A deputy sheriff. A CEO. A Ph.D. ocean engineer. A former educator. An emergency room doctor. A civil engineer. Meet the candidates for the Humble ISD Board of Trustees Position 5, who cite a wide variety of topics like debt, school safety and Title I schools as issues important to this upcoming election.
(Note that Edgar Clayton is also running for Position 5 but did not respond to The Tribune’s request for a response).
Shawn Biazar has been in law enforcement for over a decade. Most of his career has been with Humble ISD Police Department, and he currently serves as a Harris County deputy sheriff. Biazar is personally vested in the district and community and wants to serve on the board to deal with upcoming challenges like explosive growth, funding issues in recent years, and school safety.
Cliff Crossett has worked in the medical industry for over 20 years and is the president and CEO for US Cardio Partners. He believes the biggest issue for Humble ISD is better financial transparency and reigning in of the out-of-control debt. He says that his experience of running a business on a daily basis is sorely needed on the school board.
Lohit Datta-Barua, Ph.D., was born in India to an impoverishedfamily. Datta-Barua arrived in America with $7 cash in his pocket, with his parents determined he would get the opportunity for higher education. He now holds a doctorate in ocean engineering and is a retired project director in the oil and gas industry. He is running on a campaign of embracing change and competitiveness in education, and is a former University of Houston instructor and Houston ISD guest lecturer.
Former teacher Martina Lemond Dixon says her Galena Park ISD teaching experience and board service to the American Community School in Abu Dhabi will serve Humble ISD well. She has a passion for public school education, and is particularly proud of her role on the Humble ISD council of PTAs and Humble ISD Education Foundation Board.
Robert Panzarella is particularly interested in making sure all the children in the district get the best education possible and making sure that Humble High School lives up to its potential in the community. Now that he is semi-retired, he has the time to devote to civic projects and the Humble ISD board. He is a physician, double-boarded in family medicine and emergency medicine, and has practiced in the ER at San Jacinto Methodist Hospital in Baytown for the last 26 years.
Jonathan Prevot cites his City of Houston career as a civil engineer and his land sales business in Huffman as good experience for serving on the board. He is not running because of any particular problem, and says that Humble ISD is a great school district, which is why he chose to live in Atascocita. Prevot notes that he is concerned about the debt and feels the district should be less reliant on bonds.
Candidates chose to respond to four of 12 questions asked by The Tribune:
What are the kinds of circumstances in which you are most effective?
Biazar: I have a great deal of experience and success solving complex problems under stressful conditions. I understand the value of communication and interacting with the community. I am most effective when listening to people and understanding their wants and needs.
Datta-Barua: As an engineer, I like challenges and solving problems. I have delivered projects on time and within budget. Our district faces funding, growth and quality challenges. We must tackle the issues to deliver value-added education innovatively and efficiently.
Dixon: Previous school board experience, teaching, education foundation board experience, coming from a long line of educators, and being a mother of four gives me a unique perspective on education by allowing me to holistically evaluate how policy, budget, programs and curriculum work together to effectively educate all students.
Panzarella: I am an emergency medicine physician so I work best under pressure with time limits. I am used to life-or-death decisions and can make quick, accurate decisions.
Prevot: I am a problem solver. We can’t always immediately know the answer to every problem, but as an engineer, I seek out relevant information, working with experts and affected community members, logically engaging the problem, and finding an equitable solution.
What are you hoping to get out of your board experience?
Biazar: I hope to utilize my knowledge and experience in public safety to become an influencer for district efforts to provide a safe, secure environment for our children.
Crossett: I have two children in Humble ISD and two more will start later. I want to know that we are doing everything we can to give our kids the best future possible. We need to do it responsibly. Having a small part in that would bring me huge satisfaction.
Datta-Barua: It’s about excellence in education. I am from a family of educators. My children went to Humble ISD and I take personal pride in this district. I want our district to be the best it can be.
Panzarella: It is a legacy issue with me as my mother was the first woman on the Humble ISD board. She was also on the Humble City Council, so I saw first-hand the value of volunteering and giving back to your community. I have lived in this community my whole life. I love this area and want to give my time and energy to the town as my mother did.
Prevot: I believe in promoting public school programs, more community involvement, increasing availability of advanced education programs for children with special needs, and responsible, cost-effective budgeting. I hope to use my position on the board to promote awareness and action on these issues.
Name one thing the district is doing well, and one thing you would change?
Biazar: The district offers exceptional, diverse student programs. The international baccalaureate program is a great example; students earn 24 college credits minimum. The district can improve acquisition, application and innovation of classroom technology, and improve security for our students/schools.
