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Abbott: HISD leadership is “a disaster”

January 3, 2019

A post sent from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s Twitter account Thursday lambasted Houston ISD’s leadership as “a disaster” that has failed children in the state’s largest school district — a rare public condemnation of the district from the state’s top executive.

“What a joke. HISD leadership is a disaster,” read a tweet posted from Abbott’s official account. “Their self-centered ineptitude has failed the children they are supposed to educate. If ever there was a school board that needs to be taken over and reformed, it’s HISD. Their students & parents deserve change.”

The comments come as HISD faces potentially major sanctions, including a state takeover of its locally elected school board, tied to chronically low academic results at four schools. They also come as HISD’s board of trustees has been bombarded with criticism in recent months for its acrimonious public displays and its widely-panned effort to covertly oust Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan.

As HISD has grappled with administrative and governance instability in recent months, Abbott has been publicly silent on the district’s challenges. It was unclear why the tweet was issued Thursday, during a relatively calm stretch in HISD.

The post linked to a commentary authored by three community members and printed in the Houston Chronicle that criticized Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner’s efforts to partner with HISD to operate several long-struggling schools. The authors of the commentary also argued for taking legal action against the Texas Education Agency to prevent a state takeover of HISD’s board of trustees.

Some HISD board members have admitted to some governance missteps, as well as eroding trust between district leadership and the Houston community. However, they also have argued that HISD remains in a largely strong academic position — it scored an 84 out of 100 under the state’s new academic accountability system this year, equivalent to a “B” rating — and has not exhibited any major legal or financial misconduct.

“While we have had bad board relations, we have managed to handle the two largest pieces of governance in a way that have not been detrimental to the district, but instead have had a positive impact,” HISD Board President Rhonda Skillern-Jones said last month. “We’ve invested a lot of money in turning these schools around, a lot of resources, a lot of time. To allow those people to do the jobs they’re entrusted with is the best course of action.”

Abbott’s education commissioner, Mike Morath, must replace HISD’s school board or close underperforming schools if any one of four long-struggling campuses fail to meet state academic standards in 2019. Earlier comments by Morath and his deputy commissioner of governance, AJ Crabill, suggest Morath is more likely to install a replacement school board instead of shuttering any under-performing schools.

jacob.carpenter@chron.com

twitter.com/chronjacob

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