Mike Miles vs. Patronage: DISD's Impending Principal Purge

Are Dallas ISD trustees already preparing to protect the principals Mike Miles wants to fire?

Several minor political brush fires sent up smoke at the Dallas public school system after a tough new reform-minded superintendent took over the reins last July. But in two months the whole woods will be on fire, with Superintendent Mike Miles in the middle of it.

Does he survive? I don't know. Do we?

In early April the district will send out an innocuously titled document called a "growth plan" to some number of principals among the district's 222 heads of schools. In spite of the bouncy title, everybody who gets one will know exactly what it means — a bull's-eye on his or her back.

The district operates a multipart assessment system for school principals based on numerous criteria with multiple written reports along the way. A growth plan comes almost at the end of that process.

A principal who receives a growth plan is actually being put on notice that it ain't working. Something serious has to change in that principal's performance before May or the principal will be fired, or, as they put it in the ever-gentle lingo of public education, "non-renewed."

Most of the brush fires around Miles have had to do with complaints by teachers and their union reps that they are being treated harshly or unfairly under the new superintendent's reform regime. But in board meetings and public appearances, Miles has made it clear his first major target is not the teachers but their bosses. His whole deal is that schools only prosper under strong leadership and part of bringing that about is tough accountability for the principals.

So who could argue with accountability? Oh, man. Where to start? For the last half century the public school system in Dallas has been the city's main engine of political patronage. If anybody really needs a lesson plan for that, just think back to last November when Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price showed up at a school board and told the TV crews that Miles was running the district into the ditch.

Think about it. What in the hell is a county commissioner doing at a school board meeting? Aren't they supposed to stay busy building roads and bridges and keeping track of drainage? Price wasn't at school headquarters to talk about education. As the county's most powerful African-American elected official, he showed up at Ross Avenue to put Miles on notice. His message was plain. Do not mess with my protected people.

So I could tell you that the machinery of patronage and protection will really get cranking when those so-called growth plans start hitting the desks of DISD principals and some dozens or more of them find themselves on the fast track to sack city. But that would not be entirely accurate. In truth the machinery started cranking a month ago. In response to my request for public documents, district lawyers provided me with a stack of emails showing that two district board members have been demanding detailed information about the growth plan process before the documents even go out to principals.

One in particular, board President Lew Blackburn, has demanded copies of all the growth plans and supporting documentation for the entire district. Blackburn was frank and open with me about his intentions, which are to closely monitor the entire process and presumably to interject himself and the board into it in instances where he thinks principals are not being treated fairly.

"The key word is fair," he told me. "I don't question the administration's decisions about hiring an employee or terminating an employee other than, has that employee been treated fairly, especially when it comes to a termination or separation? Are we treating our employees fair across the board?"

Blackburn told me he will do his own private analysis of all the principals who receive growth plans in April. "Rather than ask the administration to give me their assessment, I am just asking for those documents, and I will do my own assessment and will draw my own conclusions from that."

It seems like a daunting task. Blackburn has demanded not just the growth plans themselves but other benchmarks including a goals statement and a mid-year assessment. He says he is looking for cases in which there is a noticeable discrepancy between earlier positive assessments and a negative assessment in the growth plan.

"That would be a red flag to me," he told me.

This seems like very thin ice in terms of the clear direction of state law and specific language in the superintendent's employment contract. By law and by contract, Miles has total control over personnel decisions. The law pointedly bars school district trustees from meddling.

In Texas if trustees can't stomach a superintendent's actions, their recourse under the law is to fire him. What's more, there are provisions in the law whereby a fired employee can appeal to a committee of the board sitting as a quasi-judicial body. Any trustee on that committee who has already been involved in that employee's case might have a legal conflict.

Blackburn says his interest is not in individual decisions but overall fairness. "If we want to keep good employees, I think we have to have a fairness about how we treat our employees."

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42 comments
klampton
klampton

I'd like to second what was said in a post below, "The atmosphere in Dallas schools is grim, like wartime." A general may know how to get things done, but does he know how to educate children? Time will tell, but I suspect the verdit will be "oh my god, what were they thinking in Dallas?"

PaulTrevizo
PaulTrevizo

I've heard that Miles is making principals fire teachers next year in order to free up funds to pay for instructional coaches at a minimum salary of $60,000 each; and that the instructional coaches can only be hired from a pool of candidates in Miles' "Fellows Program."

