Running from DISD

Why are Superintendent Mike Miles' top staffers decamping? Blame the school board.

I'm like you. Since Mike Miles started as Dallas schools chief a year ago, seven people have resigned from his leadership team. I wonder what's wrong. Why are these people leaving? Is it Miles? The school board? Me? My dogs?

It's not easy to get a good answer, because the last thing people want to do when they're looking for a new job in public education is talk to a reporter. Better to have a snake tattooed on your forehead.

In the news business, we still have to say something even when we have no idea what we're talking about, so typically we say the truth probably lies between the two extremes. Hope you don't have to count on us someday to get out of a burning building.

That's what The Dallas Morning News and most other local media have been saying about the resignations at the school district. Oh, it must be all of them. The board is treating top executives badly. But there must be something wrong with Miles too.

Let me offer what I think is an important point. The truth does not always lie between the extremes. Responsibility is not always shared. Blaming both sides equally is not profound or sagacious, not the wisdom of Solomon and just not fair — it's an injustice — if only one side is to blame. That's like asking what's wrong, and somebody says, "Lotta stuff." Not an answer.

Finally last week I got one of the recent departures to talk to me. Miles brought Kevin Smelker here a year ago from a Colorado Springs school district to be chief of operations. Smelker told me last week his departure had everything to do with the board of trustees and nothing to do with Miles. He said he was confident the same was true of most of the other people who have departed.

"There's a comment in my resignation letter that most of the members who have left as cabinet members didn't leave because of him," Smelker told me. "They left because of the difficult working relationships with select board members."

His letter of resignation, dated June 20, says: "My decision today to leave was reinforced by recent events during the June 13th board briefing; in all candor, it was the 'straw that broke the camel's back'.

"Once again, specific board members demonstrated intimidating behavior toward our staff, and the prolonged discussions were not only unprofessional but were absent of any specific direction or clarity despite efforts by other trustees to seek clarification to help put a productive framework around the pontification taking place during the meeting."

OK, that's a specific answer. Doesn't make it the right answer. But at least it's an answer to the question of what's wrong. The board. I sat at my desk and looked at the video online for that June 13 briefing. I found a surprise.

Two black members of the board, Bernadette Nutall and Lew Blackburn, gave top staff members a hard time, which was not a surprise at all. Since arriving here a year ago, Miles has been prosecuting a tough program of academic reform, which has involved sacking a number of school principals. Nutall and Blackburn have been on his case and on the backs of staff for some months because they see their own mission on the board as protecting the jobs of well-liked principals.

We've been there, talked about it, knocked all that around already. I think we all get the basic dynamic by now. An alliance of black leadership and the teachers unions want Miles and his team gone because they regard Miles and his reform effort as a threat to jobs. No surprises there. Let's not go back over it again.

But I found something else in the June 13 meeting that was a big wake-up for me, maybe because I haven't been paying close enough attention. The school board member who really made Miles and his team crazy, more than the black members, was Elizabeth Jones, who represents trustee District 1 in northernmost Dallas.

She went on and on about an "academy" — a special training program — that Miles has set up to train school principals and assistant principals. The new leadership academy just graduated its first class. They haven't started their new jobs yet, but Jones seemed to be asking how well-trained they are. I think.

She has an impressive résumé in international finance and as an employee of McKinsey and Co., the management consultants. When she talks, everything she says has a certain tone of authority and erudition. But every time I tried to figure out what she was asking, I wound up cuffing one ear with the butt of my palm to see if I had some spiders lodged in there or something.

This is the board's last briefing before it must vote on a $1.2 billion annual budget. Jones says, "I really want to understand. I think it's in our interest to do so, because we put money into specific initiatives [and] we should understand the relationship between the dollar in and also the opportunity cost of what that could have supported, everything else being equal."

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12 comments
Flabbergasted
Flabbergasted

When the FBI finally gets involved, you will be so unhappy I guess. it will blow your mind what they are about to find.

joyce.foreman
joyce.foreman

Those listed above underscore that there is definitely something wrong with the leadership positions at DISD and I do not believe the board in this case is the problem.  The board certainly ask a number of questions, but that is because Miles gives little detail to what his plans are, and want the board to vote in the blind.  If I where in their shoes, I would be asking questions also.  When you look at Miles accomplishment in Colorado Springs, it should give you pause about his reform efforts.  The graduation rate was only 62.8% and the test scores only improved marginally.  Many children left Harrison 2 when Miles was there and we know the story about experienced teachers leaving. 

We know that a staggering number of teachers have left DISD and realize that when school opens there will probably be many more gone to be in districts where they are valued.  Many of my life long memories have been of special teachers in my life, and I am praying that this generation of children in DISD will not be taught only by TFA (two years and they are gone) teachers along with short term teachers who just say it's not worth it.  This year's challenge to get teachers for summer school is just the tip of the iceberg.  Our children deserve better.

