Whitmire’s approach to HISD

It’s on brand, I’ll say that.

Mayor John Whitmire

Mayor John Whitmire met Monday with Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath to reaffirm his support for Houston ISD’s appointed leadership, signaling a new approach from City Hall toward the state’s stewardship of the district as Whitmire begins his term as mayor.

Whitmire met with Morath to share “his views on the importance of HISD to the City of Houston and pledged that he and his new Education Advisor would assist the Houston Independent School District in any way possible,” according to mayor’s office spokesperson Mary Benton.

The mayor’s office did not divulge further details about the conversation, and said that Whitmire’s education adviser had not yet been named. The Texas Education Agency did not return a request for comment.

While Houston’s mayor has no formal authority over its school district, the relationship between mayor and superintendent has come under scrutiny as the city’s Democratic leaders have fought against the takeover of its school system by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott and his education commissioner, Morath. Morath, a former Dallas ISD trustee, is responsible for appointing former Dallas ISD Superintendent Mike Miles to HISD’s top post in June.

Former Mayor Sylvester Turner, a vocal supporter of former HISD Superintendent Millard House II, gave Miles the cold shoulder upon his arrival in Houston, regularly speaking out against Miles’ controversial reforms and ignoring an invitation to tour one of his New Education System schools, which underwent the most drastic overhauls.

Whitmire met with both Morath and Miles during his campaign for mayor and said he would lend whatever assistance was needed to Miles and his administration.

“The bottom line is the takeover has taken place, and it’s shameful to politicize that, politicize children’s education,” Whitmire said in November. “Let’s support the students, support the administration that has got the children’s best interests at heart, and go forward.”


Erin Baumgartner, director of the Houston Education Research Institute at Rice University’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research, said that it was fine for Whitmire to speak with Morath, but that ultimately, his relationship with Miles will be most important, given the localized control of Texas school districts.

Students’ and families’ needs go “beyond what a school district can offer,” Baumgartner said, and the mayor has the power to leverage resources toward transportation, public safety and social services in a way that improves their ability to receive a quality education.

“It’s really about the City of Houston recognizing HISD as a resource in our community and supporting the students that are in it,” Baumgartner said.

Robert Sanborn, president and CEO of the education policy nonprofit Children at Risk, said that Whitmire’s pragmatic approach toward relations with the TEA and the HISD leaders they appointed is a healthy step in the right direction for Houston children, but that Whitmire’s ultimate goal should be to expedite HISD’s return to local control.

“When you see Mayor Whitmire reaching out to them, it’s going to make a lot of people angry but it’s also the reality of what is happening, and to just abandon (HISD) and say ‘we don’t want them here so I’m not going to meet with them’ is probably not the right move,” Sanborn said. “However, the mayor’s clear message needs to be ‘let’s move it along, let’s stop with the takeover and move to get our own superintendent and our own board in there.'”

Whitmire told the Chronicle in November that his goal was to “make it work as best as we can and then get ’em out of town.”

I think we’re all familiar with the pros and cons of this approach. Maybe it’ll work, maybe he’ll get played. It’s too soon to say. At least in this case, as long as the Mayor keeps that focus on getting Mike Miles out of town, it should keep him pointed in the right direction. Beyond that, we’ll see.

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