Day: <span>July 9, 2015</span>

Beware of superintendents calling themselves “reformers”


I was on vacation when Mike Miles finally quit his reign of dictatorial mediocrity at Dallas ISD, but I notice now that the Dallas school board paid the former superintendent $275,000 in a separation deal.

That money could have been spent paying five teachers for a whole year of work, but if that is what it took to get rid of Miles, I doubt that too many teachers are complaining. You may recall that TSTA’s local affiliate, NEA-Dallas, had been urging the board for months to fire him.

With Miles gone, it also seems that Tonya Sadler Grayson, the scandal-ridden human resources executive whom Miles refused to fire, will soon follow.

Now what for Texas’ second largest school district?

The board has rehired former Superintendent Michael Hinojosa as an interim replacement at $25,000 per month while it decides what to do long-term. Hinojosa is a former DISD teacher and coach with deep roots in the district. He saw the district make some academic improvements under his previous tenure as superintendent from 2005 to 2011, when he resigned to head the Cobb County School District near Atlanta.

But hundreds of DISD teachers lost their jobs during a 2008 budgetary crisis while Hinojosa was superintendent. And, according to The Dallas Morning News, he plans to continue, at least for now, Miles’ programs, including a performance-pay plan for teachers that will do nothing to improve educational quality in DISD. The plan, as long as it ties teacher evaluations and pay to student test scores, will discourage the best teachers from taking jobs at the low-performing campuses where they are needed the most.

The departure of Miles, who drove away hundreds of good teachers with his top-down, dictatorial style, is in itself an improvement for DISD, but it will be only a temporary one.

In picking a long-term, new superintendent, board members need to be leery of anyone promising “reform,” at least until they are sure the applicant actually understands what the word means.

Miles was an alleged “reformer” who unveiled high-sounding programs. But mainly he messed with teachers, played musical chairs with principals, defied the school board and infuriated a lot of parents while doing little to improve educational opportunities for the vast majority of DISD students.

Reform is not simply change, not simply doing something because it upsets the status quo. Real reform is change that makes things better. For a school district, real reform is improving educational opportunities for all of its students. And, real reform for DISD, in the wake of the Miles era, can begin only if the new superintendent makes a priority of listening to the real education experts – the district’s teachers – giving them the resources they need to succeed and building a program from there.