When Mike Miles took over the Houston Independent School District this fall as the state-appointed superintendent, he rolled out a program called the New Education System, designed to improve student outcomes at struggling schools.
This year, the district designated about a third of its campuses as participating in this system – called NES campuses – or doing a scaled-back version, which is referred to as NES-aligned. Most of these schools serve largely Black, Hispanic and low-income students.
About a month into the school year, the new system has received some pushback in the community – and some pushback among Houston’s teaching staff.
Anna Bauman, who covers education for the Houston Chronicle, said staff at two NES-aligned schools – Cage Elementary and Project Chrysalis Middle School, which are co-located on the same campus in the East End – had a last-minute meeting Friday with Central Division Superintendent Luz Martinez at which they received a warning.
“Martinez essentially told teachers that she had heard they were not really properly implementing the NES model, that it hadn’t been as successful at this campus as she had seen on her other NES campuses. And so she essentially gave teachers there a choice, saying that they needed to take the weekend to think about their commitment to the school. And they could either come back and fully commit to NES … or if not, that she would immediately reassign them elsewhere.”
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Bauman said two teachers opted not to return after the ultimatum; one was reassigned, and one decided to retire.
“Additionally, the principal is going to be needing to fill two other vacancies because there were two teachers who are likely to be terminated for speaking up at that meeting on Friday,” Bauman said. “Dr. Martinez has informed them that they should not report back to campus. They’ve been put on home duty, and she is moving to recommend their termination based on insubordination and unprofessional behavior.”
Bauman said one of the teachers who is being fired expressed wide-ranging concerns about NES, including errors and incorrect answers in the mandated curriculum.
The teacher also said that educators “don’t get access to the curriculum within enough time to feel fully prepared to teach it, and additionally that it’s just too much material to really get through,” Bauman said. “In one lesson, they have to move fast and use a timer often in class to guide the pacing of the lesson. So she said kids are falling behind. Teachers aren’t really able to stop and give them the individual help that they need. And this teacher said that she has seen it have a negative impact on her students, with some of them crying or feeling at times that they’re failing in this model.”
Community members organized quickly in response to the ultimatum presented to school staff, Bauman said, holding a protest Monday morning outside the schools.
“There were probably several dozen people there holding signs waving at parents as they dropped their kids off,” she said. “They have said that they don’t want their teachers essentially bullied into submission with this program and that they support their teachers and they feel that the administration has not been really communicating with them about this new model – what the changes are, how they’re impacting their kids, and they haven’t seen it really help their kids for the better so far.”
Bauman said the situation is further complicated by the school’s pre-takeover ratings from the state.
“Many (parents) point to the fact that their schools were doing really well before all of this. So both Cage and Project Chrysalis got an A rating from the Texas Education Agency most recently. Project Chrysalis additionally is a recent National Blue Ribbon award winner, meaning it’s among the top schools in the country. It’s home to many gifted and talented students,” she said. “So a lot of the parents that I spoke with who are protesting this really are questioning, you know, why? Why was this necessary in the first place? They were really happy with their school before all of this.”