Beyond the Stink Over Shirley Ison-Newsome's Departure, Remembering the Good She Did at DISD

OK, I guess we're all going to pile on departing Dallas school executive Shirley Ison-Newsome, a person accused of serial scandals and of making off with a bunch of loot in the form of a "golden parachute." Look, Unfair Park Czar Eric Nicholson was quite right to observe a week ago that there were all sorts of bizarre and fishy circumstances surrounding the recent departure of educator/administrator Ison-Newsome.

She resigned. She unresigned. She got some kind of $142,000 please-go-away-nicely package. She re-resigned.

And over the years I have known lots of people who got their feelings hurt by Ison-Newsome, who is nothing if not tough. A good friend of mine at DISD used to call her "Surely I'm A Nuisance." But behind her back. Waaaay behind her back.

I'm just saying that as Ison-Newsome departs, it would be profoundly unfair and a mistake not to note some of the serious achievements she has racked up as an educator in the interest of Dallas children. It was under her regime as superintendent of Area 2 in the late 1990s that Dallas saw its first serious test score successes in very poor schools with transient populations.

And it wasn't a one-off or an anomaly. The march of success spread from J.J. Rhoads Elementary to Chappie James to J.W. Ray and onward. Those successes made an important point: The story was not true that kids from bitterly poor and violent homes couldn't succeed in school. Not true. They could. Ison-Newsome was proving it. Does that kind of achievement by a manager maybe involve some ass-kicking? I think so.

I thought of another thing last night when I saw Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price at DISD headquarters defending Ison-Newsome. I'm all down on Price now because of ... well, a lot of stuff. I think he's had some bad chapters where DISD politics is concerned.

But education activists like Russell Fish will tell you that Price and Ison-Newsome both consistently have been on the side of high achievement standards and never on the side of using the school system as a jobs program for bad teachers and administrators. Hardly ever.

Twelve years ago when I was writing about the Area 2 successes, I asked people how Ison-Newsome did it, and the consistent word I got back was "discipline." So, you know, discipline works, but does it make people love you? Maybe not.

And, look, all this racking up of Ison-Newsome's so-called "scandals?" Let me tell you what her scandal was. She got The Dallas Morning News editorial board pissed off at her.

First "scandal" on the News' bill of particulars: She spent too much money renovating her bathroom more than a decade ago. That's complete bullshit, and everybody including the Morning News knows it. Toiletgate was a transparently trumped-up charge slung at her by a crooked superintendent of schools, a married lady who later got sent to the Big House herself for using school district money to decorate a Chinese love-nest for her paramour.

Second item: Ison-Newsome used a school district credit card to buy expensive pillows for her office. Hey, if we're going to keep bringing up the stupid pillows, then somebody needs to show me they were stuffed with crack, because otherwise there seem to be no laws broken whatsoever and I don't want to hear about a bunch of damn pillows. I've got enough fancy pillows to deal with in my own house. Sometimes I feel like I live in a pillow factory.

What else? She sent a group of all boys to watch a war movie about black pilots, and that discriminated against the girls. Yeah. I don't know. The Morning News kept calling it a $57,000 trip to the movies. If it had been just one kid, sure, that would have been way too much money. But it was 4,400 fifth graders.

Having been the father once of a fifth-grade boy myself, having watched him and his friends under the stimulation of heavily sugared soft drinks and war movies, then trying to imagine the same situation but with 4,400 fifth grade boys, I can't imagine allowing any fifth-grade girls within a city block of the joint. But there you go. Maybe I'm just chicken.

Hey, here's my real question. Did somebody say that Ison-Newsome was an ineffectual educator? Was she a lousy administrator? No, I don't hear any of that. Was she a bitch sometimes? Are good male administrators bastards sometimes? You get my point.

Bottom line, I am not quarreling with the suggestion that Ison-Newsome's departure maybe had some weird wrinkles. I'm just saying her overall career was marked by much larger and more significant positive achievements. I go in silence now.

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze

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