Opinion: Neff Principal Amanda Wingard Shares Thoughts on Forced Resignation

Opinion: Neff Principal Amanda Wingard Shares Thoughts on Forced Resignation
Principal Amanda Wingard celebrating her Elementary Principal of the Year award with Neff students one year ago. Image credit: blogs.houstonisd.org

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 if I were the principal. I was excited about implementing the system. At the core of the NES system, I support the instructional model.

Nothing through the process led me to believe I would not be at Neff.

I was named Principal of the Year for HISD in Spring 2023. This was largely due to the work I did last year and in previous years to train principals on how we use data at Neff to drive instruction.

This January, I scheduled a virtual meeting with the cohort I supported last year. We had just received middle-of-the-year data from the MAP assessment; I wanted to check in with them to share how Neff would use it and collaborate. It was a new data tool we had never utilized, and I wanted to brainstorm with my colleagues on the next steps.

Later that evening, I was asked to cancel the meeting. I was not approved to hold a meeting during instructional time or share information to support other Divisions. This confirmed the underlying current of Division competition in HISD. In a follow-up meeting, it was shared that I should have informed my direct supervisors beforehand.

They should not have been caught off-guard by the work I was doing. I intended to include them so they could see the work in real-time. After I presented how we use data, I was told this was expert-level information that few principals would know how to approach and use.

At this point, I wondered if I could do this work in this value system. All I know as an educator is to share and support so we can all support student achievement. In my years as a principal, the most powerful professional development has been learning from other principals.

In March, the Superintendent sent an in-person meeting invite to all principals rated as “not proficient,” which resulted in my name being published in the Houston Chronicle. Per HISD and TEA policy, this information should have been kept confidential from everyone.

Neff was rated as Progressing 1 due to the Independent Review Team (IRT) score from Round #2. The IRT is scheduled to visit campuses four times yearly to review instruction using the HISD Spot form. IRT Round #1 had to be dropped because of widespread discrepancies and lack of consistency. In March, we were told in two meetings (but nothing in writing) that they would take the highest score from IRT #1 or IRT #2 to determine our Middle of the Year Proficiency Rating. If IRT #1 had been used, Neff would have been rated Proficient.

On March 22nd, the Superintendent sent an email to principals with the information that HISD would be changing how the proficiency screening rating is used. We will be meeting with Division Leadership later in the day. After 30 minutes in the meeting, it was unclear what changes were being made from the original plan, so I asked about them. The answer I received was that not just one thing would determine if we would have a contract next year.

I responded professionally but said that was not true. In March, we were informed for the first time that the “executive leadership rubric” —another new and inconsistently implemented evaluation tool—would be used to evaluate us. We had been told that if a principal is rated below a 22 on this rubric, the principal will not return next year, regardless of any other data points. I also stated that my teachers felt anxious that the IRT alone could determine whether I had a job. We also shared concerns that our LEAD Guidebook is on Version 5.

This meeting was awkward because no one understood its purpose. The Division Superintendent stated she had our backs, and we would be fine. However, she also said she did not feel supported and cried. While principals were the ones who were humiliated, publicly embarrassed, and unsupported throughout this process, we were made to feel bad about Division Leadership not feeling supported.

I left the meeting knowing that nothing had changed and that this would have far-reaching consequences. I received similar colleague messages: “I know what you were saying, and I think it was important. It was not negative or disrespectful. I am glad you spoke up.” “Thank you for speaking up for us, but they aren’t listening. This is about damage control and optics!”

I met with my Executive Directors and was given a conference summary memorandum, aka a “write-up.” I was told I was disrespectful and that I did not know how to lead my staff through times of ambiguity and uncertainty.

I absolutely know how to lead my staff through times of ambiguity and uncertainty. I told my staff my evaluation was a compilation of several data points, and IRT alone would not determine my employment status for next year. I didn’t realize at the time that I was lying to them.

One of my strengths as a leader is validating feelings even if things have to change. I was hoping the same courtesy would be extended to me and my colleagues who experienced embarrassment and confusion throughout this entire process.

On Thursday, May 9, I met with the West Division Senior Executive Director of Support. She told me my name was taken to File Review by my Executive Director and Senior Executive Director, and there was enough evidence to move forward for termination. I asked her what evidence was used. She said she did not know but could check her notes. She stated she could not find her notes but thinks it was for IRT, Proficiency Screener, and Culture. I told her I was on the Principal Advisory Committee.

On Monday, May 13, the Superintendent was asked about contracts for principals who did not have them yet. He said we should know if we were being brought forward to File Review because of ongoing, concerning conversations on Instruction and Systems. I have had no concerning conversations on these topics.

It was unprofessional and humiliating to be told I would be asked to resign or be terminated by someone with whom I had never discussed my school. I asked why my Executive Director and Senior Executive Director were not at the meeting and she stated it was how the West decided to complete these meetings.

My Senior Executive Director called me over the weekend about a social media post she had heard about but had not seen. I wondered why she was calling me about something she had not read. I told her I let my community, staff, family, and friends know I was asked to resign. I was not disparaging to HISD and stated facts. She wanted to make sure it didn’t affect future job prospects. I told her that was of no concern to her. It felt like an attempt to silence me.

I met with my Senior Executive Director and Executive Director of Support on Monday, May 13. They presented data on my school.

We are Proficient in both Quality of Instruction and Student Achievement. I was not presented in writing with evidence about why I was being asked to resign.

My conclusion is that I am being asked to resign because I wanted clarity on my evaluation and did not follow the chain of command.

If the LEAD system evaluation resulted in me being in the Unsatisfactory range, I would have resigned on my own. I would understand if I were told I would not receive a contract until the LEAD evaluation could be calculated.

At recent meetings, we were asked if we aligned with the value statements written in the School Leader Employee Value Proposition and Executive Leadership rubric.

I align with these values.

However, I also align with values not written in either of these, such as collaboration, equity, and having a voice to ensure fair systems.

This Superintendent has created a culture of fear and intimidation in the name of transformation. I am gutted that I must address these things as we close out the school year. The focus should be on the amazing work of our students and teachers.

I would never treat my worst employee like I have been treated in the last two weeks in such a public way. We can do hard work, not always agree, and ask questions about equity in a transformation climate.

This Superintendent is incapable of this and should be asked to resign or move forward for termination.


Amanda Wingard, principal of Neff Elementary

Opinion pieces do not necessarily represent the viewpoints of The Sharpener's editor. Not all claims made by opinion authors have been fact-checked by The Sharpener. In opinion pieces, The Sharpener seeks to fairly represent a variety of respectfully expressed perspectives.

Learn about how the HISD takeover has affected another Sharpstown school:

Not the Same School: How Sharpstown High Changed under New Principal T.J. Cotter and Supt. Mike Miles
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