TEA Head: Final Decision on Charter Providers for Troubled North Forest ISD Rests with HISD

Texas Education Agency Commissioner Michael Williams made it clear in his confirmation hearing this morning that the future of North Forest Independent School District would lie with Houston Independent School District if his decision for closure is upheld.

The Texas Senate has to confirm Williams, an appointee of Gov. Rick Perry. This morning's appearance was before the Senate Nominations Committee, where senators grilled him on topics like testing, funding and closures. Chief among those closures is the potential closure of the North Forest Independent School District and its subsequent annexation by Houston Independent School District.

Chief Deputy Commissioner Lizzette Gonzalez Reynolds, who heard the North Forest appeal, has promised a decision on April 1. Williams said he stood ready to immediately begin work on the transition, even if North Forest chooses one final appeal with the State Office of Administrative Hearings.

"Assuming (Reynolds) affirms my decision, I would immediately sit down with the officials at Houston ISD and hammer out how they want to proceed with providing learning for the 7,200 youngsters currently being served by that district," Williams said. "There is a proposal from a group of charter schools who would like to be the alternative management team. I have had conversations with them, but I have yet to see a fully fleshed out plan for them."

Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, noted that an unnamed foundation was more than willing to put up substantial money to make that charter proposal happen, an option he wanted to make sure was not overlooked by the Texas Education Agency. Williams said his goal was to moderate between the charters and HISD.

"I have had conversations with those three, four charter schools," Williams said. "I have asked them if they are interested in speaking with the superintendent, so I look forward to trying to moderate a conversation between them."

Williams reiterated that the plans the charter coalition had provided to him, as yet, had not been substantial enough to provide him with a level of comfort.

Williams promised Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, that he would have objective criteria, and possibly a matrix of options, for moving forward with a plan for North Forest. He predicted, if his decision was upheld, that HISD should be well on its way to creating a transition plan by June or July.

Tomorrow marks the first substantial discussion, in the House, debating high school diploma and assessment standards. Williams told the committee he considered eight to be the optimum number of end-of-course exams for high school graduation, noting a broader range of courses and years than the proposed bill up for consideration on Tuesday, House Bill 5.

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