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Dallas ISD Needs A 'Transformation,' Superintendent Says

Bill Zeeble
Dallas ISD Superintendent Mike Miles delivered an upbeat state of the school district speech in front of several hundred Dallas Chamber of Commerce members.

It was a different -- and upbeat -- Superintendent Mike Miles who praised the Dallas school district’s recent gains. Just a year ago, he almost got fired. On Tuesday, he delivered his state of the district speech.

In front of several hundred Dallas Chamber of Commerce members, Miles walked easily back and forth on stage ticking off several of the past year’s achievements. He pointed out that in 2012 he was hired as a reformer.

“We made no small plans because we knew Dallas ISD two years ago, and continues to need, a transformation," Miles said.

Miles used the word transformation and its variants a lot, especially when talking to this business crowd, who will need educated, highly-qualified employees now and down the road.

“We’ve got some big heavy lifts still to do,” Miles said. “We have some transformative things we have to work on. In order to do that we have to think differently and truly transform the system if we’re going to get the workforce that we need in the year 2020 and beyond.”

Miles talked of the new principal evaluation system. It cut the number of principals deemed proficient almost in half. And unlike most systems in the nation, it gives school leaders pay raises based on student achievement, not years on the job. He said a similar plan will be in place for teachers this time next year.

That worries Rena Honea, president of the largest teacher group in Dallas,

“I know the district is doing their best to do training and everything, but this tool has the ability to either end or stagnate a teacher’s career," Honea said.

Miles said change and transformation can be tough, and he’s building the foundation necessary for long-term success.

“And whenever you want to move fast, you have to first set a good foundation," Miles said. "You have to do things that are systemic, and I think we’re making some good progress there.”

That’s because he said money isn’t the answer to everything, though he would like more of it from Texas. He said systems are. After the speech, Dallas ISD trustee Elizabeth Jones said the right ones need careful consideration.

“Systems are an important part of how you get to solutions, but the question is: Is it the right systems that affect the right outcomes?" Jones said. "You want to make sure that when you do invest dollars that you see real results.”

Miles said despite bumps along the way, he’s setting up the right systems. He also took questions and got the biggest response to a query asking whether the district should be split up.

“We’re not too big,” Miles said. “What we need are fundamental systems that’ll help all kids. The cost of breaking up DISD is the potential inequities that could result from it. And I’m worried about all kids gaining the best education possible, not some of our kids gaining the best education possible.”

Miles said that’s what his Destination 2020 plan is about, which incorporates the elements he explored in his 20-minute speech.

Implementation, he said, is the hard part.

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