Mike Miles resig

As expected, Mike Miles announced he would step down as superintendent of Dallas public schools at Thursday’s school board meeting. Once he tenders his resignation, deputy superintendent Ann Smisko will take the reins as the search for a new superintendent begins.

Miles becomes the fourth superintendent to leave the district in 15 years. Dallas ISD has not had a superintendent see a freshman class graduate in 20 years. Miles was hired in 2012.

With a smile on his face, Miles began the press conference by recalling his hiring, saying when he arrived three years ago, the district was ready for a change. “I was brought with the recognition that we could not do the things we have always done,” he said. “The team and I accepted that challenge, knowing that we would have to think differently and act courageously. We knew we would have to make the tough decisions many were unprepared to make, and that many would oppose.

“Similar to the construction of a new building,” he said, there needed to be a good foundation – good teachers in every classroom, good principals, engaged students and parents.

Miles listed several accomplishments his team made over the past three years: Developing and implementing the most rigorous pay-for-performance system for teachers and principals in the nation; raising expectations with a high-performance culture; raising fund balance from $180 million to $350 million to place the district in its strongest financial situation ever; achieving the largest student achievement growth in any large district in Texas also challenged by poverty, per ERG analysis of success for urban school districts; increasing the graduation rate; establishing a national standard for number of minority students passing advanced placement exams; hiring more teachers; beginning rigorous choice school program; increasing investments in early childhood ed; implementing the ACE program; and creating an online newsroom.

“This team has been able to accomplish quite a bit, and I know no other district who has been able to accomplish that much in the same period of time,” he said.

And because of those achievements, Miles said, “I have decided that now is the time that I can step aside as superintendent,” knowing that the team that has been built can carry on his work.

It was a difficult decision, he said, and not made lightly. Citing his commitment to his family, he said, “It’s time to rejoin them in Colorado.”

(more…)

Photo: Dallas ISD

Photo: Dallas ISD

Multiple news outlets are reporting that Dallas ISD superintendent Mike Miles will resign at a 9:30 a.m. press conference.

Frankly, I don’t blame him. Even more frankly, I’m a little stunned he didn’t flip everyone the double bird months ago, and walk out backwards just to make sure we got the longest view of that double bird on his way out. Mike Miles is a nicer person than me.

Even if you disagreed with the man, this is a bad thing for Dallas public schools. Running an urban school isn’t going to get any easier for the next guy or gal. And who exactly is going to want a job where you only get three years to accomplish the herculean? Let me state this plainly – most likely any success Miles’ predecessor has will be because someone (Miles) set a foundation for success and that person left much of his policy in place. It will have to be that way, because we will not – as voters who hold the school board accountable – allow the next person any more time than we did Miles to accomplish anything in the way of real reform.

Yes, Miles could be stubborn. And he made some critical missteps personnel-wise that made it easier for folks already gunning for him to make a case. But we’ve also been monumentally stupid by believing news organizations who consistently get it wrong.  Let me reiterate, since they continue to get it wrong: The finance chief was highly-sought after and resigned after getting a very good offer from Garland ISD that DISD couldn’t match. We still have more in the reserve fund than the state requires. Student satisfaction (which is to me one of the most important metrics) is high.

So don’t dance about a boogeyman being vanquished. Instead, be very worried about the fact that the next guy will have exactly three years, too, to accomplish the daunting task of steering DISD.

Three years. Hardly seems worth the trip to Dallas to interview.

Stay tuned for coverage of Miles’ press conference at 9:30.

 

DISD Admin Building 3700 Ross AveA lot of numbers, a lot of jargon, and a lot of arguing about data occurred last night as Dallas ISD trustees discussed Superintendent Mike Miles’ future with Dallas public schools. And a lot of people argue passionately on both sides of the issue about which data points we should listen to.

It’s a lot as a parent to wrap your head around. Who is right? How do I put into context what they are saying? Is it really that bad, or really that good?  Even after a lengthy career that included covering education for several different papers and several differently-sized school districts, meetings like last night can make my head spin.

