Education News

Interim Houston ISD Superintendent Announces She’s Leaving The School District

Lathan has acted as interim superintendent for the state’s largest school district for the last three years, since the previous leader Richard Carranza left abruptly for New York City in March 2018.

HISD interim Superintendent Dr. Grenita Lathan joined Town Square with Ernie Manouse on Tuesday.

Updated 4:36 p.m. CT

HISD’s Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan has decided to move on from the state’s largest school district, ending three years at the helm of HISD that have seen one crisis after another.

Lathan, who called the decision bittersweet, has served Houston’s 200,000-plus students and staff for six years. She’ll start her new job as superintendent of the Springfield Public School District in Missouri in July. She’s agreed to stay on at HISD until the end of the school year.

“Our promise to our students, parents, staff and trustees is that I will continue to work as hard in my final weeks here in HISD as I’ve done over the past six years,” Lathan told reporters Monday. “I love this district and want to see the most orderly transition possible as we move forward.”

Lathan has acted as interim superintendent for the state’s largest school district since the previous leader, Richard Carranza, left abruptly for New York City in March 2018.

During her tenure, she’s had to deal with the district’s recovery from Hurricane Harvey, the global pandemic and its deep effects on public education, the recent winter storm crisis, and the threat of a state takeover because of long-struggling schools — a possibility that continues in the courts.

“It’s a blessing for you and a curse for us,” school board president Patricia Allen told Lathan Monday. “We’ll have to work a little harder to find our next superintendent. But we are proud of you. We are proud of the work and the countless hours you have given to the district.”

The state also investigated HISD’s special education services, which resulted in the installation of two state conservators in January.

Among her accomplishments, Lathan expanded mentoring programs for young men and women of color, brought a number of chronically failing schools up to state standards and expanded the International Baccalaureate program.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said that sometimes people don’t recognize what they have until it’s gone.

“She’s been serving, for example, quote-unquote, as an ‘interim superintendent’ during some of the most challenging times in the history of our city and the history of any school district anywhere in the country,” Turner said. “I think she’s done an exceptional job. I hate to see her go. I wish she was staying.”

The state also investigated HISD’s special education services, which resulted in the installation of two state conservators in January.

Some HISD board members tried to give Lathan the permanent job of superintendent last fall, but the board voted 6-3 to launch a national search instead. The board’s three Black members voted to keep Lathan at that time.

It was the second time the board passed over her leadership. Previously, in the fall of 2018, some HISD board members had tried to oust Lathan after coordinating secretly. Lathan was quickly reinstated, though her abrupt ouster triggered a state investigation into the district’s governance.

Dr. James Dixon, who is the president of the Houston branch of the NAACP, said he was “disappointed, disturbed and outraged” over Lathan’s departure.

“Even though she’s outperformed the stated expectations given her, this board, completely intent on having a Hispanic superintendent, chose not to offer her a permanent contract after three years of stupendous service to the district,” Dixon said.

Dixon said that race has played too much of a role in Lathan’s success as superintendent, when the district should have one goal: what’s best for students.

“It’s just literally amazing, and yet astounding, that a superintendent could perform at that level and be so disrespected and disregarded,” Dixon said. “And we believe, for sure, that this would not have been the case, except for the fact that she is an African American woman.”

Lathan told reporters Monday that she had initially considered applying for the permanent job at HISD. But various recruiters had contacted her even before the board decided to conduct a national search, she said. And when the hiring firm for the Springflied district reached out, Lathan decided it was time to move on.

“After conducting my research, I realized that that was where I needed to go and where I needed to be at this time in my life,” Lathan said.

Superintendent Grenita Lathan at Kashmere High School in 2019, when it received a passing grade from the state for the first time in years.

Given the board’s decision to recruit national candidates, Lathan’s departure sparked some surprise, but not complete shock among Houston’s school communities.

“I expected her to apply for the permanent position,” said HISD Trustee Judith Cruz. “I’m glad that she’s giving us ample notice to be able to work through the transition.”

Daniel Santos, who teaches middle school and is the executive vice president for the Houston Federation of Teachers, said that he appreciated how Lathan invited input from teachers on key issues, including compensation, professional evaluations and, most recently, health and safety issues.

“I hope that her replacement will continue practicing the same pattern of reaching out to teachers and support staff,” Santos said.

Meanwhile, HISD had already planned to kick off its search for a permanent leader this month. Virtual town halls and phone conferences are expected to be scheduled soon to gather community input.

Some parents welcomed what they see as a fresh start.

“This will give the board the opportunity to truly work together to find someone who will be a good fit for our district. It is a difficult job, but someone will rise to the challenge,” one parent, Heather Golden, wrote on Twitter.

High school freshman Alexavier Mendoza, 15, said that he had mixed feelings about Lathan leaving HISD.

“I was like 50-5o, I guess you can say,” Alexavier said.

On one hand, he said he felt some relief. He’s seen some of his teachers leave the district because of alleged bullying.

But, he added, she provided leadership during a turbulent period.

“I did feel, you know, a little worried because she was leading our school district during this TEA takeover and this pandemic,” he said. “So, for another superintendent to come in June or July and fill her role and get to know our district, it’s going to take a while to get adjusted to that.”

Lathan’s announcement Monday marks three years since HISD has had a permanent superintendent, and several community members say that lack of stability has taken its toll on the district.

Trustee Anne Sung said that’s been mitigated by the “strong, deep talent pool in Houston ISD.”

“It is difficult to be in an interim position. It is difficult for people working in the district, especially from the principal level on up, to not have a sense of permanency and to not know who’s going to be leading the district and their direction,” Sung said. “So I think that it has been a challenge, and I’m looking forward to completing our superintendent search.”

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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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