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Exit Interviews with Outgoing HISD Administrators Reveal Culture of Fear

Outgoing top employees said they left because of a lack of trust, concern about the district’s future and instability and negativity from the school board.

This past spring, a slew of top administrators decided to leave or retire from the Houston Independent School District, including the chief of staff and deputy superintendent.

News 88.7 obtained exit interviews with about a dozen of those former employees, who describe a culture of fear, “nasty politics,” and retaliation.

The state conservator, Doris Delaney, who monitors Houston’s most troubled schools, interviewed half of the administrators and principals who’ve left between January and June 2018. Their tenure ranged from just under a year to over three decades.

Their reasons for leaving? They cited a lack of trust, concern about the district’s future and instability and negativity from the school board. Some former employees made comments like “I pray, literally, the Board will be taken over” and “Will TEA please step in and take over.”

HISD has been under pressure by the Texas Education Agency, or TEA, to improve chronically low-performing schools or face a potential state-appointed board of managers.

More than half of the outgoing employees said that they were either unsure or would not recommend Houston ISD to prospective employees.

“Just reading through these responses, the feeling is that people feel almost a sense of betrayal,” said Jon Taylor, who teaches political science at the University of St Thomas. Taylor said that the exit interviews reveal deep dysfunction.

“They talk about things such as their voices not being heard, about toxicity of the administration, about the turnover of administration, particularly at the highest levels,” Taylor said.

“There’s a gallows humor that’s in play, there’s a culture of fear, there’s a fear of not only losing their job, but of retaliation and demotion, a fear that you have a leadership group at the very top — the superintendent and the board — who are detached from the realities of the district.”

The Houston Independent School District declined to comment on the exit interviews.

 

 

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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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