Dr. Mike Moses

Dr. Mike Moses

So when that happens, I look for an expert. And this time, I was lucky enough to get a great one – a former DISD superintendent, state education commissioner and current visiting professor at UNT – Mike Moses.

“The superintendent’s positions – especially superintendent positions at an urban district – are very explosive jobs,” Moses said. “They are fraught with all kinds of challenges, and in addition to the education aspect, you have a lot of politics – labor politics, business politics, actual politics and even media politics – to deal with. And all of that is pretty combustible.

“And then to add to that you have nine different people with nine different districts to answer to – you’re juggling a lot of balls. But the people that apply for and want these superintendent positions, they know that going in,” he added. “And when you go in, you hope to be able to manage all of it successfully.”

And Dallas ISD is not alone in its struggles to balance the needs of all the students in its district. “Governments of urban districts have been the subject of a lot of discussion over the last 10 years,” Moses said. (more…)

Photo: Dallas ISD

Photo: Dallas ISD

I’ll have more later after I’ve had time to go through my notes, but brief rundown of tonight’s called meeting of the Dallas ISD Board of Trustees, with the lone item on the agenda being a discussion of superintendent Mike Miles’ employment status was contentious, and that may even be an understatement.

The meeting lasted for more than five hours, and much of that was in executive session. It was clear as the board came back into open session that the three board members who demanded – and went to court – for the meeting to take place were not happy with the outcome. After two rounds of expressing displeasure and a statement from Mike Miles (again, more after I’m able to review notes), the board voted – 2-7 in favor of issuing a letter of concern to Mike Miles. A letter of concern, for the record, has less weight than a letter of reprimand, so needless to say it was several steps below what many feared or hoped would happen tonight. The two no votes were from Joyce Foreman and Elizabeth Jones.

But in a surprise move, Foreman then made a motion that was apparently not discussed in the executive session – a motion to require Miles resign in December. Jones amended it to ask for an independent review of the state of the district. There was much back and forth, but the swing votes – Eric Cowan and Dan Micciche – both said they wanted a responsible succession plan, and this was not it. Ultimately, the measure failed, 3-6, with Foreman, Bernadette Nutall and Jones voting for it.

 

 

Photo: Dallas ISD

Photo: Dallas ISD

Bill Rojas. Mike Moses. Michael Hinojosa. Mike Miles.

That’s a list of the four people who have been Dallas ISD superintendent in the past 15 years. And if some on the current board of trustees have their way tomorrow at 4 p.m., Dallas public schools will be looking at a fifth superintendent in 15 years. In fact, someone pointed out to me earlier (and then I went back and did the math) that in 20 years, only one DISD superintendent has been here long enough to see a freshman class graduate.

Some on the school board wish to fire Mike Miles. They’ve made no bones about it for quite some time. And tomorrow, they intend to do so.

I have never made a secret of my irritation at some of Miles’ missteps in the beginning, like the hiring of the overpaid communications director, for one. But the man has a vision and is a reformer. And reform we do need. In a district with a poverty rate of 90 percent, and a student homeless population of over 4,000, we need reform. When we have students who can’t read at grade level or above, we need reform. When schools fail to perform up to expectations, we need reform.

But we don’t like it. Reform means change, and change is painful and nobody likes pain. But we don’t like the school-to-prison pipeline we’ve got, either. We don’t like that it’s a tooth-and-nail fight to get the middle class in the city to see their neighborhood schools for the gems they are, but also to see that even gems need polishing.

So we have to decide, right now, today, if we want stability and the chance at real reform, or if we really are content to let yet another superintendent walk the plank. We need to decide if our children need to be in a place where all the programs just starting to get a foothold will be scrapped because of yet another new administration. We have to decide today, and then we have to tell our school board our desires (even if you disagree with me and think he should be fired). Send them Facebook messages. Email them. Call them.

