As we know, school districts get a lot of grief from legislators and other state policymakers for problems that are largely the fault of state policymakers. Chief among these are a shortage of funding for a growing enrollment of low income and special needs children and a refusal among many legislators to recognize that they should be more accountable than third-graders.
But obviously local school leadership also makes a difference, which is why educators and parents are keeping their fingers crossed over the Austin school board’s decision this week to promote from within its own district’s ranks and give Interim Superintendent Paul Cruz the “permanent” superintendent’s job. How long permanent will be, of course, will depend on Cruz’s job performance. He will be challenged with a minefield of problems, including an uneven use of resources that has some neighborhood schools bursting at the seams of countless portables and others with room to spare.
Cruz’s promotion so far has been greeted with cautious optimism, mainly because Cruz has improved communication with educators, parents and the community as a whole.
Meanwhile, a couple of hundred miles up IH35, optimism — cautious or otherwise — may not be the term to apply to Dallas ISD, where Superintendent Mike Miles, based on what I read and hear, is more dictatorial than communicative. He has angered many teachers with excessive paperwork, played musical chairs with administrators, had an elected board member physically removed from a school campus and insists on grade school kids taking useless, standardized tests in PE.
Meanwhile, Dallas ISD still has the same urban school district problems it had when Miles arrived a few years ago, leaving the door wide open to a potential power grab by privatization advocates who are trying to convert the district into a home rule charter that could weaken educational standards and strip teachers of basic employment rights.
I am a taxpayer – and more importantly a parent — in Austin ISD, and I am rooting for Paul Cruz. I also am keeping a wary eye on Dallas, where many TSTA members are working hard for their students and their community under very difficult circumstances.