In a key win for the district's embattled administration, Dallas Independent School District trustees voted tonight to fire two principals and as many as 400 teachers, over the often heated objections of employees and activists.
It was the culmination of months of debate and protests over Superintendent Mike Miles' reform efforts, which included placing some teachers and principals on "growth plans" and forcing those considered least effective out of their jobs. But in the end, the vote for the firings -- which passed 7-2, with Trustees Bernadette Nutall and Carla Ranger voting against -- seemed to indicate that Miles still has plenty of support on the board that hired him last year.
The weeks leading up to the vote have been fraught with bad press and dissolving support for Miles. Local business leaders have chastised him, as has Juanita Wallace, president of the local NAACP branch.
Much of the contention has been around principals in southern Dallas, including Madison High School's Marion Willard and Leslie Swann at Lincoln High School. (The fired principals weren't named, although the Morning News is reporting that Willard and Leicha Shaver, the principal at Roosevelt High, were the ones let go.) Critics, including City Council member Carolyn Davis, have accused the district of targeting black principals. Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price has publicly opposed Miles' reforms, encouraging 75 pastors to resist the superintendent's outreach efforts, claiming "that now Pontius Pilate plans to parade through many of your churches with a fake Jesus in tow."
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At the meeting, several speakers from the community spoke out against Miles' policies. Angela Davis, president of the National Education Association's Dallas chapter, urged the board to vote against the nonrenewals. She said the district needs "useful productive solutions" and these rapid changes wouldn't bring that. (The NEA said 440 teachers were "non-renewed" -- not asked back, basically -- although the district reportedly denies it's that many.)
"Board members," added community activist Joyce Foreman, "you forgot one recognition for bullying" when handing out school awards. After calling Miles a bully, she said, "We are not afraid. This is not Colorado."
Throughout the night members of the crowd loudly interjected during discussion among the trustees. The outbursts eventually caused Trustee Lew Blackburn to snap: "This is our meeting."
About 50 of the district's more than 200 schools could get new principals next year, after their current principals either accepted demotions or left the district. One principal who left was Anthony Tovar, the beloved Sunset High School largely credited for turning the school around and who was profiled in the Observer in 2009. He announced in April that he would retire. Tovar was also on a growth plan but maintains that he was not forced out of his position.