School Start Dates: For the Children

summer-readingApparently the previous post on school start dates struck a SOPS nerve, as a commenter on the Dallas Morning News website accused this blog of being all about adult issues. You are absolutely right and I apologize. Not once did the post mention what is good for the kids. So here we go.

What school start date is good for the kids? Ask mine and the answer would be “Really? I can choose? I pick never.”

Obviously that’s not what the commenter expected, she meant what do adults think is best for kids.

If you ask me, I’ll tell you a good summer is Red Cross swim lessons at the local public pool, which leads to summer activity #2, floating a cheap inflatable raft from WalMart down a creek, followed by #3, a couple cans of shaving cream and a wading pool, #4, making cookies with Grandma, and unavoidably, #5, marathon gaming sessions with kids you don’t even recognize but eat enormous amounts of pizza.

Heck, stirring the dirt with a stick and counting doodlebugs is preferable to most organized activities in my book.

Sadly, many kids don’t have the opportunities to take swim lessons and stir dirt, heck, some don’t even have any dirt available.

So instead of giving them dirt and a stick, we want to stuff them in classrooms and give them some learning. Isn’t that what early school start dates are all about? The dreaded summer slide? Prepping for the almighty STAAR test?

Their middle class counterparts are taking swim lessons, wading in creeks, and visiting Grandma, and somehow they don’t need schooling, but the poor kids do.

Maybe the disadvantaged kids need some dirt and some sticks. Maybe sending them to an old fashioned summer camp where the counselors run underwear up the flagpole at night would benefit these kids more than two or three extra weeks in a classroom prepping for STAAR tests.

In 2003, Texas, along with the rest of the nation, got mandated standardized testing. High stakes testing changed the school game in many ways, and the September to June calendar somehow became a September to Test calendar.

Now that our schools now being judged on the results of assessments administered in March and April, the rest of the year becomes a throwaway in the minds of those whose jobs and reputations are at stake and the time preceding the testing becomes all important.

The logical solution to improving student achievement from those who are judged by student outcomes is to ask for more time to pre-test, drill, tutor and remediate. High school students who fail tests required for graduation compound the problem, as they not only have to master current material, they have to be remediated before retaking failed tests.

Apparently the only way to rectify this situation is to start school earlier in August, most likely the first week. Advocates for home rule in Dallas ISD have made such a proposal.

Maybe a better solution would be to, first, de-emphasize the testing. Stop covering the bulletin boards, switching the teachers out, stop the announcements and the test pep rallies that make the kids so nervous some throw up the morning of the test. Stop gearing everything we do towards a test. Just test, once, and move on.

Certainly one solution is to eliminate all the unnecessary preliminary testing, the pre STAAR assessments and the pre-pre STAAR assessments, which, with the various subjects and groupings, waste incredible amounts of instructional time. Add in district mandated tests like the ACP’s (every subject, twice a year), TELPAS, NAEP, SAT,ITBS, etc. etc. and additional weeks are lost.

Other time wasters whose elimination would benefit the kids:

Once and for all, do away with early release, a practice which is disruptive and wastes the entire day from an instructional standpoint.

Reduce class sizes. Much instructional time is lost due to the simple logistics of taking 28 7 year olds to potty break versus 18. Eighteen kids finding a seat and a pencil versus 35 kids doing the same. Lines in the cafeteria, lines at the water fountain, a crisis here and an issue there, all take more time away from instruction when the numbers pass a reasonable level.

Ban assemblies. Assemblies for drugs, assemblies for bullies, assemblies for reaming out the middle schoolers who insist on beating the crap out of each other at lunch. These are all issues best dealt with on an individual basis or in smaller groups. They disrupt the day, and waste time for everyone.

Teachers would have more insight into how we can best use the time available.

If kids need more instructional time, where can we find it in the current 180 day schedule? Any ideas?

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Posted in Teachers Rule

Dallas Home Rule Changes: Be Careful What You Ask For

dont-be-fooled-by-homr-ruleIt’s that time of year, when we start thinking “back to school.”

If voters adopt a charter that Dallas schools will operate under, most certainly that charter will specify that the district will set its own school start dates. The charter may specify the date, but more likely will leave that decision up to the governing body.

After last week’s board meeting, which discussed only one issue yet lasted until early the next morning, that in itself is a scary thought.

What if Dallas ISD began its year a week from today, the first week of August?

How soon we forget. In their quest to plunder every possible avenue of revenue, local and state business interests might do well to think about what they might lose with home rule, besides their independent schools.

