Super Collider

In 2009, everyone asked: Can Terry Grier save Houston’s struggling public schools? Two controversial, tumultuous, and frustrating years later the city’s parents, teachers, and politicians are asking something else. Can anyone?

  1. When you mention the name Terry Grier to certain people with ties to the Houston Independent School District—certain teachers, certain principals, certain parents, certain politicians—you are likely to get a reaction not unlike something you might have seen in The Exorcist. The current HISD superintendent has managed to make some people so angry, in fact, that their eyes almost roll back in their heads and their tongues waggle at just the thought of him. They flame him on the Houston Chronicle’s School Zone blog and call for his head at houstonisdwatch.com. They flood one another’s email boxes with conspiracy theories. They comb the HISD budget for improprieties when they should be eating dinner with their families. They tell anyone who will listen that Grier doesn’t listen, that he took a dysfunctional school system and made it even more dysfunctional. That Houston’s ISD is going to look as gutted as Detroit’s by the time he’s done with it. That he came to town with an agenda. That he doesn’t speak Spanish. That he is a bully and a liar and a weasel, a category-5 hurricane and a sociopath. They compare him to Harold Hill—the con artist in The Music Man—and to Osama bin Laden and, as is the norm for these sorts of things, Adolf Hitler.

    So it can be a little peculiar to visit Grier in his sprawling, sunny office overlooking Loop 610 South and find him energized and in good spirits. He is a tall, vigorous man of 61, with red hair, elfin ears, and a somewhat diabolical widow’s...