Houston ISD Has Another Leadership Change This Year, after Contentious Board Meeting

News 88.7 interviews board trustees Diana Dávila and Wanda Adams about hiring former HISD superintendent Abelardo Saavedra as the search continues for a permanent one

The Houston Independent School District is bringing in a new interim superintendent. It's another leadership change this year for Texas' largest school district.

At a contentious meeting Thursday night, the school board voted 5-4 to replace Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan with former superintendent Abelardo Saavedra, while they are searching for a permanent one.

Former Superintendent Abelardo Saavedra will serve as Interim Superintendent for six months during the search for a permanent superintendent.

Saavedra was HISD's superintendent from 2004 to 2009, and has recently served as superintendent of South San Antonio ISD. HISD noted in a news release sent Friday that Saavedra “will not be a candidate for the permanent position.”

"It is nothing that has anything against Dr. Lathan, and the work that she does, and the work that she's done up to this point,” HISD Trustee Diana Davila told News 88.7. “We just want this to be a fair process for all candidates that are interested in coming down to Houston ISD." Davila said she welcomes Lathan to apply for the position.

Grenita Lathan was chosen as Interim Superintendent, after the departure of Superintendent Richard Carranza.

Lathan will resume her previous role of Chief Academic Officer on Monday.

The motion to replace Lathan was met with backlash from several board members.

“So, for me, I’m very confused, again, at the hypocrisy of it all,” said Board President Rhonda Skillern-Jones, amid yells from meeting attendees. “But, I do believe in being a president. We have a motion on the floor.”

Trustee Elizabeth Santos expressed frustration at the tone of recent meetings.

“This meeting tonight, everything has been chaos, month, after month, after month,” said Santos. “I can’t even listen to my colleagues speak. We can’t even have discussion on this.”

Lathan became interim superintendent after Richard Carranza left the district to lead the New York City Department of Education, earlier this year.

Interviews with two HISD trustees

News 88.7 interviewed board trustees Diana Dávila, who represents District VIII and proposed hiring Saavedra, and Wanda Adams, who represents District IX, about the hiring as the search continues for a permanent superintendent and they expressed totally opposite views, as reported by Houston Matters.

Adams said she felt “totally shocked, caught off guard and embarrassed for the district.” She added the motion to hire Saavedra “was pre-planned and pre-structured by five of the trustees” and meant disrespect for Lathan.

Dávila said that there was a “posting that was posted the day of the Agenda review about an interim superintendent, start date and end date, so we need to be clear about that.” “So, there was a posting,” the trustee added, “so there was an opportunity for the public to be able to come out and voice any opinions that had to do with the interim superintendent. There wasn’t a name on the posting.”

Dávila said that gave the board “an opportunity to be able to find an interim superintendent if we wanted to.”

Dávila also noted that she recently attended a meeting of the Texas Association of School Boards and she was told that HISD was going to limit the candidates applying for the superintendent opening if the district already had an employee serving on an interim status that was also going to apply for the position.

Dávila underscored she wants to make sure there is a national search for the position of superintendent where “nobody is gonna have the upper hand in it because they’re sitting interim superintendent of the district.”

Adams said the motion to hire Saavedra “was out of order.” “It was a personnel matter, it should have been discussed in closed session,” she added.

Adams also said she thinks hiring Saavedra has a racial rationale behind it because, given the fact that the majority of HISD students are Hispanic, some board members think the district should have a Hispanic leader.

“I think that’s a narrative that they’ve created because that’s not my position,” commented Dávila, while assuring that she makes decisions based on who is the best candidate for the superintendent position. “For some of them to be sitting there and saying that this is racially divided and that’s the way we cast votes, that is a flat out lie,” Dávila emphasized.

Dávila added she wants Lathan to be able to apply for the position as permanent superintendent without conflict of interest. “This is my fourth superintendent search,” she noted, “and, so, I have seen it happen where we’ve had interim superintendents that also decided to apply for the position and it did limit us on the pool.”

For Dávila, facilitating that HISD has a good pool of candidates from across the nation, means the district “needed to make sure that our interim superintendent was one that had no interest or desire to be superintendent of Houston ISD.”

Adams said that, in that scenario, Dávila should have discussed the option of replacing Lathan in closed session on Thursday night or last month, or express her concerns to the full board.

Houston Federation of Teachers reacts

Zeph Capo, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers (HFT) criticized the board’s decision and said in a statement that “the conduct of the HISD's board was nothing short of embarrassing and harmful.”

Capo added the HFT respects the board’s right to make final leadership decisions, “but the manner in which interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan was removed was not consistent with our values.”

The HFT president noted as well that “the board and district need to move forward in an accountable manner, given the very serious issues that need to be addressed, including the school district budget and recruiting a permanent superintendent.”

Mayor Turner’s reaction

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner also weighed in and said he believes the board’s decision was “a disappointing and destabilizing move that will harm the district’s school children and reputation.”

Below is a clip from the Houston ISD board meeting on October 11, 2018. You can also watch an archived video of the entire board meeting by clicking on this link.

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