If true, seems that Miles has learned how to play the DISD patronage game fairly quickly.

anotherteacher
anotherteacher

Hey Jim, have you checked out A Maceo Smith NewTech HS program?  I have heard from teachers there that the kids are doing amazing work (Project Based Learning).    Thanks for keeping DISD in your field of vision.

sunshinelgp
sunshinelgp

have been reading the comments below, could not possibly keep up with the flow. please allow me to change the pace a moment. my daughter is a new teacher in the disd, pre k. her principal came in yesterday and said okay, new strategy....i expect to see you have it done by monday. she then went on to say no more learning centers, pack up the play kitchen, no more blocks, we need to get this under control. one fifteen minute recess. the students need to be taught to read and are now required to spend more time at a desk writing. and the slower ones stay an hour extra. my daughter said the after school tutoring is not working, the kids fall asleep in their chairs. teachers of fifteen years are telling my daughter they have loved every year in their careers, except this one. one, a wife and mom, gets about five hours sleep at night. no teacher in my daughter's school is allowed to do lesson plans after class. they either tutor or they have meetings, or both.  they get home at six. they get to work before eight. so lesson plans are done outside those hours and for those with kids, it has to be after their bedtime. somewhere in there i guess they find time to shop for groceries, cook and do some laundry. my daughter said the atmosphere in her elementary school is like wartime. grim. 

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

So, to summarize the insider comments here:

1) All of the superintendents who come here are idiots.

2) All of the people who recruit them are idiots.

3) None of their ideas is worth shit.
4) But the geniuses who have been dumping illiterates out of DISD for decades really do know what they are doing and really must not be questioned or challenged in any way and must be left in charge of the school system.

To paraphrase: Those captains are all idiots. Those shipping companies are all idiots. Those people who make the spyglasses are all idiots. That is not an iceberg, you idiot. We are geniuses. Shut the hell up and let us run this ship.

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

I'll bet that Mr. Miles thinks wistfully about his days in CO. I'm guessing he really wasn't prepared for the shitstorm awaiting him, here, in Dallas.

dmuzquiz
dmuzquiz

Mr. Schutze - Kudos for a well written article.  Not sure it tells the whole story, but it certainly gives better insight into how the real world isn't always aligned with our children's success.  I do hope our board members think about the long term good of our kids first and politics second.   Thank you for writing this...I've forwarded to quite a few friends.

PaulTrevizo
PaulTrevizo

What's the point of giving an administrator a growth plan in April telling them to shape-up or ship-out--DISD code for raise your test scores or be fired--when the state test is later that same month?  Is the principal going to work some miracle and turn around one or more years of failing test scores in the one, or two, or three weeks between them receiving their improvement plan and the test?  Unless they plan to cheat like in Washington DC (where another "reform" superintendent was in charge), I think not.  The principals who were returned to failing schools at the start of this school year should have been put on their "growth plan" back at the start of school. 

Weren't the Executive Directors supposed to be visiting the schools they were in charge of on a weekly basis?  Did it really take them 6 months to figure out that some of the principals they supervise are ineffective?  According to Mike Miles he can spend 10 minutes in a teacher's classroom and determine they are ineffective.  Maybe some of the EDs should get pink slips, oops growth plans, for being such poor judges of leadership. 

Michael.MacNaughton
Michael.MacNaughton

Is there a patronage system (or at least nepotism and cronyism) at work here?  Absolutely.  In the near past, hiring was often based on one's church, family, or sorority connections. DISD stopped publishing the obituary section of the DISD internal employee newsletter because the list of family members of the dear deceased that were employed by DISD was embarrassingly lengthy.

Do we need to improve the quality of the Principals? Absolutely. But how in the world is a principal who is notified in April that they are on a growth plan going to have any chance of improving things at their school by the end of May? This smells like a hit list. Evaluation fairness is important because principals don't grow on trees and DISD doesn't exactly have a great reputation as a desirable place to come and work  - unless you've been thrown out of another district and can't find a job anywhere else.

Miles and his administration are champing at the bit to do something, anything, to show forward motion. Past mistakes - already too many to mention in Miles' 6 month superintendent stint - his persistent "Ready. Fire! Aim." mentality, is also at play here.  Is fairness being sacrificed for speed? Every day that passes without productive change is another day lost to the students, a day they cannot ever get back.

DISD has a principal training program that was started several years ago and we will soon see the first crop of administrators coming into a few schools - hopefully there will be some movement on student achievement on these campuses - but this training program is new and untested and there is no guarantee that the new crop of administrators will have success, but we can hope.

