The Texas Education Agency’s plans for a clean and orderly transfer of information about how to run for a board position in TEA’s Houston ISD takeover were hijacked Tuesday night by a mob of very unhappy people and the representative of the United States Sheila Jackson Lee.
Deputy Education Commissioner Alejandro Delgado began his portion of the meeting by acknowledging “what you might be feeling tonight,” emphasizing that the only comments and questions during the meeting should pertain to the nomination process for the nominated board that will replace elected officials. .
As she bravely tried to stay on script, which meant reading from a power point presentation about the application process, audience members started yelling, “Hand us the mic,” “Where’s Mike? [referring to Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath who apparently wisely chose not to attend]” and “Makeover, not Takeover”.
And those were the nicest things said during the meeting in the spacious auditorium of Westbury High School. More to the point, there were allegations that TEA had failed in its takeover efforts in Northern Forest ISD (later absorbed into HISD) and Beaumont ISD, so why should it think HISD would be better off? Also voiced in high decibels: “You’re stealing our community,” “Mike Morath never taught black kids.”
It was of no use when, abandoning the power point, Delgado opened the question and answer session in advance of the limited time meeting (only one hour) and the first questions collected in cards before the meeting asked questions about material just covered in the power point – and which Delgado tried to cross again until the crowd told him to stop.
When asked directly why TEA thought it should take over the district, Delgado made the mistake of starting his answer with a reiteration of all the good things about the district (like a boss talking to a disappointing employee before turning down the boom with a “but”) before starting to get to the point. The exasperated crowd yelled “Answer the question” at him, which he then tried to do but it was now a lost cause.
(For the record, Morath determined that HISD needed an intervention after years of underperforming AKA schools that didn’t meet state academic standards and board members who were not only dysfunctional but convicted of corruption. Others engineered a administration failed to seize power in a private meeting in apparent violation of the Open Meetings Act. And while most of the board bowed out in the subsequent election, some members from particularly troubled times remain.)
When asked if TEA would bring many charter schools to HISD, Delgado threaded the needle that TEA would not do that at all. That something like this would be the decision of the board and the new superintendent who is expected to take over the district in June. The board of trustees and superintendent will be appointed by Morath, whose reputation is for being a strong supporter of the charter school. Audience members didn’t miss the nuance.
Said that at the end of two years if HISD met all of the commissioner’s criteria to meet standards, including the absence of inadequate schools (standards that many other school districts in Texas would find nearly impossible to achieve) the crowds erupted in new in mockery. However, if this goal were achieved, elected board members would replace board appointees at the rate of three board members per year.
If all of that wasn’t dramatic enough, about three quarters into the fight, rep Sheila Jackson Lee entered and Delgado made a significant strategic blunder. She gave her the microphone to say a few words. She didn’t get it back until more than 15 minutes had passed and the reunion happened within a minute or two of hitting the time limit. And if she thought she would calm things down, well, that would have been another mistake.
Damning Delgado with faint praise, Jackson Lee said the assistant director was just doing his job, doing only what he and Commissioner Morath think is right. He then explained to him the “anxiety” of teachers, parents and other district employees about the change.
“I want Mr. Delgado to know, it’s not a personal opposition, but it’s a gigantic opposition,” he said to applause.
He went on to say that he opposes the takeover and plans to return to Washington, DC to see if anything can be done to change Morath’s action. “The board will not answer to teachers, parents or children.” In making what was probably the truest and most appropriate statement of the entire meeting, Jackson Lee said, “I think Commissioner Morath needs to know that he can’t have meetings like this and not answer your questions.”
Kudos to the HISD police force – they behaved professionally, calmly and did not overreact during the hour-long meeting. They will have a chance to employ these skills again as TEA plans three more one-hour community meetings: March 22 at Chavez High, March 29 at the Hattie Mae White Administration Building, and March 30 at Kashmere High.