At the start of the first meeting of every new year, the Houston Independent School District (HISD) Board of Education begins that meeting with the election of a new president and other officers who are selected to serve in those positions during the calendar year.
At the recent board meeting to kick off the 2017 calendar year, the HISD Board of Education voted unanimously to name Trustee Wanda Adams (District IX) the new board president and four other minority female trustees to comprise the remaining Board of Education officers.
In addition to Adams being elected board president, the rest of the all-female group for 2017 are Diana Dávila (District VIII), first vice president; Jolanda Jones (District IV), second vice president; Rhonda Skillern-Jones (District II), secretary; and Anne Sung (District VII), assistant secretary.
Let’s get to know these women who make up this 2017 all-female group of HISD board officers.
Adams was elected to the HISD Board of Education in 2013 after serving the limit of three two-year terms as Houston City Council Member for District D. Adams is a native Houstonian and a graduate from Kashmere High School. She received an athletic scholarship to Texas Southern University, where she earned her bachelor of science degree in public affairs and a master’s degree in public administration.
Dávila was elected to the Board of Education in 2015, after having previously served on the board from 2003 to 2010. A former teacher, Dávila is a native Houstonian and a graduate from Milby High School. She attended the University of Houston, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies with an emphasis on bilingual education, and also earned a master’s degree in educational management and principal certification from University of Houston-Clear Lake.
Jones was elected to the Board of Education in November 2015 after having served for four years as an At-Large Houston City Council Member. Jones is a native Houstonian and a graduate from Alief Elsik High School, where she finished magna cum laude and was an All-American athlete in track and field and basketball. She went on to graduate from the University of Houston magna cum laude, with a bachelor’s degree in political science, and later earned her Juris Doctor degree from the University of Houston Law Center.
Skillern-Jones was first elected to the Board of Education in 2011, and has held several leadership positions on the board, including secretary, first vice president, and president. Skillern-Jones is a native Houstonian, and has earned both a bachelor’s degree in business administration and a master’s degree in clinical sociology from Texas Southern University. She represents HISD on the Texas Association of School Boards (TASB) Board of Directors, and is a member of the Steering Committee for the National School Boards Association’s Council of Urban Boards of Education (CUBE).
Sung was sworn in at the recent board meeting, after having been elected to the board in a runoff election last December to replace Harvin Moore, who resigned from the board last summer. Sung graduated from Bellaire High School, and went on to graduate magna cum laude from Harvard University with a bachelor’s degree in physics and mathematics. She also earned master’s degrees in physics and public policy from Harvard.
Both Sung and new trustee Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca (District VI) are filling unexpired trustee terms that run through the end of 2017. Flynn Vilaseca was unanimously appointed by the board this week to serve out the remaining unexpired trustee term of the District VI seat formerly held by Greg Meyers, who resigned from the post at the end of last year.
At the board meeting, many of the trustees thanked fellow trustee Manuel Rodríguez Jr. (District III), who served as the board president in 2016, for guiding the board through the successful search for a new superintendent to replace Terry Grier. That search culminated with the hiring of new HISD Superintendent Richard Carranza.
“He led us through some turbulent times and hiring a new superintendent,” Adams said before she and her fellow trustees honored Rodríguez with a standing ovation.
Several others agenda items were discussed and voted on at the board meeting by the full board.
HISD trustees voted, that effective immediately for the 2016-2017 school year and beyond, they would join in with other school districts that only use students’ scores on high-stakes standardized tests for grade-level promotion decisions when doing so is required by Texas law.
Texas law requires students to pass the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) in math and reading in grades five and eight. The state also mandates that high school students pass STAAR end-of-course exams. Because this is state law, HISD students will still be required to pass these STAAR exams. In the past, HISD has additionally required students in grades three, four, six and seven to pass STAAR reading and math exams in order to move along to the next grade level. But recent changes to the state’s testing calendar mean that results from these STAAR exams are not expected until mid-June, which is too late for schools and parents to know whether a child did not pass STAAR and needs to attend summer school. In addition to the issues created by the later release of STAAR exam results, HISD and other school districts across the state have reported widespread problems with the state’s administration of STAAR exams. These problems have reduced public confidence in the integrity of the results.
Trustees also voted to adopt a 2017-2018 academic calendar that was based on an online survey that gained the support from 89 percent of the 75,000 students, parents, employees and community members who participated in the survey. The calendar grants students and staff a full week off for Thanksgiving. The first day of school will be Aug. 28, 2017; the last day of instruction will be June 1, 2018.
Lastly, as the 85th Texas Legislature has convened in Austin, HISD trustees are paying close attention to, and have as the top priority on HISD’s legislative agenda, the state’s school finance system, where they are lobbying for state lawmakers to make changes that would keep local tax dollars in Houston schools. Under the state’s current school finance system, HISD is considered “property wealthy” and is subject to sending $12 million in local property taxes to the state – a process known as “recapture.” But on Election Day, Houstonians voted down the ballot measure that would have authorized the $162 million payment and future payments totaling more than $1 billion. This means that, starting in July, the Texas Education Agency can detach $18 billion worth of nonresidential, commercial property from HISD’s tax rolls and reassign those businesses to other school districts for taxing purposes. The TEA will continue to detach property every July for the foreseeable future.
So, there are many other issues that Adams and this new look board will have to tackle this 2017 calendar year, such as dealing with the special education issues that have been highlighted of late, ensuring that the projects from previous the bond elections are completed, and building chemistry together as a group.
District V Trustee Michael Lunceford, who decided to serve the remainder of his term through 2017, after previously considering resignation after being elected to the board in 2009, and District I Trustee Anna Eastman, who was also elected to the board in 2009, are the remaining two board trustees who will be responsible for making key decisions for the district.
Of course, the Forward Times will be monitoring the happenings, both here in Houston and in Austin, to keep its readers up-to-date on the latest concerning HISD.