Defeat isn't something Davetta Mills Daniels dwells on too much – even if it's been her companion on recent election days.
But Daniels, 59, has filed to run against Harris again for the District IV seat in the Houston Independent School District. The election is Nov. 8.
“It seems like vendors in the city are shaping HISD policy,” said Daniels, a 32-year veteran of K-12 schools. During her career, she was a principal, an assistant principal, a counselor and a social worker.
“It seems like the board and the district are cowing down to vendors,” said Daniels, who runs a Houston nonprofit organization, Millennium Makers, that mentors children to achieve their professional goals.
Current board members such as Harris and Larry Marshall have been embroiled in controversy in recent months. District documents show friends and acquaintances of theirs have done business with HISD.
“I'm surprised more people aren't angry,” Daniels said. “When I hear about the wheeling and dealing, I think, 'Is that what they're using the school district for?' I see a bully board. I see a lot of arrogance and greed.”
Daniels said she'd like to see the board have a moral compass, then follow it.
“I thought school board members should maintain a stellar image – these are the people we look up to,” she said.
Daniels retired in 2006 after serving for seven years as principal of Hartsfield Elementary School, near the Old Spanish Trail and the South Loop.
Three issues in particular have compelled her to run:
- School closures in District IV.
- The disappearance of vocational schools for students who want to learn a trade rather than go to a traditional four-year college.
- The reduction in the number of school counselors who do actual counseling rather than clerical work.
Two examples of school closures Daniels said didn't need to occur were Rhoads and Grimes elementary schools, which HISD shut down at the end of the last academic year. The school system said they they had too few students, and that enrollment was projected to continue to drop in coming years.
“There are a lot of African-Americans in District IV and District IX,” Daniels said. “It seems like we have more school closings than other districts. We need to stop closing our schools so kids don't feel like they have to move to go to a good school.”
Daniels said she'd like to bring vocational-technical schools back to HISD.
“Not every kid is college-bound,” she said. “Some want to learn a trade and become apprentices and journeymen. They want to learn the skills they would in a cosmetology or an auto-shop class.”
As a former counselor, Daniels believes that counselors are crucial in the school system.
“They're an integral part of school life,” she said. “We need more of them.”
Overall, however, Daniels simply wants to give voters a choice in the District IV election between Harris and herself.
“I won't be giving my buddies contracts,” she said. “That stuff has to go.”
Daniels said she wants to be an advocate for children and families.
“I’m running to be a voice for the powerless and the voiceless,” she said. “I want to make sure that schools across the board have equitable access and funding.”
Daniels holds a doctorate in education leadership from Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. She earned her bachelor's degree in sociology from Tennessee State University in Nashville. Daniels also earned her master's at Tennessee State in counseling guidance.
Harris, the incumbent and school-board president, 47, was elected in 2007. She became president of the school board in January. She is community affairs director for oilfield services giant Schlumberger. Harris graduated from Texas A&M University with a bachelor's degree in petroleum engineering.
During a 20-year career in the energy industry, Harris' positions have included field engineer, sales engineer and recruiting manager.
Harris authored the 2003 book For Sister: The Guide for Professional Black Women and a 2007 children’s book, When I Grow UP I Want to Be an Engineer.
Harris has won the Greater Houston Women’s Chamber of Commerce role model award and sits on the Texas Energy Planning Council. She also is a board member for Space Center Houston.
She and her husband, Dwayne, own DPM Investments. Her daughter attends an HISD school.
Harris is one of three HISD trustees up for re-election this year. The others are Juliet Stipeche and Manuel Rodriguez. Incumbent trustee Carol Mims Galloway is not seeking re-election this year.
Contact Mike Cronin at firstname.lastname@example.org or 713-228-2850. Follow him on Twitter at @michaelccronin or @texaswatchdog.
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Photo courtesy of Davetta Daniels.