Houston superintendent sparks outrage with plan to close school libraries on some campuses

The Houston school district was taken over by the state earlier this year.

By Sarah AschAugust 2, 2023 1:05 pm,

The state-appointed superintendent of the Houston Independent School District made a series of controversial changes since taking over in June of this year. 

The district was taken over by the Texas Education Agency, who appointed Mike Miles to run the show. Miles has since announced sweeping reforms for three high schools and over two dozen elementary and middle schools. These changes include planned staffing cuts, repurposing school libraries and potentially recruiting uncertified teachers to fill vacancies. 

Anna Bauman, who covers education for the Houston Chronicle, said before Miles was appointed to his new role he founded a charter network called Third Future Schools and worked as superintendent in Dallas for a few years. 

Miles’ plan to repurpose libraries made headline news recently.

“The superintendent is eliminating librarians in all of the 28 schools that are under his reform plan, called the New Education System,” she said. “Many of the 57 schools that opted to align with sort of a pared down version of the plan, most of them will also lose their librarians and those library centers. Those rooms are going to be converted into something called a ‘team center.’ This is where, among other things, students who are misbehaving in class, they’re going to be pulled out of their classroom and sent to the team center to log back into their class through Zoom.”

The centers will also be used for differentiated instruction, Bauman said. 

“So kids who are working ahead from their classroom lessons might go there to do independent study,” she said. “Others might go for group work or small pairs working with the learning coach.”

Bauman said Miles’ plan to repurpose libraries has drawn ire from local officials

“There has been a lot of pushback driven in large part by Mayor Sylvester Turner,” she said. “He spoke about the issue last week during a city council meeting, calling out the superintendent for this plan, saying that it’s inequitable for schools largely on the northeast side of town serving Black and Hispanic children to lose this precious resource of a librarian.”

The previous superintendent had been working to build up library collections, using federal COVID relief dollars to invest in books, Bauman said. 

“This is something that people are really upset about,” she said. “The mayor also hosted a press conference yesterday with a number of other elected officials and faith-based leaders in Houston. And there’s also a rally planned for Saturday for community members and leaders who are, again, pushing back against this library closure.”

The takeover was triggered by state law — TEA chose to replace district leadership rather than close a high school with more than five years of consecutive failing accountability grades.

“There are going to be about three exit criteria for getting out of state intervention. Among those are having no schools with a D or F rating from the state for multiple years, and then getting the special education program in compliance with state and federal regulations. Those are kind of two of the big benchmarks,” Bauman said.

“Superintendent Miles has said that his plan may take up to five or six years to accomplish his vision. And we’re going to have at least two years before the state is able to go in and evaluate whether it’s time to transfer power back to elected trustees.”

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