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Natasha Kamrani

Early voting set for HISD and HCC runoffs

Here’s the schedule and locations. Note that while the early vote period covers a week, from Wednesday, November 29 through Tuesday, December 5, there are only six days to vote, as there is no voting on Sunday the 3rd. Runoff Day itself is Saturday, December 9, which may be a bit complicated in my neck of the woods as that is also the date for Lights in the Heights. Won’t be the first time I’ll spend the better part of that evening refreshing the webpage on my laptop.

Anyway. For the most part, the regular early voting locations in HISD I and III and HCC 9 will be open, along with the Harris County Administration Building downtown and the Metropolitan Multi-Service Center on West Gray, because that’s where Heights people like to vote. If you’re not in one of those districts you’re off the hook thanks to there being no city races on the ballot. For the same reason, we can expect turnout to be pretty light. I can throw one number at you: In the 2005 runoff for HISD I, when there was an At Large Council race but not a Mayor’s race, Natasha Kamrani defeated Anne Flores Santiago with 3,026 total votes being cast. I’d draw the over/under line at that level, with fewer votes in HISD III and maybe about the same in HCC 9. Make your plan to vote if you’re in one of these districts, the EV period will begin and end before you know it.

Interview with Judith Cruz

Judith Cruz

Next week I will begin publishing interviews with statewide candidates. There’s one other race and a couple other items of interest to take care of before then. The race in question is for the open HISD Trustee seat in District VIII, which was vacated by Diana Davila in August. There are now five candidates in this race. The first one with whom I did an interview is Judith Cruz, a former classroom teacher who is now a stay at home mother. She has the support of former HISD Trustee Natasha Kamrani. Here’s the interview:

Download the MP3 file

You can find a list of all interviews for this cycle on the 2010 Elections page.

Evaluating teachers

This is sure to be contentious, but I think it’s the right direction.

Teachers in Houston ISD could lose their jobs for failing to improve student test scores under a controversial proposal slated for a school board vote Thursday.

HISD Superintendent Terry Grier’s plan to tie teachers’ job evaluations to their students’ progress on standardized tests would put Houston among a small but growing number of school districts pushing to make it easier to oust ineffective teachers.


Under the HISD proposal, teachers’ value-added marks would be included in their job appraisals starting next school year. The policy does not say how much weight would be given to the value-added data in the overall evaluation.

Teachers could lose their jobs based on the data. The proposal would allow HISD not to renew a teacher’s contract because of “insufficient academic growth as reflected by value-added scores.”


[Houston Federation of Teachers President Gayle Fallon] said her concern with the proposed changes center on its use of the value-added method, which she considers flawed, too complex and not transparent.

“If you’re going to fire me, it ought to be for something that I know how you calculate it,” she said. “You can’t show me this number predicts whether I’m a good teacher.”

I think the principle that poor teachers need to be, in the words of Trustee Paula Harris, professionally developed or out of the system, is reasonably uncontroversial. That said, it’s fair to be suspicious of the methodology used to determine which teachers fall into that category. As the Trib reminds us, the much-ballyhooed merit pay program was a bust. I don’t know what the best way to do this is – for all I know, this is as good as anything – but it’s imperative to get it right. I applaud Superintendent Grier for swinging for the fences, and I hope Fallon and her cohorts keep pushing him and the board to make this as fair and transparent as possible. I’ve posted a statement from the Texas chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, as well as an email from former Trustee Natasha Kamrani, beneath the fold.


Endorsement watch: Toyota endorses Eastman in HISD I

In the aftermath of the election, I had wondered whether candidates who didn’t make the runoff would be endorsing one of those who did. We all know about the Mayor’s race and the Controller’s race by now, but I was also curious about the HISD District I Trustee’s race, since that’s where I live. Via email from the Anna Eastman campaign, we have an answer:

Anna Eastman today received the endorsement of her former opponent, Linda Toyota in the HISD Trustee, District 1 race.

“It is important to have HISD Board members who are open minded and committed to continuing to move the District forward,” said Toyota. “Two-way communication with diverse constituents in the District, insuring accountabilities are in place and board governance through meaningful policies continues to be important to me. It is for these reasons I have decided to support Anna Eastman for our District I school board trustee.” She continued, “Your vote for Anna Eastman will insure that our schools will continue to improve and teachers can be recognized for their accomplishments.”

