On March 30, TEA held the last of four meetings regarding the agency’s takeover of HISD. Parents, teachers, activists and concerned citizens met inside Kashmere Senior High School at 6:30 pm. The fourth meeting unfolded much like the last three: angry community members confronted the speaker directly, asking tough questions. Once again, the TEA spokesperson appeared wholly unprepared for the confrontations with fed-up community; and once again, the meeting was interrupted by the shouts of angry protesters.
The meeting opened with remarks by Dr. Doris Delaney, one of three conservators supporting HISD. (She’s a native Houstonian and graduate of Kashmere High School.) She asked those present to be respectful of speakers and fellow community members during the presentation.
But that wouldn’t happen. The audience wanted to hear from Mike Morath, the TEA Commissioner – not TEA Deputy Commissioner of Operations Alejandro Delgado. When Delaney introduced Delgado, audience members booed. He chose to forego his planned presentation about the board of managers and skipped right to questions.
Keith Downing, co-founder of wraparound services for the district, came to the mic. “This community feels misrepresented,” he said. “We have to assure if there is a board of managers coming in, our children in these communities get equitable funding. In fact, we need more funding.” (Wraparound services connect students and their families with resources that address social and behavioral needs.)
“So, the point of the matter is: we have to make sure that the proper services are in the schools to help our students. A scholarship should not be the exception; it should be the norm in our schools. That being said, are you assuring us that proper funding for wraparound services is not going to go away?” he asked Delgado. “Are you assuring us that proper funding will go into these schools?”
“I can assure that the board of managers and the superintendent are going to work towards proper funding for HISD schools, including, importantly, the wrap-around services that are available right now,” Delgado said. But before he could move to the next question, the meeting was interrupted by a man shouting from the seats. Wearing cornrows and a blue suit, the man approached the stage. He asked Delgado: “Why did your boss just run outta here? Where did he just go? He was just right there against the wall. Where is he going?”
“I don’t know,” Delgado said.
“No, you know!” the man yelled back. “Go get your man in charge! Go get your boss! You not in charge!”
Delgado tried to move to the next question. But the man demanded to hear from the boss, leading the crowd in chants of “Bring him out!” Then the man came forward and took the mic. He called out Delgado’s work history: “Your teaching history – you were the principal at all charter schools,” he said. “If you look up this guy’s history on LinkedIn, look up Deputy Commissioner Alejandro Delgado, look at this LinkedIn profile. You’re a UT graduate, a Georgetown graduate. You taught at all charter schools before you came here.”
A nearby woman also called him out on his record. “I have a question as a taxpayer. In reading your job description, I noticed that if you have ever been involved with a closed charter school, you’re disqualified. My question is: why aren’t you disqualified for being involved with an open charter school? Charter schools are competitors to HISD. Are you going to allow charter school people onto the board of managers?”
Delgado responded: “I believe they’ll be under consideration, if that’s what’s on the application.”
“Don’t you think that’s an obvious conflict of interest?” she asked. He answered: “It was an addition made to add it as a criteria.”
The woman was unimpressed: “I can tell you as a taxpayer, you are not addressing any ethical conflict of interest issues. This just seems like you’re going to hustle us out of a lot of money, and I’m very unhappy.”
She wasn’t the only one. Several people present vented their frustrations; community members argued that the district was making improvements and that TEA should have let HISD continue its progress on its own. One former HISD teacher asked Delgado: “What happened during the pandemic, when HISD came out of the pandemic with 94% of the schools [grading] A, B, and C? Did you think about what would happen if you allowed them to continue the progress they were making?”
“You know none of us. You know none of the schools. You know none of the students. You haven’t worked with them,” she said. “Nothing that you do could possibly make the progress that they’ve made, so what were you thinking?”
“Thank you, ma’am,” Delgado responded.
Arnetta Murray, special education teacher at West Briar, asked about HISD teachers, counselors and bus drivers: “Are they going to have a job? Everything that you say, it’s based on the board of managers but these people they’re working right now,” she said. “They’re struggling. And this is looming over our heads.”
“What are you going to do? Can you guarantee that our teachers, our bus drivers, our nurses, that our cafeteria workers will have a job after June 1st, when the new board comes?” Murray asked Delgado.
“That’s a great question. I understand your concern,” Delgado responded. “What I can guarantee is that the board of managers and the superintendent are going to be committed to making sure you are supported, you’re well-resourced and that you have jobs.”
“The lies. The lies!” the woman behind her yelled. “Our teachers are with those kids every day. They are with them more than their parents…and those kids aren’t getting what they need because y’all are too busy fighting amongst each other trying to see who’s going to get paid the most! I don’t care about your salary! I care about the fact that y’all came in and took a damn hostile takeover to HISD!” She added: “We’re talking about taking away the last five high schools that are owned by or named after historical black people!”
