Houston ISD’s new, state-appointed board of managers and superintendent received a harsh welcome Thursday from dozens of parents, educators, students and community members at their first public meeting.
Protesters gathered before the board meeting at HISD headquarters to decry plans announced in recent days by new Superintendent Mike Miles, who declared that 28 campuses serving majority Black and Hispanic student bodies will undergo major changes this summer. Once inside the meeting, they heckled and booed the nine-person board appointed last week as members introduced themselves, chanting “we didn’t elect you” and “no justice, no peace.”
“I know you might not like what’s going on. We don’t like what’s going on,” Larry McKinzie, an educator with 27 years of experience, told the board during public comment. “You haven’t been here. … We can’t trust you.”
The jeering interrupted, but didn’t stop, the confirmation of a temporary contract for Miles, a former Dallas Independent School District superintendent, who will receive $1,473 for each weekday he works for the district. The daily rate is intended to equal a $360,000 annual salary, equivalent to that of former superintendent Millard House II.
HISD officials said Miles will soon receive a more permanent contract with the same $360,000 annual salary. Miles will also receive a one-time payment of $25,000 for relocation expenses, but the contract makes no mention of vacation pay, health insurance, retirement contributions or other benefits.
The trustees also selected lawyer Audrey Momanaee as board president, businessman Ric Campo as vice-president and educator Angela Lemond Flowers as secretary. The meeting ended abruptly after Miles entered the board room.
The votes to assign board officials and the motion to approve Miles’ contract were unintelligible for most sitting inside the packed board room, as chanting and shouting continued unrestrained.
The protests came one week after Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath appointed Miles as HISD’s new superintendent and named the nine new board members. The appointees largely reflect HISD’s racial and ethnic diversity, have work experience in multiple fields and bring some personal connections to the district. However, nearly all of them live in affluent Houston neighborhoods west of downtown, and only one has classroom experience.
The state intervention was expected, and dreaded by many, after Wheatley High School continuously failed to meet state academic standards, triggering a state law that mandates major sanctions against HISD. Morath opted to replace HISD’s elected school board instead choosing his other option, closing Wheatley. He argued that shuttering the campus would not address the root causes of its struggles.
Wheatley received its seventh consecutive failing grade in 2019. The Greater Fifth Ward campus rebounded in 2022 to earn a C rating, but it had already triggered the sanctions law.
Miles led Dallas for three years and most recently served as CEO of a charter school network. The superintendent is known to advocate for aggressive reforms in large, urban school districts and favors a data-driven approach to education.
“If we’re really going to transform HISD, you’re going to need a person with the experience, but also leadership (and) vision, someone who can make the tough decisions that few others are prepared to make,” Miles told the Houston Landing last week.
The new superintendent has already pledged several dramatic changes for HISD, with a focus on low-rated campuses. His plans include improving training for principals and educators working in lower-scoring schools, ensuring administrators are well-equipped to support teachers, and placing and recruiting highly effective teachers at those campuses.
Inside and outside of the board room, protestors focused their ire on Miles’ plans to make major changes at nearly 30 campuses, where all educators will be required to reapply for their jobs this summer. Some parents and union members showed their opposition to Miles’ emphasis on standardized testing, while others criticized the undemocratic nature of the takeover itself.
Miles’ approach to the 28 schools would “humiliate” teachers, said Jonathan Bryant, a teacher at HISD’s Northside High School. He warned that teacher turnover would rise in Houston, just as it did during Miles’ tenure leading Dallas about a decade ago. State records show Dallas’ teacher turnover rate increased by about 5 percentage points under Miles.
About 25 attendees signed up for public comment and were given two minutes each to voice their opinions. One by one, they argued against the state takeover, warning that the appointed trustees are not accountable to voters and not representative of their communities.
Elizabeth Rodriguez, 18, a recent Northside High School graduate, said the new board does not represent her. She worries what the changes will mean for her family members still attending HISD schools.
“Don’t listen to what (Miles) has to say – the big man. Listen to the community,” Rodriguez said. “Don’t think about just money. Think about all the children that y’all are supposed to be taking care of.”
Parents also expressed frustration at a lack of support from the state during the pre-meeting protest.
“Instead of supporting principals and teachers to be successful, the state has never set our community up for success,” said Kourtney Revels, the parent of a third-grader at Elmore Elementary School on the city’s northeast side, which is set to undergo a dramatic overhaul under Miles’ plans. “When is someone going to step in for real and step in for my community?”
Several HISD students also spoke, expressing anger about the intervention and fear for the future. Eileen Reyes, a rising sophomore at Westbury High School, warned the takeover would “backfire.”
Several local political leaders and statewide advocates, as well as two elected HISD trustees, attended the protest.
Oni Blair, the ACLU of Texas’ executive director and an HISD parent, said her organization has requested a Justice Department investigation to review whether Houston voters’ legal rights are being violated. Multiple elected officials and teachers union leaders have threatened to take legal action related to the takeover, though none have seriously followed through.
“We are losing the power of our vote in multiple ways,” Blair said.
Editor’s note: This story has been corrected to reflect the nature of the ACLU of Texas’ communications with federal officials.