"So," Judith Cruz wrote in a campaign release today, "in the final analysis, who wants breakfast in the classroom? The answer is my opponent and Terry Grier."
Ms. Cruz was defending insensitive remarks she made about not having seen starving students in HISD. She was also seeking the votes of east-side residents and HISD teachers by making it seem like she opposed the policies of HISD Superintendent Grier, who as a white non-Spanish speaking leader of a district with a sixty-one percent Hispanic majority, was not the most popular choice in this part of town.
In an interview available online with Charles Kuffner, Ms. Cruz said Terry Grier is "moving in the right direction. He has the right mindset." Ms. Cruz is supported by the same coalition that brought Grier to Houston, and that continues to champion his efforts, including: the Houston Business Education Committee, the Houston Chronicle and former board member Natasha Kamrani, the wife of YES Prep charter school founder, Chris Barbic.
Ms. Cruz also subscribes to the viewpoint that teachers alone determine the success or failure of students: that it has little to do with parental involvement, quality management of schools, student behavior or poverty conditions.
When she dismisses the need for free breakfasts in elementary classrooms, Cruz is expressing a philosophical point--that the real lives of students have no bearing on how they feel or behave in school, so we should not be concerned about it. That does not ring true to this teacher, and I suspect it sounds wrong to other teachers as well.
While polls show most Americans believe improving schools requires a collective effort, Ms. Cruz in the Kuffner interview suggested only one action was necessary to close the achievement gap: "This requires changing how we evaluate and reward teachers with the goal being an effective teacher in every classroom."
Everybody would agree we need effective teachers, but a teachers' effectiveness depends on some factors beyond their control, including whether students have their basic needs met.
Judith Cruz calls HISD's controversial EVAAS evaluation process, which holds teachers alone accountable for student test scores, "a step in the right direction." Again, she is in bed, metaphorically speaking, with Terry Grier.
Ms. Cruz has said Michelle Rhee was "doing a phenomenal job at teacher evaluation." Ms. Rhee was recently forced to resign after District of Columbia residents voted out the mayor who appointed her. The election was seen as a referendum on her arrogant, dismissive style of leadership. Rhee had fired 1000 employees and closed forty neighborhood schools, while ignoring parents in the reform process.
Over the past two years, the groups behind Cruz have put four reform candidates on the HISD school board. The reform forces control six votes on the HISD school board but, strangely, there has been little reform outside nine schools in the Apollo 20 program--unless you count blaming teachers as reform.
While Ms. Cruz herself has spoken of "market forces" and "competition" as the best ways to improve public schools, she says Terry Grier should "slow down" rather than raise academic and behavior standards in all HISD schools.
HISD schools cannot compete with high quality charter schools, which demand more investment from parents, teachers, students and administrators, and not just teachers, unless the district picks up the pace and includes all stakeholders in reform.
As it is now, HISD policies are stirring management-labor conflict, rather than bringing us together for the sake of improving the quality of education.
Cruz's opponent, Juliet Stipeche, has called for a "multi-faceted community-oriented approach" to school reform, and emphasizes "involving parents" rather than ignoring them.
For those of us who teach in public schools, like it or not, our future involves competition with charter schools, but with Juliet Stipeche and a few more board members like her, we can at least have a genuine effort