Shared from the 8/15/2019 Houston Chronicle eEdition

HISD board failed to make children a priority

The Houston Independent School District board of trustees is sitting squarely in the middle of multiple self-created crises.

The most pressing crisis is we have allowed tens of thousands of students to remain underserved for years, now likely triggering mandatory state sanctions. In addition, we are the subject of an ongoing investigation into alleged violations of the public trust regarding district purchases — violations that, if substantiated, could also lead to state sanctions.

I’ve served on the board for a year and a half now. During that time I have seen the very best of HISD.

I have seen the bright, beautiful spirits of our children in the classrooms. I have seen the parents and community members who not only fight for their own kids but also for kids they will never meet. I have also seen the hard work and dedication of teachers and principals and staff. They are heroes.

But during my time on the board I have also seen the very worst of HISD.

I have been a member of a board that has at its very foundation a deeply rooted culture of distrust and dysfunction.

Not only has communication broken down among board members, it has also broken down between the board and the administration. This impedes our entire organization from achieving its best work for the students we serve.

What the public sees in headlines about success can hide inconvenient truths:

• In February we made apublic commitment that “The Board shall increase the time it spends on student outcomes from 9 percent to 50 percent in the second quarter of 2019.” While it seems crazy on the face of it to even have to legislate focusing on students, the policy tells you how far we have been from focusing on the most critical issues. And yet despite the policy revision, our average time spent on student outcomes for the second quarter of 2019 was only 21 percent. An example of what we spent the other 79 percent on: multiple meetings this spring were spent discussing the political appointments to the Land Assemblage Redevelopment Authority — a body that has zero impact on improving the quality of education.

• In October of 2018, we approved a resolution committing to reconciling at the board level and specifically working with an executive coach as we undertake the challenges ahead. It took nearly a year before we approved acontract with a coach, although it took us less than three months to hire an additional law firm after the TEA investigation was announced in January.

But perhaps most important, we have fundamentally lacked a sense of urgency and commitment to our core governance work to serve children and have not followed through with what we told the public we would do. The results of that are staggering:

• Our students continue to lag behind their potential. Preliminary STAAR results show that our HISD students continue to achieve below the state average. And nearly 20 percent of our fifth and eighth grade students continue to fail the STAAR reading assessment after three attempts.

• Out of HISD’s 285 campuses, 112 of them have been rated “Improvement Required” or “F” at least once in the last six years — with combined enrollments of more than 70,000 students. And while we celebrated, as we should, the success of the schools that rose above that lowest rating last year, it is important to note that several more schools fell into IR last year, and more are at risk of falling into that rating this year.

• HB1842 was passed in 2015 to hold Texas school boards accountable to the educational outcomes of the students they serve. Four years later we are one of only a few districts in the state that continues to be at risk of state-mandated school closures or a board of managers under that law. All other districts that were at risk when the law passed have taken action concerning their chronically underperforming schools.

• In 2018 the board cut $197 per student from our campuses that pay for teachers, classroom resources, enrichment and support programs. This year, despite new revenue gains, we did not restore the devastating cuts and instead put the restoration of those funds fifth in line of priorities.

I do not know what lies on the other side of the TEA investigation or whether any of our longest-struggling schools will trigger sanctions under HB1842 this month, either of which could result in the replacement of the current board with an appointed board of managers. What I do know is that I refuse to defend the failures of the board to prioritize the education of our students.

The public needs to hold us accountable to the commitments we’ve made to our students. And we must also be accountable to honoring the transparency in government that is essential to our democracy.

If we can’t cooperate with state officials and can’t stop spending tax dollars on lawyers to try to fight the public release of documents, we’re failing our constituents. We must focus less of our attention on our own well-being as adults and more on our students’ wellbeing.

No exceptions. No excuses. We must do so as if the future of our children depends on it, because it does.

If we can’t, then the public should call for a replacement of the entire board, no matter where the TEA investigation leads. Voters elected us to meet these goals. We need to change the way we work or get out of the way.

Deigaard is the HISD trustee from District V.

See this article in the e-Edition Here