On Thursday, September 5, the Houston ISD school board directed the Superintendent to appeal the rating given to Phyllis Wheatley High School by the Texas Education Agency. Given the fact that trustees have not historically imposed such directives on a Superintendent and that HISD administrators were adamant that there is no current basis for an appeal, it’s likely that this vote was motivated by the potential sanctions springing from House Bill 1842. Under the law, the Commissioner of Education is compelled to either close Wheatley or replace the elected board with an appointed board of managers. Given his previous statements on HB 1842, it is likely that the Commissioner would choose the second option.
Repeated throughout the evening was that an appeal of the rating would demonstrate the board’s commitment to “fighting for Wheatley,” or “fighting for students.” It’s worth noting that these statements came only from the trustees themselves and not from any parents, students, alumni or staff from Wheatley High School. It’s also worth noting that there was no discussion about the fact that Wheatley began the school year with two unfilled teaching positions – both in English/Language Arts. Rather than asking why the district would put a campus in its 6th consecutive year of Improvement-Required status in a position to begin the school year short two critical content area teachers, trustees focused conversation on the typical complaints about the state accountability system, ignoring the fact that multiple metrics indicate that the district has repeatedly and systematically failed to meet the needs of many students.
In addition to costing the district time and money, this appeal keeps attention focused squarely on the politics of the school board, rather than on the work that needs to be done to support kids in the classroom. Instead of beginning a discussion about strategic support for campuses and the system-wide changes that need to be implemented, the board took action to protect itself, all while stating the usual political tropes about the accountability system, which is loved when we like the results and hated when we do not.
While I would never advise trustees to continue micromanaging district administration in this way, I should hope that if they choose to continue making directives in the future, it will be to actually meet the needs of students and not just to preserve their own positions.