Houston Forward Times

12 February 2014 Written by  Jeffrey L. Boney

Terry Grier Has to Go! HISD is Choking the Life Out of Our Community

The Houston Forward Times (HFT) has been covering a myriad of complaints and issues involving the Houston Independent School District (HISD) and HISD Superintendent Terry B. Grier over the years.  

 These complaints, which have now seemingly escalated to a point of no return, have been brought forth by concerned parents, business and community leaders, community activists and taxpaying citizens, who have called for Grier’s removal from office for what they have deemed an assault on Black communities across Houston.

The tipping point of the community’s anger came on last week when it was announced that Grier and his HISD administration submitted a proposal to close five HISD school campuses due to “low enrollment,” at the end of this school year.

The campuses slated for closure are Dodson Elementary; Nathaniel Q. Henderson Elementary; Port Houston Elementary; Fleming Middle School; and Jones High School, according to HISD.

The school board is expected to vote on the plan in March, but HISD held community meetings at 6:30 p.m. this past Tuesday at three of the schools; Dodson, Henderson and Jones. Community meetings are slated to be held at the same time on Feb. 17 at Port Houston and Fleming.

Grier became HISD’s superintendent of schools after a unanimous vote of approval by the district’s Board of Education in September 2009.

Before coming to Houston, Dr. Grier served as the superintendent of the San Diego Unified School District for 18 months and superintendent of the Guilford County Schools in Greensboro, North Carolina for almost eight years.

Most recently, Grier was selected as one of four finalists for the American Association of School Administrators’ (AASA) National Superintendent of the Year.

Under Grier’s leadership, HISD was awarded the Broad Prize for Urban Education, an award that recognizes gains in student achievement and comes with $550,000 in college scholarships for high school seniors.

HISD also recently won nearly $30 million in federal “Race to the Top” funding from the Obama administration, which will go to the district’s “Linked Learning” model of teaching from elementary through high school that enables students to begin early college and career readiness through project-based learning. Students explore aptitudes and life interests in middle school and focus on career academies in high school.

As one can see, Grier has been in the news a lot these days, and while he and the district have both received national recognition and awards, people back home aren’t so quick to shower him and the district with the same praise.

In November 2012, HISD taxpayers approved a $1.89 billion school construction bond, which was the largest in the history of Texas.

It was during the marketing and promotion of that bond that Grier and his administration promised the community that they would rebuild dilapidated schools and give each community a building they deserved; the same promise that was made when the 2007 bond was passed.

Since Grier took over as superintendent, African American schools have closed and faced issues and challenges that have contributed to “low enrollment.” 

In 2010, the late State Senator Mario Gallegos, Jr. of Texas, tried to warn the community about Grier and went on the attack against him and his reform efforts.  Sen. Gallegos sent out letters to the school board and to state legislators, questioning Grier’s past track record and stating that the changes Grier was seeking to implement at HISD should cause everyone “great concern.”

In his rebuke of Grier, Sen. Gallegos highlighted the following pattern of Grier:

  • He convinces the board that changes will be hard, the community will push back and they must stay the course.
  • He demands that the board give him the authority to make the change he prescribes regardless of the lack of buy-in from a community that has been removed from meaningful input.
  • When the parents and community begin to voice their concerns about his changes he uses the media to make his case and to pressure the school board; too often, the school board learns about his programs when they open their morning newspaper.
  • He attempts to publicly marginalize political, business, or community figures who question his approach by labeling them as against school reform -- he has used this to marginalize every school board that has ever employed him.
  • When the fire gets hot like it did in San Diego, Amarillo and Sacramento, he leaves for greener pastures with a buy-out that has been pre-negotiated. If that doesn’t work -- he sues the board, like he did in Sacramento.

Gallegos concluded his letter of rebuke by saying: “It is time for all of us to start thinking about what is in the best interest of our children. It is time to start looking for new effective leadership for HISD before it is too late.”

Fast forward to 2014, and many in the community are asking themselves why they didn’t listen to the stern warnings of Sen. Gallegos back in 2010.

The HFT has been following many of these issues over the past several years, particularly those that impact the African American community, and there have been some eye-opening issues that have many members of the community seeking answers.

Grier and the HISD Board of Trustees moved to close Ryan Middle School and re-open the school as a magnet for students interested in the medical field.

Although community protests to prevent the closure of Ryan MS from happening were unsuccessful, the 263 Ryan MS students were subsequently zoned to nearby Cullen Middle School, and the school building that originally held Ryan MS was reopened as the Baylor College of Medicine Academy at Ryan and only 11% of the students who were zoned to Ryan MS were accepted into the new school.

In a surprise vote to many, the HISD Board of Education, in December 2012, voted to extend Grier’s contract through June 2016 and award him with $115,000 in bonuses, although it was only 10 months prior that the board had agreed to extend Grier’s contract through 2014.