If some principals on the growth plan are retained while others are fired, the Superintendent ought to be able to articulate specifically why since he may end up having to do so in court anyway, when all is said and done.

ohplease
ohplease

Jim, your hysterics got old long time ago. Miles hauls all his cronies including one he dumped when convenient and you call him a reformer. He's hauled in a pcard offender of late of you are MIA. His record in Harrison shows he can't reform 2 small high schools, but you keep beating he same drum. It's South Dallas principals and teachers and the black jobs program. We've heard this before and we know where it comes from--the group of "reformers" who treat bond issues like an ATM--course that's different..

Miles is a harlot who will come in, create chaos, and blow smoke at ninies like you. You are being bombarded by a group of faux reformers. Jobs program-try TFA for white kids and it's subsidized by the     feds--talking a government entitlement--go over to Peak Prep and look a their 0 rate of college passing rates with TFA. Willard tested almost every one of her students and it lowered her test scores. Willard's problem is that she refuses to bow down, on her knees to Miles.Miles thinks he can do a better job- Offer him Madison or Lincoln.

And knock it off with these schools "causing" serial imprisonment. Crime rates correlate to poverty. We can correlate every single thing in South Dallas to serial imprisonment if we wanted to be obscenely stupid--something you don't mind doing.

EastDallasDad
EastDallasDad

No one is arguing for the status quo, but Miles' brand of reform has failed everywhere it's been tried (Rockford, IL, Washington, DC, Seattle, WA, Detroit, MI, Swampscott, MA, Los Angeles, CA, Antiochm CA, New York City, NY...). Doing the wrong thing because "we have to do something" doesn't make any sense. 

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

 In 2009 state representative Yvonne Davis proposed a bill which would force the state to divide any school district that meets several parameters. The parameters include the district having more than 150,000 students, the district residing in a county with more than two million residents, and the resident county being adjacent to at least one other county with more than one million residents. The bill does not name any particular school district, but the parameters of the bill may only apply to Dallas ISD.

Time to refile the bill, because if the DISD is going to eat this one alive and continue to put out the product they do, I'd sue if I were a former student.  Enough is enough.  

gehrigs302
gehrigs302

Absolutely sickening! Who speaks for the school children!!!

trpinflyer
trpinflyer

@sunshinelgp That is so developmentally inappropriate! I am also teaching Pre-K, children at that need to learn through discovery play. This is so sad to read, unfortunately, it is not surprising. having worked in HSD-2 in CO

trpinflyer
trpinflyer

@sunshinelgp

That is so developmentally inappropriate! Having worked for Mr. Miles in CO, this doesn't shock me, It saddens me, but it is par for his course. In HSD-2 the K-12 kids were not allowed to use crayons, unless developing fine motor skills was part of the posted DOL (demonstration of learning) the atmosphere of HSD-2 was oppressive and ruled by fear. Fortunately, in Colorado, Head Start was in charge of the Preschool program in that district.

Hardly
Hardly

@TheCredibleHulk  Do they only turn the interwebs on at your house for an hour a day or do you live under a rock?

Miles was looking for a way out of nowhere when the community was ready to throw him out, so our brilliant mayor brought the loser here for Miles redux 2.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=byCT4bEbXtE

uKnowItNow
uKnowItNow

@dmuzquiz No, it tells the part of the story fed to Schutze who isn't qualified to write this article.The mayor's embarrassed the fool he hauled in from nowhere is failing, so got to have more propaganda on failing schools. Mayor loves KIPP, but KIPP won't take these kids, so let's destroy some more south Dallas schools and neighborhoods. Who is on the receiving end of that deal?

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@PaulTrevizo 

We're talking about long-tenured principals who over a period of years have turned out zero to one or two kids every year capable of going on to college. Maybe some bad feeder schools were feeding the principal a bunch of ill-prepared students. You know what? Instead of setting the place on fire and demanding some kind of change, the principal kept sending those kids out the door and straight to prison and kept cashing those nice paychecks. I believe the term history has for  that sort of person is collaborationist.  

kristen.trueblood
kristen.trueblood

@Michael.MacNaughton

Maybe youve been fortunate enough not to see 850 middle schoolers suffer from poor leadership, not teaching, everyday!

They are already poor, minority, under-educated and mistreated through discrimination before they walk in our doors. These principals have their rackets on campus and dont think twice about driving away at 5 in their yellow corvette! Im not a teacher, a counselor, I see it all!!!!@Michael.MacNaughton

PaulTrevizo
PaulTrevizo

@Michael.MacNaughton  The real reason some, not all, of the principals who get growth plans in two montsh will be out of a job two months later is because Mike Miles needs to make room for the members of his "Principal Fellows Academy."  This is NOT the same training program DISD "started serveal years ago." From what I understand, that program was discontinued when Robin Ryan left the DISD. 

