The student news site of Bellaire High School

Nabila Wilson

McDonough addresses current and former students, parents, friends and teachers at his retirement celebration on Feb. 2. McDonough spoke about his career highlights and passion for education.

McDonough’s side of the story: a look into the former principal’s removal from Bellaire

Apr 3, 2023

We sat down with Michael McDonough the day after he retired in his first official interview since his reassignment in May of 2022. He shared candid details about the 160 days leading up to the end of his 30-year career with HISD.

HISD’s longest-standing, veteran principal had not expected visitors on one of the most hectic May days with STAAR, AP and IB exams all happening simultaneously.

Especially not visitors who would remove him from the school that he had served for almost a decade.

That morning, McDonough’s supervisor informed him that he had to leave the Bellaire campus for an undetermined amount of time. He had no idea what was happening.

District administrators handling his case gave the principal ambiguous reasons for his removal, most of which had already been announced publicly: a policy may have been broken under his leadership and the matter would be investigated.

“I’m not going to go into specifics of it because I don’t want to unintentionally imply that the matter has to do with employees, kids or anything,” McDonough said.

McDonough was promptly assigned to an HISD office near the George Bush Intercontinental Airport, nearly an hour away from Bellaire, where he was required to check in every day.

“It was hard,” McDonough said. “I didn’t know why it had to be that way. I wish someone had checked in with me even just every few weeks.”

The transition from one of the largest high schools in the district to a quiet HISD office left McDonough feeling “lonely.”

McDonough was investigated for over 160 days leading up to the end of his 30-year career with HISD. The ten year principal of Bellaire said he wishes the district would have exercised greater transparency throughout the course of his reassignment. (Designed by Sonya Kulkarni)

“I was surprised I had not even been given the courtesy of being told, ‘this is what we’re looking into,’” McDonough said. “Instead, all I was told was ‘we think something may have happened.’ None of the problems had been addressed with me at all beforehand.”

Later that month, over 2,000 students participated in a walkout in reaction to HISD’s lack of transparency surrounding his removal.

“The walkout was mind blowing,” McDonough said. “Just the idea that anybody wanted to do something like that for me was so heartwarming. I honestly would have loved to be there, but my dad, my wife and my sister were all there for me. It was incredible.”

When the investigation team interviewed McDonough in late July, two months after his removal, it was the first time he was afforded an indication of what the investigation was about.

“There were two things being investigated,” McDonough said. “One was about a policy that was easily correctable if they had just told us beforehand. I don’t know why they needed to take five months to investigate it.“

The other issue was a disagreement about some of the day-to-day policies unique to Bellaire.

“I don’t agree with their assessment,” McDonough said. “I think if they spoke with [the] kids about how they feel: do they feel safe, do they feel respected, those kinds of things, I think they would have reached a different conclusion.”

McDonough said a majority of the rumors circulating his investigation were untrue and that neither the bullying investigation in early April nor the baseball inquiry in March played any role in his removal.

Before McDonough’s reassignment in May, there had also been controversy surrounding the superintendent’s new budget proposal.

“[Under the new budget], Bellaire would have lost around 30 adults on campus,” McDonough said. “Before the budget was released, I had gone through all of my channels and given feedback that we needed to tweak the budget, but obviously it didn’t have a big enough impact.”

Once the budget was made public, McDonough sent out a school-wide email detailing what it would mean for Bellaire including “an overall cut of just under $1.4 million.”

“I don’t think sending that email was loved by people outside of the building or up at the district level,” McDonough said. “It was not my intent to have that be an embarrassment or distraction. It was in response to a decision they made, and it was consistent with what I think was important for our community to know. I don’t regret it. However, the budget was not part of any investigation conversation either.”

McDonough clarified that the investigation did not pertain to embezzlement, drugs or physical/sexual abuse.

“I wasn’t a threat to anyone,” McDonough said. “I honestly think the investigation could have continued even with me on campus which sometimes happens with HISD employees.”

Although McDonough said he understands that the district had to keep much of the information surrounding the investigation under wraps, he said one of the biggest ways HISD could have been more transparent was to be considerate of the time it took to arrive at a conclusion.

“It seemed like they took lots of time off in between interviews and they hired an outside firm to do the investigation which is not typical for HISD. Usually investigations are handled internally,” McDonough said. “But if you’re dealing with people who don’t work in a district, it can take a lot longer, I would imagine, and cost a lot more.”

In October, five months after McDonough was removed, HISD officially told him he wouldn’t be going back to Bellaire.

