Texas Education Agency’s (TEA) much-anticipated first community meeting since the announcement of the Houston Independent School District (HISD) takeover, held at Westbury High School, erupted into chaos and commotion within minutes of the presentation.
TEA Deputy Commissioner Alejandro Delgado led the conversation about the board of managers selection process and the roles and responsibilities of the newly appointed board members in front of the school’s packed auditorium full of community members, educators and parents of HISD students.
Within minutes of the presentation, a few audience members rose from their seats, infuriated by TEA’s scripted presentation, and demanded answers to pressing questions that the slideshow didn’t address.
Many in the room thought that TEA Commissioner Mike Morath would be present to hear the audience’s concerns, at least for the first meeting, but he was absent. As Delgado set the ground rules for the presentation, he stated that only questions focused specifically on the board of managers process would be answered.
“We need to have more people out here fighting because Abbott and Mike Morath … are not even here,” Houston resident Stephan Hester said. “How can he (takeover HISD) and not take accountability for it?”
Elizabeth Hornbeck is a mother of a special needs child in HISD and wanted answers about how TEA would help parents in her situation. Instead, she was underwhelmed by her experience at the forum.
“I didn’t realize it was the whole application process of the board. I thought it was a parents’ meeting, originally,” Hornbeck said. “I think we were kind of misled about what this meeting was about.”
Hornbeck, who supports the TEA takeover, told the Defender that the current school system had failed her child. She says it’s the lack of training for general education teachers who don’t understand how to support children with learning disabilities that troubles her.
“The special education system in HISD needs a lot more accountability,” she said.
Travis McGee is an HISD parent. He said the decision of this takeover resembled a dictatorship and compared the state’s efforts to that of an absentee parent.
“Don’t you think the community should pick people that represent them versus Mike Morath or whoever he is? He doesn’t know anything about the Houston Independent School District,” McGee said. “If they did, they would put the vocational programs back, we’ll have better funding, smaller class sizes and they would do away with standardized testing.”
Christina Phillips Purvis is a mother of two Westbury students. She gave the TEA an “F” for their presentation and said that even though the community will face the inevitable on June 1 when the transition of the new board of managers begins, she had one request to ask of them.
“The thing they (HISD board) actually need to do better at is monitoring the schools. There is a very low presence of the school board directors that come out. I would like to see them out in the neighborhoods interacting with the kids… Visit the schools more. Hold more town meetings. Not like this one, but ones where the parents get to ask viable questions.”
This is the first of four public forums hosted by TEA over the next two weeks. Here is the upcoming schedule. All meetings begin at 6:30 p.m.
March 22 at Chavez High School
March 29 at Hattie Mae White Educational Support Center
March 30 at Kashmere High School, 6900 Wileyvale
Laura Onyeneho is the Defender Network Education Reporter and a Report For America Corps member. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org