His name is Jose Leal and he's Houston Independent School District's newest School Board Trustee for District III replacing Manuel Rodriguez who passed away unexpectedly just a few weeks ago on July 19th.  The board appointed him to be a "caretaker" for the seat until an official election is held.

He currently works as a Special Needs Educator at Houston CAN Academy Southwest.  Prior to that, Trustee Leal previously served in administrative capacities as assistant principal and as a counselor at Charter School Yes Prep and CAN Academy bringing over 30 years of educational experience to the seat that includes Milby and Chavez High Schools as well as the middle and elementary schools falling in their feeder pattern.

He challenged incumbent Manuel Rodriguez in the most recent 2015 District III election forcing a runoff.  Rodriguez held the seat trouncing Leal in a 56% to 44% face-off.



+300 HISD Employees Make Over $100,000/year

It seems like just about every year, we hear about budget shortfalls and school closures at the State's largest school district: Houston Independent School District, and this year is no different.

As per usual, elected school board trustees and administrators huff and puff, then point their fingers at state and federal governments as the reason for the shortages...but watching public testimony at last night's school board meeting led to a HUGE find!

One of the people who spoke mentioned how top-heavy they thought HISD was, and that many of those making the most money aren't in the classroom regularly, or even working on a school campus.

This led me to wonder:  Who are these people in the big admin building on 290, and what do they do?  


What would you do if I told you there were over 300 administrators who make over $100,000 per year?

Well, you don't have to believe me because I brought receipts!


FYI, information on all government employees is public information and published on the Texas Tribune every year.  If you'd like to be petty and search for people you know who work for the city, state, or a school district somewhere:  HERE'S THE LINK.

You're Welcome...

It baffles me how we don't have money for musical instruments, school supplies for teachers, or additional resources for our most marginalized communities, yet we can write these checks.

Now, I'm about to get real petty as well and point out some staggering figures, and even put some names next to them, so don't be surprised if I suddenly disappear only to be found face-down in a bayou next week.

Who are these people?

Okay, it's not shocking that mariachi performer-turned-HISD Superintendent Richard Carranza takes home a breathtaking $345,000 per year since he's basically the CEO of a government entity that rivals the size of a city.  It's an important job, and so far he seems to be doing well at it... but what is a School Support Officer SSO?  Why do we need 30 of them at roughly $130,000 each?  That's roughly $4,000,000 every year combined.

The top paid SSO is Matilda Orozco raking in $176,382.35 according to public records.  According to HISD's web-site, School Support Officers report directly to Deputy Superintendents. The top paid Deputy Superintendent is Samuel Sarabia who gets a staggering $221,900 via direct deposit annually.  Just to put that into perspective for those of you (like me) who wonders what that looks like on a check stub every two weeks, that's $9,245 every pay period.


HISD's Athletics Director brings home the bacon, too!  Marmion Dambrino makes 135,000 leading the athletics department at the district.  

As expected, principals round off this list bringing home a well-deserved $130,000 per year, but a little more digging shows a few more confusing job titles at the top-heavy-yet-cash-strapped district.

The district's Chief Student Support Officer is Mark L. Smith who's worked for the district since August of 1986---the month before I was born.  I turn 31 this year.  He's making it rain with an annual salary of $194,361 per year.  

Now, with HISD's starting teacher salary hovering somewhere around $50,000 per year, that's literally less than HALF of what these top brass employees bring home.  It does lead one to wonder: where's the focus?  How are teachers--one of the most important components of the education system--paid so low?  

Who sets this budget?  

More importantly: Who's benefitting from it?

Taking yet a dive deeper into the numbers, I see that our custodians and bus drivers are paid a meager $25,000 per year on average.

That's not a living wage.

Before we close another school...

Before we lay off another cook in the cafeteria...

We need to look at some of the people that are living off the fat of the land at HISD.

We plan to discuss this and more at the Houston ISD School Board Candidates' Debate on October 14th from 4-6:30pm at the Sunny Side Multi-Service Center..

-By Durrel Douglas, Contributor

Durrel K. Douglas devotes his life to building community power and using it to fuel the movement headed toward Justice.  He enjoys Tex-Mex, HBCU bands, and ratchet television.  Durrel co-founded the grass-roots-led HoustonJustice.Org in 2014 to fight police brutality and disparate treatment in the criminal "justice" system.  He currently resides in Houston where he produces a bi-weekly podcast and is learning to play the upright base.  He can be reached at

Worthing, Wheatley, Kashmere at Risk of Closing.

Yes, you read that correctly!

The historically Black Worthing, Wheatley, and Kashmere High Schools are at risk of being closed if they can’t show enough improvement to be taken off the State’s “Improvement Required” list according to comments at yesterday’s press conference held by HISD Trustees Wanda Adams, who serves as the Board’s President, and Rhonda Skillern-Jones.