According to the HISD School Board Meeting Minutes, the board approved “the resignation and full and final release agreement with Michael McDonough” on Oct. 13.

The HISD communications office did not provide a comment at the time of publication.

“I didn’t even care if they were offering me another job,” McDonough said. “All that I heard was that I wasn’t going back to Bellaire so nothing else really mattered.”

At this point, McDonough was already eligible for retirement benefits and decided that it was best for the management of the school if he stepped down.

“In the second act of Hamilton, there’s the song “One Last Time,” and it’s about when George Washington is stepping down from the presidency,” McDonough said. “As I heard that song more and more, I thought about how courageous he was by deciding that ‘I’m gonna step away so the country can learn to keep going.’ And I’m not equating myself with George Washington at all, but there was also a part of me that by the time we reached October, realized Bellaire needs a [new] principal so that the work can continue and people can begin to have closure.”

McDonough speaks about his experiences over 10 years of serving Bellaire as principal and 30 years with HISD. Approximately 150 people attended the two-hour celebration of McDonough’s tenure. (Nabila Wilson)

McDonough said he doesn’t want to jump right back into a full-time position, so, for now, he will be doing some consulting work for the University of Houston in their education department.

“Leading the school for 10 years takes a toll fatigue-wise, so I’ve definitely been trying to relax a little,” McDonough said.

With the time off, McDonough has reminisced on his initiatives during his decade as the principal of Bellaire High School.

“The thing I’m most proud of is Cardinal Kickoff. In 2013, when we started it, it was called something like ‘prospective student open house’ or some other weird, weak name,” McDonough said. “The whole idea for me was, ‘we’re going to open our doors and show you everything we’re proud of.’ I’m really jealous because 2023 was the first year it was on campus in the new building.”

He’s especially pleased with how the school and community handled the COVID-19 schedule.

“We tried to do something different because expecting kids to sit and stare at a screen for an hour and a half is just not good,” McDonough said. “So we made a creative schedule and even though it wasn’t perfect, I’m happy we did it.”

His biggest project, though, was the new building.

“I started at Bellaire in 2012, the same year as the bond election, so there’s not a day that the bond wasn’t part of what I did every day,” McDonough said. “I had to talk about it for a few months, then it got passed, and then it was the actual construction.”

Although he worked on it for 10 years, McDonough still hasn’t seen the completed building.

“I would have loved to see ‘Grease,’” McDonough said. “I technically could have gone if I wanted to, but I’m honestly scared. I just don’t want to make a scene. I’ve never been nervous before about being in front of the Bellaire community. I can stand up at Cardinal Camp. I can stand up and talk in front of 7,000 people at graduation. But it’s just different at this point. I took for granted seeing [students] every day, and then being put into isolation for so long. It’s hard and weird. I’m coming out the other side now, but it can still be hard.”

McDonough said some of his favorite memories were homecoming week, prom and going to club meetings.

“It would be one of those days where the Dessert Club is meeting, for example, and I would hit like five or six different clubs each for just a few minutes,” McDonough said. “Those days are always highlights. The thing I loved about Cardinal Hour was that it can be whatever the kid needs that day. Maybe you’re running into tutorials or you’re going to three club meetings or maybe it’s a day where you’re just sitting with friends trying to catch your breath.”

McDonough said Cardinal Hour was special to him because it was unique to Bellaire.

“Seeing kids find their place and start to connect with their people was my favorite,” McDonough said. “Honestly, anytime I got to be around the kids, those are the best memories.”

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  • N

    Natasha SequeiraApr 10, 2023 at 8:17 am

    Michael McDonough has always exemplified wisdom, grace and an empathy not seen in many school
    Principals. I am always grateful to you for helping me at Westside HS. This is a tremendous loss for students and staff as he was a great advocate for both. Thanks Mr.McDonough for your service in Bellaire and HISD.

  • D

    DaveApr 6, 2023 at 10:34 am

    Kudos to Mike and the good work he did for so long in HISD. The annual budget mess in the district is just as he said – they announce what you’re going to get regardless of what you need and how much funding your student population brings in to the district from the state. That way they can shift the culled funds to flavor-of-the-month pet projects and their perpetually-expanding administrative layers.

    You fought the good fight; wherever you land next is going to be their treasure.

  • S

    StacyApr 5, 2023 at 8:03 pm

    Sounds like what happened to several of the high performing schools and their principals a few years ago. Super shady! I hope you enjoy your retirement and next adventure! I’m sure you will be valued elsewhere!

