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Ahead Of Board Vote, Houston Teachers Union Raises Questions About Proposed Charter Partner

The HISD administration has recommended the charter group, Energized for STEM, to take on the management, budgeting, curriculum and turnaround efforts for 10 HISD schools that haven’t met state standards in several years

James Douglas comments during a meeting of the Houston ISD Board of Trustees, January 14, 2016. Douglas is a board member for Energized for STEM, president of the Houston NAACP and former president of Texas Southern University.
James Douglas comments during a meeting of the Houston ISD Board of Trustees, January 14, 2016. Douglas is a board member for Energized for STEM, president of the Houston NAACP and former president of Texas Southern University.

As the Houston ISD board of trustees scrambles against a tight deadline to try and secure a partner for struggling schools at risk of closure, the Houston teachers union and other advocates are raising a host of concerns over the group.

Late Friday, the HISD administration revealed it was recommending Energized for STEM, a charter network authorized by HISD and operating four schools, to take on the management, budget, curriculum and turnaround efforts for 10 HISD schools that haven’t met state standards in several years. The HISD board will consider the proposal at a special meeting Tuesday.

Energized for STEM, which opened in 2008, is founded Lois Bullock, a former HISD employee and founder of another charter network, called Energized for Excellence. The two groups also share a board member.

Zeph Capo, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers, told reporters at a press conference Monday that the union’s concerns range from Energized’s financial dealings, how much it’s paying its head of schools Bullock, how it manages teachers, the quality of its staff and how it responds to parental concerns. He said that trustees deserve to know the answers to these questions before voting.

“I just find it really, really questionable — even if there is nothing wrong — that this is the best that we can do,” Capo said.

Capo shared some documents that indicate a related Energized charter school — not Energized for STEM — paid another entity also managed by Bullock over $1 million in rental payments.

News 88.7 talked with one of Energized for STEM’s board members, James Douglas. Douglas, who is a former president of Texas Southern University and president of Houston’s NAACP, also is a board member for a related charter, Energized for Excellence.

Douglas said that he can’t comment on all of the concerns without more details. Still, Douglas maintained the charter group has a great relationship with parents. And while not all of its teachers are certified, Douglas said that shouldn’t be a strike against them.

“Charter schools were asked to do something different … and now you’re saying there’s something wrong with being different,” Douglas said.

Douglas added that he doesn’t want to sit on the sidelines and criticize HISD when the students in these schools need help.

“Everybody is running from this because everybody realizes it is a tremendous task and nobody wants to take it on,” he added.

The stakes are very high. Under the law known as HB 1842, if these ten schools don’t improve these year, they could trigger sanctions — either closing down the schools or replacing HISD’s board of trustees with state-appointed managers. Trustees are trying to pursue this alternative under SB 1882, to hand over the schools to outside partners, which could include from a charter group, nonprofit, university or city.

HISD must send any partnership contracts and agreements to the Texas Education Agency by April 30.

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Laura Isensee

Laura Isensee

Education Reporter

Laura Isensee covers education for Houston Public Media, including K-12 and higher education. Previously, she was a staff reporter at The Miami Herald and contributed to South Florida’s NPR affiliate. Her work has also appeared in The Dallas Morning News, Reuters and Clarín in Argentina. Laura has won awards for...

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