School start dates in Texas are mandated by the legislature. Right now, public non-charter schools may not start before the fourth Monday in August. It wasn’t always this way.

Between 1990 and 2001, school districts decided their own start dates.Over the next six years, start dates slowly crept towards early August dates. While most districts, including Dallas, had start dates in the middle of August, by 1999 Plano ISD started their school year on August 2.

The shift to earlier start dates set off alarms in the seasonal tourism industry. Advocates for migrant farm workers voiced their concerns and found support from taxpayers unwilling to pay the cooling costs for buildings operating during the hottest month of the year.

A report from the state comptroller in 2000 estimated the shortened summer tourist season annually cut an estimated $332 million out of tourist economies in Texas and migrant farm workers lost out on another $27 million in earnings. Cooling costs in 1999 were estimated to be as much as $10 million higher.

Fourteen years later, we can only imagine what the dollar figures associated with an earlier school start would look like.

Reports published by the Texas Department of Economic Development and the Hotel and Motel Association during this period of non-uniform school start dates showed a tourist season shortened by two to three weeks, with corresponding drops in hotel and motel occupancy and attendance at area attractions such as waterparks, zoos, amusement parks, museums, and outlet malls. Stores found that the summer switch- over from sunscreen and pool toys to school supplies had to be made earlier and earlier, and inventory and sales projections had to be adjusted accordingly.

The shortened summer season affected the availability and wages of seasonal workers, as low wage high school workers were unavailable late in the summer. College students and other seasonal workers lost wages as demand collapsed for lodging, retail, and other services. Available workers demanded higher wages to compensate for the shorter season, and businesses struggled to incorporate training into the short schedules.

In response to the concerns from business interests and migrant workers, and in recognition of an alarming rise in electricity costs, in 2001 the legislature mandated a uniform start date of late August, but allowed waivers. In 2006, the law was changed to its current form.

The issue has been debated and analyzed many times, and the Texas Association of School Boards gave a good overview of the situation prior to the 83rd Legislative session in 2013.

Will the earlier start date be accompanied by an earlier end date? Or will teacher contracts in Dallas home rule charter schools follow the lead of other charter schools and not stipulate a maximum number of workdays to accommodate more days in the school year?

Will other districts demand to be allowed to choose their own schedules?

What affect will having 160,000 Dallas ISD students and their families starting school on August 1 have on the state and local economy?

What if everybody else wants to do it too?

When school starts August 1 in Dallas ISD next year, it will be interesting to listen for the chorus of expletives when Texas business interests that supported home rule realize they have just shot themselves in the foot.

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Posted in Teachers Rule

Will Dallas ISD Ever Make Any Sense?

disd-nonsense-lgThe recent DISD board of trustees meeting, which began on July 21, 2014 and extended into the wee hours of July 22, was a window into who is really in control of the district. Despite grand statements and posturing, despite many on the board agreeing that they had indeed not yet done a formal evaluation of the superintendent, and despite wisdom which screams the need for evaluation prior to contract negotiation, the board voted 7-2 to extend Miles’ contract.

The meeting began at 5:30 pm. Of particular note, Stephen Mansfield, the new president of the Dallas Regional Chamber, was present. So was Trisha Windham, director of Educate Dallas, the PAC of the Dallas Regional Chamber, as well as Angela Farley, Vice President of education for the Chamber and on the board of the Dallas Education Foundation.

This might not be considered unusual, except that there were very few members of the public present, as the meeting was expected to go into closed session immediately. Were they there to ensure that eight of the nine trustees had a visual reminder of the vast amounts of money contributed to their campaigns by Educate Dallas as well as various members of the Chamber? Did they want to remind the trustees of the far-reaching influence of the Chamber and their members? Did they simply want to reinforce their statements to the trustees and flex their considerable muscle regarding the desire of the Chamber to see Miles’ contract extended now, against all common sense?

Let’s look at some of the statements which were made by various trustees, some of which were contradicted by other trustees, and see if the way each trustee voted was consistent even with their own statements. This might suggest that some trustees were influenced by something other than logic. We will use a 10 point scale for evaluation of the trustees.

Elizabeth Jones:
“We did not conduct an official evaluation process whatsoever.”
“I want to emphasize that this board has made an exception, because our process requires that we do these considerations after a full oversight of the evaluation process itself….”
“The discussion tonight does not equal an evaluation.”
“Getting the information on the same day as you’ve been asked to make a decision is never good governance practice, it undermines the responsibility of the board….”
“We do not have all the data for the 2013-2014 academic year. We have the performance evaluation from 2012-13 but not from 2013-2014.”

