New HISD trustees say teaching histories give them edge
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.