By Moses Leos III
Concerns over Hays CISD’s hire of personnel from an embattled Houston area school district led citizens to voice their opinions at the last school board meeting.
But Hays CISD maintains the four hires from Spring ISD had nothing to do with – or were cleared of – any wrong-doing in a highly publicized scandal involving that district.
Citizens’ concerns stemmed from the Spring ISD controversy, which involved scheduling and record keeping errors that affected more than 600 seniors across three high schools.
Four speakers held concerns about Hays CISD’s hire of Spring ISD employees. One of those hires is Lucio Calzada, who was tabbed as Hays CISD’s Assistant Superintendent of Secondary Leadership in December 2014. Calzada worked as Spring ISD’s Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources prior to moving over to Hays.
The scandal involving Spring ISD was brought to light in February 2015 as part of an internal investigation, which led to a variety of resignations and firings.
Local citizen Trace Shelton said during public comment on Nov. 16 that Calzada was “in a position of responsibility” at Spring ISD where students were affected.
“I have no doubt in my mind, if he had not left when he did, then he would have been in big trouble when the axe finally fell in February on those who stuck around,” Shelton said.
Shelton added concerns on hiring oversight, as he claimed Calzada influenced the hire of other Spring ISD employees “less than a year on the job.”
Zach Hall said during public comment that he didn’t want “this to be a witch hunt,” but said the hires raise questions.
“It does raise questions when you have an assistant superintendent from Spring ISD, then you have three other administrators who are also from Spring,” Hall said. “It may be completely innocent, but to the community, it raises questions.”
Concerned citizen Will McManus was also troubled by the hires, saying he wasn’t sure what the goal was to “bring them in.”
McManus also added information he gathered on the economic progress of each school district. According to the data gathered by McManus, Hays CISD was ranked 544 out of 950 districts in Texas. Spring ISD was ranked at 793.
McManus said he didn’t “see anything that makes me want to hire anyone from Spring for a senior level position.”
“Why would you want to hire so many from a low rated district that’s mired in controversy and expect educational outcomes here to improve?,” McManus said during his public comment.
In an emailed statement, Hays CISD Chief Human Resource Officer Elaine Howard said the district has employed four administrators who were previously at Spring ISD.
Those new hires include Calzada, Thad Gittens, who was recently hired as the new principal at T.C. McCormick Middle School, Neil Bonavita, who is director of student services, and Dr. Tracie Robinson, principal at Hemphill Elementary School.
“To our knowledge, none of the administrators mentioned … with the exception of Thad Gittens, were investigated for wrongdoing or misconduct associated with the publicized investigation of students who did not meet graduation requirements in Spring ISD,” Howard wrote.
In regards to Gittens, Howard said the district confirmed during its hiring process that he was not terminated from his employment from Spring ISD.
She added Gittens’ principal certificate is current and valid, and that the certificate “was not and is not at this time under sanction or investigation” by the Texas Education Agency (TEA).
“Mr. Gittens has been transparent regarding the circumstances surrounding his exit from Spring ISD, including the district’s recommendation for his termination,” Howard said. “It is our understanding based on information presented to us at the time of hire, Mr. Gittens was cleared of any wrongdoing and ultimately was allowed to voluntarily resign his position with the district.”