Neff Parents and Students Are Fighting Principal Amanda Wingard’s Forced Resignation, Which HISD's Board Hasn't Accepted Yet

Neff Parents and Students Are Fighting Principal Amanda Wingard’s Forced Resignation, Which HISD's Board Hasn't Accepted Yet
Neff parents, students, and signs at Lansdale Pavilion on 5/15/24

Even though Berenice Gonzalez’s kids weren’t zoned to Neff Elementary, she “heard great things about it,” so she transferred them there and wasn't disappointed. Even during online COVID school, Neff teachers did tutorials to “go through it with each and every kid.”

Gonzalez thinks that Neff’s principal, Amanda Wingard, who signed her kids' transfers, is “great.” Apparently, HISD’s new leadership doesn’t think so.

A former Neff student herself, Wingard was last year’s HISD Elementary Principal of the Year, but last week, the district told her to resign.

On Wednesday, Gonzalez and nearly 50 other Neff parents, students, and teachers gathered to make signs protesting HISD’s decision.

Students and parents clustered around picnic tables under Lansdale Pavilion in Monsignor Bill Pickard Park, just across the street from Neff Elementary. They filled white and neon signs with big-lettered messages: “Our kids deserve better,” “We stand with Wingard!!!" and more.

Devin Guevara, 21, a former Neff student, led around twenty kids in a chant: “We love you Miss Wingard.” They held little construction-paper “Honk if you love Wingard” signs.

The parents were planning to keep their kids home from school Friday as part of a protest, but HISD canceled school anyway thanks to Thursday night’s severe thunderstorm, which killed at least four people and knocked out power for nearly a million, according to AP News.

Could the protesters change Wingard’s future? Her resignation has not been officially accepted by the HISD board yet. That was on the agenda for Thursday night’s board meeting, but the storm forced the meeting to adjourn early. It has been rescheduled for Thursday, 5/23, at 4:00 PM.

The protest group was organized by Marlin Osorio, whose fifth grader attends Neff. Her 21-year-old and 15-year-old also attended Neff during Wingard’s career there—a testament to the principal’s lasting impact in the community.

“She’s strict, but she’s fair,” said Osorio. When she heard Wingard would be removed, she was “shocked, sad, mad.”

Her oldest son, Devin Guevara, said that Wingard worked in an admin position when he attended, but was still "very involved."

She became principal after he left. “I envy my brothers,” he said.

He credited her with improving the theater arts program and turning it into a “giant production” with microphones, spotlights, and kids who filled roles from actors to backstage managers.

“When I was little, my principals were very detached, but she's very present,” he said.

Denise Whitney, whose son attends Neff, said Wingard is “amazing…I’ve never seen anyone more dedicated, committed, and truly attached to a school.”

“I see it any time I’m in the school—the way she knows and connects with the students," she said. She remembered a talent show or play where Wingard "got on stage and danced with the students.”

A woman only identified as Abigail, who has three kids at Neff, said, “Parents didn’t get no explanation. It’s not fair.”

Why Remove Last Year’s Principal of the Year?

Wingard said that the district did not provide her with a reason for her removal. So how does HISD determine who will lead schools?

Unclear Standards for Principals

When Superintendent Mike Miles released his new principal evaluation system, community backlash prompted him to backtrack in a statement on March 22: "The proficiency screener rating will not be used in the evaluation of principals or other campus administrators in any adverse employment decisions for 2023-2024."

In a May 16 Facebook post, Wingard said that she received an email from the district on March 22 that read "HISD is making changes to the way the proficiency screening rating is used. Division leadership will contact you later with more information."

But Wingard said that when she met with division leadership, "it was unclear what was changed." When she asked questions, "I was told I was disrespectful."

Did anything change? The second part of Miles' March 22 statement read:

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.' 

In other words, Miles still used the same data that would have been used to make decisions under the proficiency screener system. But there wasn't an official system anymore—just his discretion.

The Sharpener is waiting for comment from HISD's press office.

What We Do Know

Wingard's removal is not due to the HISD's tight budget. In a statement provided to KHOU-11, HISD said, “All contract non-renewals for principals are unrelated to HISD’s overall budget challenges.”

Instead, HISD's statement implied that the decisions to remove Wingard and other principals were based on school ratings: “When a school is rated C or lower, it often means the school is not serving students well on a consistent basis.”

Neff got a high B (87) on its 2021-22 TEA report card, but the TEA drastically changed its rating system for 2022-23. A lawsuit has kept the TEA from releasing 2022-23 report cards so far, but HISD took the TEA’s data and methodology and calculated the ratings itself. Neff ended up with a high D (67), part of the reason it’s joining the New Education System next year.

Neff also has a history of lower-than-average STAAR scores: in 2022-23, 32% of its students scored at “Meets Grade Level or Above” on the ELA/Reading portion of the STAAR exam, compared to 45% across HISD and 53% across Texas.

But Neff faces challenges that many schools across HISD do not. In 2022, 75.7% of Neff students were Emergent Bilinguals, recent immigrants who are still learning basic English, according to the TEA. Meanwhile, 95.1% were classified as "Economically Disadvantaged."

Those kids are no less intelligent than others, but they face additional barriers to learning. Anyone who’s tried to learn a foreign language knows how challenging it can be.

If the HISD board approves Wingard’s resignation and replaces her, the new principal will still have to help kids deal with those barriers.

Last year, Wingard shared some of her thoughts on education in this interview:

How to Educate Kids, according to HISD Elementary Principal of the Year Amanda Wingard
Educating students involves dozens of decisions, many of them controversial. In this interview, HISD Elementary Principal of the Year Amanda Wingard weighs in on several hot-button issues: * Should kids learn to read through phonics (learning how to sound out letters and words) or sight reading (recognizing words through memorization and

Superintendent Miles has made big changes at Sharpstown High too. Read about them below:

Not the Same School: How Sharpstown High Changed under New Principal T.J. Cotter and Supt. Mike Miles
Leer en español When Texas A&M graduate Kristina Samuel picked Sharpstown High last June for her first full-time teaching job, it was a different school. The state of Texas had just announced it was taking over HISD, but she didn’t think it would affect her new workplace—after