“Linda Toyota demonstrates a commitment to education and the children of Houston as evidenced by her campaign, community involvement and work history. I am proud to have her confidence and endorsement as I enter into this stage of the campaign,” said Eastman.

Anna Eastman has also been endorsed by:

Houston Business-Education Coalition
Houston Chronicle
Harris County Women’s Political Caucus

Eastman’s opponent, Alma Lara, has most of the Democratic establishment’s endorsements. That’s partly because she was in the race early on, well before Eastman got in and had the chance to compete for them, and partly because she too is a good, solid candidate. Unlike 2005, when the difference in quality between eventual winner Natasha Kamrani and her opponent was stark, you really can’t go wrong this year.

Endorsement watch: HISD Trustee

The Chron finishes up their work for this election by making its endorsements in the HISD Trustee races.

For HISD Trustee in District I, an open seat, we recommend Anna Eastman. As the president of the Travis Elementary PTA, Eastman was known for fighting hard for her school, and she’s likely to be just as persistent in attacking HISD’s dropout rate. As a former social worker, she understands the complex problems facing Houston’s least-privileged kids. She’s a strong proponent of school choice, magnet-school busing, and of holding HISD employees accountable for students’ performance.

For HISD Trustee in District V, also an open seat, we recommend Mike Lunceford, a petroleum engineer and member of HISD’s bond oversight committee. He notes that as a parent he’s seen the best that HISD has to offer — his daughter graduated from Bellaire with 42 hours of AP credits — but he states strongly that we must fix the system’s worst. Our “horrible” dropout rate, he says, can be mitigated with early-childhood programs and by assigning strong teachers to students when they begin to fall behind.

For HISD Trustee in District IX, we believe that Adrian Collins is the best choice. District IX is home to several of HISD’s most troubled schools. Incumbent Larry Marshall has served for more than a decade, but we believe that, for the sake of the district’s students, it’s time for change.

Once again, I’m pleased that they managed to get all this done before the start of Early Voting. That’s not how it had been in recent elections. I hope this is the new normal.

You can listen to my interview with Eastman here, my interview with Lunceford here, and of course my interview with Collins is just beneath this post. You can also find interviews with the other candidates in Districts I and V on my 2009 Election page. Today is also the day that the Chron has its overview of District I, which notes that Eastman is endorsed by outgoing Trustee Natasha Kamrani.

Kamrani pushed for the Houston Independent School District to more aggressively weed out weak teachers based, in part, on low student test scores — an idea that drew fighting words from HFT President Gayle Fallon.

Even before Kamrani announced she would not seek re-election, Fallon lent support to candidate Alma Lara, a retired HISD principal.


All three District I candidates said HISD should continue rewarding performance bonuses to top teachers based on student test scores, and they agreed that teachers who fall short need more training.

“If there is no change in students’ success, career adjustments and growth plans need to be in place and enforced,” Toyota said.

Eastman agreed that struggling teachers should be put on improvement plans.

“Kids only have one chance,” she said. “We must insist that we have teachers who can achieve academic growth in their classrooms.”

Lara said the district has a process for documenting poor-performing teachers, and it should use student data to improve teacher training.

I fully expect this race to go to a runoff, just as Kamrani won election in 2005 in a runoff. Just over 3,000 votes ultimately decided the winner in December. If you’re in District I, please pay attention to this race. Your vote really matters.

Interview with Alma Lara

Alma Lara

Alma Lara

Moving on to the HISD Trustee races, we start with Alma Lara, who is running for the open HISD Trustee seat in District I. Lara is retired after a 35-year career in HISD in which she was a teacher, principal at Ketelson Elementary School, and Parent Specialist in HISD’s North Central District and East Region. In addition to that, Lara has an extensive history of community involvement. Lara was a candidate in District I prior to Natasha Kamrani’s announcement that she was not running again. Please note that this interview was conducted just before the announcement that Terry Grier was going to be the next HISD Superintendent; subsequent interviews were done after that. Lara lives in the Melrose area.