This new program takes people and trains them to be school principals using the Mike Miles method of management. Take a good look at Miles' program compared to similar programs offered by UNT and you'll see there is no way Miles' program can adequately train someone to get a principal's certification.

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@Michael.MacNaughton 

I get what you are saying. But the growth plans are a final step in a long process of evaluation and documentation beginning with goals statements, revisited with a mid-year assessment and several other intermediate steps. Seems like a heads-up principal would smell the smoke way before seeing the flames.

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@ohplease 

If you are going to make this argument, at please have the decency and moral courage to address the issue of high schools that consistently "graduate" zero students of color prepared for college. Specifically, should those principals keep their jobs?

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@ohplease 

Oh, well, if it's poverty at fault, and since poverty has been always with us, then, realistically, there isn't shit we can do, right? So, as you were and carry on then! Sorry for the disturbance.

HAAAA
HAAAA

@holmantx  You think DISD is eating this superintendent who intended to come in here and haul away half a million a year based on his flim flam methods? Who do you think is blowing whom here?

Yeah, Yvonne Davis reached a high point with that proposal. Now tell us the upside to leaving this district too big for its citizens to have any real input. Tell us who is against dividing it up so it is manageable?

kristen.trueblood
kristen.trueblood

@gehrigs302

I do.

Makes me LOTS of enemies at work. All I care about are these kids. It gets me crucified.

ohplease
ohplease

@gehrigs302  Well, apparently Rene Martinez, who had no problem segregating brown and black kids at Preston Hollow now speaks constantly. Strange, isn't it? Rene speaks and jobs flow to brown folks and that's ok. He's got Miles ear in this battle and Miles needs anyone he can get. So Rene will line up his brothers and sisters for jobs against the black version of the same. No one will talk about that for the time being. We just need to purge South Dallas of its black jobs program and the crime rate will drop. Obama can send enough TFA white kids on the government tit to Madison and all will be well.

So the link missing in this story is who on Ross Avenue told Jim the black trustees were asking for information.

Take a big clue.

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

@Hardly @TheCredibleHulk 

Fair enough.

I've watched this particular school superintendent musical chairs drama play out in another city with a large-ish urban school district in the mid-west. These guys float around from district to district filling chairs and trying to look busy until the peasants show up at the windmill with their pitchforks. So, the comment was tongue-in-cheek in that he may prefer the devil he was familiar with to this new devil he's having to deal with.

I'm still guessing, former situation notwithstanding, he wasn't at all prepared for what awaited him at DISD.


udonotgetit
udonotgetit

@JimSX Jim, you have NO idea of what you are talking about. Around 40 kids a year successfully go to college from Madison. Their graduating classes are small. 

Go over to Madison and interview the kids for the scholarships they have already received this year. You don't have a clue. Then go ask the kids at Lincoln what their college plans are. They are also being accepted and will complete successfully next year. There is no high school in Dallas where students are leaving and not being successful in college. Who is selling you this shit?

There are state and national agencies that have records of where kids go to college and Madison and Lincoln and every other Dallas high school has plenty of successful kids every single year.

I believe the term for you is ignorant. The SAT benchmark score for predicting college readiness is set very high in Texas. Thousands of kids go to college every single year without that benchmark SAT score.

And your references to Nazi Germany need to stop. Go interview the students and come back and apologize. You are turning into an old creep.

Find a single high school in Dallas where only one or two kids went to college. By the way, why don't you shadow one of these do nothing principals for a day you old goat. Your arteries are freezing up.


Michael.MacNaughton
Michael.MacNaughton

@JimSX  

Begs the question...what are the qualifications of the evaluators?  What assessment system are they using?  Is the assessment system widely in use or is it home-grown? Is the quicksand trap of student test scores included in the evaluations? Who is the final arbiter in this process and how much do personal relationships play in the current process? It's one thing if all of the evaluators were new to the district...but another thing entirely if they came from within the ranks.  Is there a real possibility of cronyism or favoritism here? Maybe so.  I want the principals evaluated fairly and thoroughly, I just don't believe the current process was well thought out or well implemented.  Ready. Fire. Aim.

In the case of teacher evaluations I will tell you for a fact that many of the evaluators lack the training, knowledge and experience to evaluate the teachers properly, much less fairly, and that the metrics of the evaluation system change "de volada" (on the fly). That is one hot mess.

clue
clue

@JimSX  Ok Jim, no one doubts your intentions, just the people who are giving you data with no context.

