Houston ISD school board decides to go in 'different direction' after vote to bring back former superintendent

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- The Houston Independent School District board of trustees put on a united front this afternoon, four days after the last board meeting exploded with accusations of racism and shouting.

Standing together with Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan, board members admitted their recent poor behavior at open meetings was a disservice to students.

"We, the board of the HISD, would like to apologize to our students, the community at large, the parents, the families, and all HISD employees," said trustee Diana Davila.

Davila led the effort last Thursday to oust Lathan. She made the motion to hire Abe Saavedra as Interim Superintendent. Her comments were followed by board member Jolanda Jones, who promised members will "work to improve our behavior as adults, and treat each other with respect."

Lathan also spoke out, promising unity as the district moves forward.

Nobody took questions at the end of their speeches, and the entire press conference had the awkwardness of an uncomfortable family reunion.

Questions about how to move HISD forward were left for others to answer.

Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee and State Sen. Borris Miles spoke after the trustees had left. Both tried to sound conciliatory and put a positive face forward in light of the recent chaos.

"We have to be concerned (with a state takeover), but we are strong enough to mend those wounds," Sen. Miles said. "The board, they can govern; we can, as people in the community, stand by their side."

What does that mean for the district? First, Dr. Lathan is back as the interim superintendent, with a vote to make it official scheduled on Thursday.

Next, the fight is on to win the hearts of parents like Tish Ochoa. She says parents want an open, national search for a permanent HISD leader that will focus on what's best for the children.

"My hope is that the board takes non-drastic action, that they think before they move, and that they do conduct a national search with community process along the way," she said.

On Thursday, the decision was made to replace Lathan, who was appointed interim superintendent after the surprise resignation of Richard Carranza, who left to become a superintendent in New York City.

Dr. Abe Saavedra, a former HISD superintendent, was set to replace Lathan. Then, a team building workshop for the school board on Sunday set off the reversal. Saavedra attended it.

"The most serious issues in HISD are not necessarily who's sitting in the superintendent's chair," he told us Sunday night. "But the school board being very dysfunctional and not being able to work with one another."

Saavedra said, with the help of a consultant in charge of the team building session, the board agreed to veto bringing him in and he agreed with the decision.

"I just don't think changing out the interim superintendent was the solution to the most serious issues that exist in HISD today," he said.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, who was the most outspoken official to oppose the move, weighed after the decision was made Sunday. In a statement, Turner said:

"This is a good outcome for today. But our children need a board with trustees working together, harmoniously, for the good of the children now and in the future. The only question that should be asked and answered is what is in the best interests of the 215,000 students in the district. Also, the administration should be allowed to do its job. People have become impatient with a dysfunctional board. There is no tolerance for bad behavior, regardless of who the bad actors are, when it comes at the expense of what's best for our children."
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