, saying that while she knows the district received a grant to pay for training teachers and evaluators how the new assessment will work, she wondered: "Will that grant cover the cost of hearing officers and court costs guaranteed to happen when this unproven system that is not based on any research is implemented? Surely you realize that legal challenges are looming?"

She also warned that students will be tested even more under the new system and the results aren't so much an evaluation of the children, as they are data collected to assess teachers.

"Parents, are you listening? More testing. They're called student performance indicators. We had a little taste of this this year with these interim assessments. Every three weeks I had to give a math assessment and a reading assessment to second graders," Morris said.

HFT President Gayle Fallon continued to threaten legal action, saying in a hallway conversation they would call their lawyers if the measure passed.

But board members, with the exception of Juliet Stipeche and Carol Mims Galloway, clearly felt enough time and study had been devoted to developing the appraisal program in the six months of meetings with teachers and administrators and didn't want to see the district operating two different ways of evaluating teachers in the same school year.

Most of the public speakers were teachers who'd been part of the development process and argued that the new system, which calls for more frequent evaluation of teachers by their principals during the school year, was a huge improvement over what the district has been doing.

Teacher Sarah Stafford, math teacher at Patrick Henry Middle School, was among the majority, arguing that the new appraisal system will improve "feedback and development" and better education for the district's children. "I am confident the proposed system was designed with the best interests of our students and teachers combined."

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