Thousands of Houston ISD students have lost a teacher already this school year as the district experiences a spike in educator resignations.
About twice as many teachers left HISD in the first six weeks of school this year than has been typical in recent years, according to data obtained by the Houston Landing through a public records request.
The records show 170 teachers resigned during the first six weeks this school year, while an average of 84 left during the same time span from 2019 to 2022. As Texas’ largest district, HISD employs roughly 13,000 teachers, meaning the early-year resignations account for about 1 percent of HISD’s classroom instructors.
The new data confirm the number of teachers who have resigned so far this year is a stark outlier from recent precedent. A late October analysis from the Houston Chronicle suggested a similar jump, but only compared this year’s figures to one previous year of resignation data.
Including all staff, 559 employees resigned from HISD in the first six weeks of school this year, compared to an average of 346 during the same period from 2019 to 2022.
The numbers come as HISD begins its third month of classes under Superintendent Mike Miles, who was installed in early June by Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath amid sanctions against the district. For months, teachers unions and some outspoken educators have characterized the new environment in HISD as toxic, but until the resignation numbers came into focus, few concrete data points existed to back up those claims.
Of the 170 voluntary teacher departures, 93 came from schools Miles is overhauling this year under his “New Education System.”
In a written statement, HISD did not address a question over whether the resignations might signal higher levels of teacher frustration this year.
“HISD has adopted a culture of high expectations and accountability,” spokesperson Jose Irizarry said. “All across the district, there are teachers, principals, and other staff who know this is true and understand the urgency.”
Though the departures represent just a small share of educators in the district, they still could be an indicator of increased discontent among the ranks of HISD’s teachers and staff. Mid-year resignation is one of the most extreme actions a staff member can take, and teachers who do so can be barred from teaching in a Texas public school district for a year. HISD declined to specify whether it will pursue penalties against teachers who do so.
Nathaly Reyna is among the 559 staff who have fled HISD this school year. Despite not being certified as a teacher and being hired to serve as a teacher apprentice at Gallegos Elementary, one of 85 campuses being overhauled this year, Reyna was told on the first day of classes that they would temporarily fill in as lead teacher due to a vacancy.
In the four weeks the assignment lasted, the teacher watched as students with learning disabilities and students who were not proficient in English — the very students Reyna had gone into education with the intention of helping — fell behind due to the fast-paced nature of the lessons. School administrators forbade Reyna from slowing down to make sure all students understood the lesson. So, the educator made the difficult choice to leave the school.
“It was heartbreaking seeing them struggle though and just not be able to help them,” Reyna said. “(School administrators) kept describing this sense of urgency, right? And it just doesn't feel like it's for the students.”
Sakis Brown is another educator who submitted his resignation papers after the year began. After a more than two decade-long career at Westside High School, which included more than a dozen coach of the year awards for his role leading the soccer team, a series of policies from the Miles administration frustrated him. The veteran physical education teacher and coach now serves as a part-time organizer for the Houston Federation of Teachers, the district’s largest employee union.
“Teaching is supposed to be very rewarding. It's supposed to be fun. It's supposed to be creative,” Brown said. “(Miles) has taken every joy of being a teacher. … For my sanity, and to be the type of parent and husband and father that I need to be my family, I decided to walk away.”
Jackie Anderson, president of the HFT, said teachers in her union now fear retribution if they express concerns with Miles’ vision for the district and are considering seeking employment elsewhere.
“His leadership style is turning people off and turning people away,” Anderson said.
Long considered a polarizing leader, Miles has a history of angering educators. Before becoming HISD superintendent, he served as superintendent of Dallas Independent School District from 2012 to 2015, and his reforms prompted many teachers to leave.
Over his time at the helm of Dallas ISD, the rate of teacher turnover nearly doubled, jumping from 12 percent in 2011-12, the school year before he assumed his role, to 21 percent in 2014-15, the year he left, according to state data. The statewide average rate of educator churn in that span hovered around 16 percent.
Meanwhile, the results of a survey posted on a prominent HISD Facebook page suggest many teachers still in the district may already have one foot out the door. About half of the roughly 860 respondents who self-identified as HISD teachers said they are planning to leave at the end of the school year or earlier. Another third said they are unsure, while only 14 percent said they plan to stay in the district next year.
Though there is no way to vet the validity of the survey, which was administered anonymously, Tracy Lisewsky, an HISD parent who created the form and runs the Facebook page, said the demographic information input by respondents closely matched the actual makeup of the district. She believes the results may be an indication of further workforce issues to come for HISD, even if just a fraction of those who say they’re planning to leave actually follow through.
“Do I think that the number (of teachers who quit at the end of the year) is gonna be 50 percent? I have no idea. But do I think it'll be somewhere between 25 and 50 percent? Yes,” Lisewsky said.
Anderson argued the superintendent should spend more time listening to the concerns of educators. In July, Miles scaled back the number of required meetings with union leaders and has been criticized for moving forward with his agenda despite negative feedback from those who work in the classroom.
“If you want a successful district, you’re going to have to work with the people that work in the district,” Anderson said.
Asher Lehrer-Small covers education for the Landing and would love to hear your tips, questions and story ideas about Houston ISD. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.