Parents say new HISD board should prioritize dual language programs in first series of meetings

At the event attendees expressed concern regarding special education, dual-language programs and recently implemented reforms at the district’s New Education System schools.


Parents at the first meeting with HISD’s new board to discuss what the school district should prioritize.

Houston Independent School District's state-appointed board of managers held the first of this month's 10 community engagement meetings Tuesday night. At the event, which the district said is to allow community members to share their priorities for HISD, attendees expressed concern regarding special education, dual-language programs and recently implemented reforms at the district's New Education System schools.

The president of the board of managers, Audrey Momanaee, invited attendees to share their "vision and values" for the district, as the board seeks to set goals and constraints for HISD. Three members of the board of managers attended the event, including Momanaee, Ric Campo and Janette Garza Lindner. They will switch off with the other six managers at the remaining meetings.

Brooke Longoria is a parent of two children enrolled at a dual-language school in the district. She said the board needs to actively prioritize dual-language programs.

"The emergent bilingual population in HISD is 37 percent, and it needs to be a board priority to actively educate our English language learners," said Longoria. "Dual language is the research-based best practice for educating emergent bilingual students."

Dual-language programs involve 50 percent of instruction in English, and 50 percent of instruction in another language, commonly Spanish. Several studies have shown that dual-language programs increase English reading proficiency scores for both native English speakers as well as English learners.

At schools that are a part of state-appointed Superintendent Mike Miles's new education system, daily schedules are strictly regimented, with a heavy focus on English reading instruction. Longoria said she fears children will miss out on the benefits of dual-language education.

"Under Mike Miles, at NES-aligned and NES schools, dual-language is not being effectively implemented. It doesn't meet the criteria for 50 percent instruction in English and 50 percent instruction in Spanish and doesn't have that critical bi-literacy component," said Longoria. "Our emergent bilingual children will not reap the benefits of dual-language if they do not have an effective dual-language program."

Longoria said she spoke to each of the board members present at the meeting and felt they were mostly receptive. However, she said she felt her concerns were dismissed by board member Ric Campo.

"He said he was doubtful that Superintendent Miles is not following the research," said Longoria. "I encourage the board members to dig in at a board meeting and ask hard questions about dual language."

Other community members expressed concern with the implementation of the NES program, saying its rigidity is creating a stressful environment for students and teachers alike.

Nelva Williamson is a teacher and has grandkids in HISD. She said the NES model is being used as a one-size-fits-all approach, which she said will not work for all students, teachers and classrooms.

"Canned lesson plans, without being able to bring in the culture and color of your community, is detrimental. Not everyone can move forward in lock-step," said Williamson. "As a person who went to college for instruction and curriculum, I do not think this is a good model."

She said she was observed on the first day of school last week, though she does not teach at an NES school, and informed that instruction had to begin immediately. She also called the micromanaging of administrators "troubling."

"It's not all about instruction. It's also about looking at the whole child and building a culture in your classroom," said Williamson. "You want to create a culture of ‘My teacher cares for me.'"

She believes the new board's efforts are good-intentioned, but she feels they are disconnected from what really happens in a classroom.

Jessi Heiner is a member of the Shared Decision-Making Committee at Wainwright Elementary. She said, while she is hopeful the board of managers will take the community input into account, she fears its members are unwilling to disagree with Superintendent Mike Miles.

"I really just hope that the board will listen to the community and its concerns and actually vote accordingly," said Heiner. "We've been pleading with them to vote differently, and they've unanimously approved Miles to do anything he wants with every vote."

The board's next community engagement meeting is Sept. 6 at 6 p.m. at Deady Middle School.

Rebecca Noel

Rebecca Noel


Rebecca Noel is a daily reporter at Houston Public Media. She covers a wide range of topics, including state and local government, public health and the Texas electrical grid. Rebecca has also covered Houston-area school districts, including Houston ISD and Katy ISD, some of the largest in the state.Rebecca is...

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