Download the MP3 file


Karen Derr, At Large #1
Brad Bradford, At Large #4
Stephen Costello, At Large #1
Lane Lewis, District A
Lonnie Allsbrooks, At Large #1
Noel Freeman, At Large #4
Brenda Stardig, District A
Oliver Pennington, District G
Amy Peck, District A
Herman Litt, At Large #1
Natasha Kamrani, HISD Trustee in District I, not running for re-election
Alex Wathen, District A
Robert Kane, District F
Council Member Melissa Noriega, At Large #3
Jeff Downing, District A
Mike Laster, District F
Council Member Jolanda Jones, At Large #5
Mills Worsham, District G
Rick Rodriguez, At Large #1
Council Member Sue Lovell, At Large #2
Carlos Obando, At Large #5
Richard Sedita, District G
Jack Christie, At Large #5
Dexter Handy, District G
George Foulard, District G

Filing deadline

Today at 5 PM is the filing deadline for city elections. Martha has her usual roundup of who has filed. So far, the only bit of suspense is in the Mayor’s race, where Roy Morales has yet to do his paperwork. I presume he’s just taking his time, but you never know what can happen. And whatever does happen, be sure to come by Cafe Adobe at 5:30 to have a drink and talk about it.

Meanwhile, the only contested HISD Trustee race is in the District I seat that Natasha Kamrani is leaving open. Oddly, the open District V still has only one candidate. Mike Lunceford may be the luckiest guy of the cycle. We’ll know soon enough. Of interest to me since I brought it up yesterday is this:

On Monday, in his last day on the job, now-retired HISD Superintendent Abelardo Saavedra suggested in an interview that the structure of the Houston school board be changed so that four of the nine members are elected at-large by the entire community — rather than by a smaller geographic district.

In most Texas school districts, the board members are elected at-large, said Thompson and Kelly Frels, another longtime school attorney.

HISD’s system of single-member districts is the result of a 1975 state statute designed to increase minority representation specifically on the Houston school board, the attorneys said.

If Houston wanted to change to at-large board members, the Legislature would have to act and the Justice Department would have to sign off, Frels said.

The Dallas school board is set up similar to Houston’s, while Austin has a hybrid board, with two of the nine trustees elected at-large.

Laurie Bricker, a former HISD board member, said she agrees with Saavedra’s suggestion of a hybrid board.

“I think it would bring a nice blend,” Bricker said. “This is not a criticism of single-member district board members. But they have to be mindful. There is a group that elected them. They have special interests.”

I guess I figured that there would be a Justice Department issue. I’m still not sure what the allure of a hybrid system is, though.

One more thing: According to a sidebar on the story, this is the filing situation for the Houston Community College Board of Trustees:


Like HISD, the Houston Community College board election has drawn few candidates so far. The filing deadline is today. HCC board candidates as of Tuesday:

• District 3: Diane Olmos Guzman (incumbent), Mary Ann Perez

• District 6: Sandra Meyers

• District 8: No candidates

The District 6 incumbent is Mills Worsham, who as we know is running for City Council. The District 8 incumbent is Abel Davila, who I presume is running for re-election. I’m just curious, though: What happens if Davila somehow manages to screw up his filing (think Ray Jones), and no one else files? Anybody know the answer offhand?

Three candidates so far for HISD Trustee in District I

We know that Natasha Kamrani, the incumbent Trustee in HISD District I is not running for re-election. One candidate to replace her is Alma Lara, who was in the race before Kamrani announced that she was stepping down. According to School Zone, there are now three candidates for Trustee in District I, for which the filing deadline is also Wednesday, September 2 at 5 PM. One of the others is Linda Toyota, who is the Chief Development Officer for the YWCA of Greater Houston. The other is Anna Eastman, who sent out the following email about her candidacy over the weekend:

Dear Friends,

I have decided to run for HISD Board of Education Trustee for District 1. Incumbent Natasha Kamrani has announced that she will not be running again this fall. Each of you know my commitment to public schools in Houston and my fundamental belief that every child deserves the opportunity to receive an excellent public education. I have been proud to send my own children to HISD schools and have had the privilege of knowing many amazing teachers and faculty who are willing to work tirelessly for their students’ success.

I know that there is no magic bullet or quick and easy solution to the challenges inherent to a large urban district such as HISD, and I will commit to educate myself, listen to you and build alliances to make excellent, well-rounded public education a reality for all of our children. Those of you who have worked or interacted with me over the years know me to be transparent, sincere and passionate about the importance of public schools. While I always seek to build consensus in my various leadership roles in our neighborhood schools, I’ve never been afraid to take an unpopular stand when it was best for all children. I feel strongly that is essential to close the achievement gap, insist that every child functions at or above grade level and graduates college-ready.

Is there a sweeter sound than the laughter of recognition from your child who suddenly “gets it” while reading? All children deserve our best efforts to ensure that they get it, because they are receiving the best public education possible. Every parent should experience the full heart of knowing their children are getting our very best.

