HISD’s new superintendent outlines goals for his first three months, overcoming learning declines due to pandemic

HOUSTON – The Houston Independent School District’s new superintendent outlined goals for his first three months at the helm of the school district Wednesday, prioritizing a full return to in-person instruction as the key to overcoming learning declines attributed to the pandemic.

Millard House II addressed reporters after a tour of Sugar Grove Academy, located at the 8400 block of Bonhomme Rd. in southwest Houston.

“It’s easy to think of a child not doing what they’re supposed to be doing,” House said. “But we also don’t know what goes on in a child’s life, whether it’s them not having electricity, whether it’s not having the food they need, those are the things that we are bringing to the school to support our students from a social and emotional standpoint.”

The support is needed, as HISD starts a new chapter with House, whose first day on the job was Monday. 

His tour of Sugar Grove Academy came as students enrolled in summer school wind down their special session. HISD confirmed 58,000 students were enrolled in summer school this summer. Many of those students are working to make up for what COVID-19 may have left behind. Roughly half of the students enrolled last school year attended classes virtually. House said that created inconsistencies in an already challenged school district.

“The catching up and the loss of learning that we’ve seen, it won’t happen in one summer. It’s gonna be a progression,” House said.

That progression, according to House, will include summer sessions through 2023, along with assessments that will take place in the classroom.

“There’s a lot of assessments and there’s lots of conversations out there, as well, about too much assessment, but there has to be a level of assessment that happens whether it’s with STARR, whether it’s in the classroom, whether it’s state assessment, to ensure that we’re giving kids exactly what they need so we have that baseline,” House said.

The number of students failing to meet grade-level went up statewide across all grade levels and nearly all subject areas, according to results of the Spring 2021 STAAR test. In HISD, 41% of students failed to meet standards in reading in 2021 compared to 32.5% in 2019 when the STAAR test was last administered before the COVID-19 pandemic.

In math, the number of students failing to meet standards nearly doubled, from 27.5% in 2019 to 52.3% in 2021.

READ: How local school districts measured in testing after dramatic drop in STAAR test scores

House said a return to 100% in-school instruction is key to seeing improvement.

“We’ve got to have a ground-level look of exactly where our kids are.”

As for the concern of the potential spread of COVID-19, once in-person learning fully returns, House said HISD will maintain mitigation efforts. House also said scientific data confirmed schools are safe for a full house.

“I think the data will speak for itself in how safe of an environment it will be in HISD,” he said.

House encouraged those who have not been vaccinated, yet qualify, to get a shot. However, don’t look for that encouragement to become a requirement anytime soon, if House has anything to do with it.

“I don’t think we live in an environment in this country where we should require anything from a health and safety standpoint.  It would be a dark day in my opinion if that requirement, not just with vaccines, but anything from a health-related standpoint. That’s not something that I would push as superintendent and I would venture to think that health officials would be very careful about that, as well.”

The new school year starts on Aug. 23.

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Emmy and Edward R. Murrow award-winning journalist. NOLA born and bred, though #HoustonStrong, with stops in Minnesota, New York, Massachusetts, and Connecticut in along the way.