HISD Superintendent Mike Miles presents the New Education Plan to community members.
HISD Superintendent Mike Miles presents the New Education Plan to community members at the Hattie Mae Building on July 18 during the family event session.

Photo 2: HISD Superintendent Mike Miles speaks to audience members during board meeting on Sept.14 2023. Credit: HISD

The Houston Independent School District’s Board of Managers made a unanimous decision to pursue the District of Innovation designation, a move that has sparked debate and pushback from the community.

The DOI designation would grant HISD greater flexibility in certain aspects of its operations, akin to charter schools, allowing exemptions from specific state education laws and regulations to implement innovative practices and enhance educational outcomes.

The details of a DOI plan can vary between districts, tailored to meet their unique needs and goals. Some common areas where districts seek flexibility through this plan include:

School Calendar: HISD can establish its academic calendar, potentially adjusting the length and schedule of the school year.

Teacher Certification: The district can hire non-certified teachers for specific subjects or programs, provided they meet certain qualifications.

Class Sizes: HISD may seek waivers to have flexibility in adhering to class size limits.

Curriculum: The district can develop and implement unique curriculum and instructional methods to improve student achievement.

Staff Development: The plan can provide flexibility in staff development requirements to better meet district needs.

The meeting concluded with the announcement of an eight-member panel responsible for crafting HISD’s DOI plan. The DOI Planning Committee includes Edgardo Colon, Lauren Fontaine, Bill Horwarth, Jessica Morffim, Uche Ndefo, Theresa Tran, and current state-selected board manager Janette Garza Linder. Once the plan is created, it will require approval from the District Advisory Committee, consisting of educators elected by their peers and community members appointed by the board and superintendent.

HISD Superintendent Mike Miles presents the New Education Plan to community members
HISD Superintendent Mike Miles presents the New Education Plan to community members Credit: HISD

However, this move has not been without controversy. Critics argue that it concentrates too much power in the hands of Superintendent Mike Miles and the board, leading to concerns about transparency and accountability. Despite these concerns, it’s worth noting that many other districts in the Houston area have successfully obtained the DOI designation.

During the meeting, Miles provided an update on school attendance, stating that there are over 181,000 students enrolled in the district, but this number is expected to fluctuate. HISD has been grappling with declining enrollment and increased costs due to its reform program. In response, the board approved two policy changes, one of which establishes an “excess pool” for staffers from closed schools. The other makes placement in this pool a valid reason for non-renewal of contracts.

“HISD has currently lost approximately 20,000 students. That means our budget has decreased. I asked what was going to happen to teachers when the enrollment decreases? And it did just that. So now we have this excess pool that teachers are going to be put into,” said Michelle Williams president of the Houston Education Association. “What we are looking for is executive directors, senior staff on the excess pool too. Because we don’t need any more micromanagers and they don’t have children to fund those micromanagers.”

Emotions ran high during the HISD board meeting, highlighting the growing disparity between Miles’ perspective on HISD’s performance and the concerns voiced by parents, students and teachers.

The public speakers expressed a range of complaints before Miles presented his optimistic report.

Teacher Susan Espinoza kicked off by asking, “What is a CEO of a charter school network doing running a public school district?” Her explanation was that Gov. Greg Abbott and Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath can turn HISD into a charter school district. “So it will be a profit-making machine.”

“What I’m not is a board of managers, a superintendent, and a now District Advisory Committee that is all intended to just say yes. I dare any of you to go against what Mike Miles wants,” said community member Pamela Boveland.