After years of appeals, delays, and reprieves, the Texas Education Agency closed North Forest ISD, citing perennial underperformance and mismanagement. Its administrators, teachers, and students have spent the past two years with the possibility of closure looming over them, and even though Houston ISD officially annexed North Forest on July 1st, there’s a lot of uncertainty over what the next few weeks will hold. After all, HISD teachers report in 34 days and classes start in 58 days.
Why wait until the middle of the summer? The TEA changed commissioners during this process, and while its intentions to close North Forest did not change, the shift in leadership did slow down litigation. Also, as education wonks will remember, last spring the district received one last year to make a turnaround. They brought in a new superintendent and continued their partnership with YES Prep charter schools, but North Forest couldn’t deliver improved results. Since North Forest’s legal team had succeeded once in stalling, there was a fair chance they could delay closure again.
North Forest ISD was a consistently low-performing district. It covered a small area in northeast Houston, and its 7 campuses– one high school, two middle schools, and five elementary schools—were among the lowest ranked in CHILDREN AT RISK’s school rankings.
HISD has been planning for this transition for some time, but it will still be pretty frenetic. A lot of human capital is moving: all former North Forest employees were released from their contracts at the end of the school year and they now have to re-apply with HISD. Meanwhile, HISD staff can receive a bonus if they transfer to North Forest schools. It seems stark, but HISD wants to bring in proven talent while minimizing turnover. Beyond that, there are about 6,000 students HISD will be absorbing. Many of them have been receiving special accommodations or have been enrolled in gifted/talented classes. North Forest had a lot of trouble keeping records on its own, and with a new district in charge many of these students may not have the documentation necessary to stay in their programs. Summer school started yesterday—but instruction is going on throughout this transition.
North Forest was known for not having the best facilities, but Superintendent Terry Grier probably didn’t expect such eventful tours of the campuses last week. Even though the buildings had only been unattended for a few weeks, Grier and accompanying reporters found rodents, roaches, and vandalism. Although the campuses are around 40 years old, it appears that decades of tight finances have taken their toll. Classrooms were left abandoned and upturned after the last day of school, and some were still flooded from long-passed storms. However, not all of their findings were concerning. The Houston Chronicle published a photo of Superintendent Grier alongside a very out-of-place china cabinet. It looks like every day brings new surprises for HISD.
Check out our commentary on the takeover of North Forest ISD below.