Because here’s the deal: I do not know if Mike Miles’ reforms will work. And I do know that there have been some bumps – some significant – in his administration (like the HR management issue). But I do know that if he isn’t given the latitude to do his job, these reforms will indeed fail. And if we fire one more superintendent, we will have had potentially 5 in 15 years (Rojas, Moses, Hinojosa, Miles, and whoever they can rope into accepting the helm after him). That’s not stability. An average of three-four years per super is not enough time to implement real changes.

Miles shows signs of promise so far. The district is in the best financial health it has been in years. For every five teachers I meet, four tell me they are excited and energized by the potential of earning more money, getting better coaching and better direction. Energized, enthusiastic teachers mean energized, enthusiastic learners, which in turn mean better schools. Principals go through more rigorous coaching and evaluations before they even become principals. There is a renewed focus on concrete early childhood education, where we get the most bang for our buck and where the interventions happen that mean kids are more likely to read at grade level by third grade – which means that test scores will eventually go up. All of this happened on Miles’ watch.

And who, really, would want this job if our board fires yet another superintendent? No real reformer is going to want a job that has a very real danger of ending before it really had a chance to begin. We have the appearance of a nasty habit of firing or running off superintendents just as they’ve begun to roll their sleeves up and work. Will this attract top talent to the district? Does our school board exacerbate the challenges of an urban district so much that our challenging district becomes an impossible one?

I don’t know the answers to those questions, by the way. But I do know that what DISD needs is time, and a school board that will recognize it and allow it.

Update: The majority of the Dallas City Council and Mayor Mike Rawlings have asked the board to not fire Miles.

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Last week, I wrote about the decisions we have coming up regarding real estate, and our son’s education. And I love, love, love all the reader feedback and comments. This week? This week I’d like to talk about our thought process thus far.

My husband and I are products of public schools – albeit not in Dallas, since we both landed here as adults. But in our time as a couple, we have kept a watchful eye on our adopted hometown’s education offerings, and once Tiny became a waving little alien on an ultrasound screen, we began, in earnest, discussing what we would do.

We’re kind of planners. OK, more accurately, I’m a raging planaholic, and my husband is a planner. But this now-ongoing discussion needed to happen that early because it involved real estate – which, as we all know, is something you try not to go into willy nilly.

So we first took a look at the school we would be assigned to for elementary school – Withers Elementary. As luck would have it, we have several friends and acquaintances with children who were attending at the time, and at least one whose children are now attending. Nothing but raves. A dual-language program that has benefitted hundreds of children. Robust parental involvement. Great ratings from the TEA, and compares well with  many of the elementary schools in the area of similar size and make up. (more…)

Mike Miles 4026 Hockaday (2)Listing agent Linda Vallala, who really specializes in that area, just confirmed the pricing of 4026 Hockaday… $799,000. The property was listed for $749,000, which is what Miles paid for it last July 27. Figuring in a 6% Realtor’s commission, should he get asking, which I see no reason why he shouldn’t as the area is HOT, he will actually only be making a couple extra thousand.

Mike Miles 4026 Hockaday (4)

This is the Dallas house Mike and Karen Miles bought when they moved to Dallas last May. It’s not in MLS, but it is being quietly marketed by Coldwell Banker’s Linda Vallala. There is even a sign in front. I took this (top) photo on August 30.

It’s a beautiful, 3566 square foot North Dallas ranch remodeled by Ron Davis, who does superb work. Was on the market last year for $749,000. Open floor plan, raised ceilings, new addition, and larger rooms, the home includes four bedrooms, three and one half baths, including a guest room with private bath. I am loving the storage in the master closet and the great spa master bath  —yeah, you might could get a margarita machine and a masseuse in here —  and while the home has no pool, there is a great outdoor living center on this over-sized lot! The wood floors are yummy.

