Greg Meyers, the new president of the Houston Independent School District, believes that data, unclouded by emotion, will lead the urban district to the next higher level of teacher performance.
The day after a draconian day at the office Thursday that began at 10 a.m. with planning for the upcoming board retreat at the end of the month, moved on to the installation of the two new board members at 11, went into a closed session from 2-5 p.m. and finished off the day with an open school board meeting from 5 to 8 p.m., Greg Meyers was back at the HISD administration building Friday morning affably fielding media questions.
A self-proclaimed business person who says he admires teachers but couldn't ever do their job, Meyers in his five years on the board has been one of the strongest proponents of the value-added system of measuring teachers' performance and rewarding them with bonuses. He's equally convinced that while the system which some critics call convoluted can be tweaked a bit, it still has great validity both for determining bonuses and now in identifying teachers in trouble.
Referencing Thursday's board meeting, Meyers repeated his statement of the night before: "We've got heavy lifting to do this year." He says he wants to continue to see progress in the district and is committed to insisting upon "quality teachers and quality leaders."
"We have become one of the most data-driven districts in the country," said Meyers, and he counts that as a good thing.
A lot of teachers have made it clear they don't share his feelings. Meyers said he has a good relationship with union leader Gayle Fallon (an outspoken opponent of adding the student test scores criterion to the list of reasons a teacher can be looked at for dismissal). "She's the one who jokes to me that although we don't agree on most things, we can work together," he said.
"We have a responsibility to communicate what we're doing. We have a responsibility to collaborate in a lot of transformative efforts," Meyers said. He acknowledged that openness and transparency had not been the watchwords of the previous administration led by superintendent Abe Saavedra. "The superintendent that we have now is all about communication."
Although Meyers would have liked to have some of the $700 million stimulus dollars that Rick Perry (he says the governor is a good friend) rejected on Tuesday, he says it made him uneasy that the national standards included in the provision for the money were still to be determined. "I would have liked to see if there was a possiblity to submit the grant application without saying we were adhering to a nebulous idea. I'm a big fan of local control." Meyers acknowledged the district has several programs in the works that would have benefited from the money, but says HISD can just apply elsewhere.
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Asked for a description of his leadership style, Meyers gave a one-word answer: "collaborative."
He says he understands how important schools are not only to their parents and students but to the surrounding community. He doesn't look forward to consolidating and closing down any schools but what he bases any such decision on is "what's best for the kids." When a school falls below 300 students in population, though, "we don't have the resources to bring it up to where it should be so we make the decision to make sure they get the programs they need."
He knows the next year will be fast-paced and probably some of the changes they make will be upsetting to people.
"As my wife Sandie [a Houston Community College trustee] says to me, I mess with two of the most important things to people, their kids and their taxes."