Grantee Spotlight: Houston Independent School District

News Type: 
Grantee Spotlight
Publication Date: 
Thursday, April 27, 2017

While receiving a TIF grant is a great milestone in grantees' journey to reform their human capital management system, sustaining the work beyond the grant period is fundamental. To learn more about how grantees are thinking about sustainability, our TLP TA team recently interviewed Carla Stevens, TIF project director for the Houston Independent School District (HISD).


We would like to share your success stories. Looking back, what are the top three accomplishments specific to your TIF4 grant?

HISD boasts successes in three areas of the TIF4 grant:

First, our teachers now have access to a strong STEM curriculum: project staff created dozens of STEM lessons and engaged in continuous refinement to meet students' ongoing academic needs. This curriculum augments the district science and math scope and sequence and dovetails with professional development incorporating STEM-specific, job-embedded coaching and peer learning communities.

HISD staff members have worked hard to maintain the most critical programmatic elements of the original TIF4 grant proposal while staying responsive to stakeholders' emerging priorities and the shifting financial landscape.

Second, HISD staff created sustainable systems and organizational norms around teacher appraisal and development, rooted in HISD's own appraisal rubric (reflecting our stakeholders' priorities and values). Statistical analysis of implementation metrics shows that HISD's own appraisal rubric outperforms or is comparable to those of all other major districts for which metrics are available.

Third, our project schools experienced tremendous success with the STEM retention bonuses for qualifying math and science teachers. Project staff figured out how best to align the program calendar with teachers' decision-making cycle, and project schools doubled the retention of their best math and science teachers.


If your "policy climate" has changed since the project started, we are not surprised! Please tell us about any shifts in your policy context specific to your TIF4 project and the ways it has changed.

Since 2012, HISD has experienced multiple transitions at the senior-most levels of leadership: Superintendent, Chief Academic Officer, Chief Human Resources Officer, and Board members. Naturally, each new leader differed slightly in his/her vision of how to use the TIF tools (recruitment, retention, appraisal, development, and performance-based compensation) to best support students and their learning. These changes came in the context of deep budget cuts thanks to Texas's existing school finance system. Altogether, HISD staff members have worked hard to maintain the most critical programmatic elements of the original TIF4 grant proposal, while staying responsive to stakeholders' emerging priorities and the shifting financial landscape.


While praising you for a job well done, we are interested in your approach to sustaining your accomplishments. Please tell us about your sustainability plans.

Also as reported previously, one of the biggest priorities for the grant staff is that the project schools are prepared at the end of Year Five to take on this STEM work themselves, in a way that makes sense for their students, their teachers, and their community - not just in terms of content knowledge and teaching capacity, but in terms of budgeting. Consequently, in January of Year Five, the project staff provided each campus principal with a detailed report of the TIF4 funds that had been invested in their campus in the past year.


What have you learned through your own sustainability process that you think could benefit other TIF grantees?

We began the grant period with the theory of action that if we provided specific STEM supports to the most qualified teachers, then through targeted professional supports we could engender in them an appropriate disposition for high-quality STEM pedagogy. In Year Five, we have reflected on which STEM teachers have been most successful, and which will continue in these practices after the grant period ends and the financial incentives cease.

We are certainly proud of the tremendous success we have shown with our STEM teachers during the grant period. But we also suspect that flipping that theory of action could have brought more sustainable success: if we can find good teachers who already demonstrate a disposition toward integrative teaching, then we could provide content-specific supports to grow their STEM instructional practice.