Oh Brother Grier, Where Art Thou?

Thursday's Houston ISD school board meeting was packed and a significant portion of the crowd included those who wanted to talk about the recent removal of Wheatley High School assistant principal Sandra James Walker.

But first they had to sit through close to three hours of school board talk (okay, this included the usual troupe of performing children from some of the district's schools at the start) on an agenda that didn't seem to be especially loaded initially (though there was a pretty good spat involving Larry Marshall's desire to move the district's tax collection contract with Linebarger, Goggins from one to three years, but it eventually passed 8-1.)

Finally it was time for the public session and as the Wheatley folks began their march (many in purple T-shirts bearing the words "Walkout Over Walker"), it did not go unnoticed that Superintendent Terry Grier had left the stage.

It didn't matter to them that Grier was obviously sick throughout the meeting. He hadn't talked much and when he did, it was in more of a croak. In fact, he apologized for being sick.

But that didn't matter to the Wheatley crowd. Speakers referenced it and got amens and applause, attributing it to one more sign of disrespect, although trustee Carol Mims Galloway broke in and told them Grier was really sick and she, in fact, didn't need him sitting next to her (her health has been fragile in the last year.)

Pleshette Williams, who said she was Wheatley Class of '86, told the board: "You ask us to support our teachers and that is exactly why we are here tonight, to support our assistant principal which has been removed from Wheatley High School. Also, I would like to thank Carol Galloway...who met with us regarding this matter and admitting there was a mistake that they made by removing this person from Phillis Wheatley.

"Our children cannot focus on these tests that are coming up in March because there's been so much chaos in our community," Williams said. "I recommend HISD, this board, Ms. Galloway, along with Terry Grier, who didn't think it was important enough to stay here to hear this..."

At this point loud clapping broke out and newly installed president Paula Harris cautioned the group that this was still the school board's meeting and to cut out the clapping. Williams didn't quite finish off the point she was trying to make, but moved on to the next one when she resumed.

"I also would like to ask Mr. Grier if he would mention to his new administration to educate them on the Fifth Ward community because we are strong, we love each other, we love our children and we love our teachers and we will not stand by and allow anyone to disrespect our community."

She went on to complain about a recent reported remark by Gayle Fallon, head of the Houston Federation of Teachers, who when interviewed by the Houston Chronicle about the principal and assistant principal changes there, called Wheatley "kind of a zoo."

Wheatley alumna Dr. Jane McCullough also addressed the board, saying: "We are concerned about the quality of education the students are receiving. Without any consideration regarding the impact of your decisions on the students at Wheatley, you removed their assistant principal in the middle of the semester. As a result, the educational environment was disrupted at a critical time.

"As a community, we are tired of HISD interfering rather than supporting the quality of education in our community. You have communicated all sorts of excuses to not put quality instructional programs at our schools and that will attract and keep our students at school."

"Enough is enough, we love our students on the north side and they deserve a quality education just like students on the west side like the Westside High School and the central area schools such as Lamar High School. Therefore we strongly encourage you to reinstate the person affected by the decision back to Wheatley and on a permanent basis and even consider that person for a promotion at the school."

Another Wheatley alumna, Elaine Jackson Williams, said, "Today, the Fifth Ward community is divided due to recent events at Phillis Wheatley High School. Our trustee Mrs. [Galloway] should be informed of all major decisions of schools before information is leaked to the press and news media. She deserves respect.

"To the HISD board and to Superintendent Grier in his absence, we are asking you to return our one sheep."

Grier wouldn't comment on the reasons for the Wheatley changes to the Chronicle's Ericka Mellon for her January 12 story but told her, "We have concerns about the academic performance of the school. It's unfortunate that we've had all this occur at one time, but we are committed to finding a quality principal to go there and lead the school."

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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