Latinos make up the majority of HISD’s student body; the new Superintendent must represent their needs.
By: Andy Canales
There are approximately 200,000 students in Houston Independent School District (HISD). Sixty-two percent of them are Latino. That’s over 124,000 children and young adults, more than the entire population of Laredo. Or Beaumont. Or Abilene.
Yet, in a recent HISD board meeting, only 6 of 86 (6%) speakers from the community were Latino. Clearly the district isn’t doing enough to engage Latino families.
So when we heard that the school district was moving forward with choosing the next superintendent, we knew we had to make sure their voices were heard. At Latinos for Education we train Latino leaders to enter and thrive in the education sector, and experience has taught us that incorporating the voice of parents is essential to this work.
The search for a new superintendent comes at a critical time for our students, parents and educators. The disruption that COVID-19 has created in Houston’s education system will have a long-lasting impact on the success and future of our students. The pandemic has exacerbated the inequities that exist in our schools, especially for our Black and Latino students.
As the district begins to chart a new path forward post-COVID with a new leader at the helm, the voice of the community matters. That’s why we surveyed a network of Latino education leaders, HISD parents, and community members to understand their expectations for the next superintendent. We heard from nearly 100 English and Spanish-speaking Latinos, including half who are Latino parents of children in HISD.
What we found was a set of recommendations that are clear, strong, and non-negotiable.
Above all, the next HISD Superintendent must improve the quality of education students receive and improve student outcomes for all. Latino parents want to see their children succeed, which means having a Superintendent that will ensure more Latino students will graduate from our schools ready for college. They must be culturally competent in engaging the Latino community and have a successful track record in doing so. As one parent said, “I need them to understand the diversity within the district and how to support…schools [so our] systems serve students equitably.”
They must listen to the needs of the Latino community and provide Latino parents with opportunities to support their children’s education. Or, in the words of one respondent, “HISD’s next superintendent should be a well-informed, bold, and compassionate leader who seeks to understand the perspectives of the community they are serving.”
The next superintendent must have a history of successful school leadership in Black and Latino communities, and they must have a clear
vision for how they would tackle the issues top of mind for Latinos: access to early childhood education, improving early literacy, and revamping the quality of education for English Language Learners.
It is easy to see why. Our community knows that the education of our children is critical to setting them up for success, the importance of a proven track record implementing programs and systems that will support them is a no brainer.
We hope that as the board of trustees continues in their search for a superintendent that they are already considering all of these factors.
While the answers speak for themselves, we would be remiss to not acknowledge the energy and enthusiasm of our respondents. The process of developing and launching a survey like this moved quickly, we hoped for half as many responses as we got. The sheer outpouring of support, the number of responses, the passion of the answers given, all of this reminds us of what we already know – our community is ready to engage.
As the search continues, it is critical that the school board provides additional opportunities for Latino parents, educators and community members to engage with the process. They know our students best and as the last twelve months have reminded us, family and community members play an essential role in helping children prepare for success. We cannot afford to select a new superintendent to guide the future of our children without incorporating their insight.
And once a superintendent is picked? The work doesn’t stop. We must continue our efforts to make sure they’re aware of what we’ve heard from our network and help set that person up for success because if they’re successful our kids will be too.
Andy Canales is the Executive Director, Texas at Latinos for Education. Previously, Andy worked in education as a teacher and nonprofit director. He serves on the boards of TEACH and the Latino Texas PAC, which he chairs. He’s a Senior American Leadership Forum Fellow, a Leadership ISD Fellow, and a Houston Business Journal 40 under 40 honoree. Andy holds a dual B.A. in Political Science and Religion from Pepperdine University and a Master’s of Science in Education from Hunter College. As the son of Salvadoran immigrants and first-generation college graduate, Andy is passionate about expanding educational equity.