Stipeche wins HISD school board runoff
Juliet Stipeche, a 36-year-old attorney and HISD graduate, narrowly won election to the Houston school board Tuesday, marking a victory for the teachers’ union.
Stipeche, who was endorsed by the Houston Federation of Teachers and most of the area’s elected officials, beat Judith Cruz, a former HISD teacher who entered the profession through Teach for America, an alternative program not embraced by the union.
Stipeche won the District 8 seat with 51 percent of the vote, based on the unofficial results, after trailing in the general election four weeks ago. Voter turnout was especially low in the runoff Tuesday. With 2,052 ballots cast, Stipeche topped Cruz by 44 votes to replace Diana Dávila, who unexpectedly resigned the seat in July.
Cruz, a 35-year-old stay-at-home mom, was heavily backed by the Houston Business-Education Coalition, which helped propel Houston Independent School District board members Anna Eastman and Mike Lunceford to victory in recent elections. Eastman, HISD Trustee Harvin Moore and board President Greg Meyers publicly supported Cruz.
Issues with pay system
Stipeche, the daughter of Hispanic immigrants who grew up in the East End, attributed the win to her roots in the community and to her pledge to listen to parents and teachers.
Stipeche has questioned the district’s performance pay system, which rewards teachers based on a complex statistical measure of students’ standardized test scores. The HFT and the district’s second-largest teacher group, the Congress of Houston Teachers, have criticized the so-called value added model.
“I think that while data is great and you can use it to a certain extent, you also have to be able to have some compassion,” said Stipeche, who was celebrating with supporters at a neighborhood coffeehouse. “I would say that if we’re going to use something, we have to be able to understand it and allow the teachers to understand it. And if they can’t, then it’s something we really can’t work with.”
Victory for unionHFT President Gayle Fallon said Stipeche’s victory “feels better than anything has felt in HISD in a long time. It’s like the first ray of hope.”
“I would say that the teachers and the community just won one against a whole lot of money and a national agenda,” Fallon said.
Cruz raised $97,695, about $6,000 more than Stipeche, and she was endorsed by a national group, the Democrats for Education Reform.
Cruz said she was in shock over the results and was disappointed in the low turnout.
“I believe in democracy and that people should vote, but people didn’t — not enough of them anyway,” she said.
The HISD board had considered appointing someone to the seat but called the special election after the area’s Hispanic politicians protested that the decision should be left to voters.
Cruz, who taught for eight years, said it was unfortunate that critics painted her as anti-teacher for wanting to hold teachers more accountable and differentiate pay.
“I don’t feel I could ever be anti-teacher when that’s my profession,” she said.
Stipeche was the valedictorian of HISD’s High School for Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice and later graduated from Rice University. She earned her law degree from the University of Texas and now owns her own law firm with her husband.
District 8 includes parts of Rice Military, the Heights, Montrose, Midtown and the East End.
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