I am humbled and honored that so many have encouraged me to run and will look to you for guidance and input throughout this process. I would be deeply grateful if you can join me in this effort by making a donation to my campaign, hosting a coffee or gathering so that I can meet your neighbors and discuss my vision with you all and, most importantly, voting for me on Tuesday, November 3.

I met Eastman last week at an event for parents of new students at Travis Elementary after she contacted me to tell me she was running for the HISD board; she has kids at Travis and has been active in its PTA. she doesn’t have a website up yet but tells me she will have one up this week. In the meantime, you can see her Facebook page here. I will be publishing interviews with Lara and Eastman next week.

As for Toyota, I’d heard there was another candidate some time ago, but hadn’t heard anything more than that before now. I’ll try to track her down for an interview as well. For what it’s worth, one of the things I found while Googling around was that she made a $2300 contribution to Rudy Giuliani’s Presidential campaign last year. Eastman was an Obama donor and campaign volunteer. I didn’t find any contributions made by Lara, but she has received several endorsements from Democratic officials and groups.

Interview with Natasha Kamrani

Natasha KamraniI’ve been busy interviewing candidates for various offices, but today I’m going to step away from that and interview a current officeholder who will not be on the ballot this November. I’m talking about Natasha Kamrani, who last week announced that she will not seek a second term as HISD trustee in District I. That doesn’t mean she’s done working in education, however. We explored that subject as well as others relating to HISD and her time in office in one of the more interesting interviews I’ve done. Take a listen and see for yourself.

Download the MP3 file.


Karen Derr, At Large #1
Brad Bradford, At Large #4
Stephen Costello, At Large #1
Lane Lewis, District A
Lonnie Allsbrooks, At Large #1
Noel Freeman, At Large #4
Brenda Stardig, District A
Oliver Pennington, District G
Amy Peck, District A
Herman Litt, At Large #1

Kamrani not running for re-election as HISD trustee

There are now two open HISD Trustee seats up for election this fall as District I incumbent Natasha Kamrani announces that she will step down after this term.

HISD Trustee Natasha Kamrani, who is completing her first term on the school board, has confirmed to me that she will not be seeking re-election. “I feel like there’s a lot of opportunity to impact public education outside the board,” said Kamrani, the former Houston executive director of Teach for America who has ruffled the feathersof the Houston Federation of Teachers during her board tenure.

Alma Lara, the former principal of HISD’s Ketelsen Elementary, has filed to run for Kamrani’s District I seat. Lara has won the HFT’s support but not Kamrani’s. “There’s been some people who’ve expressed interest the seat, and I really hope they will get involved in the race,” Kamrani said. “We definitely need people who put the needs of children above special interests.”

Lara retired from HISD after 35 years in public education. Her campaign Web site highlights HISD’s dropout problem. “I hope to work with the school board to seek alternatives that will help students stay in school,” she says on her Web site. “It will take a collaborative effort with all stakeholders in the Houston community to find programs for creating a ‘Zero Tolerance’ culture to dropouts.”

As I said before, Kamrani is a friend of mine, and I’m sorry to see her depart. I think she did a lot of good work; if she was a feather-ruffler, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I’ll be doing an interview with her shortly – an exit interview, I suppose – in which we’ll discuss her tenure and what she plans to do next. I also look forward to meeting Ms. Lara and any other candidates for this seat.

HISD trustee fundraising

Yes! One more report on campaign fundraising, this time for HISD Trustees. These reports are online, but I didn’t know where to look for them. Fortunately, School Zone did, and that’s good because the July reports are still in paper form. Here’s what we’ve got:

District I – Natasha Kamrani (has not announced whether she’s running again)
Total contributions: $0
Total expenditures: $900
Money on hand: $10,774.32

District VI – Greg Meyers (seeking re-election)
Total contributions: $23,437.93
Total expenditures: $9,117.85
Money on hand: $17,159.30
Notable contributors: Bob Perry of Perry Homes ($5,000); Greg Meyers Campaign ($2,886.33); Darryl King of The Principle Partnership Group ($1,000); Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson law firm ($1,573.33 in-kind for printing and postage; $998.27 in-kind for event catering); Bracewell & Guiliani PAC ($1,000); Thompson & Horton law firm ($500); Andrews & Kurth PAC ($500), C.C. Lee of STOA Architects ($500); Mary Walker of Molina Walker Architects ($500); James Rice of Rice & Gardner Consultants ($500); Randle Richardson, CEO of Community Education Partners ($500); Perry Radoff, attorney ($500); Corbin Robertson Jr. of Quintana Minerals Corp. ($500); Jackie Wadsworth of Information Management Services ($500); Houston Federation of Teachers PAC ($250); Don McAdams, school board consultant and former HISD board member ($200); Warner Ervin, HISD south region superintendent ($100); Ray Reiner of the Houston Association of School Administrators ($100)

