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May 17th, 2023:

Does the TEA already have a new Superintendent in mind?

Mayor Turner thinks so, and wants the TEA to be more up front about its intentions.

Pressure is mounting on the Texas Education Agency to name the superintendent who will soon oversee the Houston Independent School District as the nearing takeover prompts growing speculation and calls for transparency.

Mayor Sylvester Turner took to social media over the weekend to call on the TEA to confirm or deny a widespread rumor circulating since March that the agency plans to appoint former Dallas ISD superintendent Mike Miles to replace Millard House II at the helm of HISD.

“I am hearing from people in Houston and Dallas that Mike Miles is the person,” he said in a statement. “The TEA Commissioner should confirm or deny. People within the district are making decisions based on what they are hearing. This process has been plagued by rumors from the beginning.”

A TEA spokesperson reiterated that the agency has made no decisions and plans to appoint a superintendent and board of managers no earlier than June 1.

Miles, who served as superintendent in Dallas from 2012 to 2015, is now the founder and CEO of Third Future Schools, a network of public charter schools serving 4,500 students in Colorado, Texas and Louisiana. He previously worked as superintendent at Harrison School District in Colorado Springs.

In recent blog posts and media appearances, Miles has spoken about the need for systemic change to the education system and a desire to prepare kids for the future workforce. His company believes in high expectations for children and educators, according to the website, along with accountability.

During his tenure in Dallas, Miles introduced several reform measures, including a new performance-based payment system for teachers and principals, and stirred some disruption and controversy due in part to his management style, the Dallas Morning News reported.

Miles did not respond to the Chronicle’s requests for comment on Monday.

Meanwhile, Turner said he has had no conversations with the TEA since March when it first announced state intervention in the district, a move that followed years of litigation and came in response to schools beset by chronic low academic achievement.

The mayor said the process has been “flawed and anti-democratic,” criticizing the state for providing little transparency to parents, school personnel and the press.

“The sole decision-making is in Austin and the stakeholders in HISD are being disregarded,” he said. “The state’s move to take over the largest school district in Texas comes with very little local input, no additional resources and no benchmarks by which it, the state, can be assessed and held accountable.”

If the TEA really does intend to name a new Superintendent on or just after June 1, then of course they’ve been talking to people and almost certainly have a final candidate in mind. HISD is a big district, this is a massive job that will come with a lot of scrutiny and even more skepticism (at best) from the community, and whoever it is will have to make arrangements in their lives to take the job. You know, like leave their current job and relocate to Houston. If they don’t have a finalist, then it’s understandable that they’d keep quiet about their search – it’s what HISD itself would do if they were the ones searching for a new Super – but once there is a single name, there’s no reason not to make it public. There are plenty of reasons to be concerned about the choice of Mike Miles, if that’s who it is, given how tumultuous his tenure was at DISD, but the process and the lack of transparency is at least as big a concern.

It’s important to remember here that none of the original conditions for the takeover still exist now, with the possible exception of the state of special education at HISD, which is something that the state doesn’t exactly shine at either. As such, any argument that what HISD needs is a clear-the-decks, change-everything visionary is at best debatable. One could say that this was Millard House’s remit when he was hired, but he won’t be allowed to follow through on it. Miles may have been the right person for DISD. I’m not really in a position to know. At least he was hired by the duly elected DISD trustees, who had to face the voters after they made that choice. There are some yellow flags here even without his current gig as a charter school guy, and we the stakeholders of HISD have no control over it. That’s a scary situation. And the TEA won’t even bother to tell us whether this is what we should be worrying about.

Meanwhile, another senior leader departs HISD ahead of the takeover.

Deputy Superintendent Rick Cruz will be leaving Houston ISD this summer for a new role in North Carolina, marking the latest departure among district Cabinet members as the state takeover nears.

Asheville City Schools has named Cruz as its new superintendent to oversee the 4,300-student school district, according to the district.

In his 15-year career at HISD, Cruz said he has been through many changes and worked under different leaders while climbing his way up from a teacher to a senior administrator. His departure is “not about the takeover,” he said. Rather, he decided earlier this year to pursue a superintendent role and was selected in January for a leadership program called Chiefs for Change that works to develop superintendents and state education leaders.

“My decision to start down that path started before the takeover announcement,” Cruz said. “It’s bittersweet because I love Houston, I love the Houston community… I’m proud of the progress that has been made. I will always have a very special place in my heart for Houston, but it is time for me to grow as a leader.”

Congrats to Rick Cruz on the promotion, which sounds like a great opportunity. I take him at his word when he says that decision wasn’t about the takeover, but I’m sure it was there in the background – how could it not be? However you look at it, even if we get the most status quo-focused appointed Superintendent and the most community-focused appointed Board, we’re still going to come back to a very different HISD than the one we started with. There’s no getting around that.

Tarrant County Dems seek Justice Department investigation of voting rights issues


Elected officials who represent Tarrant County’s minority communities have asked the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division to investigate County Judge Tim O’Hare and other county officials over concerns that their actions will diminish voting rights.

The letter, signed by Democratic U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey of Fort Worth and six other Democrats, cited the recent resignation of Elections Administrator Heider Garcia and the creation of an election integrity task force.

