2017 Endorsed Candidates:
Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca
2017 HISD School Board Candidates:
Background: Gretchen is a native of Wisconsin who came to Texas over twenty years ago to attend graduate school at the University of Texas LBJ School of Public Affairs, after graduating from Beloit College. She began her career working in the Texas Legislature at the House Appropriations Committee, where she spent three sessions working on the state budget (1997, 1999, 2001). She moved to Houston in 2002 and once her children reached school age, she started volunteering at Travis Elementary, first as a reading tutor and then eventually serving two years as President of the Parent-Teacher Association. She currently works as a Policy Analyst for Children at Risk, a non-profit organization that drives change for children through research, education and influencing public policy. She also works for the Children’s Learning Institute at UTHealth, where she tutors English Language Learners and struggling readers. She is a mother of two daughters who have been in HISD schools since kindergarten.
“I would like to be a part of finding a way to ensure we are holding ourselves accountable for student learning, but want to also ensure that we are providing all necessary supports to make that possible for the majority of kids we serve who come in so far behind academically.
While I value the high standards and accountability that comes with standardized testing, I’ve seen up close and personal how those things can hinder the positive educational experience. There are many things to be valued in a school beyond test scores, and I would like to see that work incorporated in a way that supports continuous improvement and growth rather than having our teaching driven by standardized testing that results in a fear based culture. We need to find a way that is free of bias to evaluate the progress of our district, our schools and our students without stifling the vibrant school environment. “
Background: Monica Richart is a mother of 3 children (2 in HISD schools and a 4-year-old), and attended public school in San Antonio. She has an undergraduate degree in public policy from Princeton (the Woodrow Wilson School) and a law degree from Columbia in New York. She is an attorney and began her legal career as a litigator at Locke Lord LLP, and subsequently worked at Mayer Brown LLP. She left the law firm in 2006 to work for Congressman Nick Lampson’s congressional campaign, was Constituent Services Director for his congressional office, and did other political work before having children.”
“To the extent several of the questions above address centralization versus decentralization, I wanted to include that as Trustee it would be my priority to support principals and staff in meeting their goals of strong student achievement. In conversations across the District during this campaign, it has become clear to me that some Principals do not relish the work and responsibility that come with our District’s current level of decentralization, and would rather spend their efforts focused on student achievement. This perspective needs to be considered carefully moving forward. We need to create a management structure that permits principals the freedom to make important decisions, but doesn’t burden them with paperwork and additional tasks that take away from efforts to raise student achievement. For me, this issue also brings home the importance of strong relationships with our partners that permit honest dialogue that helps us meet our goals and serve our students.”
Background: “I grew up and attended schools in the Northside area, graduating from Herrera ES, Burbank MS, and Sam Houston HS. I have a BA in English Literature from the University of Houston – Downtown. I worked for AT&T for eight years as a sales rep before earning my teaching certification and changing careers. I have been a teacher in HISD for nine years, seven at Sam Houston MSTC and two at Northside HS. I have never held elected office.”
“I would like to take this space to discuss the recent news that the Texas Education Agency is threatening to close schools in HISD or even take over the district and unseat its elected board. This action shows just how precarious our entire system of public schooling finds itself in today. How have we allowed our district to get to the point where a handful of schools are performing so poorly year after year? One factor comes from the very legislature that enacted this policy of punishment: the decreasing share of education funding coming from the state. It would be ironic if it didn’t seem so intentional.
The board is bound by whatever decision TEA makes, but that doesn’t mean the trustees cannot influence their decisions. What I will not do is bow to fear tactics by enacting policies I know are not right for our students, simply to keep my seat on the board. I am not running for school board to launch a political career.
Our first step is to give the so-called chronically underperforming schools the support they need to succeed going forward. The Achieve 180 program seems to be a good start, but we need more systemic changes. We need to take a hard look at attendance boundaries, magnet programs, special population weights, and how Average Daily Attendance disproportionately hurts the same schools that need the most support. Only then can we really say we’ve done everything we can for every student, regardless of political cost.”
Background: Cheben is a native Houstonian, an Eagle Scout, and a product of CCISD schools. He earned his B.S. in Chemical Engineering from Georgia Tech in 2007 and have been working for Chevron in engineering and project management capacities for the last ten years (including five years in Midland, TX). He’s been a precinct chair and election judge since 2014, during which he’s served on various committees with the Harris County Republican Party. He and his wife recently celebrated their second wedding anniversary. They do not have any kids, but have been volunteering his neighborhood school (Poe Elementary) since early 2016.