When one has bet on the long shot and he is running last, it's too late to change your bet, and I understand that .  Our children's future is important and we should not bet on the long shot, we need a sure winner and Mike Miles is not that guy. Nothing in his educational history indicates he is a sure bet.

joyce.foreman
joyce.foreman like.author.displayName 1 Like

Jim, let's be clear about one thing, Kevin Smelker had every reason to leave with a resignation letter that pointed to the board and not Mike Miles.  As you know Miles brought him here from Colorado where he was an assistant over operations for 26 schools where the budget was 80 million dollars and there were 11,0000 students.  I must also note from a Dallas ISD audit in Dec. 2012, "The preliminary Dallas ISD audit raised question about the administrative contract for two DISD cabinet members: Kevin Smelker and Charles Glover."  Smelker had a consulting contract for $39,000 in May ,2012 before he started his contract of $220,000 in July, 2013.  "  There were no descriptions detailing what services were performed, where they were performed and when they were performed."  Smelker was hired without interviewing other candidates.  That means from May, 2012 to June 2013, Kelvin Smelker made $259,000 from DISD.  When you check the website for Harrison 2, the asst. superintendents make between $115,000 and $159,000.  There was so much talk about the jump in salary for the communications director, but not a word about Smelker's increase.  For that kind of money in a year, writing a letter to trash the bosses of Miles was probably an easy thing to do for Smelker.  Miles certainly did Smelker a favor and ripped off the taxpayers and students for $259,000.

The board can be blamed for a number of things wrong at DISD, but Miles has to shoulder the blame for  what has happened with cabinet level staff leaving.  Let's just name who has left and if they had a great deal of board contact:

Kevin Smelker       Chief of Operations                                     board contact/blames board/Colorado

Rebecca Rodriquez  Communications                                        board contact/4 months on job

Jennifer Sprague       Communications                                        board contact/Colorado

Jerome Oberlton      Chief of Staff                                              board contact/reasonable relationship

Charles Glover         Human Resources                                      board contact

Jamal Jenkins           Human Resources                                     little to no board contact

Dr. Rene Barajas     CFO                                                                       "/92 days with DISD

Steve Korby             CFO                                            board contact/but a reasonable relationship

Alan King               Chief of Staff                                                          "

Dauca Sauceda        Executive Director                                            little to no board contact

Leslie Williams       Executive Director                                                     "

Eddie Conger           Executive Director                                                     "

Jo Von Grant-Wells  Executive Director                                                    "

Migel Solis             Asst, to Superintendent                                         little board contact

bbetzen
bbetzen like.author.displayName 1 Like

I agree that there is a real tension between an increasing number of board members and Mike Miles highest administrative staff.  That was obvious at last Thursdays meeting that I observed in person till it ended past 1:00 AM the next day.  What is the consistent factor among all these staff being allegedly assaulted by the DISD Board members?  They are all trying to justify and explain reforms directed by their supervisor, Mike Miles.   

It is strangely peculiar Jim, that you somehow think the public will believe that the buck stops only with the superintendents cabinet, and those questioning them, and not with Mike Miles himself who is orchestrating the reasons for the questioning.

Regarding the Academy, Jones is on to something!  Did Miles really start a multi-million dollar investment without any citing of the research and similar attempts that litter the educational recycling bin for several urban centers in the US? 

nammer
nammer

It's important to remember McKinsey was heavily involved with helping Enron set up their management structure...we all know how well that worked out...maybe this woman was involved in the Enron mess and she hasn't gotten over her brainwashing

rossavenuerebel
rossavenuerebel like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

Kevin Smelker, Miles' Colorado crony is your single authoritative source? Alan King and Steve Korby told very different stories but they aren't talking to the leering press. Both King and Korby were widely respected professionals (even by those who didn't always agree with them) with no connections to the board, the unions or the "alliance of black leadership". Did you even consider that Smelker may be blowing smoke? 

Wakeup
Wakeup

Wake up Board before you lose Alan King to retirement.. Look at his history with LISD AND DISD then right your mistake....before its too late!

pissedteacher
pissedteacher

Jim Schutze gets the story right, yet again. Schutze, you are probably the only reporter with the report/gravitas to pull this off. It is good to see someone who doesn't have to worry about blog hits writing stuff. Meanwhile, at the DMN ed page, Matthew and Tawnell sludge away posting crap leaked to them by Lewcifer Blackballs and Weekend at Berni-dette Nutsall. That's what's happenin' over there. They have to keep Lew and Bernie happy because that's the only place they get leaked information from. IT IS A GAME PEOPLE! Matthew and Tawnell have to keep their jobs and the only way to do it is to write crap that is most of the time a waste of time so that they can keep their leakers happy.

Over in the Sunny South, Shirley Ison-Whosome sits at her computer typing the next speech for Bernie to read. Has anyone tried to have a conversation with Bernadette Nutall when she isn't reading prepared remarks from Shirley? It is like having a convo with a 12 year old (who went to a Sunny South DISD school.) Shirley is really the puppet master in all of this, and Lewcifer and Bernie are wrapped around her finger.

And then there is Elizabeth Jones. It is hillarious to watch Michael McNotanexpertalthoughhereallyreallyreallybelievesheis (that's McNaughton) think Elizabeth Jones is really in his and his crappy teacher group's corner. She makes him think she is and then behind closed doors calls him a buffoon. Oh how the world works.

joyce.foreman
joyce.foreman

@pissedteacher Excuse me... I attended schools in South Dallas and think that people who make blanket negative statements about what happens in the schools don't have any credibility.  I can name many outstanding citizens that attended school in South Dallas. 

Obummer
Obummer

Yo let’s see howdey do.

gregmarcydagama
gregmarcydagama

Fine writing, JS. She is a simple con-artist and nothing more; when you can't dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit. Narcissists like her give real intellectuals a bad name. No wonder we can't keep top people when they have to go through hoops for pompous lightweights who cannot specify their thoughts. Good luck, Dallas. We gonna need it. ~ / ~ OM 

 
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