A holdover hire from Terry Grier's days as Houston ISD superintendent will be the new interim superintendent of the largest school district in the state effective April 1.
Chief Academic Officer Grenita Lathan has built her reputation on being able to help schools find a way to improve themselves out of the dreaded Improvement Required status. The school board met privately for more than nine hours Thursday before announcing her name.
It was an announcement that didn't carry a whole lot of surprise with it. Lathan's name had been mentioned for weeks, ever since Superintendent Richard Carranza abruptly announced he was leaving to head up the public school system in New York City.
As the interim, Lathan will not be considered for the position permanently, HISD trustee Anne Sung said, The board is making another nationwide seach for a new superintendent. Sung also said salary details hadn't been worked out yet for Lathan. Until April 1 she is functioning as the acting superintendent.
Hired by Grier in 2015 from the Peoria, Illinois school district where she was superintendent, Lathan had previously worked with him in the San Diego school district. She was brought to Houston as the chief school officer in the district's north area, then was promoted to chief school officer over elementary transformation schools for the 2015-16 school year and then Caranza promoted her to Chief Academic Officer at the beginning of the 2016-17 school year.
Lathan inherits a district facing several problems including a $115 million projected budget deficit, continued threats of takeover by the state because of some failing schools and a proposed new student funding plan that not everyone has embraced.
Updated 8 a.m. March 26, 2018: Board President Rhonda Skillern-Jones said she will be meeting with Lathan this week to discuss her proposed salary which Skillern-Jones will then take back to the board for approval. "One of the ideas we discussed was keeping this in line with the superintendent's salary because that's what was already budgeted for through the end of this year," Skillern-Jones said.
Asked about what the interim superintendent and board will be tackling next, Skillern-Jones said there was a board workshop last week in which trustees more specifically spelled out what they think should happen in terms of how to deal with a proposed change in student funding for HISD. "Now that we have the interim in place she can pick up where the superintendent left off."
Further work along this line will be presented at the next board workshop on April 2, Skillern-Jones said. HISD is proposing to move from its present Per Unit Allocation funding system which allocates dollars per student and has a weighted approach with certain designations such as a student labeled talented and Gifted receiving extra money. Instead, several of the trustees want to move to a Full-Time Equivalent system in which schools are assigned staffing positions based on how many students they have. The proposed system also gives the central office more control in terms of being able to say, for instance, yes you have to hire a nurse. The principals will still be doing the hiring.
"All other schools districts are on FTE," Skillern-Jones said. " We are the only district in Texas that has a PUA."
Asked to respond to concerns that implementing the new financing system will destroy some of HISD's best success stories, Skillern-Jones said: "Houston overall is a low-performing district. I guess that would be an indication that our programs are not working. What we're trying to do is raise the bar for our entire district. While we do have great schools that perform well, we don't have all our schools performing well and in order to do that we have to look at how we adequately fund every school, every program.
"We'd like to have a high performing district. Not just a set of high-performing schools in a low-performing district."