Candidate Top Concerns:
- Pay teachers a competitive salary: numerous studies have shown that having great teachers is the number one way to improve student outcomes. Teachers need to be paid a competitive salary that allows them the financial stability so they can focus on teaching, not second jobs at night.
- Balancing the budget’s $107 million deficit: the recently approved deficit budget puts HISD on a path to deplete its reserve fund. This needs to be addressed immediately without compromising efforts to pay teachers a competitive salary.
Background: Sue is a Rice University graduate and parent of two students who attend HISD schools. Formerly, she was the Assistant Director of Alumni Affairs and University Events at Rice University. Deigard’s “vocation” since her children were born has been focused on education advocacy, including leading volunteer grassroots efforts to promote better policies and funding for HISD with the state legislature. She is currently a fellow with American Leadership Forum in a class on Community Education.
“Providing competitive salaries is necessary to attract and retain top talent in our classrooms, and therefore should be a priority. I also believe funding should be spent as close to the child as possible.
I support PUA “weights” for things like low SES, ELL, etc that increase per student funding to students in traditionally under-served communities.
I support quantitative measures based on student achievement data, but do not believe it should be the primary basis.
I believe in a “tiered autonomy” model that gives successful schools and principals more autonomy and flexibility with their budget, staffing etc, but still with direction and oversight from the administration to ensure that the funding is spent responsibly and to the maximum benefit of students. School-based decision making should be done with constructive and collaborative community involvement. For struggling schools and those with less experienced principals, there should be more administrative oversight and management.
The board needs a collaborative, goal-oriented process for setting agendas and scheduling meetings that is respectful of the family and work commitments of the members of a volunteer board. That will do more to ensure participation than a mandate.
I believe (very) strongly that board members should not be managing schools.”
Background: DeRocha attended Texas public schools and, after graduating in 1994, attended LSU, where she earned a B.S. in Environmental Engineering. She worked in the air quality group at URS Corporation for five years, specializing in air permitting and compliance. Later, she worked as an independent contractor focusing on regulatory determinations and compliance. She currently has three children in HISD: a 2nd grader at Kolter Elementary School, a 4th grader at Herod Elementary School, and a 7th grader at Tanglewood Middle School.
“My responses are “middle of the road” responses, and that is because I am a middle of the road person. I pride myself on working well with others, and part of that is being able to understand both sides of an issue. There is almost always room for compromise. Digging in my heels on certain issues might achieve a short-term goal, but it does not serve our students in the long-term. Some of my more “extreme” answers”:
- Hybrid roles allow great teachers to gain administrative experience and can keep them in the classroom longer.
- It is difficult to scrub a budget when information is not readily available.
- Schools as community hubs have been shown to increase student attendance and GPA, and decrease dropout rates and grade retention.
- We should seek teacher input often and regularly. Teachers often see systematic problems at the early stages and can catch them before they are widespread.
- Special Education is under-sourced, as evidenced by the long wait time for evaluations, the high student-teacher ratio in SpEd classrooms, and the sheer number of students turned down for services.
- School sites should be able to make their own hiring choices. Schools should: select curriculum from a short list approved by central office, have heavy input on budgets if principals are given meaningful training and guidance, and have limited input on calendar planning (Example: early release days).
- The STAAR test is poorly written and only given to students 3rd grade and up, too late for early intervention. Consequently, HISD has introduced Benchmark Running Record.
- It is important for school board trustees to remember that their job is governance, not management.
B.A. English and Religious Studies, Indiana University
Texas Teacher Certificate- Pre-K-6
Media Resources Specialist Certificate- K-12
New Teacher and Librarian Trainer
Developed Online Support Resources for Library Curriculum
27-year educator in Houston ISD
3-time campus Teacher of the Year
2-time finalist Houston ISD Teacher of the Year
Houston ISD Librarian of the Year
Shared Decision Making Committee (multiple years)
“Underserved students should receive additional funds that are targeted and tracked for specific use. Not dumped into a general mystery fund within the school. Principals SHOULD have some authority to make decisions for their schools, not only with minimal interruption but with support from the central office.
PUA SHOULD increase at the expense of the state.
Portfolios can be subjective, so if we are against using test scores to measure success, where do we get the data? And what test scores? STAAR? Norm-referenced tests? Some are better measures than others.
There is a huge movement to reverse decentralization. If this happens, how will sites pursue a unique theory of action? At the same time, if certain staff positions are mandated, they should be funded by district.
Higher pay to fill hard to staff positions is only feasible if the teacher is certain to perform at the level required to ensure student success.
Teacher surveys failed in the past because of a concern for retaliation. Even when surveys were guaranteed to be anonymous, teachers were reluctant because of the culture set by the superintendent. Hopefully this will change with this administration.”
