Late last night the Dallas school board carried out an hours-long closed-door session where they listened to an investigative report into alleged policy violations by school Superintendent Mike Miles. The report by attorney Paul Coggins cleared Miles of all of the legal and policy violations of which he was accused in an earlier internal school district investigation but added on possible policy violations related to criticism of the board.
Miles came to town a year ago to carry out a top-to-bottom reform of the school district. Serious blow-back to his reform measures came quickly from the African-American community and from teachers and principals unions. The business community and Hispanic leadership have supported him.
The total student body is now now 67 percent Hispanic, 24 percent black. By some measurements enrollment in grades K through is now 80 percent Hispanic.
In a subsequent even later public session of the board last night, Coggins conceded in response to questions that a charge of "bullying" against Miles in the internal report had collapsed quickly when Coggins looked into it. When he questioned the employee quoted in the internal report, she denied having made the accusation.
The school board learned earlier this month that none of the serious charges in the internal report had survived Coggins' examination. At that point they asked Coggins to redirect his efforts toward a charge that Miles had caused, allowed or taken part in the publication of a letter by a resigning school district executive that was critical of the school board.
Coggins has never offered the board smoking-gun proof that Miles had anything to do with the letter, but he has given them plenty of circumstantial indications he could have. Coggins told the board that according to school district policy Miles was supposed to maintain good relations with the board. If he indeed participated in events which made the board look bad, Coggins said they could fire him.
Most of last night's public session in which board members questioned Coggins was directed toward that point. No decision was made last night about Miles' fate, but board member Lew Blackburn told reporters after the public meeting that the board was still weighing firing him.
At the start of the public session, board president Eric Cowan asked Miles if he wanted to say anything. Miles said, "Yes, I'll make some remarks." The board room, jammed with media and audience, sat in pin-drop silence while a somber and stony-faced Miles read this prepared statement:
School leaders and I visit schools and classrooms a lot. I do so partly because the classrooms and schools are my sanctuary. Mostly however we do so because that's where the real difference for children is being made. That's really the real victory.
While thousands of support staff also make a difference, the focus primarily has to be on instruction and the achievement of our students. Going to the schools we see reminders of what actually is at stake and the reason why we need to continue to meet those challenges.
Going to the schools I get inspired by the effort and work that's happening every day. I see teachers stepping up and raising the quality of instruction. I see principals inspiring and leading their staffs. I see support staff taking pride in serving our children, making an old building shine and other things that they do for our kids.
While not all are happy with the transformation we are undergoing, the majority have risen to the challenge for the sake of our children. The community as a whole has also embraced the notion that the time is now and that everyone has to contribute to the cause.
Every day almost everywhere I go, someone will approach me and tell me that we will need to stay the course. In emails, phone calls and meetings over the last two months, the support has been palpable, and I say to those folks, thank you.
I believe people understand that we are in a story that matters. I believe some are beginning to grasp what it will really take to change. We are in a real-life movie where the odds are against us, where futures hang in the balance and countless children are counting on us.
It was always going to be about courage. It was always going to be about sacrifice and near impossible odds. It was also always going to be about hope.
For sometimes even in real life, a small but critical mass of people step up and change the course of events. They make their voices heard. They leave the safety of the sidelines and step onto the field. They risk being the recipients of criticism for speaking out. They risk being associated with an enterprise that still has a chance of failure. They risk writing themselves into a story that matters where the ending has yet to be filmed.
We're in a real story that matters. And while the script may have been drafted, the final scenes have not been shot. Together, staff and community, we have great influence over the ending and will shape how this story of thousands of children ends.
I have to admit that in moments of weakness I get frustrated, and the negativity takes its toll. I know that this is what is required of the superintendent at this time in Dallas Independent School District's history. As one community member told me recently, 'So many people believe in what the district is doing, you don't have the right to let them down.'
So many students, parents and teachers and staff need me and the team to do our best work. To the community, let me renew my commitment to do everything I can to help our students get the best education possible.
To the board, there are several things I could have done better last year, and there are relationships with some of you I wish had been stronger. I want you to know that I am prepared to reset the relationship with the board and move forward to help our students get the best education possible.
Our students, staff parents and community need us to stay focused on our students' future. I plan to do that. I hope you will be willing to move forward together, and I look forward to finding ways that are agreeable to this board and the community.
That's my statement.
Later during questioning of Coggins, school board member Blackburn made these extemporaneous remarks:
"Quite often we have employees who come to the board with grievances. We often hear of the emotional stories. We often hear how great they have done in the classroom. We often hear about how they worked after hours to help students. We hear about all that they are doing, but the board can only take action on the facts of the case.
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"If they are being terminated because of habitual tardiness or habitual absences, that's the matter of the case, not that they've done a great job after school on Saturday."
At this point several outspoken critics of Miles in the audience snickered loudly.
"So whereas you may have done a good job or even a great job in one area, the reason for being here has nothing to do with that.
"So this investigation is not about classroom visits. It's not about how well our schools are doing. It's not about principal evaluations. It's really about whether or not one of our employees violated policy. And we do have a policy that states that if you violate policy, it's grounds for termination."