Grier, 59, has been at the helm of the 135,000-student San Diego Unified School District since March 2008. He’s won support for his efforts to boost student achievement and curb dropouts, but his relationship with the teachers’ union and the labor-friendly school board has been rocky.
“Throughout his career Dr. Grier has built a strong reputation for innovation and school reform,” HISD school board President Larry Marshall said in a written statement. “The entire board was impressed with his innovative approach and passion to reform schools and improve student achievement.”
In Houston, Grier will face a larger district with a stubborn dropout problem and a board friendlier to some of his reform ideas, such as performance pay for teachers. The board’s announcement today marks the end of an intense five-month search cloaked in secrecy. The search, which cost taxpayers more than $100,000, intensified in recent weeks with the board interviewing about a dozen people behind closed doors.
Grier has the misfortune of being hired by a board in San Diego that underwent significant turnover after he signed his contract.
“It’s a different board than the board that hired him,” said San Diego board President Shelia Jackson. “I think he’s used to a board that kind of accepts what he says as gospel, and that’s not particularly true of this board.”
Grier could be walking into a similar situation in Houston, where five of nine school board positions will be on the November ballot. Some of those seats will be occupied by newcomers who won’t have been involved in Grier’s selection. Two incumbents — Natasha Kamrani and Dianne Johnson — have already announced they won’t seek re-election.
Grier’s supporters in San Diego acknowledge his rift with the board and the union, but they praise his leadership and focus on student achievement. Test scores released this week for San Diego rose to an all-time high, although it’s difficult to say how much of that is a result of Grier’s efforts during his short tenure, which covers just one full academic year.
Camille Zombro, president of the teachers’ union, the San Diego Education Association, said Grier has a “short-attention-span reform style.”
“I’m really sad for Houston,” Zombro said. “It’s not about the particular initiatives or programs he’s put into place or supported. It’s about who he is and his ineffectiveness as a manager.”
One of Grier’s more divisive ideas in San Diego mirrors an ongoing debate in Houston: whether to include student test score data in teachers’ evaluations.
Gayle Fallon, the Houston Federation of Teachers president, reserved judgment.
“I don’t know the man, and we give every superintendent a chance to establish his own relationship with us,” she said. “It’s up to a superintendent to determine whether they want a positive relationship or whether they want to fight.”
Like Gayle Fallon, I’ll reserve judgment for now. I think it’s a good move to hire someone who has had success in lowering dropout rates. If he can do that here, he’ll be a success pretty much no matter what. Hair Balls, School Zone, and Marc Campos have more.