By Charlotte Aguilar
After nearly six months of uncertainty, Houston ISD has named popular Waltrip HS leader Michael Niggli as the new principal at Bellaire HS, introducing him to the school community at a campus meet-and-greet session Friday evening (Oct. 28) — just before the Astros were scheduled to play in World Series Game 1.
While HISD’s media office did not respond to a question about his start date, Niggli had already changed his description on his Twitter account by Saturday morning to describe himself as the “dedicated principal serving the students of Bellaire High School.”
Niggli has been with HISD for 25 years, notching a number of achievements along the way. He joined the district after playing pro basketball in Europe for five years, teaching English and coaching at Austin HS, where he was named Teacher of the Year; moved to Reagan HS (now Heights HS), where he helped start a debate team that competed at a national level; and moved into administration at Sam Houston HS, which moved out of state “improvement required” status under his tenure.
While at Sam Houston, he started an in-house alternative center providing academic and social-and-emotional student support that became a model for HISD. He’d been principal at Waltrip, in the Oak Forest-Garden Oaks area, since 2018. The school showed the most improvement of any HISD high school in his first year on the job, showing a 10-point increase in performance in Texas Education Agency accountability ratings that year.
Niggli holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from San Francisco State University and a master’s in education from Grand Canyon University.
Following months of disruption and uncertainty on campus after HISD removed popular Principal Michael McDonough in May, the process to name a successor came with surprising speed.
McDonough had been moved to a desk job at an HISD facility while he was reportedly under investigation for “allegations of failure to adhere to district policy.” Despite community pleas before the school board for his return, an online petition drive, and a large walkout of students toward the end of the school year in the spring, there was no information forthcoming about McDonough’s status. HISD cited personnel privacy legalities to explain its silence.
McDonough had come under fire for charges of racism involving the Bellaire baseball team, and from a parent who went to the media complaining that her child had been the victim of bullying and violence on the campus.
One insight into the McDonough investigation was provided by the Bellaire PTO. The parents’ group released documentation from HISD Legal Services, revealed in the student ThreePenny Press news outlet, showing nearly $70,000 paid to the law firm of Butler Snow for investigative services over a two-month period.
McDonough announced on Oct. 10 that he would retire from the district effective Jan. 1 after 30 years of service, 10 at the helm of BHS. In sharp contrast to the lack of action after his removal, three days later, behind closed doors, trustees reportedly reviewed and accepted terms of his release, and four days after that, a community meeting was held on campus to describe a fast-track process of replacing him and to hear public input.
Just 10 days later, the meet-and-greet was announced. Reportedly Niggli was vetted by a committee of students, parents, faculty-staff and other community stakeholders.