By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
From schools to City Hall, pouring rain to dumping pig's blood, a 2014 progress report for Dallas.
Apparently, Miles is as hard to kill as the Terminator. He not only survived, he has thrived. Miles' call to spend $4 million annually on a leadership academy was OK'd by a board majority and then renewed. When it looked like only one vote on the board stood between him and a golden parachute in 2013, voters elected Miguel Solis, a reformer, as trustee, essentially saving Miles' job. And just last month, trustees approved a revolutionary merit pay system over the objections of teachers associations. Under it, teacher raises will be based on a mix of performance evaluations and student test scores, rather than tenure and college degrees.
That system's success or failure could have huge implications nationwide.
"You lay out all the big things he's said he's going to do, and he's done them," Solis says. "It hasn't been pretty, but that's to be expected in a large urban school system."
Then there was the surprise effort by a group called Support Our Schools, which pushed a successful petition drive that will eventually lead to a vote on whether to make DISD a "home-rule" district, free of some state regulations. That, some have said, provided a vital distraction this spring, coming just in time to get Miles from under the gun while his pay reform plan was coming up for a vote.
But the distraction theory misses an important fact: The vote on pay reform was 7-2. It's not just Miles driving reforms; it's a solid majority of the board that hired him, retained him against all odds and faced the heat to approve his projects. Solis suggests that behind the noise and bloody vignettes that make great news fodder, the board and city leadership are taking unprecedented steps to focus on the issue that matters: student achievement.
"I'm very excited about where Dallas wants to take our schools system, and that's the key," he says. "You're seeing a city that doesn't want to settle for the status quo."
But passing reforms is one thing. The big question is: Will they work?
Nineteen graduates of DISD's first principals academy class led schools this year, and the Morning News looked recently at their results on the statewide STAAR exams in reading and math for fifth- and eighth-graders. It was a mixed bag, with schools led by academy grads frequently dropping a few points in passing rates over the previous year. End of course scores for high school students were released last week. Overall, Dallas' passing rates on the STAAR exams were up, but the district still lagged behind statewide figures.
It's trite to say "it's too soon to tell," but in this case, the trite truth is that it is ... oh, let's let Solis finish the thought:
"You look at [the academy principals' numbers] for what it's worth," he says. "They're mixed results. I think for the first few years, that's what you're going to see. ... I think the real test for Mike Miles and the board is looking at the next few years."
Given DISD's history of turnover at the top, a few years is a lot to ask for. But if Miles survived his first two, anything's possible.
* Repeated from previous 42 years
Introduction to Walking and Other Modes of Transportation That Don't Involve Ford F-150s
Assessment by: Eric Nicholson
You might say that Dallas has a love affair with the car, but you wouldn't be quite right. Dallasites' relationship with the automobile is far messier, less a passionate, carefree fling than a failing, decades-long marriage filled with emotional and physical abuse.
Why do we pile into our cars by the hundreds of thousands — more than 90 percent of Dallas County workers commute by car — to inch miserably down Central or Stemmons or Interstate 30 with all the grace and efficiency of a drunken sloth? Because we don't have a choice. Not in Dallas.
Or so we've gotten used to telling ourselves. Lately, though, a different vision for the future has emerged, one in which neighborhoods are dense enough that people won't necessarily need to hop behind the wheel to pick up a carton of milk, where they can walk and bike places without becoming bug spatter on the grill of a Ford F-150.
Some smart, powerful people get it. See the mounting opposition to the Trinity toll road and the push to tear down I-345, that clogged stretch of concrete separating downtown from Deep Ellum. Notice the dense (by Dallas standards) developments in downtown, Deep Ellum, along Ross Avenue, in Trinity Groves.
And be encouraged that at least a portion of that vision is turning, however slowly, into policy. There's a bike-share program on the horizon. There is a complete streets manual, and a handful of complete streets to go with it. Uber and Lyft appear to have broken Yellow Cab's decades-old taxi monopoly. The city has added a couple of miles of actual (i.e. separated) bike lanes, and it looks poised to accelerate the process now that it's hired a new bike coordinator to dust off a 2011 bike plan. Later this year, a new streetcar line will be zigzagging from downtown to Oak Cliff. DART continues to expand its light-rail line, with an expansion to DFW International Airport scheduled to open in August.