Q&A with Superintendent Millard House II: HISD's 5-year plan
HISD Superintendent Millard House II. Photo by Aswad Walker.

HISD is preparing for the safe return to in-person learning for all its students. Superintendent House discussed his plans and thoughts around major COVID-19 and educational related topics that have impacted the school district. HISD will release specifics around their back-to-school safety protocol called “Ready, Set, Go,” to ensure student growth and success in school, addressing the pandemic-related learning losses.

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“We had the opportunity to see our students that were doing so much better academically than our students that were [learning] virtual, he said. Our goal is to ensure a safe environment, and to make sure that their experience is a quality experience,” House said.Superintendent House revealed his 90-day plan to introduce several key priorities that HISD will be working on for the upcoming school year. The goals include ensuring the safe and orderly opening to re-engage students back into the public education experience, and developing a plan that cements a path of innovation and excellence for all students. 

Here are some of his responses to the community’s most pressing issues:

Mask mandate:

The board of trustees will be looking to share the support of what that mask mandate looks like…they’re just essentially going to show support for my decision to institute a mask mandate. We should be moving forward on the [August] 23rd with a mask mandate for all employees, all students, whether it’s in the classroom or on school buses. We have the highest opportunity in HISD to spread simply because we’re the largest school district in the state. If there is a situation where it’s a refusal, we’ll have to handle it from a disciplinary standpoint.

Critical Race Theory (CRT):

I think everyone needs to know their history. To be honest, I didn’t know what CTR was, so I had to do my research and figure out what it was. History is history. The last thing I want to happen is for you [an educator] to walk away in handcuffs. We are making sure that our teachers have the ability to do what is necessary to be successful in the classroom.

Teacher shortage:

It’s not just teachers, it’s also bus drivers. Bus drivers for the last four years have been a struggle across the country. It has been exacerbated because of COVID. We’re seeing probably double the issue that we’ve typically seen. Two to three weeks ago we were looking at 600 teachers. Right now, we are looking for over 400 teachers, but we do have a plan in place to ensure that we have as many vacancies filled with a highly qualified teacher. We’re still hiring. We’re bringing in and processing teachers on a daily basis. We will also be deploying many individuals that work for the district that don’t sit in actual teaching positions.

Vaccinations in the workplace:

What I can tell you personally is that I’m not in favor of the idea of pushing individuals to vaccinate and making it mandatory. I think that’s the job of the government and state. On the flip side, I think it’s the responsibility of everyone in the classroom to be vaccinated if you can. The data shows that it’s working. Mayor Turner kicked off a partnership with about 16 to 17 school districts in the area. It’s called ‘Super Saturday. This isn’t just a vaccination event. It provides wrap-around services, and several different community-based organizations are there to provide backpacks and school supplies.

Virtual learning:

We’re actually one of the very few school systems in the state of Texas that was grandfathered into being allowed to serve students virtually so we have a virtual school. It’s a charter [school] partner that has been in place for years and currently that school has about 8,000 students and we’re exploring the possibility, some expansion of about 1,500 to 2,000 more students. We want our students in person, but we respect where people are.”

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Laura Onyeneho

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,...