New Superintendent Has Big Plans to Yield Result Big Results

Jo-Carolyn Goode | 8/13/2021, 3:55 a.m.
There is always a sense of anxiety in the air at the start of the new school year. Students are ...

There is always a sense of anxiety in the air at the start of the new school year. Students are flooding the halls trying to navigate their way to classes. Counselors are sorting out class schedules. Teachers are trying to learn the names of the young pupils they will inspire this year. Principals are making sure the entire ship is running smoothly. Everyone has their individual tasks. Not this year. Students and staff are all on the same page with the agenda to have a safe school year.

With the threat level raised to red, hospitals overflowing with sick patients, no vaccines for those under 12, and the state not having a mask mandate the safety of those in schools has never been so critical. The situation is dim and dismissal, however, superintendents across the state are standing up against Gov. Greg Abbott's Executive Order demanding mask mandates for their district for the safety of all.

New Houston ISD superintendent Millard House has said that the safety of students, staff, and families has been his guiding compass. He took the bold step to propose a mask mandate for the district for all students, staff, and visitors regardless of their vaccination status at all Houston ISD schools, buses, and facilities. Before Superintendent House's official hiring the district intended to comply with Governor Abbott’s order and await further guidance from the Texas Education Agency (TEA). However, that was before the surge of the Delta variant.

Around the end of June when Superintendent House was starting to make Houston his new home, the spread of COVID in Houston was at 4%. The CDC had said vaccinated people could move about unmasked. The country was looking like we may see the end of the pandemic that has changed the entire world. Five weeks later as the Delta variant surged throughout the country the community spread in Houston rose to 16%. Now hospitals are so packed with patients they are treating them in tents outside the hospital. Some have closed their ERs. Healthcare professionals are burnt out and there is a nursing shortage. Both unvaccinated and vaccinated people are getting COVID. And the people who account for the most infections are under 30 with a rise in the number of cases in those who have no defense mechanism...our children. All of this is going on and yet the governor of Texas is standing strong to uphold a no mask mandate in schools.

It is the data that fuels Superintendent House to propose the mandate. He was not trying to go against the governor. The science just made sense to him. He was simply trying to do what he was hired to do - protect our children. In an interview with CNN Superintendent House said, "The data tells us the story."

He is supposed to provide students, staff, and the community a safe place in which to learn and work. Superintendent House promises to "take care of your babies socially, emotionally, and academically."

The importance and need for the mask mandate has never been so crucial for this school year. Forty-eight hours after Superintendent House's announcement of the mandate, the district experienced a death. Since the announcement of the mandate, the board has always unanimously supported it.

Superintendent Millard House

Superintendent Millard House

“This is not about defying the governor, this is about really doing what’s best in terms of the public safety,” Superintendent House said in a statement. “I had to step forward and do what was best, and I’m strongly convinced that my board will acquiesce and move forward to get this done.”

Many may think the next step after the mandate is to propose a vaccination mandate. He is not exploring that option. Instead, he will focus on one of his top priorities that is to re-engage students, staff, and parents and implement a strategic plan to turn things around.

The pandemic hit the school district hard and student learning and enrollment suffered greatly. He will focus on increasing student enrollment over his next three years to reclaim the 14,000 that left. Hopefully, the virtual learning plan that Superintendent House has in mind will reach those students. For the 2021-2022 school year, he wants to make virtual learning accessible to more students. The district's 8,000 slots have already been filled and he is looking to add 1,500 to 2,000 more slots. He believes in-person learning is the best place to be for any child.

“I’m extremely excited about the next 60 days…to ensure that we’re setting the stage for the years ahead to be extremely successful,” said Superintendent House in regards to the missed opportunities students experienced as a result of the pandemic.

Beyond student safety, Superintendent House has to bring the board together. Let us not forget the disarray the board has displayed in the past. On day one of his hiring, he already planned a board retreat in his mind. In addition, he has a plan to keep the TEA from taking over. Meetings with them have helped to grasp the history of the board. Another layer to support student learning is in the works to look at improving low-performing schools. Students at high-performing schools have more resources due to their schools having a larger budget for school expenses. Superintendent House knows that there is COVID relief money out there and he wants to get that money in the hands of the students and families that need it. In addition, he wants to offer them support when and where they need it most.

Superintendent House has some really big plans, however, it is known that big plans result in big results. Those results could benefit more than just student success. A community is only as strong as the people in it. Superintendent House's hopes lofty agenda hopes to greatly benefit the students of Houston ISD as well as the larger community.