in Houston, Texas
Houston ISD school board extends Superintendent Terry Grier's contract
Friday, Feb 10, 2012, 05:07PM CST
By Mike Cronin
TGrier

The Houston school board approved extending Superintendent Terry Grier’s contract during last night’s regular monthly meeting by a five-vote majority – the slimmest possible margin to pass the motion.

Grier’s contract terms stated that board members could vote to terminate the superintendent in December. Or, trustees could vote to extend his tenure.

Speaking for the majority, Trustee Harvin Moore made the motion to extend the superintendent’s contract through June 1, 2014.

“It’s important that we signal that Dr. Grier is on the right course, and that we stay on that course,” Moore said, explaining why he wanted to extend the superintendent’s contract at this juncture, rather than wait until closer to December.

Voting with Moore were trustees Greg Meyers, Paula Harris, Lawrence Marshall and Manuel Rodriguez Jr.


Trustee Anna Eastman was the only board member who voted against the extension. She praised the superintendent’s passion and said that though she wanted to be a part of the majority, she simply wasn’t there at this moment.

Eastman spoke about concerns that have remained with her since November 2010.

“I wanted to hear the same passion and zeal from the people on the ground,” Eastman said. “But I fear the culture of the (school-district) organization is struggling.”

Board President Mike Lunceford and trustees Juliet Stipeche and Rhonda Skillern-Jones abstained from the vote.

Grier became the Houston Independent School District superintendent on Sept. 11, 2009, after leading the San Diego public schools. He succeeded Abelardo Saavedra.

He is the highest-paid HISD employee, earning a $300,000 annual salary. HISD is the seventh-largest school district in the nation. It has a roughly $1.6 billion budget and educates about 203,000 students.

District data show that Grier did not meet HISD goals set for student achievement in 16 out of 24 categories, though he narrowly missed the mark in several.

The school board uses an evaluation form that consists of data measurements in categories such as the increase in student college readiness; recruiting and retaining the best teachers and principals; and improving the public support and confidence in HISD schools.

Grier earned about $69,000 in extra money last month due to performance bonuses built into his contract.

Grier’s extension is sure to set off fireworks among many HISD parents, teachers and school administrators. His two-year tenure has been a rocky one.

Some object to his intense focus on standardized tests to measure student progress and data-driven analyses to judge teacher and principal performance; a recent profile of Grier in Texas Monthly called him “the most hated man in Houston.”

But his fans say they support his efforts to improve the nation’s seventh-largest school system, where four out of five of the some 200,000 students are on free or reduced lunch programs -- and they support Grier’s broader goals of reform, even if he has rubbed some folks the wrong way.  

Grier’s board backers repeatedly spoke during last night’s meeting about HISD being “on the right track” under the superintendent’s leadership.

“The data tells the story,” Meyers said. “This superintendent has followed his charge. He’s put together a staff that’s doing what’s right for kids.”

Marshall, the longest-serving member with 15 years on the board, said he’s had the good fortune to work with 12 superintendents throughout his career.

“We’re proud to say that (Grier) is our superintendent,” Marshall said. “Dr. Grier has made a difference. Our role on this board of education is to make sure we get a return on our investment. The superintendent is that investment.”

Harris added that, though the data are important, so is the way people are being treated within HISD, and how the public perceives the district.

“Dr. Grier has surrounded himself with great people,” Harris said. “Yes, there’s always room for improvement, and we still have an open dialogue with the unions, parents and staff. People won’t always walk away happy, but we’ll always have an open dialogue because Dr. Grier demands it.”

Still, an August survey showed that district-parent dissatisfaction with the superintendent has increased under Grier. About 70 percent of parents said they were strongly or somewhat satisfied with the superintendent in 2007 when Saavedra was chief.

This year that number sunk to 58 percent. The feeling among the general population followed a similar track, falling to 47 percent this year from 57 percent in 2007.

And parents who believe HISD is strongly or somewhat on the right track plunged to 54 percent this year from 79 percent in 2009, showed a survey conducted by Creative Consumer Research based in Stafford, Texas. Among the general population, those numbers dropped to 44 percent from 58 percent.

Skillern-Jones repeated during the meeting what she said during campaign season: She would not weigh in on Grier’s future until she saw all the data. She said she still hasn’t received some of those data, despite requesting them from HISD staff.

“I don’t have the data, so I can’t make a decision,” Skillern-Jones said.

Board President Lunceford concluded the discussion before the vote by stating that the reason he couldn’t support Grier’s extension had nothing to do with the superintendent himself.

“There’s a reason we’re not a board of directors,” Lunceford said, who was elected to his four-year unpaid term in November 2009. “We’re trustees. We serve as a trust for the people. I have a problem with signing on (the superintendent) for a time period longer than I’ll be here for my constituents.”

***
Contact Mike Cronin at mike@texaswatchdog.org or 713-228-2850. Follow him on Twitter at @michaelccronin or @texaswatchdog.

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