How Does HISD Evaluate Principals Like Amanda Wingard? Transparency Is Missing

How Does HISD Evaluate Principals Like Amanda Wingard? Transparency Is Missing
HISD Superintendent Mike Miles listens as Neff principal Amanda Wingard reads her public statement to the board at Thursday's meeting (5/23/24).

Last updated June 11.

Registered speaker #42 out of 220 at last night’s HISD board meeting was Amanda Wingard, principal of Sharpstown’s Neff Elementary, sporting a headband as usual.

She challenged district leadership's decision to ask her to resign:

"I was fired because I asked questions at a meeting about an unproven outcome measure that was not equitable. I was not forced to resign because of instruction.... I asked questions respectfully in the best interest of students. For that I am proud."

The crowded room gave her a standing ovation.

Principal Wingard sits down to a standing ovation at Thursday's board meeting, next to her husband, son, and daughter.

Neff parents and students have come behind Wingard to support her. Last Wednesday, they were making signs for a protest. But the district shows no signs of budging.

The real question behind all this is simple: what makes someone a good principal?

Dozens of vocal Neff parents think that Wingard is a good principal, citing her dedication, fairness, and ability to connect with students. Wingard ended her speech by saying she's confident in the legacy she leaves behind at Neff. But Superintendent Miles—or someone in his administration—decided that Wingard wasn’t good enough to serve as Neff’s principal next year.


That’s the million-dollar question. Miles says that evaluating teachers and principals is about the data—especially student achievement on standardized tests. But what data, if any, did he use to make decisions about Wingard and other principals who were asked to resign this month, like Auden Sarabia at Meyerland Performing and Visual Arts and Jessica Berry at Herod Elementary? And how did Miles use that data?

No one seems to know.

Uncertain Evaluation System

In a statement released to KHOU-11, the district mentioned that school ratings played a part in decisions about school leadership. Neff received a B report card from the TEA in 2021-22 and a high D from HISD for 2022-23 (the TEA has not released ratings, so HISD calculated them in-house).

But that was the report card for last school year. HISD has been collecting vast amounts of data from this school year, including students' test scores and teachers' spot observation scores. So why not rate principals based on this year’s data?

Wingard was led to believe that would be the case, but she said the district’s communication was inconsistent and unclear about how 2023-24’s data would be used.

Wingard said that in March, the administration flip-flopped on whether something called the "Executive Leadership Rubric" would affect principals' jobs. She also said the LEAD system Miles developed to evaluate principals has been changed four times.

For months, Miles said he would use the LEAD system’s proficiency screener rating to determine principals’ employment. He partially backtracked on March 22 due to community backlash. But in a meeting with principals that day, Division Leadership did not clarify what had changed about principal evaluations, said Wingard.

Even Miles' March 22 statement was vague:

"The Superintendent will continue to use instructional data and student achievement data in the exercise of the discretion outlined in board policy DNB (LOCAL): 'When relevant to the decision, written evaluations of a professional employee's performance, as documented to date, and any other information the administration determines to be appropriate shall be considered in decisions affecting contract status.'"

Based on that statement, principals' employment appears to have been left up to Miles' "discretion."

Wingard Claims the Data Was on Her Side

Wingard also said that an Independent Review Team (IRT) visits each campus four times per year to watch classes and rate teachers using spot observation forms, and that principals were told twice in March that the highest score from IRT #1 or #2 would be used to determine the school’s middle-of-year (MOY) proficiency rating. If that was really the case, Neff would have been rated Proficient, said Wingard.

Wingard said that according to data shared by her Senior Executive Director on May 13, Neff was rated Proficient on Quality of Instruction and Student Achievement. “I was not presented in writing with evidence about why I was being asked to resign.”

Wingard’s theory? She asked too many questions.

In her speech at the meeting, she said,

“I was not forced to resign because of instruction: Neff is proficient after the third IRT. I was not forced to resign because of achievement: Neff…is ranked 6th in math and 29th in reading in HISD. I was asked to resign because of this administration’s definition of leadership…. We work in fear—fear of asking the wrong questions, fear of not meeting unknown expectations, fear of subjective failure.”

Attempts to Get Clarity from HISD

Since Tuesday, May 14, The Sharpener has reached out to HISD’s press office multiple times to ask about Wingard’s forced resignation and the criteria Superintendent Miles uses to evaluate principals in general. The press office “answered” on May 24:

“The district will not be proving [sic] a response for this request as it is disclosing the private details of an employee’s tenure.”

Apparently, whoever made that call hadn’t read Question #3 of The Sharpener’s request:

“If HISD is not using the LEAD system to decide whether principals keep their jobs, what specific criteria is Superintendent Miles using to decide whether principals keep their jobs?”

Answering that question wouldn’t require disclosing any private details of any employee’s tenure. The Sharpener sent a follow-up request isolating Question #3, but has not received any reply as of June 11.

On May 22, Wingard also sent HISD's board a public statement (partially authored by her) from the HISD Principals for Superintendent Resignation. The statement claims to provide details of instances in which the administration was unclear or inconsistent about how principals would be evaluated.

The Sharpener reached out to HISD’s press office and entire board of managers on May 23 to request comment on the statement. The press office acknowledged receiving the request without giving any further answer. No board members replied.

In a Monday interview, an ABC-13 reporter asked Superintendent Miles, “How do you go from being principal of the year to being asked not to come back?”

Miles replied, “The last administration had their criteria for whatever awards or performance things they wanted to do. And that criteria is different from the criteria we’re using. We’re using criteria that wraps around instruction, achievement, and leadership.”

It would be helpful to know what those criteria actually are.

Postscript: Did HISD’s Board Officially Accept Wingard’s Resignation?

According to Wingard, the board hadn't officially approved her resignation before last night's meeting. It appeared to be an item on the agenda:

“Consider and approve proposed appointments, reassignments, proposed terminations, terminations/suspensions, contract lengths, proposed nonrenewals, renewals, and resignations/retirements of personnel including teachers, assistant principals, principals....”

Did the board approve it?

Public comments at the meeting lasted from 4:00 PM until 7:00 PM, so HISD’s board didn’t vote on staff employment matters until around 12:40 AM on May 24, after discussing personnel matters during a long closed session away from the public eye.

With eight “Yes” votes and one abstention (Adam Rivon), the board passed Janette Garza Lindner’s motion:

“I move that the board approves the closed session personnel agenda, including specifically that the board approves proposed terminations, non-renewals of continuing term performance and probationary contracts and authorizes the superintendent or designee to provide notice of same, that the board approve suspensions without pay for continuing term and probationary contracts and authorizes the Superintendent or designee to provide notice of same, that the board voids term, probationary, and performance contracts and authorizes the Superintendent or designee to provide notice of same, that the board approves withdrawals of contract recommendations and that the board approves issuance of final orders on contract terminations and non-renewals as discussed in closed session effective May 24th, 2024.”

The motion didn't mention any specific principals, so it's unclear whether Wingard was one of the personnel subject to termination or non-renewal.

However, the motion did not mention any changes to the item on the closed session agenda, either. So things aren't looking good for Wingard.

Hear directly from Principal Amanda Wingard herself:

Opinion: Neff Principal Amanda Wingard Shares Thoughts on Forced Resignation
Hello! On Wednesday, May 15th, I submitted my resignation as principal from the Houston Independent School District and Neff Elementary. I have been the proud principal at Neff for 10 years. I led the charge to be an NES school next year in a community that was hesitant but agreed