By: Chelsea Davis-Bibb, Ed.D.
HOUSTON-Growing up in North Tulsa, Oklahoma, Superintendent Millard House II grew up with two educators who loved the profession at its highest level. His mother was a first-grade teacher for 16 years and then spent another 16 years as a high school counselor. His father was a civics teacher for a short period before he moved into administration around the age of 28 as Director of Human Relations. “He was literally handed the desegregation plans in the late sixties and was responsible for executing the desegregation of schools in Tulsa,” Superintendent House mentioned.
Early on, Superintendent House was diagnosed with dyslexia and had a speech impediment; however, living with two educators in an “enriched environment” was very helpful and important. He made it known that his mother and father worked even harder to provide all the tangibles that were necessary for him to reach his fullest potential. “They knew how to navigate the special education waters, after-school tutoring, and everything I needed to be successful.” He further mentioned how these factors made him so driven and passionate about education. Using his own life as a testament, he stated, “I know that with the right support any kid can do anything.”
Although he has a love for education, and he grew up with educators, he had no idea that he would one day be an educator and noted how he tried to run in the other direction. He was fortunate to receive an athletic scholarship and played basketball in college. He graduated with a degree in exercise physiology and wanted to move forward by attending physical therapy school. However, he ended up substitute teaching, and “that’s where I found my niche and found my love,” he stated.
During his time as a substitute teacher, he learned that he had the ability to engage kids, especially kids of color that was interested in some of his same interests. He was able to leverage that and engage those students into the educational experience of doing whatever is necessary to be successful, which is learning as much as you can.
Over the years, education has evolved, but according to Superintendent House, “There are some tangibles around education that will never change, and every child needs to have the opportunity to understand what it is to gain and develop strong literacy skills.”
He further discussed how all children need a skillset for numeracy, which should be a major part of what they do daily. In addition, he mentioned how reading, writing, and arithmetic are extremely important to every job, and are what you should see in every school system.
In discussing the shortage of teachers, he mentioned how approximately 45,000 teachers annually are leaving the profession in the state of Texas, and about one third of the teachers that serve in HISD have stated they had considered at one point leaving the profession. It was also noted how the pandemic has “exacerbated a lot of the issues” they are seeing right now.
One thing HISD plans to focus on is not just expecting talent to come to them, but on recruiting retaining, and hiring teachers. In addition, ensuring that their compensation and culture are extremely strong, and to focus on growing their own talent. At one time, there were many college students who were pursuing careers in education, but that does not seem to be the case anymore. One of the things that HISD will be doing is “developing a grow your own program,” which means they will be going through their own ranks. “There may be individuals that are out there that don’t necessarily have a degree, but they have the skillset of encouraging students. Those are important tangibles to ensure kids get to where they need to be on an academic level.” HISD wants to take those kinds of individuals and pay for their education.
HISD also announced a $5,000 bonus for teachers if they sign and agree to stay with the district for three years. If teachers sign that they will work for the next two years, they will receive a $4,000 stipend, and if teachers only sign for the next school year, they will receive a stipend as well. HISD has also pushed forward a compensation package, which will pay teachers and administrators about 6.7% more than they made in the previous school year. HISD is utilizing many different approaches to show teachers they are valued and appreciated. “We’re looking for the best and brightest to come and support us in some of the highest needs schools that we have in the community.”
As Superintendent of the largest school district in Texas and the eighth largest school district in the United States, the position has not come without its set of challenges. For Superintendent House, COVID-19 has been difficult. Because of this, he has had the “unique opportunity” to lead in two different school districts during the pandemic, and while it has been challenging, he has felt good about being able “to navigate the waters of COVID and learn all of the nuances that go along with it.” He has done a phenomenal job in leading his district and wants to be an example for others, especially young people who may follow in his footsteps.
For young men who may want to be in his shoes one day, he stated, “we need you.” He stressed the importance of how impactful it is to be able to influence a life, which is an important element to him. “The impact you can provide just as a male, not even as an African American male, but just a male as a whole… because unfortunately, many of our men sometimes are not in the home. So, it is important for a young man to see another man and what that looks like.” He wants young men to consider a career in education and to give it a chance.
When discussing legacy, Superintendent House wants to be known as that individual that would go the extra mile to ensure that equity was in place for all children to succeed regardless of their race, their gender, their sexual orientation, etc.
Superintendent House is truly passionate about education and the work he does daily. He wants to be seen as that individual that would do whatever is necessary for success for that community, for that neighborhood, and for that city. He concluded with, “I’m looking forward to continuing to push, and I will leave a portion of that legacy right here in HISD. It has been 27 years and I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
Superintendent House obtained his Bachelor of Science from the University of Montevallo, Alabama and his Master of Administration in School Administration from Northeastern State University, Oklahoma. He also graduated from the Fisher School Leadership Program at the Hass School of Business, University of California at Berkeley. He has received numerous awards and accolades and was voted Tulsa Public Schools’ Principal of The Year in 2003, and was the first African American educator to earn this honor. Additionally, he was named Outstanding Administrator of the Year by the Tulsa Area Alliance of Black School Educators. Superintendent House was the first African American Superintendent in the Clarksville-Montgomery County School District and has served on several boards.