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Education News

A Closer Look At Former HISD Superintendent Terry Grier’s Legacy

The new superintendent will have to fix Houston’s failing schools – or the entire district could later face tough new penalties from the state.



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Terry B. Grier, Ed.D., Superintendent of Houston Independent School District
Terry B. Grier, Ed.D., Superintendent of Houston Independent School District

Most superintendents in large school districts stay on the job for less than three years. In Houston, Terry Grier lasted much longer than that — almost seven years — and he led a charge for aggressive change.

It’s a tenure that’s sure to leave a mark, but Grier declined to describe his own legacy.

“You know, that's for other people to decide,” he said in a recent exit interview. “Honestly, it's not for me and I've never looked at it from day one about legacy.”

So how would other people describe Grier’s administration? Here are some comments:

  • “Probably controversial. But any time you make change, there's controversy,” — Gayle Fallon, former president of the Houston Federation of Teachers
  • “It's like a whirlwind tour as far as trying to keep up with him because he's going to come up with another idea, another initiative to address something he saw in a school or throughout the population or something of that nature. So definitely whirlwind,” — Ken Huewitt, the new interim superintendent and former deputy superintendent and chief financial officer
  • “Just more opportunities for students. Some people don't have money to pay for college, universities and giving them the opportunity to go to some of these high schools where they have college classes and to be able to have their associate's degree by the time they graduate high school, it's very good support for the kids,” — Minerva Moreno, HISD parent and alumna
  • ” Definitely high expectations. He wanted to make sure that we were working with all students wherever that they were, to bring in the students from the margins and make sure that they were served in a fair and equal manner,” — Rene Sanchez, principal of Cesar E. Chavez High School, one of HISD’s largest campuses
  • “He's an innovator and there's always some new idea coming out of the bag. Obviously, we're going to have to do more because we do have the IR schools. IR is the acronym for ‘improvement required’ schools, which means schools that have not met state standard. But the challenge is going to be able to do more with $107 million dollars less,” — Rhonda Skillern-Jones, HISD board trustee

Now with that overview, let’s take a closer look at that last part. About 20 percent of Houston schools failed to meet state standards last year.

Some are the same schools Grier tried to turnaround with one of his innovative programs. It was called Apollo and brought longer days and extra tutoring to struggling campuses. It started with 20 schools and later expanded to more than 30.

“We've added an hour to the school day here, and so every ninth grader is tutored seventy minutes a day in math,” Grier explained back in 2013 as he showed off Apollo at Lee High School to then U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

Duncan left impressed.

“You can't just invest in the status quo,” Duncan told reporters then. “You have to be willing to make some tough changes, which I think Superintendent Grier has done an amazing job of.”

In some ways, Apollo was Grier's moonshot to transform urban education and symbolizes a lot about his tenure.

HISD poured more than $50 million into it, including private and federal money.

But it also stirred controversy. Here's Hany Khalil who used to teach at Lee.

“We learned, of course no surprise, that tutoring helps. But we've known that for a long time. We didn't have to fire half the teachers, get rid of administrators, increase the turnover at all these schools to figure out that tutoring works,” Khalil said in a previous interview, adding that the model also increased pressure to prepare students for standardized tests.

The final results from Apollo were mixed. Some campuses like Lee have shed their failing grade. Others have not.

And now HISD may cut funding for Apollo entirely because it has a major budget shortfall. Instead, all schools with high need students will get extra money and can decide how to spend it.

The new superintendent will have to fix Houston's failing schools — or the entire district could later face tough new penalties from the state.

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