Two months into the job, HISD’s new state-appointed school board has largely avoided the limelight since replacing the district’s elected trustees, making few extended comments in public and betraying no animosity within the group.
The harmony is a welcome contrast for some community members who had grown tired of the elected board’s in-fighting, which was sometimes aired in heated public arguments and grievances posted on social media.
But the collective silence has also prompted complaints about a lack of transparency and frustrated families pleading for board members to resist drastic changes pushed by Mike Miles, the district’s new, state-appointed superintendent. Miles is overhauling dozens of campuses, removing decision-making power from some principals and replacing employee evaluation tools, among numerous other plans.
“I know that there’s individuals that may want us to fight the superintendent at every instance, but that’s not what this board is about,” appointed board member Rolando Martinez said Wednesday.
“We know there’s gonna be moments where we disagree, but we’re going to disagree amicably. And so I think it’ll be different, in contrast to the previous board.”
Appointed board member Ric Campo said the low-profile approach through two months is strategic, allowing Miles to serve as the face of the district’s overhaul. Campo added that board members will ramp up their public appearances in the coming weeks, with “community listening session” dates throughout August and September soon to be announced.
But even when board members step more into the public eye, Campo expects a contrast in communication between the new board and elected trustees, who often opined freely about issues throughout the district. Campo said he makes clear to parents that he’s not their “advocate.”
“I get very granular in conversations I have with people, but I also make sure they understand that I’m not the conduit to get anything done at their school, ever,” Campo said. “I can’t listen to what a parent has to say and then intervene in the system on behalf of that parent. If I do that, then I’m totally under-treading the authority of the superintendent and his team.”
That approach, however, has led to criticism about openness and responsiveness.
Former HISD trustee Anne Sung, who served on the board from 2016 to 2022, pressed appointed board members Tuesday at a community meeting with Miles on why they aren’t using feedback to oppose several of the superintendent’s controversial plans — including the conversion of some libraries into discipline centers.
“So my question to you all is, when are you going to step up and represent the vision and the values of the community?” Sung said. “You come to these community meetings to tell your stories, they’re lovely stories, you sound like very nice people, but when are you gonna do the job of representing us?”
HISD families and advocates expecting strong pushback on Miles’ plans — at least in public — likely will be left disappointed.
Every board member has expressed support for Miles’ approach, with some describing their role as clearing the way for the superintendent. (Board members who obstruct Miles’ vision for HISD could get replaced by Morath.)
I don’t expect the Board to be oppositional or confrontational. I do think former Trustee Anne Sung has it right – they do need to represent the community, and they do need to, like, ask a question every now and then. If nobody ever pushes back on anything, then what’s even the point of having them? Plus, maybe if the members of the community who are showing up to voice their disagreement and concerns occasionally heard some of that from members of the Board, they might feel like those concerns are at least being listened to.
Of course, as that last paragraph notes, speaking up could mean that one is on the fast track to becoming an ex-Board member. Every other ISD has a Board of Trustees that has oversight for their Superintendent. In HISD, the Superintendent has that power over the Board, in that all he has to do is tell Mike Morath he doesn’t like what that one is saying. Again, I’m not saying anyone on the Board has to be reflexively disagreeable. I’m not even saying they have to disagree with any individual thing. I’m just saying they should have questions, even for things they approve of, and they should provide a voice for the parents and children and teachers and other stakeholders. Maybe that is still to come, I don’t know. It would be nice to see some evidence of it sooner rather than later.