HISD superintendent introduces 5-year plan to help district overcome challenges

HOUSTON – HISD Superintendent Millard House II has a glass-half-full approach to what Texas’ largest school district is up against: dwindling enrollment, low teacher retention, inconsistent resources among campuses, and a looming takeover by the Texas Education Agency, are just a few.  House, who took over as superintendent of schools last summer, said he understands the challenges, referring to fixing them as opportunities.

“It’s going to take some serious work.  It’s going to take some bold decision-making. It’s going to take money as well, it’s going to take cuts at the same time, but it’s necessary,” House said.

House outlined those necessities in what he’s called a strategic five-year plan for HISD.

House first presented his proposal to HISD’s Board of Trustees last month. It’s a six-point approach to addressing many of the school district’s systemic problems, beginning with re-establishing trust between HISD, students, teachers, parents, and other members of the community.

HISD Superintendent Millard House II discusses his 5-year plan

“HISD, unfortunately, has been in the limelight for wrong reasons on too many occasions – from FBI investigation to improprieties around how contracts are established, to a TEA potential takeover.  Those are all things that this community has to understand that we have taken the bull by the horns and really are focusing our efforts on doing what’s right for children,” House said.

House’s six-point proposal includes increasing teacher pay, centralizing curricula, and equalizing the playing field when it comes to providing access to a quality education.

“Unfortunately, HISD in the last 15 years has lost thousands of students.  We were a district of 215 thousand students.  We’re a district of 195 thousand students,” House said.

There isn’t one answer as to why there’s been a decline in enrollment, but House knows it’s his job to fix it – a job he entered last summer amidst a firestorm of controversies.

House acknowledged inconsistencies from school-to-school within HISD and how that creates barriers to students’ learning capabilities.

“We have to ensure that all of our neighborhood schools have exactly what they need, whether that be a counselor, a music teacher, wraparound specialist, art teacher.  We really developed a baseline experience that will be centralized in terms of the support in those allocations,” House said.

The five-year plan spans five years and includes overhauls in teacher recruitment, assessment, and pay.

House plans to start now by incentivizing current teachers to stay, while attracting new ones with a $500 sign-on bonus, in exchange for a three-year commitment beginning this spring.  Other pay incentives will follow over the course of the three years.

“Right now, HISD is either 11th or 12th out of twelve in the region in pretty much a majority of the pay areas for teachers and administrators,” House said.

Footing the bill proves another test.  House said his plan for that includes cuts and freezes to the current budget to free up cash.

“If things go as we think they can go, we’re looking at possibly realizing around a $60 million savings,” House said.

Other funding options are still being explored. While the Board of Trustees will have to approve a budget for the next fiscal year in June, House said funding for other parts of his strategic plan will be mapped out over time.

Bigger picture, a state takeover still lurks, but House describes his relationship with the TEA as positive – including reaction to his five-year plan.

“I can emphatically say that the relationship that we have with TEA has been a very positive relationship. I communicate with our commissioner on a consistent basis whether it’s through commissioner/superintendent calls that we have or just a Friday check-in,” House said.

About the Author:

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.