Remember the now extinct M.B. Smiley eagles, the blue and gold Forest Brook jaguars, and the rest of North Forest ISD?

A distant memory, right?

Remember how the district was dismantled in 2013 and essentially handed over to HISD like soggy leftovers from dinner at Applebee’s?  Well, these schools and roughly ten others may cause HISD to follow the same fate.

A state law passed in 2015 by Houston-area State Rep. Harold Dutton (D) puts schools who end up on the State’s “Improvement Required” list too many years in a row on the chopping block.  If unable to get off that list in time, the State (TEA) offers 2 simple options: allow TEA to take over the schools through a board of managers who are unelected, or close the school.

It's clear the intent was to raise standards for schools who consistently kick the can down the road when it comes to performance, but the bill is also putting an unpopular spotlight on historically Black neighborhood schools.

What’s even more astonishing about the law is that it could actually allow the state to snatch control of the district from our elected school board.

Community Leader Larry McKinzie says he sees these recent moves as an attack on public education, and that it onus is on all elected officials in the Houston area to reign in TEA.  "There is a Charter School agenda at hand, and if you can get the largest district [HISD], you can get the entire state," said McKinzie.  He says we should cast the net wide when thinking bout who's to blame for our district's performance problems.  "Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, all the Texas State Reps and Senators from Houston, the County Commissioners, the Harris County Board of Education Trustees, all the city council people, the pastors, priest and rabbis deserve some of the blame," continued McKinzie.

According to some school board members, the problem comes from the State constantly changing the goals.  Trustee Skillern-Jones likened recent years to a moving target.  She also points to a need for additional resources to truly combat issues at schools in marginalized communities.

“If you look at the statistics on each one of these schools, you’ll see the correlation between the affects of poverty and low achievement,” said Trustee Skillern-Jones.  That’s absolutely true.  You can’t teach hungry children.  

As a community, we need to address the elephant in the room: Poverty

“When you pass laws like these that are blanket and do not take into consideration all of the things that happen to kids in Texas and the various situation, that’s drilling a hole [in the ship],” continued Skillern-Jones.

Only time will tell what becomes of the schools on the list, and HISD itself.  The schools have roughly nine months to get out of “Improvement Required” rating or face closure.

The question is: What can the community do to get OUR schools off the list. Bigger question: How do we take more control of the system that allows LISTS to control the fate of our neighborhood schools?  

What can WE do as a community?

After a closed session, the HISD Board of Trustees plan to hold a meeting this evening at 5:00 at the HISD Administration Building where this issue will surely make the public comments section.



On the "Improvement Required" List for HISD:

Blackshear Elementary School 

Cook Elementary School 

Dogan Elementary School 

Henry Middle School 

Highland Heights Elementary School 

Kashmere Gardens Elementary School 

Kashmere High School

Lewis Elementary School 

Mading Elementary School 

Wesley Elementary School 

Wheatley High School

Woodson PK-8 School 

Worthing High School

HISD Candidates Line Up Against Wanda Adams


Just weeks before the August 21st filing deadline for HISD's School Board Elections this November, the District IX Trustee race is heating up.  In her first bid for re-election after clinching the Trustee seat in 2013, she faces three challengers as of today, and the list is rumored to continue growing.  

The seat, which represents Worthing, Madison, and Westbury High Schools (Westbury is my alma mater), and the middle and elementary schools in the respective feeder patterns, is up for election this year in November. 

After serving six years on Houston City Council, she challenged State Representative Alma Allen in the Democratic Primary before winning her seat on the school board with an impressive 71.2% of the vote.  But after unpopular school closings, failed bond performance, back-to-back scandals, and a report that the district might face state takeover, HISD's board is getting a lot more attention these days.  

Since Wanda Adams serves as the board's President, it's not surprising that some community leaders are lining up for the November election.  Unpopular news coverage of alleged scandals and bribery at headquarters put our nation's seventh largest school district in the spotlight.


When asked, some said they need another unapologetic progressive presence similar to Jolanda Jones to push back against right-leaning Trustees on the board.  Whether via HISD's cable access channel or Jones' personal live feed, it's clear she's a results-oriented firebrand.  

The question becomes, if not Adams, then whom?


Based on the field so far, that presence is closest resembled by Public Education activist and founder of United Urban Alumni Alliance Jerry Monroe who officially threw his hat in the race against Adams yesterday.  A consistent challenger of school closings and advocate for district improvements, Monroe points to disparities in funding, corruption in the awarding of contracts, and accessibility in many of his Facebook live conversations about HISD's school board.

