HISD superintendent calls it quits

February 5, 2009 4:44:37 AM PST
In a surprising move, Houston Independent School District Superintendant Dr. Abe Saavedra announced his retirement Wednesday morning. He has lead the nation's seventh largest school district since 2004. Wednesday morning, HISD principals met at a workshop at the administration building, expecting the usual address from the superintendent. It wasn't.

"I thought he was going to be talking about all the successes that we've had, which is usually what he talks about and then he sort of dropped this bombshell," said Furr High School Principal Bertie Simmons.

A few minutes later, Dr. Saavedra made the bombshell public at a news conference.

"I've recently advised the school board of my intention to retire next spring," he said. "I want to make sure the board has adequate time to conduct a thorough and complete national search for my successor."

For the past five years, Saavedra has been HISD's superintendent, spending 36 years in public education. Most of that was in Corpus Christi. He's HISD's first Hispanic superintendent.

But there have been some rough patches, including:

  • Ill-received proposals to modify transportation to the district's magnet schools
  • Closing under-enrolled schools
  • Close 2007 bond election
None of those, he said, prompted Wednesday's announcement. He says he wants to do something new.

"It's simply time for this leader to see if I can take my skills elsewhere," he said.

The board will have around 14 months to sign on a successor. For some principals, the bar has been set higher.

"In his heart, he really was always for kids," said Simmons. "He always had their interest at heart."

"There will never be a time where everybody says everything's rosy and great and now you can ride off into the sunset," added Lamar High School principal James McSwain. "Sometimes you just have to put down the shovel."

The school board will likely start discussing the search for a new superintendent at the regular board meeting next week.

Before coming to HISD, he served as superintendent of schools in his native Corpus Christi from 1993 to 2000. He has actually been with HISD since February 2001, first as superintendent of the southeast district, then interim superintendent until taking the job permanently.

In January of 2007, he asked to change his contract from three years to one, to make him more accountable for the district's performance. HISD released a press release Wednesday, highlighting some of Dr. Saavedra's accomplishments during his time as superintendent. The following accomplishments were listed on that press release:

  • Achieved a record-breaking number of highly-rated schools ? 157 exemplary and recognized schools under the state's current accountability system
  • Made more progress on the TAKS test than the state average
  • Created a college-bound culture throughout the district
  • Increased the rigor in the classroom -- record numbers of HISD students are taking and passing Advanced Placement exams and dual credit courses to earn college credit while they are still in high school
  • Increased SAT scores of HISD students while state and national averages fell
  • Established full day pre-kindergarten
  • Implemented the biggest teacher performance pay system in the country
  • Increased academic performance by paying teachers and staff more than $60 million in performance awards based on student growth
  • Created Reach out to Dropouts to go door-to-door to get students back into school, which has been replicated nationally returning more than 5000 students to school
  • Passed the third school bond construction program in a decade, which will result in the construction and renovation of nearly $3 billion worth of schools over 15 years ? the largest public works program in Houston history, providing important stimulus to the local economy and benefitting students with an improved learning environment
On the business side, HISD accomplished the following during Dr. Saavedra's tenure, without a tax increase:
  • Increased the district's fund balance from $98.4 million to $224.1 million
  • Increased starting teacher salaries from $35,000 to $44,027, an increase of $9,027 or 25.8 percent
  • Implemented the first deferred maintenance program in 20 years, committing $235 million over six years to maintain facilities
  • Increased the district's bond ratings to AA+ making HISD one of only two districts in the state to hold that rating
Dr. Saavedra said, "My parents taught me to leave a place better than what it was when I arrived. I think I will have done that when I leave HISD. With the support of the board and the dedication and hard work of our central and regional administrators and their staffs, the tenacity and brilliant work of our principals, and the unwavering dedication and extraordinary work that our teachers perform in their classrooms everyday, I am able to leave behind a school district that five years ago had nine Exemplary schools and today has 38."

Dr. Saavedra began his career in education 36 years ago, starting as a classroom teacher in 1972 in his hometown of Corpus Christi and would rise to lead the seventh largest school district in America.

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