She wasn’t done. “You all go up to Austin, you sit on your butts, and you make decisions for our teachers!” she screamed. “You make decisions, and then when they want a raise, y’all have the audacity to give them one or two percent? When they’re with those kids from 6:30 in the morning to 6:00 in the evening?!? Those school bus drivers that have to drive those kids, they have to pick up extra hours just to make the money! Our HISD Police department who have to come in – don’t nobody talk about that,” she continued. “I’m 51 years old, and it ain’t nothing wrong with a public school. What’s wrong is that the teachers are underpaid and overworked!”
Later, around 7 pm, a Kashmere High School graduate asked: “Why did they send you and you can’t answer any of our questions?”
“I tried my best to answer questions,” he said.
“I understand that, but you are not who we need to talk with,” the Kashmere alum responded. She quoted Delgado’s remarks from the first TEA meeting. “This is not about the students, the teachers, not about the principal,” said Delgado at that meeting. “This is about the school board, and this is about a subset of schools and kids that have been chronically underperforming for years.” “You quoted, ‘this is not about the teachers, it’s not about the parents,’” she recalled. “Then what is it about?”
“So, I misspoke there, and I apologize,” Delgado responded.
“No. You didn’t,” the woman replied. “I want to know: what is this takeover about?”
“MONEY!” yelled some in the audience. One observer added: “They want to sell the HISD properties to real estate developers.”
“And if you can’t answer the question,” the woman told Delgado, “you need to go back to your boss and tell him we no longer want to talk to you. Not any disrespect to you. But we don’t want, nor do we need, to talk to you. We need answers, and we need them now, because these meetings that y’all are holding – you’re trying to pacify us, and we don’t need a pacifier,” she said to applause. “We need some answers out here. You need Greg Abbott. Get him out here.”
“And I have one more question for you: when did you guys decide to take over? ‘Cause it wasn’t last night. It wasn’t last month. Y’all been planning this. This been in the making. and then you want to say, ‘Oh, it’s because of one school. No. No, it’s not. Because if that was the case, you would have taken over a lot of schools here in Texas. And why haven’t you all taken control over the other schools?”
“I’m going to go ahead and sum all of this here up,” she concluded. “And what it all boils down to, it’s all about money. And ask your boss to come to the meeting.”
“Thank you ma’am,” Delgado responded. He did not answer any of her questions.
Next, a man asked him: “When all of this is said and done, with the board of members and all this and we get our campus back, when is the deadline? What’s the timeline for how long it will take for us to get HISD back to the community and the constituencies in this area?”
“So, after two years it will be considered,” Delgado answered. “We’ll have to look at the exit criteria but two years is the minimum amount of time.” The man asked what he meant by exit criteria. Delgado answered: 1) no more multi-year D&F schools; 2) improvement in delivery of special education practices for students; 3) continued improvements in governance and board systems and processes.
“I’m an HISD parent. I have a student with a disability, and she receives special education services in HISD. For the last couple of years I’ve been advocating for them with our elected school board, the people that we chose to run our school district, and some of them are here tonight. I have access to them. I’ve been able to meet with them to help advocate for students in the district. I’m very concerned about a new board of managers and what qualifications they would have for special education since that’s one of the priority areas of the takeover. What qualifications is the commissioner going to be looking for to the board of managers that is going to help solve the special education crisis, which has been going on for years?” a concerned parent asked.
“So first and foremost, we believe all kids can learn, and that includes special ed students who are receiving special education services,” Delgado said. “We’re looking for folks who represent the community from all over the city, who represent the diversity of economic racial, geographic diversity of this city…”
“All these blanket statements,” complained a woman in front of me. Eventually, Delgado concluded his spiel and admitted that board members won’t necessarily have to have special education knowledge or expertise to serve on the panel.
An HISD teacher confronted Delgado about the STARR standardized test and the standards for schools: “This is the first year that felt normal since the pandemic. And really, due to the incredible efforts of students and teachers, we’re finally getting our schools back to pre-pandemic levels. Including Wheatley High School. Everyone’s getting back to those levels. But the state of Texas has now imposed three new measures.
One, we’re doing the STARR 2.0! Can anyone explain this to me? Why we’re making the STARR exam more difficult – one, I’ll let you get to that in a second. Two, why is that the T-test for the teacher evaluation system? It’s stressing our teachers and our administrators out to the max. We’re having to do more walkthroughs than ever before, more meetings…Teachers are on anxiety medication,” he said. “And then, to make it worse, our ratings system has changed. We’re going to change the scale score on the career writing and reading section, which is taking schools out of a ‘B’ and putting them into a ‘D’ or failing. So looking at these new criteria, why is the state of Texas making these changes if it’s not to set up our schools to fail?”
