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Grier departs HISD

We await his successor.

Terry Grier

Terry Grier

Terry Grier steps aside as Houston’s school superintendent on Monday after a six-and-a-half year tenure marked by aggressive reform efforts, high staff turnover and mixed academic results.

His replacement will inherit a stubborn racial achievement gap and lagging student test scores. Based on state ratings last year, 20 percent of the Houston Independent School District’s campuses were low-performing. The new chief also will take over management of the $1.9 billion construction program, which has faced delays and higher-than-expected costs since voters approved the bond package under Grier’s watch in 2012.

Finding a superintendent with experience leading a similar-sized district will be tough – HISD is the nation’s seventh-largest, with 215,000 students. The depth of the candidate pool depends on the criteria the trustees set, said Henry Gmitro, president of the board’s new search firm (it severed ties with the first one). For example, Gmitro said, assistant superintendents from large, diverse districts may end up fitting the board’s profile.

Grier, a North Carolina native, came to Houston in 2009 from his post as superintendent leading San Diego schools, with 135,000 students.

Upon coming to HISD, Grier recalled last week, “I spent the first six months to a year drinking out of a fire hydrant. It’s a big, complex bureaucracy.”

Los Angeles Unified, the nation’s second-largest district, recently picked an internal candidate after a monthslong national search led by Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates. HISD has hired the same firm for $77,000, including expenses.

“We’re not limiting ourselves to just people in Houston or Texas,” board president Manuel Rodriguez Jr. told a dozen or so community members last week during a meeting at Chavez High. “We are looking national, even international. We’re going to try to pick the best person that will fit the city of Houston. We understand diversity. We understand the city. We understand the politics of the city.”

Rodriguez, one of nine trustees, also has said he wants a superintendent who can speak Spanish. More than 60 percent of HISD’s students are Hispanic, 25 percent are black, 8 percent are Anglo and 4 percent are Asian.

[…]

Before Grier, the last time the HISD board hired an outsider as superintendent was 1991.

Trustees, in a rare unanimous vote this month, noted that they sought stability in naming the district’s chief financial officer, Ken Huewitt, as interim superintendent. Grier had promoted Huewitt to serve as his No. 2 over the summer. Grier said in an interview last week that he thinks Huewitt would be a good candidate for the permanent job.

At the recent Chavez High School meeting, when a search consultant asked if the next superintendent should be an educator, nearly all hands were raised.

While some superintendents have nontraditional backgrounds – coming from the business world or the military – the common path is moving through the education ranks.

I suppose I’m agnostic on the questions of whether the next Superintendent is an insider or outsider, or if he or she is an educator or not. HISD has its share of challenges, but it’s also got a lot of good schools and dedicated employees, and recent state-caused issues aside, it’s generally in decent financial shape. The next Super will have to do a lot of learning on the job no matter who it is. I wish I could say there’s a clear formula for picking the right person, but there isn’t, and we won’t know if we’ve got someone who can truly do the job for several months as he or she adjusts and figures it out. I guess the main thing is to find someone who has the potential to do a great job, then give that person all the support we can to help him or her achieve that potential. And hope for the best.

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