A Look Back at Fall 2018

The HISD Board of Education spent 15% of their time discussing student outcomes in the fall of 2018.

Assigning individual accountability grades to Houston ISD school board trustees for the fall of 2018 was difficult. As board meetings became more divisive and less productive, it was hard to distinguish trustee actions from the overall performance of the board. What has become clear is that too many of the current trustees view their position as a political stepping stone or a platform to air all of their political grievances. This was evidenced repeatedly in the inordinate amount of time spent on agenda items like city land board appointments and trustees’ feelings about the Lone Star Governance system. This board has been so caught up in personal conflicts and political ideology that it has quite literally shut down options for students and eschewed progress.

If the school board is going to move forward, we hope all of its members will make good on the promises they made to the public last October, after the attempted midnight-swap of interim superintendents. We hope trustees will renew a commitment to focus on student outcomes by both acknowledging that they haven’t been as focused as they need to be and pursuing inclusive, transparent policy solutions. This will require time, hard work, and an end to using the same political talking-points to shut down conversations. Specifically, we suggest the following:

1.) Maintain boardroom decorum, even among community speakers. This isn’t about respectability; it’s about actually getting things done. Several raucous meetings during 2018 resulted in both trustees and community members being shouted down by protesters. This is unacceptable and frequently resulted in extremely long meetings with virtually no policy solutions. We hope that the board can find a way to ensure that business can be conducted and community members can be heard without violence or arrests.

2.) Obtain authentic community input. So many of the voices that are heard at board meetings and in the media come from people who are far removed from the biggest issues facing the district. Not a single parent from the four sanctions-triggering schools was heard at the December board meeting. Not one. As the board begins a community “listening tour” for the superintendent search, we hope trustees will prioritize hearing from current parents and students, especially those in areas that have been traditionally underserved and the district’s 21 Improvement Required campuses.

3.) Work toward solutions. As the HISD policy team and many others work to bring more funding to the district this legislative session, we need school board trustees to seek out better ways to recruit and retain excellent teachers and principals, better ways to meet the needs of children, and better ways to improve student outcomes. Rather than proudly announcing what they won’t do, trustees should pursue policies that provide communities with more opportunities for success. Rather than playing the blame-game, trustees need to take accountability for the things that are in their control. No amount of money can replace good governance.