With Jennifer Sprague Gone, Mike Miles Turns Over a New Leaf

On Friday evening, after schools had closed and most everything else was winding down for the holiday, the Morning News reported DISD communications chief Jennifer Sprague is resigning.

Sprague's abrupt departure is the surest sign yet that Superintendent Mike Miles' administration is in crisis. She was one of his most high-profile hires, and Miles went to the mat to defend her selection and her outsized salary. The news was big enough that district officials saved it for the eve of a holiday weekend, when relatively few people were paying attention.

Why Sprague would choose to resign now, long after the buzz surrounding her salary and dismal early performance had died down, is murky and will probably remain so.

Maybe the answer is simple. Sprague realized she was overmatched, that her time in Colorado Springs hadn't at all prepared her to cope with the challenges posed by an enormous, politically complicated urban school district like DISD. Maybe no amount of money would have been enough to convince her to stay.

The tea leaves hint at a different story. The news of Sprague's departure broke the day after an uncharacteristically contrite Miles appeared before the Morning News' editorial board and conceded that, yes, maybe he had paid administrators too much and that maybe, just maybe, he should have entertained other candidates for certain top positions. That, in turn, came a day after Miles called a completely reasonable and by all indications accurate internal audit a "witch hunt".

This suggests two possibilities. One is that Sprague masterminded Miles' inept PR strategy until her boss finally wised up and sent her packing. But that would require one to believe that Miles submits blindly to the advice of a 35-year-old subordinate that doesn't fit with his character. The other, more likely scenario is that Miles needed a scapegoat and that, as DISD Blog phrased it, Sprague is getting "up close and personal with the underside of a bus."

That's not necessarily a terrible outcome. Sprague will be fine, particularly if her severance package is half as generous as her salary.

(She didn't seem to be too distraught. On Saturday, she sent out only her second Tweet that isn't a quote from a Roosevelt.)

As for Miles, the fact that he pushed Sprague out -- if that is, in fact, what happened -- and expressed contrition, signal that he's taken note of his missteps and realizes that, if left uncorrected, they will undermine his entire agenda. As bad as the past couple of months have been for Miles, he's only been on the job for six months. There's still plenty of time to turn things around, if that's what Miles wants to do.

KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Eric Nicholson
Contact: Eric Nicholson