Dallas ISD

Robert E. Lee? OK, but what about James Bowie?


Dallas ISD is one of the latest school districts to go through the controversial process of erasing the names of slavery defenders from its schools. A difficult part that process is deciding where to stop. The old South, including Texas, is full of memorials to racism and a lost cause erected years after the Civil War by people who refused to believe that all people, in fact, were created equal.

The issue of removing Confederate statues and renaming schools resurfaced following the recent white supremacy violence in Charlottesville, Va.

For now, according to The Dallas Morning News, DISD is going to consider renaming only schools that bear the names of Confederate generals. That means elementary schools that now honor the memories of Robert E. Lee, Albert Sidney Johnston, Stonewall Jackson and William L. Cabell may soon be relabeled.

Other schools carrying the names of individuals who had slaves or other connections to the Confederacy, such as Thomas Jefferson High School and John H. Reagan Elementary School, will be keeping their names, at least for now. These include James Bowie Elementary School.

James Bowie, of course, has long been considered a Texas “hero” because of his death at the Alamo. Lesser known, though, is the fact that long before his arrival in San Antonio, he was a slave-trader. He and his brother, Rezin, bought slaves from the pirate Jean Laffite on Galveston Island and resold them in Louisiana. According to the Handbook of Texas, they made $65,000 – more than $1 million in today’s dollars — at their despicable business before retiring and investing their profits in land speculation.

Who committed the greater sin? Robert E. Lee or James Bowie? Were they equally guilty of perpetuating an evil practice, or was Bowie somehow “exonerated” by his death at the Alamo?

I have two children, now grown, who graduated from James Bowie High School in Austin ISD, and I doubt that more than a handful of parents during their time there knew about Bowie’s unsavory past.

“Are there names of other people that somebody might want to change in the future?” DISD Board President Dan Micciche asked.

There may be.




A hangover from education “reform”


In addition to the normal excitement and anticipation the new school year brings, Dallas ISD has the added benefit of beginning the year without Mike Miles as superintendent. You may recall that Miles abruptly ended his dictatorial reign over DISD during the summer and moved back to Colorado, where he has founded a company called Third Future, an education consulting firm.

Miles is still calling himself a “reformer,” despite the fact, as The Dallas Morning News pointed out, he “didn’t produce significant academic gains during his time in Dallas.”

In a posting on his new company’s blog, Miles says the “reform community is suffering from a low-grade depression.”

Maybe it’s not a depression but a hangover from binging on testing, privatization and bureaucrat bells and whistles that have hindered, rather than advanced, the education cause.


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.









Dallas ISD needs a superintendent, not a bully


Mike Miles, the dictatorial superintendent of Dallas ISD, may or may not have skated closer to the precipice of getting fired when he recently ignored the wishes of a majority of his elected school board and terminated three principals, including one who was extremely popular and worked very well with parents.

Although this incident may have been his cheekiest yet, this is not the first time Miles has shown disrespect for school trustees and the taxpayers who elected them. You may recall that last year he ordered DISD police to physically remove one trustee, Bernadette Nutall, from a campus in the district she was elected to represent.

This time, though, even The Dallas Morning News editorial board, a long-time Miles defender, sat up and took notice with a hand-wringing editorial that chastised the superintendent but stopped short of demanding his termination.

Dallas ISD faces challenges, and effective educators are ready to take the opportunity to turn them into successes. But Miles would rather bully than lead. His administration has been marked by top-down, ineffective policies and a highly paid management team that has created a hostile working environment for teachers and other school employees – and a hostile learning environment for students. All, of course, in the hijacked name of “reform.”

Teachers have been saddled with excessive paperwork and excessive meetings, and some have been chastised by administrators in front of their students during surprise classroom visits. Miles also has imposed an evaluation system that does not truly reflect the work that educators are doing.

NEA-Dallas, TSTA’s local affiliate, has long demanded Miles’ removal.

In his latest bit of arrogance, Miles fired the three principals who had the support of a board majority. One was Anna Brining, an elementary principal who had been personally praised by Board President Eric Cowan for her work and strong engagement with parents. Cowan’s daughter attended Brining’s school.

To make matters even worse, Miles continues to employ a DISD human resources manager who, according to an internal investigation reported by the Dallas News, has lied, bullied staffers and falsified records. And, you can bet the human resources manager is paid more than any of the ousted principals were.

The News, in its editorial, said Miles needs to “adjust his approach.”

It’s too late for that. The DISD board needs to show him the door.