HISD’S Board of Trustees is expected to announce a sole finalist for superintendent of schools on Friday, confirmed by the board president, Patricia Allen.
Allen told KPRC 2 a press conference is scheduled for Friday.
Sources confirm to KPRC 2 the board of trustees is going through the final stages of candidate interviews. An agenda for a board meeting scheduled for Thursday lists a discussion about naming a finalist or finalists for the job. Trustee members told KPRC 2 they could not speak officially on the selection process until a decision has been made.
Outgoing interim superintendent, Dr. Grenita Lathan, announced in March she would leave her post of three years for a superintendent job in Springfield, Missouri. HISD’s current board of trustees voted not to name Lathan the sole finalist during a meeting in November of 2020, prompting concern from community leaders who condemned the move.
Cesar Espinoza, executive director of FIEL Houston, said the organization did not play a role in the selection process. Espinoza said he expected the board of trustees to include more community input.
“Right now it’s during a pandemic, but we definitely could have had digital town halls to see what the community wanted,” he said, adding some community concerns don’t make their way to trustee meetings because of a lack of trust, access, and other concerns.
“When we have in the past talked to board members or superintendent they have said we don’t hear from communities and the answer is of course you don’t because oftentimes people don’t know the process to come speak at a board meeting,” Espinoza said.
Other community leaders pushed the importance of better collaboration from elected officials – including HISD’s trustee board. Johnny Mata, from the League of United Latin American Citizens, or LULAC, agreed. Mata said spats among previous HISD trustee boards have slowed progress.
“There has been too much special interest in some cases allegations of biases or racial discrimination within their own board,” Mata said.
Bishop James Dixon, president of the NAACP Houston Branch, said the board must work with the next superintendent.
“The board cannot afford to function as obstructionist if we’re going to get progress made productively on behalf of schools and children,” Dixon said.
The NAACP condemned HISD’s trustee board last November for failing to consider Dr. Lathan as a sole finalist for the job. Then, community leaders questioned whether racial bias affected the board’s decision-making.
Dixon said the next superintendent will inherit students upended by the coronavirus, with some facing cognitive challenges because of the setback. Dixon also addressed the overall improvement of schools in under-served communities — a challenge for which he praised Dr. Lathan for prioritizing.
“We cannot afford to politicize education to the point that it becomes more about the adults who are in the seats of power than it is about the children who are in seats to learn,” Dixon continued.
But that fight over power is one that’s being fought in the courts and State Legislature, too, and it could change who has oversight over HISD.
“I never thought that a school board would let a campus go failing,” said State Representative Harold Dutton, referring to legislation, passed in 2015, that allows the TEA to take over a school district because of a failing school.
That’s the same law under which the TEA moved to takeover HISD’s Board of Trustees in Nov. 2019, inciting a legal fight between the TEA and the school district. However, a judge issued a temporary injunction in Jan. 2020, and the Texas Third Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that ruling in Dec. 2020.
S.B. 1365 would allow the TEA to circumvent the courts, assuming oversight of a failing district. Rep. Dutton, a Democrat, and chair of the Public Education Committee said the bill is crucial in order to help students enrolled in failing schools — many of which are in his district of northeast Houston.
Dutton has received much scrutiny for his support of the largely Republican-backed bill but said the current system has failed students and must change.
“The number of children whose futures we are ruining because we don’t educate them has become a disaster in northeast Houston,” Dutton said.
S.B. 1365 was scheduled for a vote Thursday, but that didn’t happen because several revisions to the bill were made, including stripping language that included HISD, specifically.
Dutton told KPRC 2 the bill would be added to Sunday’s calendar for a vote.