Veasey signed the letter with Tarrant County commissioners Alisa Simmons and Roy Brooks and state Reps. Nicole Collier, Ramon Romero, Chris Turner and Salman Bohjani.

They ask that the Justice Department review the actions and give them a written response about how the Civil Rights Division can end a pattern of “voter intimidation and harassment” in Tarrant County.

“As elected officials representing districts that are predominantly communities of color in Tarrant County, we are deeply concerned that recent actions by Tarrant County Judge Tim O’Hare and other county officials will further diminish the voting rights of those we represent and undermine their ability to freely and effectively participate in elections,” the letter states.

The rhetoric around voter fraud is eerily similar to the rhetoric used in the 1880s to justify laws meant to disenfranchise people of color, Veasey said in a phone call Tuesday afternoon.

He pointed to persistent rumors of Black voters engaging in so-called “voter fraud” at the Charles F. Griffin Subcourthouse on Miller Avenue in East Fort Worth. He said this is an old pattern of thought that seeks to demonize voters of color.

In Parker County, where a majority of voters typically support the Republican Party, it would be crazy to claim voter fraud because Democrats didn’t get more votes, Veasey said.

“Why is it acceptable to make those same outlandish claims about Black and Brown people in southeast Fort Worth?” Veasey said.

There’s a copy of the letter embedded in the story. Ginger ably covered the Heider Garcia situation in the April 21 Dispatches. Obviously I support this and I strongly suspect there will be much for the Justice Department to find, but let’s be clear about a few things. One, we really need a new federal Voting Rights Act to truly discourage racist local and state governments from this kind of chicanery. Two, we need to either rein in the rogue Supreme Court or put a fence around voting rights legislation so they can’t screw with it; both would be fine, too. And three, we need to elect better governments here in Texas, and there in Tarrant County. Of the three members of that “Election Integrity Commission”, the Sheriff is up for election in 2024; he ran a bit ahead of the pack in 2020, so he won’t be easy to dislodge unless Tarrant goes full-bore blue next year, but it’s doable. We’ll have to wait till 2026 for the other two, but knocking one of this unholy threesome out would surely send a message. Anyway, kudos to all for the initiative. I’ll keep an eye on this. The Fort Worth Report has more.

Houston’s violent crime rate drops in 2023

I have three things to say about this.

Mayor Sylvester Turner on Wednesday touted his crime initiative as the reason behind a double-digit year-to-year reduction in violent crime in the first quarter of 2023, but experts say the figures mirror wider national trends and warned it is premature to predict whether the downtrend will continue.

In a report to City Council, Police Chief Troy Finner said Houston experienced a 12 percent decrease in violent crime during the first three months of 2023, compared to the same period last year. The data continue the downward trend highlighted in the Houston Police Department’s January report, which showed a decline in violent crimes between 2021 and 2022.

From January to March, murders saw the largest year-to-year decline at 28 percent, dropping from 152 to 109. Other categories of violent crime also experienced decreases: reported rape by 6 percent, robbery by 10 percent, aggravated assault by 12 percent, kidnapping by 19 percent and human trafficking by 23 percent, according to HPD’s latest figures.

Turner attributed the improvements to the introduction of One Safe Houston, a $44 million initiative launched in early 2022 to tackle crime when the city’s murder rate was on the rise. The plan included additional funds for crime prevention activities, overtime for police patrols, as well as programs to assist domestic violence survivors and individuals experiencing mental health crises.

“I think what’s important to note is that this trend started after we instituted One Safe Houston,” Turner said. “One Safe Houston is working. And it’s now been in effect for more than one year, and the numbers are reflective (of its success). But we still have a lot of work to do.”

Finner said improved coordination with Harris County’s criminal justice system in recent months and more aggressive efforts by prosecutors at the U.S. Attorney’s Office also have contributed to the reduced crime rates.

New Orleans-based criminologist Jeff Asher said Houston’s numbers appear to align with broader national trends. The co-founder of AH Datalytics, a consulting firm that analyzes criminal justice data, Asher said a majority of the nearly 70 U.S. cities his company tracks have reported decreases in violent crime so far in 2023.

“The national trend has been a decline in murders and gun violence, so seeing the same thing in Houston is both encouraging and not surprising,” Asher said. “The likelihood is that it’s not small local things that are driving it, but, rather, national changes. But what those changes are exactly is challenging to ascertain at this point.”

1. The national trends are absolutely the main drivers of the drop in crime, just as they were the main drivers of the increase of the past couple of years. There are things that local governments can do to affect their crime rate, both positively and negatively. There are definitely ways in which we could improve how we collect and update and disburse and react to the national data, to help cities and states be more proactive and less reactive. Finally allowing the CDC to collect gun violence data so as to study it as the epidemic it is would help. But whatever we’ve been doing here, the national trends almost certainly have outweighed it.

2. It’s also important to remember that while the citywide trend is positive, the commission of crime is not uniform throughout the city, and so some areas may not only have crime rates that are higher than other parts of the city, they may also still be experiencing increases, or at least not experiencing decreases. A couple of Council members made this point in the story. How we deploy our resources is one way that we can bend the curve further.

3. Remember all those breathless Republican ads from the 2022 campaign about the unrelenting crimeapocalypse in Houston and how only they could do something about it? Yeah. ‘Nuff said.