The board of trustees for Texas’ largest school district called a press conference to backtrack on a surprise move made last week, the appointment of a new interim superintendent. The board announced their intention to vote on rescinding the hiring of a new interim superintendent and to reinstate their former administrator as the interim superintendent.

At last week’s school board meeting, the tense relationship between Houston Independent School District trustees was in full display. Accusations of fiscal irresponsibility, corruption, and racism persisted from taxpayers throughout the meeting.

The breakdown culminated with Trustee Diana Davila throwing a curveball, surprising the board with a motion to replace interim superintendent Dr. Grenita Lathan with former superintendent Abe Saavedra. After the motion was made, decorum of the crowd broke down with members of the public calling the move “shameful” and urging them not to vote on the measure. Ultimately the board did vote, and it passed 5-4.

HISD’s superintendents in recent years are as follows:

Abe Saavedra August 2004 – August 2009
Terry Grier August 2009 – March 2016
Ken Huewitt (interim) March 2016 – August 2016
Richard Carranza August 2016 – March 2018
Grenita Lathan (interim) March 2018 – October 2018
Abe Saavedra (interim – not confirmed) October 2018
Grenita Lathan (interim) October 2018

Fittingly, Davila opened the press conference by apologizing for her actions and the actions of the board over the last ten months. She followed by announcing the board’s intention to rescind the appointment of Saavedra and reinstate Lathan, which will be made official at a special board meeting later this week.

“This Thursday we will meet to consider the rescission of the board’s action last Thursday to appoint Dr. Abelardo Saavedra as interim superintendent. We will also consider the reinstatement of Dr. Grenita Lathan as interim superintendent of HISD,” Davila said. “We sincerely apologize to all of you and we’d like to thank you, Dr. Lathan, for the service you have committed to our district up to this point.”

Trustee Jolanda Jones spoke regarding a number of actions the board hopes to take in the coming weeks:

  • Consider a date for completion of superintendent search
  • Consider a resolution concerning reconciliation
  • Consider submission of request to the Texas Education Agency for a change of governance conservator
  • Consider hiring an executive coach for the board of trustees and superintendent
  • Consider policies on transparency, equity, and more team building

“We cannot change the past, but must learn from it,” said Jones. “We will work to improve our behavior as adults.”

Dr. Lathan also took time to address the board, saying, “There’s no doubt that these past few days have been a difficult time for this district…all of us, the community, district leadership, and our schools, must look to the future for the good of the students in our care.”

The board said they want to enhance transparency and regain public trust, but oddly they ended the press conference abruptly and refused to take any questions. Time will tell if their goals for increased transparency are earnest or merely talking points.

HISD has a long way to go to regain the respect of the community it serves. The district was given a pass from being taken over by the Texas Education Agency because of Harvey, but that threat still looms. In order to avoid takeover last year, HISD had to bring a number of campuses from “improvement required” to a passing grade. The TEA granted the district a disaster waiver, but they won’t have that same option this year.

HISD hasn’t had a permanent superintendent since March and the constant infighting, budgetary failures, accusations, and number of failing campuses do not create an alluring environment for a permanent administrator.

The board will meet on Thursday at its headquarters to make the rescission and reinstatement official.

Charles Blain

Charles Blain is the president of Urban Reform and Urban Reform Institute. A native of New Jersey, he is based in Houston and writes on municipal finance and other urban issues.


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