  • L

    LarryApr 5, 2023 at 2:38 pm

    HISD was taken over by the TEA for good reasons

  • M

    Ms. BorsaApr 5, 2023 at 10:32 am

    The whole lack of transparency that followed the removal of such a beloved Bellaire principal was undeserved and unfair on the community and Mr. McDonough.
    The school had to undergo a long time of uncertainty and it felt like we all lost our main point of reference.
    I wish him the success he deserves in his future professional decisions. It was incredibly empowering and a constant source of growth to work for him.

  • S

    ScottApr 5, 2023 at 9:40 am

    It’s an absolute shame what happened with one of the best people and Principals in the District. I remember taking one of the One Source trainings that the District sent out for all teachers to complete regarding “trauma” and how to treat people with respect and dignity. The District did not adhere to any of those principles set out in that course in the way they treated McDonough. Unbelievable!

  • G

    Gisele MoranApr 5, 2023 at 9:14 am

    It’s the students who lose. It’s not what’s best for the students that comes first. This man has the grace to stand up for what is right and good and the wisdom to know the difference. He is not a politician. He’s an intelligent educator. He did the right thing and was punished for making the public aware of the need to continue funding for Bellaire. It’s an example of greed, ego and ignorance in governing our children’s education. Bravo to this man! Please don’t give up. Our children’s future depends on your leadership and example. I’m sorry that vices were permitted to overrule logic. The kids need you. Thank you for your level headed approach and your humane decency.

  • K

    Kathy VingoeApr 4, 2023 at 10:33 pm

    I have kept up with the issues HISD had with the dismissal of Mr. McDonough from the beginning, and still do not understand why they would part with a highly competent and involved leader of one of the most prestigious high schools within HISD. With children growing up in the schools he led, there was never a moment we ever felt unknown by him or that he was not concerned about each student he led. It’s such a shame that HISD decided to lose one of their very best, and he will be an enormous asset in whatever path he chooses for the betterment of HIS future.

  • M

    MarionApr 4, 2023 at 10:05 pm

    I’m sorry this was handled unprofessionally and you were the scape goat for the HISD poor management.
    No words can compensate but I hope you bring a lawsuit against HISD.
    Please don’t give up and stay in education as you know you have a impact on youth – 2,000 kids believe in you. So do I

  • Z

    ZoApr 4, 2023 at 10:02 pm

    Best principal ever! I was lucky enough to have him at Pin Oak and Bellaire and what a GEM HE IS

  • N

    Nathalie FolchApr 3, 2023 at 11:18 pm

    Reading this breaks my heart. Mr. McDonough was principal to my sons, first at Pin Oak and then at Bellaire, and I was always impressed with his commitment to the kids and their education. Learning of how he was treated makes me really angry. Shame on HISD! Another example of how politics and money ruin a good thing. We really appreciate you Mr. McDonough, you have a big place in our hearts.

  • E

    Eric WApr 3, 2023 at 10:12 pm

    Mr. McDonough is exactly what you want in an educator. What HISD did to him is beyond reproach and frankly they should be embarrassed. He deserves better. The students deserve better. This is a perfect example of why TEA is taking over this district as they appear to put petty politics above the welfare of the students and communities. Thank you Mr. McDonough for setting a tremendous example for our children. You are and always will be Bellaire High School.

  • J

    JasonApr 3, 2023 at 10:07 pm

    W story, W principal

  • D

    Dr. Sergio LiraApr 3, 2023 at 9:39 pm

    Mr. McDonough is perhaps one of best principals to lead Bellaire High School. I spent ten years working with him. I witnessed the highest levels of professionalism from him. I recall talking with him when I was thinking of running for the HISD school board. I needed his advice and support before I made the final decision. It is unfortunately he was treated callously and disrespectfully by HISD central office. I was no longer on the board to fight vigorously for his return to Bellaire. God Bless him and his family.

    Dr. Sergio Lira
    Former Bellaire Asst. Principal
    Former HISD School Board Trustee

  • C

    ClaireApr 3, 2023 at 9:23 pm

    The fact that HISD did this to one of its most beloved principals makes me wonder how their internal processes work. Zero communication to this day from the board. This is the first time we’re hearing inside information about what the investigation was even about.
    Thank you Mr. McDonough for everything you have done for Bellaire 🙂 It wouldn’t be Bellaire with your long-lasting impact!
    And thanks Nabila and Sonya for the great story!

  • S

    Stacey RobertsApr 3, 2023 at 9:11 pm

    Good man. Good principal. Treated so terrible due to politics. Can’t have a successful school in HISD, I guess. ?

    Thank you, Mr McD!