Dallas May Bail on School Reform Tonight, and It Will Be a White Guy Who Does It
Bunch of things could happen at tonight's Dallas school board meeting, topmost that Dallas may wind up firing its reform school superintendent, Mike Miles. And that will be a real whodunnit.
Miles, hired with fanfare three years ago as a reformer, drew kudos and support early on for battling the ogre of school jobs patronage. But that was when the patronage machine was assumed to be black.
Now the patronage ogre is white, and Miles is not getting kudos. According to three sources who spoke to me on a not-for-attribution basis, if Miles gets canned tonight -- and he may -- the coup de grace will be delivered by board member Eric Cowan. Cowan will squeeze off the deciding round as revenge for the firing of the Rosemont Elementary and Middle School Principal Anna Brining, who is popular with affluent mainly white North Oak Cliffers in Cowan's district. Cowan's daughter attends Rosemont and his wife, Amy, according to a couple of my sources, "runs the school." (She denies it.)
A person close to the board told me Cowan's anger over the Brining dismissal has placed Miles in a do-or-die dilemma. Two years ago Miles dumped Madison High School Principal Marian Willard, who was extremely popular with parents in South Dallas. Miles went into the old South Dallas black community at the time and told leaders there face-to-face he wasn't going to back down. He told them a consistent rigorous evaluation system for principals -- a system with teeth and consequences -- is an indispensable element of meaningful school reform. For everybody, everywhere.
See also: Mike Miles Versus the World
Now if he caves to Cowan on Rosemont, my source said, he looks like he's effectively amending his earlier rule to say, "except for Mr. Cowan's constituents."
I should say, I did talk to Miles yesterday, and all he would say to me on the record was a bunch of boilerplate about being focused on his big three objectives -- good principals, good teachers and higher expectations. I tried to reach Cowan, but he did not call me back. Other sources with knowledge of the board told me my Cowan scenario was accurate, with a caveat.
The board meeting tonight was called at the order of Dallas County District Judge Carl Ginsburg. Three board members who have always wanted to get Miles fired, Bernadette Nutall, Joyce Foreman and Elizabeth Jones, had demanded that board President Miguel Solis set a meeting to consider firing him ahead of the elections, now less than two weeks away.
Solis, a Miles supporter, stalled on the demand for a meeting to consider firing him. The three who had demanded the meeting went to court. Do you really want to hear all this? Bottom line, the judge told them to hold the damn meeting tonight.
Tonight the three who demanded the meeting will vote to can Miles. They will almost certainly be joined by board member Lew Blackburn, making up four of the five votes needed to fire. Cowan would be the fifth. Board member Dan Micciche will probably vote with Cowan, so Miles could get sacked by a three-fourths majority.
But they don't have to vote only on firing him or not firing him. An amendment will be offered tonight to delay the fire-him vote until June, after Miles has received his next performance review. There's a slim chance Cowan might agree to that tonight. Then the question will go to a new school board, from which Jones will be absent because she decided not to run again.
The story on the Rosemont principal is very mixed. A passionate band of supporters, almost all white, have been beating the drums to demand that her dismissal and/or reassignment be vacated and that she remain in her post at Rosemont.
The Rosemont campus houses two schools, an elementary and a middle school. The elementary school is 86 percent Hispanic, 10 percent white and 3 percent black. That's more than twice the percentage of white students district-wide. The student body is 75 percent economically disadvantaged compared with 90 percent for the district.
One hundred percent of the white Rosemont kids score passing grades on statewide achievement tests. For minority kids it's more like 60 to 70 percent. Last year the school received a state rating of "met standard," which is sort of like "not totally dismal yet."
The principal's supporters say the reasons for her dismissal are based on bureaucratic paperwork requirements. They say she is an effective and beloved leader.
The other version is that Brining has been telling her immediate superiors to go screw themselves for a year, not in so many words, while counting on backup from her parent mafia. When I ran this by my wife, she reminded me that when our kid was at Woodrow Wilson High School, we were in the parent mafia. I thought we were more like parent mafia wannabes, but I took her point.
Everybody's got a point. Everybody's got a case to make on Miles. But I know in terms of news sense what the national story will be tomorrow if Miles gets canned tonight: "DALLAS FIRES REFORMER."
In his brief tenure here, Miles has defeated, at least for now, the old patronage machinery that used to hand out all school district jobs, and he has instituted the nation's most comprehensive system of merit pay for teachers. If he gets fired, he will leave town as a martyr and a hero to the school reform movement nationwide, not to mention being able to rejoin his family in Colorado whom he sent out of town two years ago after school board members started orchestrating protests at his home.
And Dallas? We will be the city where parents placed being able to tell the superintendent to go screw himself above the value of system-wide reform. I think that's the short end of the stick.
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