Southwest Houstonians Display Little Hostility to Superintendent Miles at Sugar Grove Family Meeting

Southwest Houstonians Display Little Hostility to Superintendent Miles at Sugar Grove Family Meeting
Gloria Reyes speaks to HISD Superintendent Mike Miles at Sugar Grove Academy on July 27

It wasn’t the southwest that made the meeting spicy.

Many recent HISD family meetings have been tense, but Superintendent Mike Miles received quite a bit of applause when Noe Ortega, the new principal of Sugar Grove Academy, introduced him to the parents and students filling the school’s cafeteria on July 27.

But Stephan Hester, an activist from Kashmere Gardens on the northeast side of Houston, shouted over Superintendent Miles’ presentation during (ironically) the section where Miles talked about classroom disruptions.

Superintendent Miles framed Hester’s interruptions as a prime example of why schools need Miles’ three “old-fashioned” rules for student discipline: “No disrespect to any adult,” “Cannot disrupt the learning environment,” and “No bullying.”

Hester shot back: “You’re disrespecting my environment…you’re bullying my environment.”

Miles turned to the rest of the audience: “You don’t want this in your classroom, do you?”

Earlier, Miles had explained some of HISD’s reasons for making Sugar Grove part of his New Education System (NES): in 2022, only 22% of Sugar Grove 6th graders scored “Meets Expectations” or above on the STAAR exam, compared to 41% of 6th graders in the district. For 6th-grade math, the numbers were 20% at Sugar Grove and 34% in the district. At that point, the audience was silent.

But during the public questions and comments, the room was split. Most of the applause for pro-Miles statements came from the left side of the room, which included many HISD officials. Most of the applause for anti-Miles statements came from the right side of the room, which included activists from the north/northeast side of Houston, like Hester and Sarah Rivlin, an outspoken English teacher at Northside High School.

Superintendent Miles answers questions in the cafeteria of Sugar Grove Academy on July 27

Before Superintendent Miles even accepted his job, he was already unpopular with vocal groups from north/northeast Houston, where most of the original 28 NES schools are found. The takeover of HISD happened partly because of the ratings of Wheatley High School in the northeast. Some northeast Houstonians—especially Hester—feel that the takeover is a political power grab by the Republican state government.

But now that Miles’ NES is spreading to four Sharpstown schools, including Sugar Grove, what do parents, students, and teachers from southwest Houston think?

Local student Jonathan Rivas and his mother, who both attended the meeting, didn’t know much about the takeover except that it involved a new principal and a new education system.

Another local, Gloria Reyes, told Miles, “Thank you…I know this will be a great plan for them, because I see the struggles of the students as a teacher.” She said she taught an elective at Sugar Grove last year and will be teaching reading at the school this year. In a class with 27 students, “you don’t have the time for everybody,” so she looks forward to the extra support from teacher apprentices and learning coaches that the NES will provide.

Her two daughters attend Sugar Grove. One said that Miles plan is “good…but too many changes.” She wasn’t excited about the school doors opening at 6:30 AM, although parents don’t need to drop their kids off until 8:00 AM.

Robert Lihalakha, a former HISD PE teacher from the Chimney Rock area, mentioned before the meeting that he disagreed with Miles’ decision to remove librarians from schools. But he used a respectful tone when he challenged Miles to explain how he would address the deeper "socioeconomic" issues that affect kids’ performance in school.

Robert Lihalakha, former HISD PE teacher, owner of Attul Care Group 

Vera Moore, a rising senior at Sharpstown High, found the reforms “concerning,” but she, too, was respectful when she asked Miles what his plans were for Sharpstown High and other schools that are not NES or NES-aligned.

Miles replied, “It’s your school…we will support your principal as far as high-quality instruction, but right now, you’ll continue to do mostly what you’ve always done.” He’s repeatedly stressed that HISD doesn’t have the budget to conduct “wholesale systemic reform” at every school right away.

But eventually, he wants to reform 150 of HISD’s 273 campuses. Sharpstown is a likely candidate given its low STAAR scores, high student poverty rate, and the fact that Miles recently reassigned the principal, Dan De Leon, and replaced him with Thomas J. Cotter.

If that happens, November Hto, a rising junior at Sharpstown High, questions whether Miles’ discipline system will be effective at his school. Miles’ plan relies on pulling disruptive students out of class and putting them in “Team Centers,” but November wonders if they’ll just walk out of school. He and Vera said that some Sharpstown students already do that if they don’t like a class.

Will the NES be able to change kids like that? Miles seems to think there’s hope for any student. As he said in his reply to Lihalakha, “Poverty is not a life sentence…Kids are not broken.”