Professional. Gracious. Proven. Leader.
These are just a few of the words to describe Dr. Grenita Lathan – the, now, outgoing Houston ISD Superintendent – who suffered countless bouts of disrespect and seemingly racially-motivated decision making at the hands of a majority group of HISD Board members who refused to remove the “Interim” tag from her title since she took the job in March 2018.
Instead of hiring a proven leader, in Dr. Lathan, HISD trustees have allowed one of the best superintendents in the history of HISD to be snatched away from the district to go to an entirely different state to become a PERMANENT school superintendent.
After conducting a nationwide search for its next superintendent, the Springfield Public Schools (SPS) Board of Education announced this past Monday morning that they had unanimously decided on selecting Dr. Lathan as their top choice that emerged out of 40 candidates.
In a news release, SPS Board President Dr. Alina Lehnert indicated that Dr. Lathan’s experience was an overwhelming factor that impressed the board.
“Dr. Lathan’s 30-year career in education demonstrates a proven track record of enhancing public education with an unwavering commitment to all students and educators,” said Lehnert. “The nationwide search generated a high level of interest from many strong candidates, and the board used the feedback from more than 6,000 SPS constituents to evaluate each applicant. We are in unanimous agreement that Dr. Lathan is the most qualified to lead our district. We look forward to welcoming her to SPS and providing our full support.”
In choosing to hire Dr. Lathan, she becomes just the first woman and first person of color to serve in the role as superintendent of SPS. Springfield Public Schools serves about 23,500 students in southwestern Missouri and according to Dr. Lathan, she was contacted by recruiters representing SPS before HISD Trustees even decided to open up the HISD position for a nationwide search.
According to a press release from SPS, the nationwide search to replace their retiring superintendent, Dr. John Jungmann, was conducted by GR Recruiting, an executive search firm specializing in education. Dr. Jungmann announced in September that he would be retiring after serving as superintendent for seven years. His final day will be August 31.
Dr. Lathan will start her new job as superintendent of SPS on July 1, with a starting salary for the 2021-22 school year of $300,000.
In the interim (no pun intended), following Spring Break, Dr. Lathan will participate in a series of virtual meetings to introduce herself and share more about her background and approach to leadership. Later in the spring, she will visit Springfield, where in-person engagements will be scheduled.
“I am honored to join Springfield Public Schools and work with the incredible SPS team to build upon the success of Missouri’s largest school district,” said Dr. Lathan. “During my career, I have focused on improving academic outcomes for all students and I believe great things are ahead for SPS. I will be visiting Springfield this Spring to introduce myself and meet the wonderful people who call this special place home. I look forward to being an active part of this community.”
This is a HUGE loss for HISD, but a great and well-deserved opportunity for Dr. Lathan, who definitely earned her stripes, as well as an opportunity to be a permanent superintendent.
Dr. Lathan has indicated that she will continue her work as the “Interim” superintendent of HISD until the end of the 2020-2021 school year, and then she will officially focus on her primary role as SPS superintendent.
As she has done since taking the reins as the top brass of HISD, Dr. Lathan is departing as graciously as she has dealt with the internal and external drama she has had to endure.
“It’s a bittersweet moment as I accept an opportunity to make a positive impact in the Springfield (Missouri) Public School District, while bidding farewell to one of the most remarkable school districts in the country,” said Dr. Lathan in a statement announcing her departure from HISD. “The students, teachers, principals, staff, parents, and community of HISD are close to my heart, and I leave knowing that they are resilient and stronger together. Their light will keep shining through, and they will continue to be known for their innovation and success. I am beyond honored and thankful for this amazing opportunity, and I thank HISD for all the lessons learned, the success of our students, and the commitment of our staff. It has been more than six years that I have worked shoulder to shoulder with our principals, administrators, and teachers to get dozens of schools out of improvement required status and help our students reach their full potential.”
Dr. Lathan joined HISD in 2015 as Chief School Officer for Elementary Transformation Schools, later transitioning to Chief Academic Officer before serving as “Interim” Superintendent for the district. She led more than 20 schools out of an “improvement required” state rating to a “met standard” designation. She was elevated to chief academic officer for the 2016-2017 school year before being named interim superintendent in March 2018 after the unexpected departure of Richard Carranza, who left to become chancellor of the New York City public school system.
Dr. Lathan’s other leadership experience includes five years as Superintendent of Peoria Public Schools in Illinois, as well as two years with the San Diego Unified School District in California as Chief Elementary School Improvement Officer and Interim Deputy Superintendent. Her career in education began as a high school teacher in North Carolina, where she later served as principal. Dr. Lathan holds a bachelor’s degree from North Carolina A&T State University, a master’s degree from the University of North Carolina and a doctorate from Southern Illinois University. She is also a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.
HISD Board President Dr. Patricia Allen, who has been supportive of Dr. Lathan and critical of the actions of the majority of her HISD Board colleagues regarding Dr. Lathan, thanked her for her service and wished her well on her next endeavor through a media statement.
“As president of the HISD Board of Education, I would like to thank Dr. Lathan for her many years of service to the students of the Houston Independent School District – especially for her leadership as interim superintendent since March 2018,” said Dr. Allen. “From moving numerous HISD campuses out of improvement required status to her strong leadership during several major weather events and a global pandemic, she has truly been a beacon for our students, staff, and families. We wish her well.”
Dr. Lathan leaves behind HISD, the seventh largest school district in the nation and largest school district in Texas, where she had oversight of 276 schools and 27,000 employees and served 196,000 students. She also leaves behind a success story of leading and a three-year track record of navigating the district through hurricanes, floods, a potential state takeover, countless investigations, a raging COVID-19 pandemic, and, most recently, an unrelenting winter storm.
Of course, the Houston Forward Times reported back in November 2020 how HISD Trustees voted along racial lines to launch a national search to find a permanent superintendent, despite Dr. Lathan helping the district navigate unprecedented challenges for over 3 years.
Now, all eyes turn to the HISD Board of Trustees to see who they plan to select as their next superintendent. It is important that the community pay close attention to who that selection will be, to ensure that the same issues that plagued traditional African American schools and African American students, don’t rear their ugly head again under the next leader of the district.
Addressing the systematic issues surrounding school closures, disciplinary issues, educational gaps, a lack of equitable resources, and many other issues that impacted Black children, had been an issue under former superintendent Terry Grier and after his departure seemed to turn a corner for the better under Dr. Lathan.
The community will definitely be watching and will assuredly not tolerate any actions or decisions from the HISD Board of Trustees or their next superintendent that will adversely impact Black students and the schools they attend, in any shape, form or fashion.
All eyes are on HISD…Stay vigilant!