During last week's failed attempt to fire the Dallas superintendent of schools — at a school board meeting so depressing it made me think of Thanksgiving Day dinner at psycho prison — Superintendent Mike Miles made a speech.
You know the set-up. Miles was brought in three years ago when the city was at wit's end about its failed public school system, willing to do almost anything, supposedly, to reform what some child advocates have called the "cradle to prison pipeline."
He has accomplished more change in his time here than all of his multitudinous short-lived predecessors together in the previous two decades since a federal judge declared the schools desegregated. But that change has been painful, and Miles has accrued a blazing comet trail of controversy.
Miles made his speech Friday over interruptions and cat-calls from the audience in a large auditorium at school district headquarters on Ross Avenue. He is ex-military and not big on emoting. I did not see tears. But I heard them. I wanted you to be able to read it. Here is what he said:
"I really want to thank everybody who came out today on both sides of the issue. It's great to see that kind of community support.
"Three years ago I started here. Three years ago I was excited about coming to Dallas, and the community wanted change. It reminds me of that song from Garth Brooks, 'The Dance.' I won't sing for you. But it's about the guy who's happy that he took the dance even though he didn't realize what the future would hold. At least he got to engage in that dance.
"At that time, too, we tried to tell the community what transformation really meant. It was exciting because if you looked at the editorials three years ago before the new superintendent was appointed, there was a lot about change and transformation, a sense of urgency.
"(There was) so much of the sense of urgency that I quote often in Martin Luther King, about not taking the tranquil drug of gradualism, not having a cooling off period and keep pushing forward.
"So I was happy to engage in that and come to Dallas and start working. The team and I have made good on a lot of those promises.
"If you remember, we were asked to look at teacher evaluations. We were asked to look at principal evaluations. We were asked to improve our finances. We were asked to fundamentally change some of our systemic processes in human capital management.
"Our theory of action has been three big things. And then one more. The three things are making sure we have an effective teacher in front of every student, making sure we have an effective principal in every school and making sure we have high expectations. And one other thing. Which I'll talk about at the end.
"To cite a building analogy, it's like a 20-story building that we were asked to build three years ago, a 20-story one kind of like the Richards Group building on Lemmon at Central.
"For the longest time, just like in Dallas, [only] the foundation was there. We had to pour concrete. There's dust, and there's smoke, and there's noise. There's jack hammers going off on Saturday. There's road blocks, cement trucks, all of these things that are frustrating ... It's messy, so there's got to be that frustration.
"The comments [from the board] about where we are and how much progress we're making — you can't see the building rise yet. You can just see the foundation and the first floor.
"But we're there. We're there, and we are very close to the second and third floors going up. So it's understandable that you can't see that picture, but I am telling you this team has worked really hard to get that second floor up. Now we're going to be able to move a lot more quickly.
"But the foundation, the leadership, the teachers, it's nothing without high expectations. A lot of people give lip service to high expectations. It's the hardest thing to move, though.
"What does that mean? What does that look like when the rubber meets the road? When the rubber meets the road, part of high expectations is to face the brutal facts. We can't keep telling kids, 'You're jumping over a 4-foot bar,' when they're jumping over a 3-foot bar.
"We have to be clear about that. It doesn't mean we don't love them. It doesn't mean they can't get there. But the team has to say we're at 3 foot. We wish we had started at 3-foot-6-inches, but we started at 3-foot. And we have to be clear about that. We have to stop saying to kids who graduate, 'Hey, great job,' and they get to college, and they drop out because we didn't tell them accurately.
"We've got to say all means all. All schools, even our strong schools, have to keep moving forward. In our strong schools are pockets of kids who are not getting there."
At the end of his speech, Miles referred to the outpouring of support he received from community leaders in the days before last Friday's meeting to consider firing him:
"Last thing. I'm a movie guy, a cornball. I think about the old movies and even more recent movies like, The Lord of the Rings, where those who in a tough fight, in a battle and are embattled, they often look to the horizon, looking for those guidons, those flags, the bugles in the distance.
"It took me a long time to realize that the guidons and the bugles weren't going to appear. The bugles weren't going to sound. But really all I had to really do was look to my left and my right in the community, like what happened in the last few days. We don't need to expect you on the horizon. You're right there side-by-side.
"No matter what happens, as long as you, the community, continue to stand side-by-side with this team, we're going to do what's right for kids. Thank you for your time."
The end of his speech was met with applause and jeers.
Here are the lines from that Garth Brooks song:
"Looking back, on the memory of the dance we shared, 'neath the stars above; for a moment all the world was right. How could I have known that you'd ever say goodbye?
"And I am glad I didn't know the way it all would end, the way it all would go. Our lives are better left to chance. I could have missed the pain, but I'd have had to miss the dance."
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