On Thursday night, the HISD School Board and the interim superintendent missed an opportunity. No! That is too kind. They violated their moral imperative to come together for the public good in this time of crisis.
District of Innovation
They should have been talking about how to safely re-open schools, how to develop clear criteria to help the poor and the vulnerable hit hardest by this pandemic; how to demand a moratorium on high stakes testing and charter expansion as we recover from Coronavirus; and how to address the needs of the broader community - unprecedented unemployment, limited health care access and housing evictions that will harm the children and families who attend our schools.
But instead, the HISD Board at the interim superintendent’s behest, voted to begin pursuing District of innovation status.
Thank you to Elizabeth Santos and Anne Sung for voting against DOI. Thank you also to the 1200+ teachers, parents, students and community members who sent letters to the HISD Board telling them that DOI should be DOA because it will NOT help our kids or our schools.
But the fight is not over. This was not the final vote. We need to kill this bad idea. It will now go to a committee and then back to the Board. DOI is a thinly veiled attempt to abolish due process rights for parents and teachers and hard fought protections like class size limits. We need to keep demanding that HISD focus on the unprecedented Coronavirus crisis instead of using it as a convenient occasion to exempt our district from the law.
This "District of Innovation" effort is an unnecessary solution to a manufactured problem.
HISD does not need DOI for the three exemptions it is seeking:
- CTE teacher certification exemption: There is already existing policy to recruit hard-to-hire CTE teachers like welders.
- 90% attendance rule: There are already many existing exemptions to the 90% attendance rule including make-up hours determined by the principal in cases in which students have missed 75-89% of a class, summer school, grad lab and emerging state responses to possible school closures.
- Early start in August: With the recent TEA proposal to vary school start times, DOI is no longer the only path for an earlier start.
Should any of the other allowed DOI exemptions —two pages of teacher and student protections—be chosen in committee, the final product will do far more harm than good.
Energized for Excellence
On Thursday, the board also voted to continue paying millions to Energized for Excellence in spite of incontrovertible evidence that the Energized founder takes millions of state and federal education dollars and pockets them for her personal gain.
Energized for Excellence is one of the very worst partner to whom HISD could give a contract.
FOIA requests show that in 2019 the founder paid herself $12 million in "management fees" and her board forgave a $4.1 million personal loan to the penny.
Energized holds back students in the early grades two and three times with no interventions provided; labels English-speaking students as bilingual when they do not even speak another language; hires a disproportionate number of uncertified teachers and keeps out high cost ESL and Special Education students by making it next to impossible for the harder to educate to enroll or stay at the school.
By any standard what Energized does is wrong. HISD should have voted to end the contract and protect the 4,000 students at Energized. No matter how you slice it, Lois Bullock is taking federal and state money for personal gain.
Thank you to Elizabeth Santos, Anne Sung, Holly Vilaseca and Patricia Allen for standing against corruption and voting no to additional monies to Energized.
Eyes on the Prize
Fully 1 in 6 people (more than 36 million people) are unemployed as a result of the Coronavirus while the combined wealth of US billionaires rose 406 billion dollars in April alone. Texas is the second worst state in the nation regarding COVID testing, and the governor opened up gyms and hair salons this past week. Around the country, opportunistic and undemocratic privatization schemes are being developed to permanently harm the children in our nation’s public schools.
Let’s face it. In light of these unprecedented challenges, the HISD board and Administration have hard work ahead. We do not expect HISD to have all of the answers but we do expect public conversations about the actual crisis we are facing.
Teachers, parents and community should have a seat at the table with clear lines of communication. We should have deep, rich and transparent public planning conversations regarding safety protocols to open our schools and how to protect school workers instead of expecting that our janitors and teachers wear their Superman cape all day long. Let’s talk abou what hybrid learning will look like and discuss deeply appropriate pedagogy. Let's talk about how to ensure that poor communities are not left out when the pie is sliced as so often happens.
Let's talk about how to develop clear criteria to help the most vulnerable and how to ensure that people closest to the ground- teachers and others- are integral in the planning process. For so many, especially the poor, the isolated and the vulnerable- distance learning all of the time is a poor substitute for the lifeline that face-to face learning provides.
Forgive us for all of the questions we have, but since you, interim superintendent, chose this time to request DOI status instead of facing these questions head on, we feel you are missing the boat.
We do not expect perfection but, good gracious, keep your eyes on the prize and it is not DOI.