Before Deciding the Fate of Houston's Schools, You Need to Listen to Parents

Last week, 2019 state ratings showed three out of four Houston Independent School District (HISD) schools made gains on test scores and got off “Improvement Required” status. As a parent advocate in Houston, I’m on pins and needles awaiting the state’s next move.

State Sen. Paul Bettencourt encourages a state takeover to replace the dysfunctional HISD board. As a parent and community advocate, his eagerness seems wrong to me. Who eagerly endorses a state takeover? State takeovers in other Texas districts, like El Paso and Beaumont, haven’t shown outstanding results

Yet Wheatley High School failed to meet Texas academic standards for the seventh year in a row, which triggers one of two choices: closing the school or a state takeover of the district. According to HISD’s current board, Wheatley and other schools on “Improvement Required” status received extra resources, coaching and strategic planning. But what Houstonians really want to know is whether anything actually came of it. Every parent wants to know: Where did the money go? If funds were directed towards our failing schools, why haven’t these plans worked?

In the midst of these mixed emotions, one thing is clear: We understand the answer for better schools in Houston is complicated and the solutions will not be easy. 

A.J. Crabill, the Texas Education Authority’s Deputy Commissioner of Governance, recently called on the Houston community to give him our thoughts on what we want to see for the board of managers. Let’s ask ourselves these simple questions: 

  1. What is the process that should be used to create a pool of candidates for a board of managers?
  2. What is the criteria or system of measurement that should be used to select those individuals from that pool? 
  3. What series of actions should the appointed board take? 

Parents Are the Most Powerful Advocates

We need more parents engaged in this discussion. For example, one criterion could be appointing a native Houstonian who understands our district’s history and our students. We will need at least one member who can represent the values and visions of our community. How can a stranger walk into Houston and understand our students? How can an appointed board of managers help our schools improve if none of them are from our community? 

We need a team that will work together in raising academic standards across all HISD campuses and set budget priorities. We need a team that can address the urgent needs of schools that fail to meet academic standards and can bring them up to standards. We need a team that can not only prevent schools from falling below standards but also push schools to produce strong outcomes for all our kids.

We also need a team that is willing to look at partnerships with other organizations that can help those schools improve, including public charter schools. I started My Child, My Voice to help parents be better education consumers, whether their children attend school in HISD or elsewhere. I want all the parents I work with to know they can speak up and make a difference for education, no matter what schools their children attend.

Similarly, I urge the politicians and bureaucrats now deciding HISD’s next steps to welcome parental power, not fear it. My educational advocacy was inspired by just one child: my son. Today, I am passionate about supporting all children, [pullquote position="left"]because parents are the most powerful advocates for their children. Our schools were supposed to be designed for the good of children, yet for too long they have been failing our young people. It’s time for parents to work alongside system leaders to make change for the good of Houston’s children.

Wendy Gonzales-Neal is the wife of a Marine, the mother of four, the grandmother of two and the Founder and Executive Director of My Child My Voice in Houston, Texas. My Child My Voice, works to provide low-income parents with informational, financial and personal resources they need to choose, and actively participate in, the ...

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