HISD replacement board applicants include mix of civic leaders, alumni, district advocates
Jan. 14-- Jan. 14--At the age of 37, Frank North has parlayed his Houston ISD education and entrepreneurial spirit into an accomplished resume: clinical pharmacist, small business owner, adjunct professor, recipient of three college degrees.
With his fast-changing career calming down, the Booker T. Washington High School graduate now wants to help create more academic opportunities for students in his hometown district. Late last year, North applied for a spot on the replacement Houston ISD school board the Texas Education Agency is expected to appoint, confident his personal background and work history could well serve children in Texas' largest district.
"I bring a real-time experience of what a student in that environment thinks, what they want and what they hold dear in terms of their future," said North, who now lives in Houston's Third Ward. "A school board (member) doesn't necessarily need to be someone with extensive experience in education, but someone who understands and takes their experiences to make better outcomes for students."
North is one of nearly 250 people who applied for positions on the prospective replacement board, which Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath plans to install in the coming months. Morath announced in November 2019 his intention to temporarily oust the elected school board, citing Wheatley High School's seventh consecutive failing grade and multiple findings of misconduct involving current trustees, though a preliminary injunction issued last week and ongoing litigation could threaten those plans.
The applicants, according to a list provided by the TEA, represent a broad cross-section of the district, home to about 210,000 students from wide-ranging economic, ethnic, racial and social backgrounds. They include Houston ISD employees, former political candidates, business professionals, higher education staffers and advocates with children attending district schools.
Several candidates are well-known in civic and education circles, but most come with little to no public profile. Higher-visibility applicants include former HISD trustee Cathy Mincberg, former Houston Police Department interim chief Martha Montalvo, League of United Latin American Citizens leader Hugo Mojica and former HISD police chief Robert Mock.
Linda Flores Olson, the Houston Community College Foundation's director of development and former executive director of the Houston Hispanic Forum, said her deep connections throughout the city and passion for at-risk youth drove her to apply.
"What excites me the most is that we're designing something from nothing," Flores Olson said. "I think it's a sad day in our democracy if those elected board members are kicked out, but the bottom line is the only thing we should be looking at is student outcomes, and our students have not been excelling."
Additional applicants include a Rice University assistant provost who graduated from Harvard Law School at the age of 22, a longtime hospital CEO, the former president of Cristo Rey Jesuit College Preparatory of Houston and the chief operating officer of a prominent public works management firm.
"It would mean a lot to me to restore the faith of the board members who are elected," said applicant Carla Wyatt, a graduate of HISD's Lamar High School who has held several environmental quality and infrastructure jobs for local government agencies. "I believe the TEA and the board have the best intentions for students in the HISD system. I think all of us should participate collectively."
Several residents and educators who frequently advocate for lower-income children in HISD -- including some who have voiced opposition to state intervention -- submitted applications for the board. They include community activists Pamela Boveland and Jaison Oliver, teacher and recently-defeated school board candidate Larry McKinzie and Kashmere Gardens Super Neighborhood President Keith Downey.
"My interest in that position is to help bring about equity in our schools, to ensure that students who need extra care and extra help would receive those services," said Downey, who has attended public events opposing the board's appointment. "The community should have a part in what's going on in our schools."
State leaders will spend the next several weeks winnowing the list down to nine potential board members, conducting at least three rounds of interviews. Agency officials have said they want an ethnically, racially, geographically and socioeconomically diverse board of Houston residents with multiple skill sets. State law grants Morath the final authority on board selections.
The list released by state officials only includes first and last names of those who applied. The candidates' work histories, educational backgrounds and personally identifiable information were not disclosed. TEA officials did not respond to questions about what information will be released as the screening process continues.
TEA officials wanted to install the board as early as this spring, but last week's preliminary injunction blocks Morath from installing a replacement board while a lawsuit filed by HISD trustees seeking to stop their ouster is ongoing. Lawyers for the TEA immediately appealed the injunction ruling. A trial is set for late June.
In interviews with the Houston Chronicle, several people who completed the application said they since have learned they are unlikely to be selected due to living outside district boundaries or failing to attend a two-day training workshop in recent weeks. Two prominent residents who applied, Houston City Councilmember Jerry Davis and recently-defeated City Council candidate Raj Salhotra, said they have withdrawn from consideration.
Jesus Terrones, who rose from poverty on Houston's east side to fly Apache helicopters for the U.S. Army and graduate from Harvard Business School, said he was excited about the prospect of joining the board, until finding out his Alief residence disqualified him.
"I grew up in this community and recognize that I overcame some odds that were against me," Terrones said. "I was hoping to be that role model."
All four of the district's newly-elected trustees also applied, but Morath said last month that the agency's interpretation of state law precludes them from an appointed position.