August 21, 2023

Josephine Lee: Houston ISD Takeover, The Musical

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You think your back to school PD is bad? How about a PD that includes a musical written to praise the guy who’s been brought in to take an ax to your district?

Hundreds of Houston’s teachers gathered at the NRG Center early morning Wednesday, where they were directed to wear school colors, wave school banners, and shake sparkly pom poms. Facilitators started the Harlem Shuffle dance in the aisles. And then, as the teachers were motioned back into their seats, the room turned dark and silence fell.

A single spotlight shined on a student performer in an aisle belting the lyrics to West Side Story’s “Something’s Coming”:

Something’s comin’, something good
If I can wait!
Something’s comin’, I don’t know what it is
But it is
Gonna be great!

The stage lit up to reveal a 1950s diner with red and white checkered tablecloth tables and red rubber stools. In walked new district superintendent Mike Miles, playing “Mr. Duke,” owner of the joint who doubles as a counselor who listens to the teachers’ and students’ grievances.

Since March, when the Texas Education Agency seized control of the Houston Independent School District (HISD), citing the failure to meet state standards at one high school, Houston’s teachers and parents have seen the battle with the state-appointed school board and superintendent play out in community meetings and in the press. Now, during a week of district-mandated conferences at the NRG Center, teachers were watching the takeover play out on stage. Miles directed the script—an hour-long musical that took six weeks to prepare, depicting how the new superintendent will rekindle the extinguished spirits of burnt-out teachers, give hope to hopeless students, and bestow a visionary plan to save public education.

Miles is supposed to be the visionary genius here to save the district.

But teachers who spoke to the Texas Observer said Miles’ performance wasted the district’s time and money and mocked their professional experience and concerns.

“For him to turn our concerns into satire is really insulting,” HISD teacher Melissa Yarborough said. “It reeks of propaganda.”

“He wasted our time when we could be in our classrooms preparing our lesson plans before school starts,” said Chris, an elementary school teacher who asked only to be identified by his first name.

Jessica, who has been teaching for 24 years, told the Observer Miles’ musical “was very condescending. The message was that we don’t know what we’re doing. And he’s coming in to show us how to do it right.”

Chris, Jessica, and others we spoke to asked that we use their first or middle names for fear of disciplinary action. A slide from the training states: “HISD expects any employee not to use social media or any communications platform or media, including forwarding, supporting, or ‘liking’ posts or communications to communicate false or misleading information about the school or district, particularly if designed to damage the school or district’s reputation.”

Read the full account here. 

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