No Last Minute Reprieve, TEA is Taking Over HISD [UPDATED]

Superintendent Millard House II knew he was taking a chance when he came  to Houston.
Superintendent Millard House II knew he was taking a chance when he came to Houston. Screenshot

Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath today announced to the Houston ISD trustees and Superintendent Millard House II that he will be appointing a board of managers and a superintendent to run the district starting in June.

In the end, all the last-minute appeals from parents and teachers didn't change Morath's opinion, namely that the district has had chance after chance to right its own house and failed. Besides listing the historic dysfunction of the board, he specifically targeted the years of unacceptable performance at Kashmere and Wheatley high schools and what he called a violation of state and federal law regarding students with disabilities.

What cleared the way for Morath's action Wednesday, as he acknowledged, was the Texas Supreme Court's opinion in January saying the commissioner had the right under Texas statute to intervene in the district's operations. This past week the HISD board voted to drop its lawsuit challenging the takeover plans which it was first notified of in November 2019.

"A Board of Managers is being appointed because one of the district’s campuses received unacceptable academic accountability ratings for five consecutive years, requiring me to either close the campus or appoint a Board of Managers to govern the district,"  Morath wrote.  His second justification for appointing managers was that this is the next step after a conservator has been in place for more than two consecutive school years.

Superintendent House, clearly expecting this action on the part of Morath, had a statement of his own at hand:
I stepped into my role understanding the obstacles we faced as a district including a looming TEA intervention. My team and I remained focused on building a framework that prioritized a high quality educational experience supported by world class talent for all students.
I am proud to say, in the last 19 months, we have already seen vast improvements. Because of the hard work of our students, teachers, and staff, we have lifted 40 of 50 schools off the D or F TEA accountability ratings list. Together, with our parents, community members and leaders, we developed the district's first comprehensive five-year strategic plan to build a better HISD.
Today’s announcement does not discount the gains we have made district-wide. I am confident our educators and staff will continue to do the necessary work to ensure positive student outcomes at every level. For our students and families, it is education as usual, and the school year continues as normal. As we wrap up this school year, my focus will be on working with our Board of Trustees and the TEA to ensure a smooth transition without disruption to our core mission of providing an exceptional educational experience for all students.

In his letter which included a timeline of his actions taken, Morath pointed out that while he was enjoined by court order while the injunction was in place from taking any further action " a former Board President, the district’s chief operating officer, and four district administrators either pled guilty or were indicted for illegal activity related to a bribery scheme."

Morath did acknowledge that the board makeup has changed with several new members since 2019 and that trustees have tried to make program. " But prior academic performance issues continue to require action under state law. Even with a delay of three full years caused by legal proceedings, systemic problems in Houston ISDc ontinue to impact students most in need of our collective support."

He also described House as "a student-focused man of integrity."

Current trustees are urged to continue as advisers to the board of managers but it is the appointed board that will assume all the decision making power the trustees formerly had.

Morath put out an open call for Houstonians who'd like to be considered for the Board of Managers, who will eventually be transitioned out once  there is evidence of imporvement "including no more multi-year failing campuses, a special education program that operates in compliance with legal requirements, and board procedures and conduct that meet a focus on students consistent with high performing governance

The complete letter from Commissioner of Education Mike Morath to the HISD school board and superintendent:
Update 1 p.m.

The HISD Board of Education issued this statement:

"HISD has received official notice that the Texas Education Agency intends to replace Houston ISD’s superintendent and elected trustees of the Board of Education with an appointed superintendent and board of managers in the next few months. The Board is reviewing this notice to determine next steps. 
In the meantime, our great schools remain open and committed to providing a meaningful educational experience for all students. The District’s top priority is, and will continue to be, student outcomes. The Board hopes that TEA has a clear and transparent process for this announced transition that is communicated to the community and the District.
The Board, in partnership with District Administration, will work with the Commissioner of Education to create a smooth transition for the sake of all HISD students, staff, and families."

Update 6 p.m.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner issued this statement:

"This process has been without community engagement or any transparency. It is disheartening that the Texas Education Agency has yet to speak directly to parents or school children. This announcement is happening during their spring break, creating a great deal of disruption, anxiety, and stress.

"This does not make good sense. And if the focus is on the kids, then you tell me how this benefits the kids. TEA is selecting the board of managers. So who are they? The state deserves an F on how they have handled the process up to this point. Just a flat-out F.

"Under this superintendent and school board, significant progress has been made in HISD. Forty of 50 former D or F-rated schools are in a much better status today. I give great credit to the teachers and students at Wheatley High School. You don't reward success by penalizing not just that school, but you're taking over 275 other schools as well.

"This takeover is not about the quality of education. If you look at the Texas Legislature, several bills have been filed to pre-empt the authority of the city of Houston and other local jurisdictions. HISD happens to be one of those local jurisdictions.

"There is no example of a successful takeover by the state of a local school the size of HISD. A report by the Kinder Institute said the school district's status is worse after a school takeover. So, by what standard should we measure TEA? Is the agency saying to teachers and parents that after this takeover, there will be no failing schools in HISD, none?

"I'm also told that they've already decided who the superintendent is going to be, and that decision has been made. This process needs more transparency with community engagement. "This is about Austin and the leadership in Austin wanting to run local government, and they want it their way. This takeover is not about the kids, and the sad part is that they are using the kids for their own politics."

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