By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
"We've all struggled with 'does he stay or does he go,'" says trustee Leigh Ann Ellis, who is considered a reliable pro-Hinojosa supporter. "Michael is aware that he has to change, and he has to change fast."
Change may not be something that comes easy to Hinojosa—particularly where his demeanor is concerned. Talk about him to anybody today, and one of the first things they will say is that he's quiet. Some people will say he's quiet in an off-putting and awkward manner, while others will say he's quiet in a humble and gracious way. Regardless, they all hit on the same theme: The guy is quiet.
He was like that as a child. Growing up in a West Dallas housing project and then a series of rental homes in Oak Cliff, Hinojosa liked school and sports more than talking in class or hanging out.
"He was a very serious child," recalls his sister, Martha Hinojosa-Nadler. "He just kind of stayed to himself. He was very focused."
His parents pushed him and their other 10 children to do well in school. Even if Michael's parents were too busy working, his older brothers and sisters made it clear what the family's expectations were.
"You had to be serious about school; you had to do well," Hinojosa-Nadler says. "The last thing you wanted was to get a call from a teacher."
When Michael was born, his father Amado was an Assembly of God minister in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. For years, the elder Hinojosa had been talking to friends in the clergy about bringing his wife and children to the United States. When Michael was two, his father finally got his chance, finding a church in Lubbock that needed a pastor.
Six years later, Amado, eager to try big-city life, headed to Dallas to lead a new congregation in Oak Cliff. As a pastor, Amado earned a living off the congregation's tithing, but the parish only had 35 or so members, and some weeks he was lucky to collect much money at all. "We were so poor we didn't even know it," Hinojosa says.
Michael enjoyed school and fell in love with teaching. After graduating from Texas Tech University, he returned to Dallas to join the district that had educated him. His first teaching assignment was at Stockard Middle School in 1979, before moving to Adamson High School in Oak Cliff, where he taught history and coached the basketball team.
Hinojosa fondly recalls the fledgling days of his career. "When I could get kids to explain the three branches of government in their own words, man, that was really exciting," he says.
After eight years as a teacher and coach, Hinojosa took his first step toward leading DISD. In 1987, he secured a job as an assistant principal at South Grand Prairie High School, honed a reputation as a workaholic and disciplinarian, and then was promoted within the district to be a central administrator. During his seven years at the Grand Prairie Independent School District, he struck then-superintendent Marvin Crawford as both an academic and someone who could one day run a school system.
"We needed his type here," Crawford says. "Someone who was energetic, very smart, worked very hard and was fair."
In 1994, Hinojosa left North Texas for a series of school administrative jobs, including one as the superintendent of the Hays Consolidated Independent School District, just outside of Austin. Again, Hinojosa developed a reputation as a hard-working administrator, but this time around he had to confront a nasty racial dilemma: The Confederate flag still hung outside of Jack C. Hays High School.
The school's few black students had told district officials that their friends outside of Hays regularly mocked them for attending the school.
"I told the board when I got hired that was not acceptable for a district to have a Confederate flag," Hinojosa says. "There are certain things that are non-negotiable."
Despite board assurances it would be removed, the flag remained a school tradition not to be tampered with. Only in July 2000, after facing down loud, sometimes vile opposition did Hinojosa prevail upon the board to remove the flag.
"I thought it was a very bold move; it was a very necessary move," says Laurie Cromwell, the former president of the Hays ISD board of trustees. "He did it because it was the right thing to do. We all received death threats."
Today Hinojosa's fiercest critics, the ones who regularly call for his resignation, are black. "It's kind of ironic," he says when asked about Hays ISD incident. "Not a lot of people know about that."
In 2002, when board members from Spring ISD, a sleepy suburb just north of Houston, came to recruit Hinojosa, Cromwell told them that he was such a talented superintendent that she expected him to outgrow Hays, and Spring too.
In 2005, Dale Kaiser, the president of NEA-Dallas, served on the DISD superintendent search committee to pick a successor to then-superintendent Mike Moses. When he talked to his NEA colleagues in Spring about Hinojosa, "they gave him glowing recommendations," Kaiser recalls.
In April 2005, the DISD Board of Trustees named Hinojosa the superintendent of his hometown school district. Jack Lowe says that he supported the hire because he figured Hinojosa would stay at least 10 years, which would give the district some much-needed stability.