As the largest public school system in Texas scrambles to fill teacher vacancies ahead of the start of classes in late August, employees in Houston ISD's Human Resources department have been told to work overtime without pay, to be available over weekends and to not make travel plans until September.
The mandate — first reported Thursday morning by the Houston Chronicle — came a week after state-appointed superintendent Mike Miles announced 672 layoffs and the closure of more than 2,300 vacant positions in the district's Central Office.
"I wouldn’t connect the dots with the vacancies in Central Office," Miles said Thursday evening, during a press conference after a family event at Sugar Grove Academy, adding that he hadn't seen the email asking employees to work overtime.
"I would just connect the dots that we have a sense of urgency, and that we’re working really hard to get ready for the start of the school year," he continued.
Sugar Grove and 84 other campuses are undergoing major changes next school year, Miles' first as superintendent in Houston. At 28 of those schools, all educators had to reapply for their jobs. Since the Texas Education Agency appointed Miles in June, he's enacted an ambitious set of reforms, including changes to lesson-planning and staffing models.
Miles declined to provide an exact figure for teacher vacancies on Thursday. Last week, he said the district had already filled more than 840 positions in the NES schools, leaving only 65 teacher vacancies on those campuses. There are hundreds of vacancies across the rest of the district.
"That doesn’t mean that they should work overtime or anything like that," Miles said on Thursday. "It that we’re going to do our jobs well. We’re going to have to work in different ways sometimes, just so that we move the system forward and get as prepared as possible for August 28."
He plans to expand the reform system to about 150 schools and to enact a district-wide "pay-for-performance model" for all educators by the 2025-26 school year.
The "New Education System" reforms have been criticized by local leaders since they were announced. Over the past week, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner asked Miles to reconsider the conversion of libraries into "team centers." The NES staffing model excludes librarians, and students who disrupt class will be placed in the "team center," where they will rejoin the class through a virtual connection. Miles said he expects the approach will lower the number of student suspensions and other disciplinary measures.
He will engage with community members three more times before classes start next month, with meetings on Saturday at West Briar Middle, Tuesday at Stevenson Middle and Wednesday at Attucks Middle.