HISD Superintendent says goodbye.
The Texas Education Agency has officially taken over the Houston Independent School District as Superintendent Millard House II stepped aside early. TEA is replacing House as well as the nine elected Board of Managers, due to alleged illegal behavior by the previous school board as well as the year-after-year failure of Wheatley High School to meet state standards prior to 2019.
During his final public address as leader of the largest public school system in Texas, House spoke fondly of his time in the district.
“You all have proven that you are capable of great things,” he told graduating seniors at the commencement ceremony for Carnegie Vanguard High School’s Class of 2023. “Even as superintendent, there are days where life takes a turn, and I wonder if I am on the hidden camera show at times — because it feels like a reality show, from time to time. You all are students that can make a difference, but it’s important that you go out and make that difference for yourself.”
House was hired about two years after a divided school board ousted interim superintendent Grenita Lathan (a move that was subsequently reversed). That dysfunction was part of the reason the TEA attempted to takeover the district in 2019 — a move that was delayed in court until this year. Only two trustees who were on the board at the time are still in office.
Under House, the district pulled dozens of campuses from the lowest rungs of the TEA’s school-ratings system. Only nine campuses failed to meet state standards in the 2022 school year, compared to more than 40 in 2019.
During the commencement speech, he recounted a story about his struggles with reading and speaking as a child.
“I remember being a student with exceptional needs and struggling with dyslexia and what was called a tongue thrust, which caused me to have some issues,” he recalled. “I was frustrated with myself and often felt like I was not enough for what society needed. Something as common as reading aloud sent this fear through me, and I would often hide during class just to avoid those moments.”
He’s shared the story several times over the past two years. He often wraps up the story by encouraging audiences — from young children at Bruce Elementary in Houston’s Fifth Ward to young adults graduating from Carnegie Vanguard — to persevere through challenges.
“Nearly two years ago, when I accepted the position of Superintendent here in HISD, there were several obstacles that our students were facing,” he said. “But I knew that we could come in and work together to overcome many of them. You all are a shining example of the perseverance, as well as the family members that you all have had to support you … Life will throw some curveballs. We can always bank on that. But I challenge you to catch that ball and throw it back.”
House’s tenure wasn’t without controversy. In late 2022, Houston ISD announced it would shutter a beloved program for profoundly disabled students at T.H. Rogers School. House initially blamed the TEA for the move, but the district later walked back its decision.
Earlier, House released a 5-year strategic plan that some elected school board trustees felt was disconnected from the board and its goals. That feeling continued when the administration suggested slashes to funding for schools this year in an attempt to head off a growing deficit related to declining enrollment, but House ultimately dropped the proposal after trustees pushed back.
During a training for Board of Manager candidates in April, former TEA Deputy Commissioner A.J. Crabill argued that “House basically ignored the board’s goals.”
“With, frankly, the compliance of a board majority at the time,” Crabill continued. “But there are board members who pitched a holy fit, as well they should have, because it’s not the job of superintendents to represent the visions and values of the community.”
In the leadup to June 1, House has been widely praised.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner tweeted last week that House “improved the academic performance of the schools that needed attention.”
“I want to thank him and apologize to him for how the State treated him,” he continued.
Union president Jackie Anderson, with the Houston Federation of Teachers, called him “one of our district’s best superintendents.”
Turner and others have claimed that the TEA has already selected former Dallas ISD superintendent and current charter school network executive Mike Miles to replace House. Miles hasn’t responded to requests for comment, and the TEA has declined to confirm or deny the rumor. The agency says it will announce the new superintendent and the Board of Managers “on or around” June 1.
Houston Public Media contributed to this report.