In my years at protests and rallies held at HISD's Administration Building, Monroe has been a consistent presence.


Dr. Karla Brown, Executive Director and Founder of The Providence on Southmore, a non-profit providing mentorship, internships, and degree completion support.  Brown is also among the list to challenge Adams.  I met with her for lunch regarding her non-profit a few years ago, and she seems like a solid candidate in my personal opinion.  


Charnelle Thompson rounds off the list of three, but I couldn't find much information on her just yet.  


As an alumnus of Westbury High School which falls in the seat's constituency, I'm really looking forward to hearing from Adams and her competition before making my decision, as I hope you will.  

HoustonJustice.Org will host a debate and town hall in October to give each of the candidates in the race an opportunity to answer questions of students, parents, and public education advocates.

The school-to-prison pipeline is real, and I believe our school board trustees have a huge responsibility to guide the modernization of over-sized, antiquated districts like HISD.  I marched in the band at Westbury.  I played trumpet.  This opportunity, which contributed to me graduating in the first place, is now drifting away.  Have you seen the size of marching bands lately?  The same can be said of access to trade and vocational programs that provide alternatives for those not wanting to spend time and money at a four-year brick-and-mortar institution.  Oh, and STUDENT LOANS!

While it's obvious trends at the Texas Legislature and Congress affect funding streams, we need to change the model.  We need a school board that works.

From waste in the form of iPads and new shiny buildings that often lack substance and real resources inside them, a true overhaul is needed at HISD.

The question is: Should this seat be part of the overhaul.

-By Durrel Douglas, Founder/Executive Director



Help Eligible County Jail Inmates Vote


Yes, Orange is the New Black in Houston.  Well, technically Black is still Black, but you get the point.  We're helping eligible voters participate in the most significant of civic duties: voting!



Of the roughly 10,000 inmates housed at the Harris County Jail on any given day, 70% of them have not been convicted of a crime yet.  Yes, some 7,000 people behind bars haven't been sentenced by a judge due to our crazy Bail system here in Texas that keeps people behind bars because they can't afford bail.  And when election season rolls around, there's no mechanism in place to allow these inmates to vote.  

Just to give you an idea of how significant a potential 7,000 voters are in a place like Houston, the Houston Mayor's race that made Sylvester Turner the Mayor was decided by roughly 5,000 votes!

Yes, since they haven't been convicted of a crime yet, they are eligible to vote.  Unfortunately, there's no voting boot at the Harris County Jail.  So, we're doing something about it!



As part of our INMATE JUSTICE PROJECT, Houston Justice and a coalition of organizations like Indivisible Houston are pushing the three County government entities to bring voting rights to those behind bars who are eligible.  From the Harris County Sheriff's Department, to the County Clerk's Office, to the Tax-Assessor Collector's office to make this happen, but we need your help!

We need at least (10) folks to go through the one-hour training to become a Deputy Voter Registrar, get cleared through the county via background check, and finally help make this a reality.  



7/31/17 Organizational Signup Deadline
8/15/17   Coalition Planning Meeting
9/9/17     Kick-Off Press Conference

Then, we'll register voters on the following Saturdays at Harris County Jail

Here's what the timeline will look like if you join the project:

  1. CLICK HERE to sign-up selecting "Inmate Justice Project" when you get to the selection section.  
  2. Attend one of the Deputy Voter Registrar trainings in August to get your certificate.  HERE'S THE LINK with training date/times.
  3. Join us for our kick-off press conference and #OITNBHOU day at the county jail where we'll go from cell-to -ell, pod-to-pod registering voters and passing out vote-by-mail applications for those that know they'll be behind bars through Election Day (November 7, 2017).
  4. Join our planning meeting/call on 7/25/17 at 7pm to help strategize next steps.  RSVP HERE

In addition to signing up to actually register voters at the jail, there are other ways you can help, too! 


Indivisible Houston


Truth 2 Power

NAACP-Houston Young Adults

Swing Left

Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ Houston)


Houston Justice 2.0


It's been a while since we've come together, but the time has come!  I'm back from Seattle, and I'm ready to get my hands dirty getting back to goal-oriented work with concrete, measurable goals.  

I've caught up with other organizers who are ready to get to work on BUILDING not TEARING DOWN---divisiveness will get us nowhere.

In the coming weeks, we're working to build our organizational structure and add to the ongoing momentum built by existing organizations already doing work here in Houston!  Our principles remain clear.  We'll continue the fight against police brutality. We'll continue the fight for racial justice.

We're marching toward JUSTICE with three main tenets:  

I invite you to click above and read a little about our goals under each of the focus areas to learn more.  Further, I'd love to get your advice and suggestions as we roll forward.

This way toward Justice!

In Solidarity,

Durrel K. Douglas, Founder