'The state deserves an F': Mayor Sylvester Turner, other leaders react to TEA takeover of HISD

KTRK logo
Wednesday, March 15, 2023
Mayor Turner says TEA's handling of HISD takeover deserves an 'F'
"The state deserves an F on how they have handled the process up to this point. Just a flat out F," the mayor said. "So who takes them over?"

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- There have been many strong reactions from local leaders and community advocates after the Texas Education Agency announced it will take over Houston ISD by the end of the school year -- especially from Mayor Sylvester Turner.

The decision came following reported failures on the district level and multiple schools that have faced unsatisfactory grades for several years.

As part of the takeover, the state will appoint a nine-member board of managers to replace the current board of trustees by June 1. Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath told ABC13 the board will be a diverse group who live and work within the HISD district lines.

READ MORE: 'Ultimately, this intervention is necessary': State announces official TEA takeover of Houston ISD

The TEA takeover of the state's largest district was officially announced, but what does that mean for the future of HISD? Commissioner Mike Morath sat down with ABC13 to explain what to expect.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner has been vocal about disapproving the takeover. When speaking to the media after the announcement on Wednesday, he said the state handled everything poorly.

"This doesn't even make good sense. And if the focus is about the kids, then you tell me how this benefits the kids," Turner said. "TEA is selecting the board of managers. So who are they? Let me just say this. The state deserves an F on how they have handled the process up to this point. Just a flat out F. No community engagement, no engagement with the parents, no information being provided to the students, dropping this in the midst of spring break, creating a great deal of disruption, anxiety, and stress. The state deserves an F. So who takes them over?"

Turner emphasized that failings reported in the district in 2019 have significantly improved.

"They keep going back to 2019. But the status of HISD in 2019 is different than what it is four years later in 2023. Under this superintendent and this pretty much new board, significant progress has been made," Turner said. "Forty of your 50 schools that were in that D or F category are no more. Forty of the 50 are now in a much better status. The schools they keep referring to."

In 2019, HISD had 21 schools that received an F grade. This past August, for the first time in eight years, Wheatley High School, which was one of those F schools, had a passing grade.

"We asked them to do better and they have done better," Turner said. "You don't reward success by penalizing not just that school, but you're taking over 275 other schools as well."

Turner also claimed the TEA has already chosen someone from Dallas to become the new superintendent, replacing Millard House II. However, the state claims that decision has not yet been made.

"TEA has spoken with several individuals related to the superintendent position of Houston ISD to ensure the agency finds the best person to serve the students of Houston," the TEA said in a statement. "A final decision will be made at the same time a final decision is made on the individuals who will serve on the board of managers."

"They chose to make their announcement during spring break. Explain that to me. In the middle of spring break, when the kids, and the teachers, and the parents are resting up, getting themselves together, relaxing," Turner said. "And you're going to drop this news right in the middle of spring break? How insensitive can you be? And if your focus is on the kids, you tell me how this helps them right now? And you're dropping this right when they are getting ready to start taking exams."

Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis issued the following statement, echoing concerns voiced by Turner:

"I'm outraged by the state takeover of Houston ISD-the largest and most diverse school district in the state. This is a brazen power grab rooted in a dangerous ideology that threatens public education, local control and democracy in Texas."

Texas State Teachers Association President Ovidia Molina released the following statement:

"The Texas Education Agency's takeover of Houston ISD is an injustice to HISD students and educators, especially at a time when the locally elected board, its administrators and its teachers have been scoring marked improvements in student progress.

Since 2019, when TEA began taking steps toward the takeover, HISD voters have replaced board members who were accused of misconduct. Under new leadership, the hard work of students and educators has reduced the number of campuses with a D or an F rating from 50 to 10.

HISD's nearly 200,000 students, their parents and other taxpayers have a lot invested in HISD, including the futures of these children. To continue the district's progress, it is important for these parents and taxpayers to remain in control of their students' educations through their ability to keep electing school board members who will remain accountable to them.

They will lose that control when their elected board members are replaced with board members handpicked by the unelected state education commissioner. The commissioner is not responsible to HISD parents and taxpayers. He is responsible only to Gov. Greg Abbott, whose top education priority is taking millions of dollars in tax money from HISD and other public-school districts and transferring it to unregulated private schools.

Abbott is less interested in supporting HISD and other public schools than he is in privatizing them.

Another problem with the state takeover is the flawed law and state accountability system under which it has been ordered. Real progress in HISD is being disrupted because too many students failed to pass STAAR, a high-stakes standardized test that isn't - and never has been - an accurate measure of student progress."

The HISD Board of Education released the following statement:

"HISD has received official notice that the Texas Education Agency intends to replace Houston ISD's superintendent and elected trustees of the Board of Education with an appointed superintendent and board of managers in the next few months. The Board is reviewing this notice to determine next steps.

In the meantime, our great schools remain open and committed to providing a meaningful educational experience for all students. The District's top priority is, and will continue to be, student outcomes. The Board hopes that TEA has a clear and transparent process for this announced transition that is communicated to the community and the District.

The Board, in partnership with District Administration, will work with the Commissioner of Education to create a smooth transition for the sake of all HISD students, staff, and families."

Superintendent Millard House II issued the following statement:

"I stepped into my role understanding the obstacles we faced as a district including a looming TEA intervention. My team and I remained focused on building a framework that prioritized a high quality educational experience supported by world class talent for all students.

I am proud to say, in the last 19 months, we have already seen vast improvements. Because of the hard work of our students, teachers, and staff, we have lifted 40 of 50 schools off the D or F TEA accountability ratings list. Together, with our parents, community members and leaders, we developed the district's first comprehensive five-year strategic plan to build a better HISD.

Today's announcement does not discount the gains we have made district-wide. I am confident our educators and staff will continue to do the necessary work to ensure positive student outcomes at every level. For our students and families, it is education as usual, and the school year continues as normal. As we wrap up this school year, my focus will be on working with our Board of Trustees and the TEA to ensure a smooth transition without disruption to our core mission of providing an exceptional educational experience for all students."

While many disagree with the takeover, others trust the TEA takeover will be beneficial to the district. The Harris County GOP said HISD has to face the consequences.

Chairman Cindy Siegel issued the following statement:

"While this is an unfortunate situation, I fully support the TEA taking over HISD in June. When a student repeatedly fails, they have to face the consequences. For years, HISD has failed. In the face of sharp criticism and a looming takeover, the district made no substantial progress in improving the quality of education for its students. We have to draw the line somewhere; today, the TEA drew that line.

Students must come first, and the TEA stepping in is an important first step to getting the largest school district in Texas back on track."