For Superintendent Terry Grier it’s been a year most school districts only dream about. He spoke in front of hundreds of people at the Hilton Americas downtown.
“Frankly, it’s been a fabulous year and we have a lot to be thankful for. And I’m not just talking about the awards and recognition.”
He’s talking about awards like the national Broad Prize for the top urban school district and also a 30 million dollar grant from the U.S. Department of Education.
Grier says he wants to build on that success.
He’s planning on expanding programs, like a laptop for every high school student.
He also wants to start new initiatives. Those include more dual language schools, a new diversity program for staff and better transportation so that students who move homes a lot can stay in the same school.
But there are tough academic issues, like literacy. Board President Juliet Stipeche says that should be this year’s focus.
“Reliable data shows a severe and persistent literacy deficiency. In 2012, only 48 percent of our region’s students and only 38 percent of economically disadvantaged students were reading at a commended level in third grade.”
To fix that, Grier set a goal to have every student reading at grade level by the third grade.
But some see other problems. Gayle Fallon is with the Houston Federation of Teachers.
“Why are we treating teachers with so little respect systemically — no one person — just throughout the system from the board on down?”
Fallon says more teachers are retiring and leaving their jobs in the middle of the year because of the culture.
Another big issue right now is that HISD wants to close five schools. The idea has drawn a lot of community opposition. Grier didn’t mention it in his address. But afterward, he says those closings are still on track.
“It’s worth a conversation. Now the ultimate decision about what to do will be the board’s decision. But our board has a policy that requires my staff and I to look at attendance every year and come back and make recommendations to them.”
One man did try and have a conversation with the superintendent about the school closings after the address. Here’s Kofi Taharka with the National Black United Front.
“Well, why you are trying to close the schools then and not put all the resources in the schools that are necessary?”
“I hear you and I’ll have that conversation with you another day.”
“So there’s no answer for us?”
Another question facing the district is if there was cheating at two Houston elementary schools last year.
Grier says that investigation is wrapping up and a report on the cheating allegations is expected by the end of the month.