Has HISD's new super delivered on promises?
HOUSTON Monday was the first day of school for hundreds of thousands of students and parents in the Houston area and along with their nerves and excitement, there are serious concerns about dropouts. It is a huge problem in HISD and has been for years. But Grier wants to put behind him as he starts the school year. Monday also was Grier's "first" first day of school here in Houston. He started mid-September last year. "I've been doing this too long to get nervous," Grier said. "But I'm going to be really excited." But not exactly excited about where this district stands. "If we're serious about being the best school district in America, we've got to get better, and we've got to get a lot better," Grier said. And one of his biggest challenges continues to be the number of HISD students who never make it across the graduation stage. When he took the superintendent's job, HISD's dropout rate was 18 percent. And after just three weeks on the job last year, Grier told us that in one year, he wanted to "see that 18 percent rate go down to at least 12 percent, hopefully 10 percent." So we wanted to hold him accountable and ask him how he did. "I've got great hopes that it's gone down," Grier said. "We just don't know, so I guess, how do we grade that? You give it an incomplete until the data comes in." It's incomplete since the state of Texas won't have any idea how many kids dropped out of HISD for months; and for a man who thrives on data, it is incredibly frustrating. "It's like putting your ATM card in the machine, and it tells you what your balance was a year ago," Grier said. "It doesn't help too much today." Grier does know that more students are graduating. More than 400 crossed the stage Saturday, including 126 who did it with the help of HISD grad labs, which are computer centers in high schools for students who've fallen behind. On top of that, more than 8,000 students are already a week into class at the district's Apollo 20 schools, where at-risk students are getting intense tutoring and a longer school day. It's all a good start, but as he finishes his "first" first day, Grier knows he has to get more students to their last day. "If a student doesn't drop out of high school, it's going to change their lives -- just the earning power, the opportunity to do different things and exciting things, whether it's getting in the military or getting a meaningful job or go on to college," he said. The data frustrations may continue for Grier. Even though the state collects drop out reports in October, they won't tell parents if it's getting better until July. It's been that way for a long time, and there's no plan to change.