New HISD trustees say teach­ing his­to­ries give them edge

Houston Chronicle - - CITY | STATE - By Shelby Webb shelby.webb@chron.com

As Anne Sung and Holly Flynn Vi­laseca took their oaths of of­fice to be­came Hous­ton ISD’s new­est Board of Ed­u­ca­tion trustees this week, their hus­bands held ba­bies in one hand and holy books in the other.

Sung’s 11-month-old daugh­ter, Sarita, and Flynn Vi­laseca’s 1-year-old, Ni­co­las, hardly made a peep as their moth­ers be­came lead­ers of the na­tion’s sev­enth­largest school dis­trict.

Sung was elected as the Dis­trict 7 trus­tee and will re­place Harvin Moore, who re­signed last sum­mer. Vi­laseca was unan­i­mously ap­pointed by the board Mon­day to fill the Dis­trict 6 seat va­cated by Greg Mey­ers, who re­signed at the board’s De­cem­ber meet­ing.

Both will serve through the end of 2017.

“I’m ex­cited, en­er­gized and as pumped as ever,” Flynn Vi­laseca said af­ter the cer­e­mony Thurs­day. “I’m ready to serve my dis­trict and the City of Hous­ton to the best of my abil­ity.”

Flynn Vi­laseca, who is flu­ent in English and Span­ish, worked as a bilin­gual teacher at HISD’s Wind­sor Vil­lage Ele­men­tary School through the Teach for Amer­ica corps from 2004 to 2006.

Since leav­ing the school, she has worked with Bat­telle for Kids, K12 Inc., and thinkLaw, which en­cour­ages the teach­ing of crit­i­cal think­ing through case law.

Sung, an HISD and Har­vard grad­u­ate, cur­rently is chief strat­egy of­fi­cer and vice pres­i­dent of Project GRAD Hous­ton. She pre­vi­ously taught in Hous­ton ISD and the Rio Grande Val­ley with Teach for Amer­ica and was named Teacher of the Year by Lee High School in 2011.

Time of rapid change

The elec­tion and ap­point­ment of Sung and Flynn Vi­laseca, re­spec­tively, come at a time of rapid change in Hous­ton ISD. The dis­trict hired Richard Car­ranza as su­per­in­ten­dent in Au­gust, and dis­trict and school board lead­ers con­tinue to press the state to bet­ter fund Hous­ton schools.

Moore, who served on the board for 13 years, said it’s a “fairly un­prece­dented time for the dis­trict.”

“The real fi­nan­cial emer­gency we’ve had un­fold­ing be­fore us for some years now keeps get­ting worse re­lat­ing to state fund­ing,” he said. “And there has been a lot of lead­er­ship turnover in our dis­trict, which is very tough on an or­ga­ni­za­tion.”

Sung and Flynn Vi­laseca said top pri­or­i­ties in­clude en­sur­ing eq­uity in terms of the num­ber of tal­ented teach­ers, fund­ing and fa­cil­i­ties across Hous­ton. Flynn Vi­laseca said she also would like to fo­cus on lob­by­ing the state to aban­don “re­cap­ture,” which takes money from so-called prop­er­tyrich dis­tricts to as­sist those with lower prop­erty val­ues.

Hous­ton ISD of­fi­cials have ar­gued that be­cause 75 per­cent of dis­trict stu­dents are con­sid­ered low in­come, the money it pays to the state for re­cap­ture would be bet­ter spent lo­cally.

Sung also hopes to make sure the board and dis­trict are op­er­at­ing eth­i­cally and trans­par­ently, par­tic­u­larly in the way it spends money.

Prep stu­dents for life

Both also plan to fo­cus on im­prov­ing stu­dent achieve­ment, es­pe­cially among the dis­trict’s low­est-per­form­ing stu­dents.

“We need to bring at­ten­tion back to do­ing what’s right for stu­dents and pre­par­ing them for life af­ter high school,” Sung said. “We need to make sure we align what we’re teach­ing with what’s hap­pen­ing in the world.”

Sung and Flynn Vi­laseca said their teach­ing ex­pe­ri­ence gives them an edge be­cause they know the in­ner work­ings of the dis­trict and how cen­tral ad­min­is­tra­tion de­ci­sions can af­fect the class­room.

Their teach­ing ex­pe­ri­ences taught the two new board mem­bers about eq­uity, stu­dent achieve­ment and the strug­gles that lower-in­come and mi­nor­ity stu­dents face. Sung said her abil­ity to em­pathize as a for­mer teacher and mother will in­form her de­ci­sion­mak­ing.

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