The HISD Board of Managers approved several student outcome goals to boost third-grade STAAR scores for the next five years.

The goals were discussed at last week’s meeting and voted on during the regular board meeting on Nov. 9 without discussion during the open session of the meeting. That included the agenda item of the approval of Fall 2023 Class-Size Waivers.

“While we can get a waiver, because of different enrollment in every school, it changes sometimes. You’re really stuck with whether or not to hire another teacher,” said HISD Superintendent Mike Miles. “You can easily teach a 25-member classroom and save that school money to put into other things… Regardless of the class size waiver, we will not have large classrooms in this district.”

However, former HISD Trustee Kathy Blueford-Daniels raised concerns about the impact on teachers.

“Teachers are stressed. They are teaching 25 kids in the classrooms and others on Zoom. How do they have a personal relationship with them,” she said. “Teachers had the time to tailor the lessons for them, and they won’t have the time to do that anymore.”

Advocates, including Savant Moore, a parent of three HISD students, voiced concerns about the lack of collaboration between the Board of Managers and the community.

“We should make sure that student-to-teacher ratios are as small as possible so that the teacher can meet the needs of each child,” Moore said. “We can’t have a cookie-cutter approach to serve the students so they can reach their educational goals.”

The public commentary section featured over 70 speakers, including students, expressing concerns about curriculum guidelines, new classroom policies, treatment of students with special needs, and staff terminations at schools like Eastwood High School and Pugh Elementary.

Pre-K teacher Debbie Jane, who was present at the meeting, was fired for taking 12 days off from work. She said after 26 years as an educator, she was out because she was taking care of her daughter, who was recently diagnosed with cancer.

“I am not happy. Nobody likes to be terminated. How would you like to end your career that way?” Jane said.

HISD Chief of Human Resources Jessica Neyman said that though her office couldn’t speak on Jane’s case, the district complies with the Family Medical Leave Act. Neyman also stressed the importance of applying for leave, submitting medical documentation for verification, and checking for leave eligibility.

Miles defended the ongoing reforms, stating, “I don’t want people to think this is magic. This is stuff work,” he said. “I walk around all the time, and I don’t see that level of stress that some detractors are discussing.”

Addressing concerns about declining scores, Miles outlined a three-step plan: stop the decline, fix the system, and improve the culture of expectations. He assured parents about uncertified teacher evaluations, emphasizing rigorous assessments through spot observations, feedback, and performance interviews before hiring.

“The goal is to increase the scores of D and F schools when the accountability results come out,” he said.

Looking ahead, HISD aims to secure a “District of Innovation” (DOI) designation, potentially freeing the district from regular waivers for five years. The proposed DOI plan introduces provisions allowing certain grade-level classrooms to accommodate more students, with public input sought in a meeting on Nov. 14 and a board vote scheduled for Dec. 14.

I cover Houston's education system as it relates to the Black community for the Defender as a Report for America corps member. I'm a multimedia journalist and have reported on social, cultural, lifestyle,...