Board President Michael Lunceford: “We’ve made great strides”

Board of Education President Michael Lunceford:

Thank you.

Good morning! It’s an honor to stand before you today, as we take a look at the state of our schools — our achievements as well as our challenges.

I would like to recognize and welcome my fellow trustees on the Board of Education. Trustees, please stand as I introduce you.

First, our immediate past president, Paula Harris, who did an outstanding job of leading the Board in 2011. Thank you, Paula, for your dedication and hard work last year.

And our other board trustees:

  • Manuel Rodríquez
  • Anna Eastman
  • Larry Marshall
  • Harvin Moore
  • Juliet Stipeche
  • Greg Meyers

And our newly elected trustee, representing District II – Rhonda Skillern-Jones.

I’d like to welcome all of our business partners, community leaders, parents, teachers, staff and administrators. I’d also like to recognize the elected officials, former HISD board members, and education officials who have joined us here today. If you would please stand when I call your name:

Are there any other current or former elected officials here who I missed?

We want to make sure we recognize each one of you. We truly appreciate all that you do for our community.

And last – but certainly not least – it is my pleasure to introduce HISD’s 2011 Teachers of the Year – please stand, Mr. Michael Clark from Bellaire High School and Ms. Heather Gaines from Lovett Elementary.

On behalf of my colleagues on the Board of Education — and all of us in this room — thank you for your dedication and commitment to helping our students achieve and succeed.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is an exciting time to be a part of HISD. It’s a rewarding time — and also, an extremely challenging time.

Last year, our district faced a dramatic budget crisis. Huge cuts in funding by the state forced us to cut $78 million from an already lean budget, and more cuts are anticipated in the next budget cycle.

I want to thank those of you – parents, HISD employees, and others – who stepped in to contact your legislators on behalf of Texas school children.

I also want to say thank you to those legislators who worked to save funding to public education. Some of you are here today — and we truly appreciate your support.

The reality is this: If the Texas Legislature continues on this path of cutting funds to public schools and pushing the responsibility of funding public education to local communities, there will be consequences, and they will impact everyone. We will get to the point where we are no longer competitive in educating a workforce that’s prepared for a knowledge-based economy. And we won’t be successful – as a district, a city, or a state — in attracting new businesses or recruiting employees and families that have other options on where they want to work and live.

The Texas Constitution of 1876 – still in effect today – demands that the legislature suitably provide for “the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools.” Because our lawmakers have not met this constitutionally mandated obligation, HISD has joined with a broad coalition of Texas school districts, to stand together and seek a judicial ruling to compel the Legislature to do its duty and adequately share in the funding of our schools.

And, frankly, we expect to prevail.

But — during and after this litigation — we want to work with state officials to make this system better for all kids. The new state accountability system is currently raising academic standards to a much higher level of rigor — and HISD supports high standards for all our students.

However, at the same time these state standards are being raised, the state funding is being cut. We want to partner with the legislature to find reasonable solutions – and we need them to partner with us.

As we approach this coming budget cycle, we know that difficult decisions lie ahead. But our top priority remains — to protect the classroom – to ensure that each child has an effective teacher and the resources needed to reach his or her full potential.

Despite our funding issues, I am very proud and pleased that HISD is doing some of the most innovative, ambitious work in the country to ensure that all of our students get a quality education.

Our Houston Innovative Learning Zone – or “HILZ” program – is the beginning of a new era in career and technological education. The jobs in manufacturing are not merely manual labor anymore, but have evolved to be more technology driven; with a need for highly skilled workers.

There was an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal just Monday that addressed the lack of programs such as this in the public schools. The article said that 5% of the jobs in manufacturing go unfilled, simply because workers with the right skills cannot be found. That 5% represents over 600,000 jobs — unfilled – at a time when there is currently 9% unemployment. So I am excited about our new HILZ program, and hopefully, we can expand it at some point to include more schools in the district.

HISD has many outstanding teachers. And we’ve made great strides in our commitment to putting effective teachers in every classroom. Through our new teacher appraisal and development system, teachers receive more feedback, support, and professional development opportunities than ever before. We are also working on plans to help strong teachers advance their careers without leaving the classroom. This program would allow educators to grow professionally, increase their impact on students, and further their careers without pursuing traditional administrative jobs that take them away from teaching.

Leadership at each school is equally important, so we are also focused on making sure that each and every school has a great principal. Our new leadership development programs in conjunction with Rice University, the University of St. Thomas, and the University of Texas will also help us more effectively grow our own leaders within HISD.

I am very optimistic that we are on the right track. We have a lot of work to do, but we’re prepared to roll up our sleeves — and we approach it with a sincere commitment to quality education and a strong determination to do what is right for all HISD students.

Thank you for coming today. And thank you for your continued support of HISD.

I invite you now to enjoy your lunch and then we will be back shortly with more State of the Schools.