After months of frustrating meetings with Texas Education Agency officials about the planned takeover of their school district, Houston ISD school employees, parents, and community members finally heard directly from Education Commissioner Mike Morath this week.
Many came to the meeting in search of answers to their most pressing questions about the takeover, first announced in March. Instead, they left largely disappointed, as Morath’s remarks included no new updates about the selection of a superintendent, the installment of the board of managers, or the timeline for TEA control of the district.
“There were a lot of questions about funding,” one teacher told KHOU after the meeting. “What are your plans? Are [campuses] going to be closed? Are they going to be chartered? None of those were given direct answers.”
TEA now says no announcements about who will be appointed superintendent or to the board of managers will be made until June 1. More than 220 applicants to the board of managers, of which nine will be chosen, have attended a TEA training. This week, we also learned more about the content of that training.
As the Texas Observer reports, “interviews with and contemporaneous notes from participants in TEA’s April 22-23 board of managers applicants training, as well as an audio recording of the sessions obtained by the Texas Observer, reveal the state plans to limit the board’s role to enforcing high-stakes testing in schools and rubber-stamping financial and operational decisions made by the new superintendent, also to be selected by Morath.”
That context hung heavy over Morath’s Houston town hall, as did the rumors of who his hand-picked superintendent will be. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said earlier this month he believes Morath will select Mike Miles, the former superintendent of Dallas ISD.
During his tenure in Dallas, Miles implemented the district’s pay-for-performance scheme, the Teacher Excellence Initiative (TEI). TEI became the blueprint for the statewide version, the Teacher Incentive Allotment.
Currently, Miles serves as the founder and CEO of Third Future Schools, a multi-state network of charter schools.
“We got the typical, ‘It’s up to the board of managers. It’s up to the superintendent.’ (When asked) who is the superintendent? (Morath said) ‘I haven’t decided,’” said Jackie Anderson, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers, after the meeting. “I asked him, point blank, if it was Mike Miles because he’s been in HISD interviewing with the cabinet, and then they all leave after they talk to him. He’s said that he would not confirm. The announcement would be made June 1.”
This level of uncertainty is exacerbating staff retention issues in Houston ISD, with many teachers and school staff considering employment in other nearby districts for the next year.