District V – Dianne Johnson (not seeking re-election)
Total contributions: $0
Total expenditures: $2,088.30
Money on hand: $12,430.06

District VII – Harvin Moore (plans to seek re-election)
Total contributions: $0
Total expenditures: $4,977.69
Money on hand: $49,369.17

District IX – Larry Marshall (seeking re-election)
Total contributions: $87,044.75
Total expenditures: $24,062.52
Money on hand: $62,982.23
Notable contributors: Aaron Glenn, former Texans football player and businessman ($5,000); Jason Medlock, business partner with Glenn ($5,000); Emma L. Bullock of Houston ($5,000); Simon Wiltz of Sugar Land ($5,000); Christus Powell of Houston ($5,000); Herbert Fain of Houston ($5,000); Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson law firm ($3,529.76 in in-kind contributions for mailings and catering); DeAndre Sam of Houston ($2,500); Joseph Johnston of Houston ($2,500); David Medford of Missouri City ($2,500); Eric Medford of Sugar Land ($2,500); Mourhaf Sabouni of Missouri City ($2,500); Sharon Medford of Missouri City ($2,500); Andrews & Kurth Texas PAC ($1,000); McConnell Jones Lanier & Murphy consultants ($1,000); Randle Richardson, CEO of CEP ($1,000); former state Rep. Borris Miles ($1,000); Bracewell & Guiliani Committee ($1,000); Perdue Brandon Fielder Collins & Mott law firm ($500); Thompson & Horton law firm ($500); Judge John Peavy ($250); Paula Arnold, former HISD board member and bond communications consultant ($250); Don McAdams, former HISD board member and board consultant ($250); Charles Foster of Foster Quan law firm ($250); Billy Reagan, former HISD superintendent ($200); C. C. Lee, architect ($200); Warner Ervin, HISD south region superintendent ($200); Richard Lindsay, HISD’s chief business officer ($100); Kelly Frels, attorney with Bracewell & Giuliani ($100); Judge Zinetta Burney ($75); Willie Burroughs, general manager of HISD’s bond program ($50)

As I said before, the first two races will be the most interesting. I look forward to seeing what District I challenger Alma Lara’s report looks like.

The HISD Trustee races

Most of the electoral action this fall will be for City of Houston races, but there are also five HISD Trustee seats on the ballot, one of which will be open. School Zone reports on the two races that will be the highest profile.

District I: Natasha Kamrani, who is wrapping up her first term, has not announced whether she will seek re-election. Expect word soon. Alma Lara, a former principal in HISD, is planning to run for Kamrani’s seat. She’s filed paperwork naming a campaign treasurer and has a Web site. Gayle Fallon, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers who had a public spat with Kamrani last year over holding bad teachers accountable, is praising Lara. “She’s a great principal,” Fallon told me. “We had a great relationship with her. I think she has a really good chance. She’s so wired into the community.” Fallon also supported Kamrani’s opponent four years ago.

District V: Dianne Johnson, elected in 2001, is not seeking re-election. “I think eight years is enough,” Johnson told me. “If that’s enough for the president, it ought to be enough time for a board member. It’s probably time to give other people other opportunities. It’s probably time for Dianne to look for other opportunities.” Michael Lunceford, a parent whose children have graduated from HISD, is running to replace her. No one else has filed paperwork yet.

Greg Meyers, Harvin Moore, and Larry Marshall are all running for re-election, and likely won’t face much of a challenge. I live in District I and am friends with Kamrani, but it’s fair to say her time in office has been rather tumultuous. That race will be one to watch whether or not she runs again. Be sure to read the comments on that School Zone post, as Gayle Fallon mixes it up with some of the usual anonymous gripers. As for Dianne Johnson’s to-be-open seat, I know nothing at this point about Michael Lunceford, and found nothing of use via Google. All I can say at this point is I’m sure there will be more candidates.