Dallas ISD Names Mike Miles, Reform-Minded Military Vet from Colorado, Lone Finalist for Superintendent Job

Prediction: The next few weeks may not be a ton of fun for Mike Miles.

Miles, the superintendent of Harrison School District Two in Colorado Springs, was named the lone finalist for the top job in Dallas ISD at a meeting this afternoon. The board, which voted 8-0 (with Carla Ranger abstaining), now has to wait 21 days before it can officially turn over the keys -- 21 days of inspection by reporters, board members, district officials and probably some friends of this blog. It's like the inspection period in buying a home: Everyone's hoping there are no foundation problems. Or termites. Termites would be bad.

The district received about 90 applicants for the job, and the board has spent the last couple of weeks whittling it down. It apparently landed on Miles during a nine-hour session on Thursday.

Here's Miles' bio:

Mike Miles, 55, formerly the Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction of the Fountain-Ft. Carson School District is Harrison School District Two's superintendent.

After graduating from West Point in 1978, Miles entered the ranks of the officer corps at Ft. Lewis, Washington, where he served in the Army's elite Ranger Battalion and commanded an Infantry Rifle Company. After the Army, Miles studied Slavic languages at the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Leningrad in Russia. Miles then pursued advanced study of Soviet affairs and public policy at Columbia University after being selected as a Mellon Fellow in the Humanities and winning a National Science Foundation Graduate Scholarship.

Miles graduated from Columbia University in 1989 and joined the U.S. State Department as a Presidential Management Intern. He handled a portfolio usually reserved for more senior officials at the Soviet Desk, making policy recommendations and writing talking points for the Secretary of State regarding German reunification, chemical weapons, NATO and other issues. While at State, Miles became a Foreign Service Officer.

As a diplomat in Warsaw, Poland, Miles tracked Poland's evolving relations with Russia and the countries of Eastern Europe. He analyzed the strength of the post-Communist Party, correctly predicting its return to political power in 1993. A tour in Moscow followed. As Special Assistant to the U.S. Ambassador to Russia, Miles helped coordinate the Embassy's response to critical events during a time when Russia's relations with the U.S. in a post-Cold War world were as yet undefined. He received the State Department's Meritorious Service Medal in 1994.

The Cold War largely won, Miles and his family decided to return home. He honored his commitment to continue to serve the public interest and entered the field of education. Miles has assumed leadership roles to raise academic standards in his school district and the state. Mr. Miles also serves as an educational consultant and motivational speaker for school districts and other public organizations around the state. He is recognized as an accomplished practitioner of curriculum alignment, organizational effectiveness, and systems thinking.

Miles is married to Karen Miles, and they have three children: Nicholas (20), Madeleine (18), and Anthony (10).

Although the next 21 days will be spent assessing Miles' qualifications, it's the district that's in dire need of repair. A budget shortfall, shifting demographics and previous mismanagement forced the board to close 11 schools in January. Recent public squabbles with teachers have been PR blunders at best, incompetence at worst. And the district's system for hiring and firing teachers was revealed earlier this year to be in shambles.

There's a press conference going on now. I'll update this as we go.

Update, 4:35: Miles just gave some remarks and answered questions from reporters. This much is clear: He can write, and he can talk. And he's a "reformer" through and through, which is bound to attract some skepticism.

Miles said he grew up an at-risk kid with a speech impediment. "Being born in a garage doesn't make you a car," his dad told him as a kid, which eventually led him to this conclusion: "We can escape our background. ... A child's future in education shouldn't be determined by luck."

"I think you're a good district," he said. "There's more work to be done though. We have to address the achievement gap."

He called his current district one of the most "innovative" in the country, "one that's getting ahead of the changes and making sure our kids are college and career ready." The district has the most "innovative" -- there's that word again -- pay-for-performance systems in the nation, he said, tying both teacher and principal compensation to student achievement.

Miles said several search firms have contacted him in recent years. "This is the only district that I applied to," he said. He also mentioned that his military background -- he's only been in education for 17 years -- will help him lead the large and complicated organization that is DISD.

"There is no better leadership school than West Point," he said. "No offense to West Point."

Miles was understandably cautious about getting into specifics, saying he would have to spend more time researching and talking to stakeholders inside and out of the district. As for how he'll approach his job here: "I'll wake up every day doing my very best for the children of Dallas. ... I'm a public servant. That's what I do."

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Joe Tone
Contact: Joe Tone