Education News

Clear Creek ISD hitting ‘reset’ as district product named lone superintendent finalist

Karen Engle is set to succeed former Clear Creek ISD superintendent Eric Williams, whose tenure was marred by unfounded criticisms from parents and community members.

Karen Engle Clear Creek ISD
Clear Creek ISD
Karen Engle, seen during a recent meeting of the Clear Creek ISD board of trustees, has been named as the lone finalist for the district’s superintendent role.

Jay Cunningham has been closely involved with Clear Creek ISD – both during his seven years on the school board and nearly two decades as a parent to students in the Houston-area district. He said he's never come across incidents in which students there were indoctrinated by their teachers or administrators when it comes to philosophies regarding race or gender.

That did not prevent some other parents and community members from voicing their displeasure with former superintendent Eric Williams, who came under fire even before he started in the role early last year. Williams had come from a school district in suburban Washington, D.C., where there had been high-profile incidents of racism, which prompted some in the Clear Creek community to make assumptions about Williams and his vision for the district, according to Cunningham.

Cunningham, who for the last two years has served as Clear Creek ISD's board president, contends that unfounded criticisms about Williams – including the false claims he promoted "critical race theory" and the idea that students could use their preferred gender identity as the basis for choosing a restroom – had nothing to do with his announcement over the summer that he was retiring.

Still, a school district that serves the area surrounding NASA appears anxious to move past that period in its history. Clear Creek ISD recently named Karen Engle, a product of the district and longtime employee there, as its lone finalist to become the next superintendent.

"When we hired Dr. Williams and brought him in, whether it was fair to him or not, he might have brought some things with him, controversies with him, that people felt," Cunningham said. "I feel like (Engle will) be able to reset that."

Engle, a 1977 graduate of Clear Lake High School who later served as a teacher, principal and assistant superintendent in the district, came out of retirement when Williams announced his impending departure and has served as interim superintendent during the fall semester. She echoed the sentiment expressed by Cunningham, that criticisms of her predecessor were based on "nothing that we were engaged in or involved with at all."

Despite having worked directly under Williams before retiring, Engle said her tenure as interim superintendent has not been met with similar concerns by community members.

"Everybody's kind of pulling in the same direction and working toward student success," Engle said. "We will absolutely continue to do that."

Clear Creek ISD, which serves an area southeast of Houston, has about 40,000 students across 45 campuses. Its student population is 45 percent white, 32.7 percent Hispanic, 9.2 percent Asian and 7.9 percent African American, with 28 percent of all students categorized as economically disadvantaged.

The district has historically served children of NASA employees and partners with the agency on some of its curriculum, including in the fields of biotechnology and robotics, according to Engle.

Around the time Williams was hired away from the school district in Loudoun County, Virginia, late in 2020, someone identifying themselves as a Clear Creek community member started an online petition titled, "Say no to Eric Williams as CCISD Superintendent."

The petition, which garnered more than 1,600 signatures, claimed Williams supported books about LGBTQ+ issues, the equalization of school pass rates by Black, Hispanic and white students, and critical race theory, a historically college-level academic concept about racism's entrenchment in society.

Cunningham said Clear Creek ISD adopted a policy within the last two years stating it would not teach critical race theory.

"You're always going to have a faction that's going to believe what they want to believe," Cunningham said. "When we hear, ‘You're trying to indoctrinate our kids,' it couldn't be further from the truth."

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