Jessica Campos reflects on how her daughter’s once-loving school environment at Pugh Elementary in Houston’s Fifth Ward has transformed into a situation she dreads. She laments that teachers and administrators have become uncommunicative, unresponsive to parents’ questions and concerns, and even hostile. Campos recalls how the situation escalated to the point where she was confronted by the police during a “coffee with the principal” event after she inquired about changes in the event’s format.
She described it as if a “cult has taken over my school and my teachers.” The Texas Education Commissioner, Mike Morath, appointed Superintendent Mike Miles in June to oversee the district and replaced the nine elected trustees with a state-appointed board of managers.
Undergoing changes due to NES
Pugh Elementary is just one of the 85 campuses that have undergone changes due to the New Education System (NES) introduced by Superintendent Miles. Teachers are now required to use premade lesson plans, and performance evaluations have become more focused on testing. Some students who face disciplinary issues are sent to repurposed libraries. The new management has also led to layoffs, increased teacher and administrative staff turnover, and reductions in services for students with special needs.
A demonstration organized by the Houston Federation of Teachers (HFT), the district’s largest teachers’ union, was held at the Houston ISD headquarters to protest these changes. The protest featured HFT president Jackie Anderson, Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, and regional AFT president Zeph Capo as speakers. Anderson stated, “Houston educators are appalled about what’s being forced on them and their students.”
The appointment of Miles and the removal of the Houston ISD board was part of Morath’s long-term plan, which was announced in 2019 due to mismanagement by the board and Wheatley High School’s poor academic ratings. Houston ISD attempted to prevent the state takeover through a lawsuit, but the Texas Supreme Court ultimately ruled in favor of the TEA. In response to the protest, Houston ISD issued a statement indicating that they respect the rights of students, staff, and parents to assemble and express their views through protests.
Campos asserts that the new leadership has instilled fear across the district, creating a culture of fear that makes parents and teachers feel bullied and limited in expressing their opinions. She likens her reduced access to the campus to feel imprisoned.
Maria Benzon, a middle school teacher, echoes these sentiments and expresses concerns about the overemphasis on test scores and a lack of flexibility in delivering lessons. She calls for the takeover to end and for teachers to be treated more professionally.
Ruth Kravetz, the co-founder of Community Voices for Public Education, anticipates that the protest will be a precursor to a teachers’ strike. She believes that the changes brought by Miles and the board of managers represent a significant threat to the future of public schools. The situation in Houston ISD continues to generate controversy and opposition from parents, teachers, and advocacy groups who are concerned about the impact of these sweeping changes on students and the education system at large.