Houston ISD Superintendent Mike Miles told top administrators Wednesday that educators in the district have a choice to leave their jobs if they are not on board with his vision, a blunt message targeted at employees who are resisting his overhaul of HISD.
With about 200 administrators gathered at HISD headquarters, Miles told district leaders that “we’re going to make sure that people understand that this is a choice to work here.” While Miles said the district won’t force teachers into an immediate decision over whether to remain in their roles, the implied message was clear: his administration won’t tolerate dissent in the ranks.
“You don’t need to be in HISD, and I can’t say that in a way that doesn’t feel like I’m threatening or anything,” Miles said.
The comments came as Miles continues to face resistance to his plans to dramatically reshape the state’s largest school district, with many teachers opposing new curriculum and classroom policies implemented at the start of the year.
They also followed the release of a recording last week in which HISD Division Superintendent Luz Martinez told educators at two overhauled campuses that they must commit to the new teaching model or risk losing their jobs, according to a clip posted Sunday on SoundCloud by the Houston Federation of Teachers. At least two teachers were dismissed from their roles following the meeting due to “insubordination,” the Houston Press reported.
Miles told the administrators Wednesday that the district will build a high-performance culture that involves taking accountability for improving student outcomes, cutting back on days off and not making excuses for failing to follow his model. The expectations would eventually apply across all of HISD, Miles said, arguing “it’s the whole district that we need to transform.”
HISD has received B ratings from the state in recent years under Texas’ academic accountability system, outscoring many other large, urban school districts. However, a slight majority of students are not scoring at grade level on state reading and math tests, and the district has not made significant progress in improving literacy rates for Black and Hispanic students.
Miles did not explicitly tell employees to immediately resign, and teachers could face potential punishment if they do. Under state law, teachers who resign after mid-July can be barred from teaching in a Texas public school district for a year, though they can teach at charter schools.
For that to happen, HISD must refer employees who resign to the State Board for Educator Certification. When asked whether district officials would refer teachers who break their contract due to opposition to Miles’ vision for the district, an HISD spokesperson did not directly answer the question Thursday morning. The spokesperson only reiterated that HISD will develop a culture where “every employee makes a choice to be a part of the team.”
In the meantime, though, HISD policy states the superintendent can place employees on administrative leave if it’s deemed in the district’s best interest. District rules also say that all employees are responsible for following the instructions of their supervisors, and failing to do so could be grounds for disciplinary action or firing. Most teachers work on one-year contracts and can be let go at the end of the school year.
Jackie Anderson, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers, called Miles’ rhetoric counterproductive and criticized him for not including enough educator input in his plans. Miles has taken several steps during his tenure to sideline union organizers, who have been staunch opponents of his plans.
“I think he needs to be trying to meet people halfway and stop this my-way-or-the-highway mentality,” Anderson said.
At the outset of Wednesday’s meeting, Miles asked the roughly 200 audience members whether they thought HISD currently had a culture of high performance. No one raised their hand.
“That’s good, because we’re not,” Miles said, drawing laughter. “It’s good that you recognize we’re not a high-performing culture right now. We’ve got a long way to go.”
Throughout the presentation, which lasted roughly 50 minutes, Miles drew on several anecdotes from his time as a U.S. Army Ranger.
He recalled an instance as a lieutenant preparing for an inspection of his fleet of vehicles when a superior scolded him for waiting on parts to be sent, rather than getting them himself. Miles compared it to teachers having difficulty finding the 5-by-8-inch paper notecards he prescribes for classrooms. Staff need to rid themselves of a mindset of “learned helplessness,” he said.