Two of the reasons HISD Board Trustees indicated that they decided to extend his contract “early’ were because of the Apollo program and the passage of the 2012 bond. Trustees voted 6-2 in favor of the contract extension. Trustees Michael Lunceford and Juliet Stipeche voted against the measure. Trustee Anna Eastman was not present for the vote. Trustees Manuel Rodriguez Jr., Harvin Moore, Greg Meyers and all three Black trustees; Paula Harris, Rhonda Skillern Jones and former trustee Larry Marshall voted in favor.

A major contributing factor that has forced African American parents to send their children to schools that aren’t struggling with “low-enrollment” issues, has been the lack of stability and the lack of equitable resources and programs within the district concerning principals and teachers. Since 2010, turnover has been extremely high at historic and traditional African American schools and the majority of new principal hires and teachers for these schools are either being hired from out of state or from another city.

With that approach to addressing the issues involving HISD schools, it is apparent that the HISD administration is not properly grooming and preparing teachers, assistant principals and others to assume important leadership roles within the district, especially school principals, who provide a major level of leadership and stability for students.

Hiring qualified principals and ensuring stability in the district is a direct responsibility of the superintendent. With the high level of turnover in the district, many continue to wonder why the HISD Board of Trustees chose to give Superintendent Grier a contract extension, well before his contract was up for consideration. The lack of an adequate process of hiring principals for traditional Black schools, coupled with a lack of accountability to demand consistent and sustainable leadership, continues to plague these schools.  

Since Grier’s contract extension, African American contractors have complained about contract unfairness and in HFT reported back in 2013 that over $1.24 billion in architectural projects had been assigned to date, with approximately 2% of those contracts being awarded to Houston-based architecture firms owned solely by African-Americans as the prime consultant.

In a story that aired on KTRK-TV Channel 13 last week, investigative reporter Ted Oberg revealed that two-thirds of bond contracts that have been awarded went to campaign donors.  Oberg also highlighted other things that the HFT have been addressing in its reporting for years. When Oberg asked HISD for documents detailing how they selected architects the district refused, although those documents were routinely released in the past. In the story, it was revealed that Grier stated that HISD wasn’t planning on releasing any information until all the architects had been picked, which could take years.

HISD continues to support their partnership with charter schools that suck the enrollment out of traditional Black schools.  The majority of these charter schools are located in at-risk communities and students are recruited from those very areas.

Marketing for traditional Black schools is extremely limited and not much is done to highlight the good and positive things going on at these traditional black schools by these school districts, so parents are left to rely on media hype and community perception.  Most of that media hype and community perception is centered on the belief that there is a lack of stability, lack of quality teachers and lack of resources.

HISD is an open enrollment district, which means that parents can apply for schools outside their attendance zone for their students. Since HISD has become an open-enrollment district, there has been no aggressive marketing campaign coming from the district, particularly for schools located in predominately African American communities, that encourages families to consider their designated feeder pattern school or a low-enrollment school as an option.

Many community advocates believe that Grier needs to go and are calling on citizens to get mobilized and take action.

Gerald Womack, who graduated from Jones High School, attributes his experience there to his over 30 years of business success in the real estate industry.

“Terry Grier has done irreparable harm to the African American community with his despicable actions,” said Womack. “It doesn’t matter if I have kids going to school in the district.  I am a taxpayer and I have a right to say what I want done with my tax dollars for the sake of my friends, family and neighbors who do have children in the district.”

Womack is calling for Grier to be fired and also believes that HISD Trustee Paula Harris and all other members of the HISD school board should shoulder the blame as well.

Community stalwart Charles X. White wasn’t as kind to Grier with his words.

“Terry Grier is a crook, with a capital C,” said White. “It doesn’t make any sense that he won’t meet with us and listen to us about the issues that concern us.  He has to be fired and he has to be fired immediately.”

Community activist Quanell X has decided to take things a major step further.

Quanell X has announced that he and several other people were organizing a protest, taking place on Sunday, February 16 at 3pm, to demand the firing of Terry Grier.  The protest is going to take place in front of Terry Grier’s home.

“The Black community is under attack and Terry Grier is the Chief Architect,” said Quanell X.  “If you want to destroy a community, then close all of their schools. We refuse to sit idly by for several more years and allow Terry Grier to completely dismantle our community schools before our very eyes until there is none left. It’s not gonna happen on my watch.”

According to organizers, the protesters will be meeting at 1:30 pm on the corner of Almeda and Rosewood, in Third Ward Houston.

When it comes to the state of African American students and the schools they are educated in, most Black elected officials, including school board members, have overseen the decimation of these traditional Black schools with a deafening silence.

This is an epidemic.  HISD and all school districts across the country must proactively address these issues and do their best to attract students to these schools through marketing and engagement, in order to show these families that they are committed to providing their children a quality education.

Many activists and community residents believe that the Black community and its historical, cultural and economic roots are under attack.

Traditional African American schools are being closed at an alarming rate and parents are being forced to bus their children to schools outside of their neighborhoods to receive a quality education. 

Many in the community believe that the only way to save what’s left of traditional Black schools, is to start with the removal of Superintendent Terry Grier and the overhaul of the HISD school board. Only time will tell if that happens.

The HFT will keep you posted on any updates involving this issue.

MAA WereReady