“The goal is not to set up students to fail; the goal is to support school systems,” Delgado said amid groans from the audience. “We’re trying to raise the bar and expectations for students.”
“Why are you trying to raise the bar and we’re still barely out of the pandemic?” the teacher asked.
“Students fell behind and we’re trying to make sure that they catch up,” Delgado explained.
“By giving them an exam that you know in advance that they’re going to fail?”
“We don’t believe they’re going to fail,” Delgado said. He could not answer a question about the teacher evaluation system or whether some schools pilot the test. Nor could he effectively address an HISD teacher who warned of the academic impact of a TEA takeover:
“They are not with our children! We are. And when they come in, they’re going to focus on STAAR preparation, which gets rid of non-STAAR testing classes and programs. That means music. That means art. That means sports, and those are the programs that keep our kids sane. Those are the programs that keep our kids willing to keep going in math, science, English, social studies, languages and their other academic electives. So what is TEA going to do when they come in here to recognize the humanity of the children?” she asked. “What are you going to do to prevent our children from being robbed of their life-saving life-giving programs?”
“We don’t plan to get rid of any of that,” he said.
“You don’t plan to,” she retorted, “but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen, and we know that.”
“We don’t plan to get rid of that. That’s what makes school special. And thank you for everything you do,” Delgado said. Audience members voiced disapproval over what they saw as a glib, dismissive answer from Delgado. And the teacher took umbrage: “Believe me, it means more coming from the children,” she shot back.
“You’re not gonna play in her face like that,” quipped an audience member. “That man played all in her face.”
Delgado also struck out with a woman who asked about TEA’s “District of Innovation” program: “HB 1842 also brought with it ‘District of Innovation,’ which gives the districts that participate the same freedoms as charter schools – freedoms to circumvent state laws that protect students, teachers and parents’ rights including the right to a certified teacher,” she said. “HISD is one of the only districts in the state that isn’t a district of innovation because our district advisory committee voted it down because it could be brought before the school board. My question is, what does the law say about our district advisory committee? Is the board of managers going to try and bring in their own people and enforce uncertified teachers on our children?”
“I’m not a lawyer, so I don’t want to give you any legal answers,” Delgado told her. “What I will say is that the board of managers is going to be expected to keep up most if not all of the advisory committees that are currently running.”
“Will they be picking the district advisory committee?”
“I imagine so,” Delgado replied. “I can’t answer that, but I imagine they will be.”
That answer drew more derision from the audience. “We don’t need your imagination,” quipped someone in my section.
“What do you know?” one man yelled from the stands.
“This man doesn’t sound very knowledgeable when it comes to education,” the woman added. She wasn’t wrong. All night long, it was evident that Delgado had little to offer in the way of specifics or even direct answers to community questions. Instead, he was stuck trying to pacify an audience steaming with outrage. And the simmering tension towards Delgado boiled over when an HISD history teacher took the mic.
“I have a question for the puppetmaster: you,” she told Delgado. “I have two questions but I also have a comment. First of all, I’m a history teacher here in this district. And TEA right now reminds me of the Ku Klux Klan. So let me give you a little brief history of the Ku Klux Klan: they used to ride at night where they couldn’t be seen by people as they went and lynched black people throughout the South. What you did during spring break when you knew that teachers wouldn’t be there, students wouldn’t be there, and board members wouldn’t be there, you went and lynched our district. That’s what you did. So I just want you to know: I see you, and it’s time that y’all be called out for the BS. That’s number one.
“Number two: my question is, what are you going to do about teacher consultation? What are you going to do? Are you going to sit down with the teachers who actually are with the children day in and day out, and get our input on what’s going on? Because again it’s easy to make decisions from a glass house.”
“So our expectation is going to be–” Delgado began.
“No, I don’t want to hear your expectation,” the teacher interjected “I want to know what’s going on…So I’m hearing you say that teachers will have a seat at the table and I also need teachers who are also in these Title One schools [with] these black and brown children who are poor and they’re in poverty. We also deserve a seat at the table.
“And my last question is about the STAAR test. I don’t know if y’all know, but the state of Texas has spent $78 million yearly on the STAAR test. So are we going to be required to keep teaching STAAR? Because again, your measurements – since we talk about data so much in this district – it’s just saying there are certain goals that we have to measure, and of course that’s around testing. And you already know that in certain areas, our children are not meeting the standard. And the standard is white, by the way. That is the standard for your expectation. So what do you plan to do about that?”
“Thank you, ma’am,” Delgado responded. He did not answer her questions about the STAAR test or address teacher consultation. And he struggled to address the inquiries and anxieties of a community lit ablaze by the TEA takeover. Indeed, when the meeting ended (promptly at 7:30 pm), many residents left still upset, with more questions than answers.