What I Have Heard and Learned
During my first 100 days as superintendent, I sought as many opportunities as possible to hear from the community and learn about the current state and future aspirations for the district. I did this by visiting dozens of campuses across Houston’s many diverse communities to see firsthand the opportunities and challenges that our students, families, and staff are facing. I participated in focus groups and meetings with students, parents, teachers, and administrators to understand their experiences and hopes for the district. I also hosted 16 town halls across the city to get candid feedback regarding what is going well in the district and what needs to be improved. In addition, I met with community leaders spanning multiple sectors, including government, business, religion, and nonprofit, to hear their perspectives. Here are the main things I heard and learned from this broad engagement with the community:
- Parents, students, and the community highly prioritize and desire caring, effective, and engaging educators and support staff. The need to develop, recruit, and retain effective teachers, principals, and support staff was often cited as the most important thing we should focus on as a school district.
- There is a widespread desire and imperative to strengthen teaching and learning at all schools. The quality of teaching and learning varies greatly across the district, and differences in curriculum, testing, and classroom instruction are leading to inequitable academic outcomes, especially for children who attend more than one HISD campus during their school career.
- The community is very proud and supportive of its highly acclaimed schools and magnet programs, but there is a desire and a need for more high-performing schools and specialty programs, especially in underserved communities. Many parents and students expressed that while the district has very high-performing schools and specialty programs, there are areas throughout the city where they do not exist and where the only options that exist are chronically low-performing campuses.
- The district offers a wide portfolio of services and resources for students, but these are not always equitably distributed across schools. Student and family experience is very different across campuses and neighborhoods. This includes fundamental services like facilities, libraries, social and mental health services, fine arts education, extracurriculars, and access to advanced coursework.
- Many families who have children with exceptional needs are frustrated that the district has not lived up to its promise and obligation of providing their children with the services and supports necessary for them to thrive academically. Students with exceptional needs, including students with disabilities and English-language learners, are not realizing their full academic potential.
Some of the stories I heard from parents and students were uplifting and inspiring, while others were heartbreaking and difficult to hear. What I heard consistently and across the board, however, was a desire and a charge for us to do better for all HISD students and families.