Editor's note: a previous version of this story incorrectly stated Meyerland Performing and Visual Arts Middle School's campus rating dropped from a “B” rating in the 2021-22 school year to a “D” rating in January. MPVA Middle School's rating in January was a "C."

Hundreds of Houston ISD parents and students engaged in protests outside of Crockett Elementary School as well as Meyerland Performing and Visual Arts Middle School, among other campuses, on May 13 after learning the schools' principals had been asked to resign.

The overview

Protest organizers said Crockett Elementary Principal Alexis Vale and MPVA Middle School Principal Auden Sarabia were among the many principals and teachers who received letters asking them to either resign or risk termination the previous week.

Protesters outside both schools held signs calling for the protection of principals and teachers as well as signs calling for the ouster of Superintendent Mike Miles, who was appointed by the Texas Education Agency to lead the district last June.

In a May 15 emailed response to a Community Impact inquiry, HISD officials did not confirm the number or identity of employees who received letters, but they noted employees whose jobs are eliminated will have the opportunity to pursue other roles in the district.

A closer look

Liz Silva, incoming president of the Crockett Elementary Parent-Teacher Association and organizer of the protest, said she was caught off guard when she was notified Vale had received a letter.

“We were blindsided and upset, so we rallied together and hosted a sign-making party on Mother’s Day,” Silva said. “It wasn't just parents from Crockett that came to this gathering. It was parents from multiple schools that received the same news on Friday.”

While the district did not provide any specific reasons for the principals’ terminations, officials said individual campus ratings created by the district were used to make personnel decisions.

“In most cases, if a school has an A or B rating, that is a strong indication that the principal is creating the kind of learning environment students need,” officials said in a statement. “When a school is rated C or lower, it often means the school is not serving students well on a consistent basis.”

While Crockett Elementary received a “D” rating in January, Silva said the district’s accountability rating shouldn’t have been used in determining Vale’s employment status because of a pending lawsuit against the TEA.

In previous years, district campuses were given official TEA accountability ratings based on a number of factors, including State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness exam scores and college preparedness rankings.

However, the TEA did not release official accountability ratings for the 2022-23 school year due to a pending lawsuit filed by more than 100 school districts challenging the legality of a new version of the TEA’s accountability system that was due to go into effect this year.

Despite the pending litigation, HISD officials said the ratings given to each campus were based on the methodology that would have been used under the TEA’s new accountability system. As a result of the new rating system, Crockett dropped from a “B” rating in the 2021-22 school year to a “D” rating in January.

“We want to see what made the school drop from a high ‘B’ to a low ‘D,’ and that information has never been provided to us,” Silva said.

Rochelle Cabe, a parent who helped organize the May 13 protest in Meyerland, raised similar concerns with the district’s use of its own accountability rating system.

Similarly, MPVA Middle School’s accountability rating dropped from a “B” rating in the 2021-22 school year to a “C” rating in January.

“They’re creating and doing damage ... with the application of this data they’ve crafted,” Cabe said. “They are terminating principals who have a ‘C’ or ‘D’ score because [the rating suggests] they're not great principals, but I believe that that data itself is even manipulated.”

Also of note

Both Cabe and Silva also said they believed midyear assessments given to students in January were used in principal evaluations that may have affected Vale and Sarabia’s employment status.

The tests were administered after HISD closed all campuses on Jan. 16 due to freezing weather conditions. When the tests were administered, many campuses, including MPVA Middle School and Crockett Elementary, were still experiencing heating issues from damage caused by the freeze.

“Our kids were wearing jackets, freezing in their classrooms trying to take an assessment test,” Silva said. “It seems really unfair to not have some kind of circumstantial matrix for weather conditions or to not reschedule the testing.”

HISD officials did not respond to questions asking whether testing administered in January affected principal evaluations in their May 15 statement to Community Impact.

What’s next

Moving forward, HISD officials said they will work with every campus that’s losing its principal to identify each community’s priorities for their next school leader. They said the process will involve surveys, community meetings and opportunities over the summer to meet with incoming principals.

Cabe and Silva said they were planning on joining hundreds of parents and community members from throughout the district to speak at the HISD board of managers May 16 budget workshop.

“We're absolutely going to be at the board meeting on Thursday in force,” Cabe said, noting she would likely participate in additional protests at other campuses in the future.