No excuses: Evaluating HISD super Terry Grier's State of the Schools address
In his second annual State of the Schools address, HISD Superintendent Terry Grier said all the right things, vowing to improve low-performing schools, get tough on academics, and place competent teachers in every classroom. He also outlined additional goals, things we’d certainly love for all children, such as free SAT tests for juniors, more advanced placement classes and stronger leadership from principals.
After Grier lauded the same handful of schools on Thursday that garner praise year upon year, he waxed on the district-wide increases in student performance.
But what he didn’t do was brush aside HISD’s vast shortcomings. He said, “We are a school district that for years has had problems with schools that aren’t performing even at minimal levels. Some of our employees really aren’t aligned with our core beliefs and values about education. More than 70,000 students (of about 200,000 in the district) are not reading on grade level. Our graduation rate is too low, and our dropout rate is too high.”
Grier went on to say, “We may have to do more with less, but frankly we can't demand a no-excuses attitude from our students if we adults aren't willing to embrace that philosophy as well."
Nothing could be more true, Dr. Grier: That no-excuses culture is exactly what our public schools need. What we get, however, is a culture of nepotism, corruption and justifications. Unions fighting to keep lackadaisical teachers, administrators misusing money and bidding scandals galore. In fact, low performance and mismanagement have lead to state sanctions which could cut HISD’s operating budget by more than $300 million next year.
The prospect is devastating — but could this be the fodder that HISD needs to run a leaner, stronger business? To get rid of the low-hanging teachers, overlapping administrators and top heavy structure?
Last week the Houston Chronicle’s Ericka Mellon tweeted that “HISD has at least 89 teachers on continuing contracts — meaning they can’t be fired — that don’t have teaching assignments next year.” Mellon said the cost to keep employing those 89 teachers next year is $5.7 million. It’s only a fraction, but it's certainly a start.
It’s ironic that HISD, an organization designed to serve our city’s youth, is geared almost wholly toward adults. Decisions are made based on what the lobbies, teachers, administrators and parents want.
Until we make decisions based solely on what is best for the students, and the students alone — disregarding the loudly clanging outside voices — our public schools will never substantially improve.
Grier’s words convey his understanding. Let’s hope his actions reinforce his lofty goals. And no excuses, please.