Datta-Barua: It’s great that the district is growing and attracting younger families that want a good public education, but this growth seems to have unintentionally resulted in subtle segregation of the community. The schools with greater diversity and lower income appear to be falling behind, further fueling the divide. This is not a healthy sign for the district. I will focus on unconventional, customized learning based on aptitude and special needs. One size doesn’t fit all. Every individual has a talent in something. We must see that no one falls behind. Our students need to be employable in the ever-changing world. We must use the strength of diversity to our advantage.
How do you define student success?
Biazar: Holistically. The foundation is a quality academic education, but extracurricular and life skills, community pride, and friendships are important, too. When they walk across that stage, they should do it as productive members of the community, with the best education, some entertaining stories, and problem-solving skills.
Dixon: I believe a successful student is on the path to becoming a well-adjusted, well-educated, marketable, self-sufficient adult.
Prevot: School districts need to cost-effectively nurture well-rounded students capable of entering both college and the workforce. We all want happy, successful children, but it’s different for each child. It is our responsibility to teach them how to find answers, think independently, and self-advocate to find their own place within our community.
Do you think school board elections should be partisan? Should candidates have party backing? Would you accept an invitation to speak to a clearly partisan group?
Crossett: We all have basic core beliefs from our parents and what we’ve learned as adults. Republicans, Democrats, Independents and others make up America. I have no issues with people representing their own core values, so I would accept an invitation to speak to any party. If we can't have discussion, we can't get to a good resolution.
Are there educational innovations that you've seen other places that you would bring to our district?
Crossett: In other countries, kids start learning a second language in kindergarten. We don't start until much later, which is a shame. It’s not a district standard. There are applications and lotteries and limited slots. I’d like to see it offered to all our kids at a younger age. Small things like this lead to our children having better lives with more opportunity in the world. Imagine if our kids grew up fluent in Chinese, Spanish or some other language, as our world is becoming smaller every day.
Panzarella: Humble ISD should have magnet schools, specifically in Humble. There should be special programs for health careers, law enforcement and special language programs that would attract the best and brightest from all over the district.
What is the greatest challenge that Humble ISD will face in the next four years, during your term, and what remedies do you offer to address it?
Crossett: Our growth versus managing our debt. We all want what's best for our children, but we also have to make sure that we don't raise school tax levels to an unaffordable level for the general public. There has to be some balance to what we do. Humble ISD’s debt level has soared over the past 10-15 years and that's a big concern to me.
Dixon: Bridging the gap of the district’s underserved student population. We received a “D” in this area on our district report card, and it is imperative we research the data of school districts, independent schools and those with the expertise to get it right. There are many strategies we could consider, like smaller class sizes, team teaching, expanding the parental role by educating the parent, and more, but there needs to be a clear and specific strategic plan in place.
What have you done to help youth in the community?
Datta-Barua: I was the first AMS Orchestra Booster president and raised funds for HHS Band Boosters. I currently volunteer at Fall Creek Elementary and started a running club to promote physical fitness and combat childhood obesity. I served as an industry guest instructor at Houston ISD for Junior Achievement. I worked with the U.S. Embassy to set up an English language fellow program at Angola’s largest public university, the University of Agostinho Neto.
Dixon: In 2012, when my daughter started attending Humble High School’s IB Program, I was surprised to learn there was not a PTA, so worked at the state and local level and led the charge with three other moms, and in five months, we reinstated it. It’s still in place today. One benefit of a high school PTA is senior scholarships. The Humble ISD Council of PTAs awarded its first scholarship to an HHS student in the Spring 2013. Since then, many students have been recipients of the PTA scholarships.
Panzarella: I have been active in Boy Scouts for the past 20 years. I was active in Cub Scouts and then in Boy Scouts, being an assistant troop leader. I led scouts to high adventure camps such as Philmont, Sea Base and Northern Tier as well as camps in Texas and Oklahoma. I have four boys that are all Eagle Scouts.
Prevot: I have been active in the Boy Scouts of America. I was a den leader and Cub master for Pack 511 and an assistant Scoutmaster for Troop 511. I personally fund a free online art tutorial program here in Humble. This program has brought the gift of painting to over 100,000 thousand men, women and children around the world, changing lives and lifting spirits through the knowledge that they can achieve goals. I also volunteer with the PTA at Pine Forest Elementary and Atascocita Middle School.
Before you go …
… we’ve got a small favor to ask. More people are reading The Tribune than ever. Advertising revenues across the media spectrum are falling fast. And unlike many news organizations, we haven’t put up a paywall – we want to keep our journalism as open as we can. So you can see why we need to ask for your help. The Tribune's independent, investigative journalism takes a lot of time, money and hard work to produce. But we do it because we believe our perspective matters – because it might well be your perspective, too. If everyone who reads our reporting, who likes it, helps to support it, our future would be much more secure. Support the only locally owned, locally produced news product in the Lake Houston area. And thank you!