Is Saavedra's departure good for HISD?

June 15, 2009 4:01:41 PM PDT
Houston Independent School District's superintendent has said he will step down at the end of August, months earlier than expected, and now the search for his replacement becomes even more pressing. Superintendent Abe Saavedra's decision to leave sooner than later was not a surprise to the school board, but many believe it was best for the district.

HISD Board Member Diana Davila nominated Superintendent Abe Saavedra five years ago and was a strong supporter of Saavedra's. However, Davila admits the relationship between the superintendent and the HISD Board of Education could have been stronger.

"Oh, I always feel that relationship could have been stronger. Could he have done more? Could we have done more? What could we have done differently? I think, all in all, we worked very well together for five years," said Davila.

The signs of academic progress during Saavedra's tenure are hard to ignore. The number of exemplary schools soared from nine to 38 schools in the past five years. Fifty-eight percent of HISD schools are exemplary or recognized under the state's current accountability system.

In addition, teacher starting salaries have jumped 25% with an estimated $60 million given out for performance pay to teachers and principals.

Saavedra's academic achievements are unchallenged by the board. However, it is his political acumen or what some call a lack thereof that has prompted criticism by the board president.

"That clearly jumps out. In an urban environment, not only is there attention to the urgent needs of our students, but also to the political environment," said HISD Board President Lawrence Marshall.

Saavedra recently announced he will step down at the end of August, far sooner than the March 2010 date he announced back in February. We were told Saavedra was out of town and unavailable for comment.

The board hopes to have a finalist announced by next month.

"I think a superintendent has to have some knowledge of the politics that board members go through, but do they have to be totally in debt to it? No. I think we are looking for someone who will move this district forward," said Davila.

HISD is the largest public school district in the state and seventh largest in the nation. The district has 296 schools, and is one of the largest employers in Houston with more than 29,000 employees.

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