It is day one for Millard Home II, the brand new superintendent of the Houston ISD. Many challenges await.
When Millard House II officially takes office as the new Superintendent of the Houston ISD on Thursday, a series of challenges await him.
Some students continued to fall behind during the coronavirus pandemic, while others were “lost” in their grip. The district expects to receive hundreds of millions of dollars in federal COVID-19 stimulus funding with no public plan left for the funds. While teachers are about to receive a raise, their pay has lagged in neighboring districts, and the trustees voted three weeks ago to mandate House to propose a potentially larger raise for teachers in August when the district’s financial prospects may be clearer.
When House took on his new role, members of the HISD community hoped he could address a variety of priorities, from funding to inequalities, and were excited to work with him.
“The first job as the new superintendent is getting to know the community, getting to know our schools, getting to know our neighborhoods,” said HISD trustee Anne Sung, who came across House on a school visit this week. “He’s already doing this so I think he’s got off to a great start.”
House, 49, who was unavailable for an interview this week, is from Tennessee, where he ran the state’s seventh largest county, the Clarksville-Montgomery County School System. Former colleagues and acquaintances have described him as a humble leader who is open-minded and data-driven. He will receive a base salary of $ 350,000 a year in Houston.
At HISD, he will lead a district of nearly 200,000 students – five times more than Clarksville-Montgomery County – to the end of a pandemic that turned the lives of students and educators upside down.
While its first official day will be Thursday, House started on Monday on a contract basis, visiting staff, schools, and principals to ask what individuals in the district are proud of and what challenges are ahead, Sung said. On his first day, curators are supposed to meet with him for a retreat.
“One of the most pressing items on his plate is developing a plan for using these (federal) funds,” Sung said. “We need to know how those dollars are going to be used for this school year and we need to get them to schools quickly.”
Michel Leon, an aspiring student at Bellaire High School and part of the student congress leadership team, said she hopes House takes a look at underfunded schools and teacher pay rises. The students also want a voice, said Leon, and to build a relationship with him.
“We want to be heard and heard, but we also want noticeable power and influence like adults,” said Leon. “We don’t want to be overlooked by him.”
One of the biggest challenges for House and the district will be helping students who have fallen behind during the pandemic.
Standardized test results released this week showed one of the clearest glimpses of the effects of the pandemic. About two-thirds of HISD eighth graders achieved no math proficiency, compared with 28 percent in 2019.
In addition, some students stopped attending classes altogether, leading to recovery efforts, such as a recent four-day telephone bank that was designed to convince some to return.
“We have a huge deficit,” said Jackie Anderson, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers, which leads the district’s largest labor union. “We are very concerned about that. I want him to know that it’s not “us versus them” – it’s “we”. And we all have to work together, and I think if that happens … we can be successful. “
House will take over the helm after years of turmoil in the district dealing with natural disasters – including Hurricane Harvey and the February freeze – and when Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath tried to oust the elected school board for poor accountability at Wheatley High School and a state investigation that found several cases of trustee misconduct.
A lawsuit filed by trustees has put Morath’s plans on hold pending a result. If Morath prevails, he could replace House.
“I hope the new headmaster brings stability, not just in his own role but also in the school leadership role,” said Jasmine Jenkins, executive director of Houstonians For Great Public Schools, which recently published proposals to reassess budget priorities. “I hope to see a superintendent who excels at having a strong school leadership and building strong school leaders. In addition, I hope that he really responds to the wishes and needs of the parents. “