Students can only grow so much on a measure like the SAT in 4 years. It's not a test  where working on it 24/7 will reap gains of 200 points from the freshmen year.

Willard may have SAT gains similar to other decent schools, but the kids she gets are so low scoring coming in that simply growing the same amount as other schools still leaves her with zero "college ready."

So your moral outrage leads you to the conclusion that we should fire Marian Willard because she can't do what can't happen?

This is the problem with you drinking the kool-aid of your charter buddies (PEAK also can't produce college ready scores but we haven't seen you indicting Todd Williams or Uplift) and the other self proclaimed reformers around town.

They have agendas that have nothing to do with kids, but for some reason your keen nose doesn't work around them. Bring up these kids and poverty and you go into a daze where you have decided school teachers are conspiring to send kids to prison.

Teaching has always been a path to the middle class. It's such back breaking work, those already in the middle class won't allow it as a career choice for their kids. It's  always been a way out, the same as the military.

The problem before us is your insistence that Miles is the savior and those of us not buying it because his past track record is a joke--well, we must hate kids or be racists or whatever.

His methods didn't move the needle in Harrison with small high schools he could terrorize and micromanage endlessly.

Putting Willard out because she can't do what can't be done with the kids she gets at ninth grade--well, that's another issue. Miles couldn't do in Harrison, and he wants everyone to follow his lead.

His lead doesn't go anywhere.

So what's Willard supposed to do--go recruit better kids or do what Uplift and the magnets refuse to do--take all the kids who walk in the door at whatever time they choose to enroll?

South Dallas schools are becoming poorer. Those parents of means are leaving or are gone, but you think Willard or anyone else can get 8 years of growth on college indicators in 4 years or off with her head.

Miles hasn't done it. Don't know of anyone who has done it. Todd Williams and his principals haven't done it, but we don't hear you railing about that constantly.

uKnowItNow
uKnowItNow

@JimSX @udonotgetit 

We know Todd Williams and his SMU cronies need to keep some visibility going on their school reform scam and Kress needs a reason to keep testing, but SAT scores are only part of the picture as are the flaky state tests where Kress gets his palm greased by Pearson. Life doesn't revolve around a three hour test that is correlated to income.

Funny how south of the river all teachers are in a black jobs program but over at Peak the kids score just as poorly and TFA is ready for sainthood and a Belo publicity drive.

Funny how the press doesn't do its research and operates off stereotypes and racism, isn't it.

Flabbergasted
Flabbergasted

You are clueless.  The TEA does not keep track of kids going to college---- after June, how in hell would they know where they went?


JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@udonotgetit @JimSX 

All of the numbers I have reported here come from the Texas Education  Agency's academic excellence reporting system. I would give you the URL but for some reason the commenting software keeps erasing it. I can tell that you are very passionate about this, but you need to do more research and smoke less weed. 

j.walter.miller
j.walter.miller

@Michael.MacNaughton By "widely in use" I believe you mean "sanctioned by those being subject to scrutiny and designed to hide their failures".  What's wrong with measuring a principal's performance based on student test scores?  What the hell else would you use to measure their performance?  Seriously.  There is a  ton of junk in the DISD system that needs to be purged.  Let the heads roll.

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@clue

talk talk talk, always the same answer, can't do nuthin' about 'nuthin.

CornyDoggy
CornyDoggy

@clue @JimSX 

Have you ever read Jim's previous articles?  He has plenty to say about charter schools


HAAAA
HAAAA

@EastDallasDad @CornyDoggy  You know, cornydoggy, your comment made me laugh out loud. It's hysterical. You should be a comedian.

So the norm for pathology is Yvonne Gonzalez, brought to us by none other than Sandy Kress's little ragtag band of Dallas reformers? So once we've had Yvonne, a Broad scum has to reach the same benchmark to be no worse than other urban superintendents?

Do you have any idea of what you are saying?  So Broad "reformers" are no different than the typical lowlife urban superintendent, so why don't we just put up with Miles or Hinojosa or some other knuckledragging sociopath brought to town by the mayor or the citizen's council or Belo?

You've just enlightened us that Dallas kids should put up with what their superiors haul to town because they won't be any worse than Yvonne Gonzalez. 

Hysterically funny!

CornyDoggy
CornyDoggy

@EastDallasDad

I spent some time going through your links and the subsequent links within them.  Still didn't find any evidence of district failure.  All I saw was the legal problems of the occasional Broad Foundation alum, with no statistics to say they're more likely to be corrupt than your normal superintendent (Yvonne Gonzales) 

 
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