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A Year Of Shifting Leaders And Controversy in North Texas Education

Bill Zeeble
Former Dallas superintendent Mike Miles announcing his resignation in June at the Dallas ISD administration building

We take a look back at what was an especially newsworthy year in Texas education.

In January, “home-rule” died in Dallas.

“Home-rule” could have dramatically reshaped the Dallas school district – it was an obscure option created by the state back when George W. Bush was governor. But that didn’t happen -- after more than a year of controversy and debate, the district’s home-rule commission voted against creating a new charter. So it turned out to be a bust. But one of the idea’s biggest champions – Dallas trustee Mike Morath – will be the state’s next education commissioner. So you never know.

We have brand-new superintendents in a bunch of North Texas school districts – there’s Allen, Highland Park and Dallas and Fort Worth, which both had some rocky times.

Controversy followed Mike Miles almost since he arrived in Dallas in 2012. Critics said his top leaders were paid too much, then many of them  left, some because they broke a law elsewhere or because they got caught in a scandal here. Miles wanted to shake things up, and fast, because, he argued, otherwise we’d be failing our kids. Then in June, Miles abruptly quit

“I’ve decided now’s the time where I can step aside confidently knowing the work will continue with the current leadership team in place,” Miles said.

Then, the Dallas schools went back to the future – and hired Michael Hinojosa.

Hinojosa was superintendent here for six years just before Miles. Academically, kids improved. Financially, the district saw a shortfall of at least 64 million because of an accounting mistake. Hinojosa says that was one of his biggest regrets. With him back, things have calmed. He has the respect of teachers, staff and trustees.

In Fort Worth, the school board really struggled to find a superintendent.

Walter Dansby quit back in 2014, and the first choice to replace him – Joel Boyd, from Santa Fe – ran into resistance on the school board. In February, he pulled out, and the search had to be restarted. This fall, Fort Worth hired Kent Scribner from Phoenix. He promises to stay a while.

“My parents live in the DFW metroplex," Scribner said earlier this year. "Dad’s a cancer survivor and sister and her family are here as well so it’s an opportunity to continue my professional career but also reconnect with family. As the only one from out in Arizona, it’s an opportunity to reconnect here. In a way I’m not a Texan yet, but I feel like I’m coming home."

Some North Texas schools became flashpoints for issues of race and ethnicity.

There were “White Power” signs at a Flower Mound basketball game last February. A month later, a Jesuit grad made headlines leading racist chants at a University of Oklahoma fraternity. Then, in September, a Muslim ninth grader was taken into custody for bringing a homemade clock to his Irving school. Authorities thought it was a hoax bomb – and the international flurry of attention got Ahmed Mohamed a trip to the White House. And ultimately, he and his family moved out of the country – to Qatar.

On Tuesdays, KERA's American Graduate project explores the journey from childhood to graduation.

Bill Zeeble has been a full-time reporter at KERA since 1992, covering everything from medicine to the Mavericks and education to environmental issues.