Mr. Albert declined to participate in the Houston GPS screening process.
Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca
Background: Holly was appointed to the HISD District VI Trustee position in January 2017. She grew up in rural Ohio, the product of public schools and was the first in her family to go to college. She earned two undergraduate degrees from the University of Michigan and a master’s degree from Columbia University. She has spent her thirteen-year career in education. She began in 2004 as a dual-language teacher in HISD, and taught for six years. Since leaving the classroom, she has worked for a number of education non-profit organizations, and currently serve as Chief Relationship Officer at thinkLaw, an organization that uses real-life legal cases to teach critical thinking. She is a wife and mother of a fifteen-month old son, who will attend HISD schools.
“I believe we need to have an accountability system in place that takes into consideration multiple measures. School leaders should be held responsible for the overall outcomes of their schools and, as instructional leaders, should focus their time and efforts on providing the right systems and supports for their staff. They need to know how to write a budget narrative reflective of the REAL needs (driven by data and beliefs).
The PUA should truly follow the student and be adjusted to meet the needs of the student given their unique needs and should take into consideration various weights given their socio- economic status and whether or not they are “at-risk.” When students reach a threshold where they may not need additional resources it would then be ideal if those resources could be shifted to other students in a more “real-time” fashion.
Implementing solutions for our students that are data-driven and proven to work are important at the classroom level. It is important that we operate with a sense of urgency to ensure our students get their academic needs met daily. Every teacher should be empowered to make these decisions and seek feedback from parents/community and leadership accordingly. However, if there is a new direction, different philosophy, policy or another thing that requires change then the community should very much get involved. i.e. Community schools and complete communities. Both prioritizing student level needs and engaging the community is important. The community engagement piece varies given upon the context of the initiative.”
Background: Since arriving in Houston 21 years ago, I have dedicated my life to delivering outstanding educational opportunities for the city’s students. I have taught successfully on the elementary, middle, and high school levels, founded a college preparatory charter school, served as a faculty member at University of Saint Thomas and Rice University, and overseen nearly forty H.I.S.D. elementary and secondary schools. I graduated with honors from Rice University in 2000 with degrees in Political Science & Policy Studies. I proceeded to earn a master’s degree in Bilingual/ESL Education from University of Saint Thomas and a doctorate in Educational Leadership from Vanderbilt University.
Candidate Top Concerns:
In recent weeks, significant attention has been paid to an issue that has troubled me for years: the sustained underperformance of H.I.S.D.’s multi-year Improvement Required campuses. I am deeply concerned both about the root instructional causes and that the district’s proposed plan to address those issues (“Achieve 180”) will fail to do so. The board must insist on more specific program metrics, aggressively monitor performance, utilize external evaluators to gauge.
The adoption of a budget that conservatively projects a $100 million deficit illustrates a breakdown in the governance process and undermines public confidence in the district. Whether through an LBB or independent entity versed in district finance, the board must initiate an external examination of its budget processes and long-term strategy.
Background: John earned an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering from The George Washington University, a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Texas, and a law degree from Syracuse University. Between Texas and Syracuse, he worked in Southern California on a highly-classified weapons program. He has been a lawyer in Houston for over 20 years. He spent 19 years in big firms in Houston, then left for a public affairs firm in Austin, and now he is back practicing law at the boutique firm of Daniels & Tredennick LLP with several partners from his big firm days at Bracewell.
(Regarding funding for students from traditionally underserved communities): I believe more resources need to be provided to under-served communities. That said, those resources should come from the state and better budgeting. They should not come from lowering the PUA at successful schools. As a trustee, I want all of the schools to be successful.
(Regarding budgetary independence for principals and schools as community hubs): I believe in neighborhood schools. Each school should decide how they want to spend their budget allocation. They should decide whether they want a librarian, a full-time nurse, counselors, etc. If they choose not to have such positions, the money can be spent on other programs or teachers.
Background: Anne Sung is a proud graduate of HISD’s Askew Elementary, TH Rogers MS, and Bellaire HS. She studied physics, mathematics, and public policy at Harvard University. She was a Teach for America Corps Member in the Rio Grande Valley and was Teacher of the Year at HISD’s Lee High School. As Policy Director at the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, she led the sheriff’s strategic planning process. Ms. Sung is currently Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer at Project GRAD Houston. She was elected as HISD Trustee in December 2016. She and her husband have one child, a future HISD student.