4026 Hockaday foyer 4026 Hockaday DR 4026 Hockaday kit 2 4026 Hockaday kitchenThe home is, ironically, located on “Hockaday” not too far from the esteemed private girls school. I am told a moving van backed up to this house a few weeks ago. Well, that’s when Karen Miles and the couple’s middle-school aged son, moved back to Colorado Springs because of all the hassles Mike is encountering in trying to clean up Dallas public schools. Apparently, the family’s Colorado Springs home did not sell, so Mrs. Miles and their youngest son will live there. I can only imagine that paying two mortgages must be a killer.

I  contacted Mike Miles through his assistant and also through Jon Dahlander, News and Information Director for the DISD. Here’s what Jon told me:

“Mr. Miles loved his house in North Dallas but decided to downsize once his family moved back to Colorado for the school year. He has moved closer to the district’s administrative offices since he spends the majority of his time there,” says Jon, who says Miles told him he was going to sell Hockaday two weeks ago.

Miles, who was third in his class at West Point, faces mounting scrutiny on his work in Dallas. There’s that investigative unit to figure out if he broke rules handling a service contract. The review was suspended when Miles was accused of “interfering”, so the school board asked for an independent review which is headed by Paul Coggins and costing the District $100,000.

I give Mike Miles credit: he has succeeded in implementing at least some of his agenda in just over a year — more teacher observations, a rigorous principal evaluation system and diligent efforts to improve some of the lowest-performing schools in DISD. However, he apparently removed some very popular principals.

Leadership is tough — you have to make unpopular decisions — and it seems like Miles has done just that. He said right from the beginning that he would be into reform and tough on principals. I have always (personally) thought that DISD was administration top-heavy. DISD teachers earn more than private school teachers. So I did think he set some high salaries for his first cabinet members. But then, my point of salary reference comes from being in media. Then seven cabinet members left in his first 11 months. An internal audit faulted administrators for not following rules. Or something. Part of me thinks we really ought to give the guy a break, give him a chance,  or we will NEVER fix the Dallas schools. Who are these people making it so tough and unpleasant a man’s family moves out of town?4026 Hockaday master bath 4026 Hockaday master 4026 Hockaday patioWell, Karen certainly has great taste in real estate, and they chose a wonderful neighborhood. Anthony, their son, attended the Marsh Middle School, not St. Marks or ESD or Parish, like most of the kids in this neighborhood do.

Apparently something Mike Miles is really hoping to change. The public elementary school in this neighborhood is Withers, where parents recently raised more than $75,000 to renovate the school’s library:

Parent-Led Efforts Help Re-imagine School Library

Harry C. Withers Elementary School students will have a brand new library space to return to come this fall. The school’s library was gutted earlier this summer, after a parent-led effort to raise funds for a new school library was completed. Withers unveiled the new library space at an event in August.

The new library will boast a new circulation desk, tables, chairs, shelving, carpet, desktops, an interactive whiteboard and an area for students to stretch out and read. It has also included new desktop computers complete with interactive software programs for students to practice their reading skills.

“Our library is the nucleus of our school. At any time of the day, it may be used for classroom instruction, on-line reading assessments, staff and community meetings, staff training, and of course, to simply check-out books,” said Withers parent and fundraiser Elizabeth Garrison. “Our old library had tables of varying heights, window shades that didn’t adjust; stained carpet and too many dark corners. We wanted to design the library in a way that would encourage children to come in, pick up a book and read!”

Almost all of the donations that came in for the library were awarded in increments of less than $100 each. The project should have cost the PTA more than $100,000, but it was done for about $75,000 with Dallas ISD providing labor, and the architectural firm, led by Withers alum and school architect Jeff Miller, providing work pro bono.

“We are so thankful to our great community, PTA parents, Dads Club and volunteers who have invested their time, financial support and effort to make this new library a possibility,” said Withers Principal Connie Wallace. “Withers Elementary has a track record of academic success and we are excited to provide our students and staff with an up-to-date library set up for 21st century learning and a great environment to foster reading. What a great way to welcome students back for another successful school year.”