Dr. Kendall Baker (left) District VI, HISD Trustee, and Dr. Patricia K. Allen (right), District IV, HISD Trustee.
Dr. Kendall Baker (left) District VI, HISD Trustee, and Dr. Patricia K. Allen (right), District IV, HISD Trustee. Credit: HISD website. Credit: HISD website

The announcement of Houston Independent School District takeover by the Texas Education Agency had community leaders, legislatives, educators, parents, concerned about the future of the school district.

The agency confirmed its plans to remove all nine members of the democratically elected school board, along with Superintendent Millard House II.

There are more than 190,000 students in the school district and 85% of them are Black and Hispanic, making this the largest district to be taken over by the agency.

Recently, TEA made an announcement stating that it will begin the process of hosting community informational sessions for residents to be well-informed about takeover process.

The reality might be tough to digest, but the question still remains, how can the community work together for the sake of the children, regardless of who will sit on the board?

The Defender spoke with two of HISD’s current members, Dr. Kendall Baker and Dr. Patricia K. Allen to share their thoughts on the takeover.

Defender: What are your thoughts about the takeover?

Baker: Students are failing and it’s because of 30 years of bad management and leadership at the Houston Independent School District. The TEA is our last effort to improve the district overall. We’re No. 48 ranking in the nation. I want us to be at least in the top 10. It’s like he (TEA Commissioner Mike Morath) is the exterminator coming to clean the roaches out of the house.

And being a trustee, I’m telling you, it’s been difficult. Even though we’re new and the old members are gone, we’re still fractured. Three of the old members are still there. We’re divisive. We’re still playing race, Blacks against the Hispanics and I’m the only male there. So again, I welcome Mike Morath. I have full confidence. He is a smart man. He’s going to select the right board of managers and superintendent to do the right thing and then hand it back over.

Allen: I feel like the district was progressing. It was on its way up. I can’t see someone new starting over and taking it from there and moving up. I can only see them regressing. As long as the district was moving forward, I think it should have been left that way. I’m looking forward for the district being able to work things out because if we are as good as we are, as forward as we were moving with the best superintendent, everything we had was positive, I think we should be allowed to continue.

Defender: Part of TEA’s decision was due to the misconduct of HISD board’s past leadership. How have you all been able to rise above the reputations of the past?

Allen: Our focus is on our children and not the past. Making advances and nothing about the past. Everything we do is for the children. I wish everybody was on the same page.

Defender: What does it take to represent a district this size? What type of qualities or experience is necessary to keep a district afloat?

Baker: It’s going to take a business-minded person who knows how to run a Fortune 500 company. You’ve to learn how to handle big money. $2.3 billion. You’ve got to know how to handle employees. HISD has more employees than the city of Houston. Also, a person with an educational background. I would say an enhanced version of Dr. Terry Grier or Abe Saavedra. Those were two great leaders who went down in history of doing some great things for Houston Independent School District.

(This person) must keep the taxpayers in mind, keep the parents in mind, and I like what Commissioner Morath has already done. He’s already scheduled four or five community meetings regarding what they plan to do in this transition. I also like the fact that he waited until the end of the school year. He did not make this decision haphazardly.

Allen: The board is supposed to be the voice of the people. The superintendent runs the district. The superintendent that you need is a superintendent that has had at least 100,000 to 200,000 students before. Someone with experience. The board does not run the school. The board is the voice of the community.

Defender: We’ve also learned that the takeovers are expected to last about two years. Do you believe the district can improve?

Allen: It takes a long time. The district was already moving in the right direction. So, if they can keep it, the base part of the district stays the same, then it will continue to move as long as you have the experienced superintendent at the helm.

Defender: Do you feel that this shutdown is too focused on party politics or not? Why?

Baker: It’s not. If you noticed, Houston is a Democrat city mostly. Unfortunately, that’s a broken record to me. I grew up as a Democrat. I switch parties in 2007. This is not in, in my opinion, racially motivated. There would be no discrimination, Sheila Jackson Lee said. Mayor Turner needs to stop talking. I think he’s just trying to get TV time for his next position. Ron Reynolds… All of those people are just speaking the same old evil language and are misleading our African-American community.

Allen: I say that my focus is on the children not politics. If it is, shame on them. I believe everybody’s focus should be on the children when it comes to education.

Defender: What are the key priorities that need to be addressed for guaranteed success of the school district?

Baker: We need to check the budget. $2.3 billion. Let’s find out where every dollar is going. Let’s unpack it. The general fund versus the nutrition fund versus the funds that comes from the taxpayers. Let’s see where this money is really going. Let’s go through all of the vendors and see who was vetted correctly. See how many friends are connected to Mayor Turner. Let’s see how many politicians are tied to the $2.3 billion. Let’s see how we can improve and increase the students’ reading and math. They’re failing and barely making it.

We need a way to fast track and get some type of emergency triage. We need to take all the pornography books out of the libraries. They should never be in there. I don’t care. We need to stop worrying about what how many girls can play boys sports. Concentrate on education, so our children will grow up and be prosperous and be better than we were and have a chance at life.

Defender: What lessons have you learned about the public school education system from your experience on the board?

Baker: I learned that children are very important. I learned that parents are very intimately involved in the education of the children. I’ve learned that we have one of the most diverse districts. I’ve also learned that the board of managers plays a key role. It’s very important that we be on one accord and we are not. We need to be student outcome-focused and we were trying to get there, but we were not. For those on the outside looking in, you just don’t know. It’s a rollercoaster ride on the inside.

Allen: Because my experience is in education, I have learned to also focus on what they want for their children. Not just focus on education and what we can do for the children, but what parents and community want for their children.

What are your hopes for HISD? For the community?

Baker: My hopes is that HISD will become a school district of choice. A school district where when you hear of Fort Bend or Woodlands, you’d want to move there. I want people to move to Houston because they heard we had one of the best school districts around. My hope is that the executive staff are listening to the people effectively and implementing ideas and having a two-way communication with teachers, principals, the communities, and parents. My hope is that they give the people to report their concerns. My hope is that the education improves inside and out… Students graduate. My hope is that we provide more safety so that we won’t see another Uvalde nowhere. My hope is that an overall improvement for the school district is there once its handed back in our hands.

Allen: My hope is that the community gets what it wants which is a great education for their children.

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,...