Candidate Top Concerns:
My top two concerns are that standards for the quality of education are not consistently high across HISD schools, with some students receiving a much more robust education that truly develops the child’s knowledge base, creativity, and critical thinking than other students, and that the district does not sufficiently recognize and address the challenges that HISD students face, from mental health to language barriers to special needs to food insecurity. I have pushed for the board to adopt higher standards for success for all schools, with a clear plan for professional development of teachers, and to also adopt a community school’s framework to coordinate resources to address student needs.
Background: Wanda Adams was elected to the HISD Board of Education in 2013 after serving the limit of three two-year terms as Houston City Councilmember for District D. After serving as HISD Board President in 2017, her commitment—now more than ever—is to continue to incorporate strong literacy programs, strengthen parent and community engagement, and decrease the number of low-performing schools in District IX. She is a product of HISD, graduating as a basketball standout from Kashmere High School. She then received an athletic scholarship to Texas Southern University, where she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in public affairs and a Master’s degree in Public Administration. She now has the pleasure of being a professor of political science at her alma mater.
My top priority is working with the Superintendent and addressing issues affecting HB 1842 by engaging the community and assisting IR schools to meet standards and closing the achievement gap around literacy. Every student that attends our HISD schools should have the right to a good education. My focus in moving forward is hiring effective teachers in every classroom, balancing the budget, completing all Lone Star governance training and working with all Trustees so that we are all on one accord in addressing the critical needs affecting public education.
Karla D. Brown
Background: Dr. Karla D. Brown, Ed.D. is an educator with over 20 years of experience as an elementary school teacher and administrator in Houston ISD and southern California’s Colt Joint Unified School District and Fontana Unified School District. She has served as Adjunct Professor at Texas Southern University and California Baptist University (Riverside, CA) preparing pre-service educators. She holds a doctorate degree in Curriculum and Instruction from Texas Southern University and Principal Certification from University of St. Thomas.
As an HISD Board Trustee, my goal if elected, is to come in within the first 60-90 days with a plan of action to be adopted by the campuses that I serve. This would begin with:
- A call for community mentors for every student identified as needing a positive role model.
- A meeting with individual principals to determine their understanding of the problems on their campuses with the expectation that a plan of action is in place.
- Establishing opportunities for community organizations to participate in a Resource Fair for each of the feeder patterns that I serve. This would allow the organizations to present the services that they offer and discuss how they can benefit the campuses and the families being served (based on identified problems).
- A cry to the superintendent and fellow board members to standardize the core personnel and programs on campuses to include a nurse, a librarian, a counselor, a music teacher, a technologist, and a continuum of services for special education students (by feeder pattern) to meet their various needs.
- A demand for the replacement of leaders that do not respect faculty and staff members and their rights to have a voice and authentic decision-making power on campus.
Gerry W. Monroe
Background: A lifelong resident of The City of Houston, Monroe attended Lockhart, Cullen Middle and graduated in 1986 from Jack Yates Sr. High. He’s also a member of The 1985 Yates 5A State Football Champions. He attended Ranger Jr. College for 2 years and decided college wasn’t for him. He had been a private business owner for over 15 years. He has 2 daughters, Brittany in Fresno, California and Jaylen, who is an HISD Student. He is the Executive Director of The UUAA.
“Increasing Teacher compensation–It’s the only way for us to get good quality teachers. Underserve schools need them the most. But, you get what you pay for some days.
As a default, principals should have wide-ranging authority to make critical decisions about their schools with minimal interruption from the central office- I believe the district should be centralized. Look at our turnover rate at our underserved schools. Most of the principals really didn’t know what they were doing. Too many teachers were non-renewed for mysterious reasons. Budgets were depleted before the end of the year. Yet these people still had jobs after failing the students and teachers. This has to change.
Addressing the goals, funding, and reach of the current magnet school program is one of my top priorities–We all know that magnets are the new segregation. They are not funded equally. How can one complain about the state funding formula when we can’t get our own magnet funding formula fixed?
Except in cases of serious illness or family emergency, School Board Trustees should be expected to attend all committee meetings, agenda review meetings, and general Meetings-Board members in the last 4 years have missed to many crucial meetings. Several times my opponent missed key votes that directly affected African American kids. This didn’t go over very well in the community. I know for a fact that I’ve attended all board meetings in the last 4 years except for 2. And, I was in the hospital for those to meetings.
I believe that Houston ISD adequately resources programs to support Special Education-everyone knows that special-ed is underfunded. The question is why? On my watch that will be top priority. Those babies generate a lot of dollars for the district. Before Terry Grier came our Eshores payments from Medicaid was only about 10 million per years. During Grier’s reign those payments went up to about 40 million per year. So they are making the money off special-ed kids but not taking care of them. This won’t happen under me.”