Bickering, back-biting and an inability to simply get along have made Houston ISD’s elected school board difficult to ignore in recent years. 

Today, it’s all quiet on the HISD board. Too quiet, for some families and advocates.

Two months into the job, HISD’s new state-appointed school board has largely avoided the limelight since replacing the district’s elected trustees, making few extended comments in public and betraying no animosity within the group.

The harmony is a welcome contrast for some community members who had grown tired of the elected board’s in-fighting, which was sometimes aired in heated public arguments and grievances posted on social media

But the collective silence has also prompted complaints about a lack of transparency and frustrated families pleading for board members to resist drastic changes pushed by Mike Miles, the district’s new, state-appointed superintendent. Miles is overhauling dozens of campuses, removing decision-making power from some principals and replacing employee evaluation tools, among numerous other plans.

“I know that there’s individuals that may want us to fight the superintendent at every instance, but that’s not what this board is about,” appointed board member Rolando Martinez said Wednesday. 

Houston ISD board member Rolando Martinez introduces himself during a community meeting July 11 at Pugh Elementary School in Houston’s Denver Harbor neighborhood. (Joseph Bui for Houston Landing)

“We know there’s gonna be moments where we disagree, but we’re going to disagree amicably. And so I think it’ll be different, in contrast to the previous board.”

Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath replaced HISD’s elected board and superintendent in June as part of state sanctions largely tied to Wheatley High School’s repeatedly poor academic ratings. 

The punishment also stemmed, in part, from a state investigation into multiple allegations of board misconduct. While the 2019 inquiry didn’t extensively address internal board strife, discord among elected trustees contributed to the state opening its investigation. (The elected board has been more cohesive in public over the past few years.)

To date, the nine-person replacement board has essentially ceded the stage to Miles, who has gripped headlines and conducted a 10-stop tour of the district to meet with families. 

While some board members have attended the community events, they have remained relatively quiet, rarely offering more than a quip or two in support of Miles. Similarly, all nine members offered minimal comments during three public board meetings in June, each of which were marked by protests and backlash from those opposed to HISD’s takeover.

Houston ISD board member Paula Mendoza gives a statement during a family event held by Superintendent Mike Miles on July 27 at Sugar Grove Academy in Houston’s Sharpstown neighborhood. (Antranik Tavitian / Houston Landing)

Appointed board member Ric Campo said the low-profile approach through two months is strategic, allowing Miles to serve as the face of the district’s overhaul. Campo added that board members will ramp up their public appearances in the coming weeks, with “community listening session” dates throughout August and September soon to be announced.

But even when board members step more into the public eye, Campo expects a contrast in communication between the new board and elected trustees, who often opined freely about issues throughout the district. Campo said he makes clear to parents that he’s not their “advocate.”

“I get very granular in conversations I have with people, but I also make sure they understand that I’m not the conduit to get anything done at their school, ever,” Campo said. “I can’t listen to what a parent has to say and then intervene in the system on behalf of that parent. If I do that, then I’m totally under-treading the authority of the superintendent and his team.”

Next HISD board meetings

Agenda review: Thursday, 5:30 p.m., Hattie Mae White Educational Support Center (4400 W. 18th St., Houston, TX 77092)

Regular meeting: Aug. 10, 5:30 p.m., Hattie Mae White Educational Support Center

The current agendas for the meetings can be seen here.

That approach, however, has led to criticism about openness and responsiveness.

Maria Delavega, whose daughter attends Baylor College of Medicine Academy at Ryan Middle School, said she’s glad the appointed board members haven’t been distracted by politics and culture wars — but their elusiveness has left her frustrated. 

Delavega said she’s sent 15-plus emails to board members questioning the impact that Miles’ plans might have on the school’s magnet program, none of which have been returned. 

“An outreach program is something that must happen, it has to happen, in order for them to reach the parents, so the parents can understand how important it is to educate our children,” Delavega said.

Former HISD trustee Anne Sung, who served on the board from 2016 to 2022, pressed appointed board members Tuesday at a community meeting with Miles on why they aren’t using feedback to oppose several of the superintendent’s controversial plans — including the conversion of some libraries into discipline centers. 

“So my question to you all is, when are you going to step up and represent the vision and the values of the community?” Sung said. “You come to these community meetings to tell your stories, they’re lovely stories, you sound like very nice people, but when are you gonna do the job of representing us?”

HISD families and advocates expecting strong pushback on Miles’ plans — at least in public — likely will be left disappointed. 

Every board member has expressed support for Miles’ approach, with some describing their role as clearing the way for the superintendent. (Board members who obstruct Miles’ vision for HISD could get replaced by Morath.) 

Several board members also have signaled they do not plan to meddle with Miles’ strategy, sticking instead to their governance role. One former HISD superintendent, Richard Carranza, complained after his exit in 2018 that elected board members inappropriately interfered with his administration.

“The minute we start monkeying around with (a superintendent’s) implementation, then we strip their authority,” Campo said. “That, to me, is one of the biggest problems we have in school systems in America, is that there’s a lot of intervention that goes on that shouldn’t.”

Staff writer Asher Lehrer-Small contributed to this report.

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Miranda Dunlap is a reporter covering K-12 schools across the eight-county Greater Houston region. A painfully Midwestern native to Michigan’s capital region, Miranda studied political science pre-law...