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Houston ISD trustees to talk superintendent, partnerships, busing this week

November 27, 2018

Houston ISD trustees are scheduled to meet Tuesday and Wednesday to discuss some of the district’s most pressing issues, including its superintendent search, plans for chronically low-performing schools and improving transportation following a chaotic start to the school year.

Trustees have scheduled workshops and special meetings this week to continue conversations ahead of expected actions in the coming months on several topics. The talks are among the school board’s most substantive since five trustees covertly maneuvered to oust Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan, drawing criticism from many community members and the four other board members. HISD trustees subsequently issued a joint public apology, pledged to work more cohesively and reversed the vote to replace Lathan.

The conversations have been split into three sessions:

Tuesday, 3 p.m.

A workshop agenda includes discussion about the district’s transportation efforts, which have been roundly panned following the botched rollout of a new busing system.

Headed into 2018-19, HISD reworked its routing maps and instituted a new “hub” method of picking up and dropping off magnet students, aiming to reduce time spent on buses. However, several technical glitches and poor planning led to widespread issues, causing thousands of students to miss class time and arrive home late. HISD replaced its general manager of transportation and Chief Operating Officer Brian Busby, the top administrator responsible for overseeing transportation, pledged changes in late September.

Some trustees who voted to oust Lathan publicly have expressed frustration with her administration’s handling of the busing woes. Board members have not taken any actions to directly address transportation, which generally falls under the administration’s purview.

Trustees also are expected to address ongoing strategies for college and career readiness in HISD.

Tuesday, 5 p.m.

With Texas Education Agency Deputy Commissioner of Governance AJ Crabill expected to be in attendance, trustees are scheduled to discuss options for addressing long-struggling campuses, including potentially surrendering control over four schools in danger of triggering major state sanctions.

HISD administrators and trustees are expected to ramp up talks in the coming weeks about whether to employ private partnerships at the four low-performing schools, all of which must meet state standard this year to avoid forced campus closures or a state takeover of the district’s locally elected school board. Trustees have until early February to finalize plans and submit them to the TEA. To date, trustees have had relatively few public conversations about potential partnerships, and no organizations have come forward to announce interest in running campuses.

Crabill has been among the TEA’s most visible high-ranking staffers in Houston the past several months, monitoring HISD’s governance and its deliberations about private partnerships. HISD trustees also are expected to discuss Lonestar Governance, the state’s framework for school board operations, with Crabill. Some trustees vocally have opposed Lonestar Governance as an improper state intrusion on local control, while a TEA-appointed conservator routinely has criticized HISD trustees for poor governance practices.

Trustees also are slated to discuss hiring an executive coach for the school board, a proposal they agreed to in principle following the effort to remove Lathan.

Wednesday, 5 p.m.

Representatives from HISD’s superintendent search firm, Hazard, Young & Associates, are expected to join trustees to discuss the district’s still-young effort to find a permanent leader. Former HISD superintendent Richard Carranza abruptly left the district in March to become chancellor of New York City public schools.

Trustees delayed starting a superintendent search until after mid-August, when the district learned that it would not be subject to a potential state takeover of the school board. Trustee Wanda Adams subsequently moved to give a one-year contract to Lathan, who has been interim superintendent since Carranza’s departure, but board members did not vote on the proposal. Five trustees in mid-October voted to replace Lathan with former HISD superintendent Abelardo Saavedra, but Saavedra backed out two days later and board members reinstated Lathan.

Hazard, Young & Associates conducted the search in 2016 that landed Carranza, meeting with about 800 people and conducting about 2,450 surveys to create a profile of the district’s desired leader. The company has not publicly announced parameters of its new search. HISD trustees voted in September to retain Hazard, Young & Associates, later agreeing to set an April 2019 deadline for the search.

jacob.carpenter@chron.com

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