How do you think Trustee Jones voted in the end? She wanted to go on the record as being “very supportive” of Miles’ reforms. “I want to stay the course.” She voted FOR the contract extension.

Score: Zero for consistency, three for logic, zero for the ability to apply good sense.

Lew Blackburn:
“For the past 2 years we have heard a lot about evaluations for our key employees at our campuses. Last few weeks we have gotten emails after emails, phone calls after phone calls, textings, advising us to give the superintendent additional time on his contract. And when I respond to some of them about the process and having the evaluation first, I got very little response. It was only about the contract.”
“But yet in this case, for our number one employee, evaluation was put aside.”
“I would hope that the superintendent does not operate this way with the rest of our employees.”
“What is the point of a rigorous evaluation system if you’re not going to use it to make employment decisions?”
“I don’t see why it would cause any harm to the district or to the superintendent if we wait until next week to finish his evaluation and then take a vote on the contract.”

Trustee Blackburn had some great one-liners, but how did he actually vote? YES to the contract extension for Miles, despite the confirmation by legal counsel that there had been no evaluation of the superintendent and despite his own stern comments on the need for such an evaluation.

Score: Zero for consistency, 5 for logic, zero for the ability to apply logic.

Joyce Foreman:
“I have often heard board members talk about “we need to run the district like a business.” Well, that’s only when it’s convenient, because no business would ever grant a president or CEO a raise, or an extension on a contract, without an evaluation.”
“This looks like we don’t want to hold the superintendent accountable.”
“We hold everyone else accountable yearly. It makes absolutely no sense to me for us to be moving forward without holding the superintendent accountable.”

How did the new Trustee Foreman vote? In a manner completely consistent with reality and with her comments, trustee Foreman voted AGAINST the contract extension.

Score: 10 for consistency, 10 for logic, 10 for the ability to apply wisdom to the situation.

Nancy Bingham:
Trustee Bingham referred to a large box full of data which she had at her home, “more than I can look at in an entire year.” She implied that she had not gone through that data, and she then referred to what she termed “anecdotal data” which she had on “various things going on in the district.” Therefore, she stated, “I am prepared to move forward tonight.” It appeared that Trustee Bingham put more faith in her own unscientific and unreliable hearsay than in the district data or a formal evaluation. She later referred to vague “bold and courageous moves” by the superintendent and reiterated her support for Miles.

Ms. Bingham’s vote? Consistent with reliance on anecdotes rather than the risk of confronting the real numbers, she voted YES to extend Miles’ contract.

Score: 10 for consistency, zero for logic, zero for acumen.

Miguel Solis:
“I agree with the trustees’ sentiment that we have not conducted a formal evaluation of the superintendent. I would also point out that there is no provision in his contract that states we need to conduct that evaluation before we have a conversation around his contract.”
“We have the opportunity to establish and solidify the leadership of this district now.”

Trustee Jones repeatedly questioned Solis as to the logic behind a contract extension without a formal evaluation and why this had been brought forward at this time, questions which he successfully evaded.

Solis stated that for Miles to donate the money made from consulting to the district “is admirable.” However, the money will not go to the district as Solis stated, but instead will go to the Dallas Education Foundation, referred to by WFAA news as “an arm of the Chamber of Commerce.” How convenient is that? Miles can now make money for the Chamber.

Trustee Solis voted FOR the contract extension.

Score: 10 for consistency, zero for logic, and zero for judgment.

Eric Cowan:
“I’m fully prepared to move forward tonight.”
In reference to allowing the superintendent consulting opportunities: “I have no issues with what the superintendent does on his vacation time.”
“We have an opportunity to continue the reforms that have been initiated by this superintendent….I for one would like to see more fruits of our labor. I have enough information personally to know that I want to continue this journey with superintendent Miles and his executive staff and our current teachers and principals and other employees to make Destination 2020 a success.”

Um, someone please send Trustee Cowan the data on teacher and principal turnover in the district and inform him that the only member of Miles’ executive staff to continue the journey with him is Ann Smisko- the rest have already abandoned the bus.

Trustee Cowan voted YES to extend Miles’ contract.

Score: 4 for consistency, zero for logic, and zero for rationality.

Dan Micciche:
Trustee Micciche tried very hard to convince himself and the board that what they had done that night could actually be counted as the real evaluation.
“I would have supported this motion (to postpone the contract extension until after the superintendent’s evaluation) if we had not spent 3 hours and 10 minutes going through all of the evaluation data. It was an informal evaluation but it was extensive and included all of the student achievement data.”

Really? Trustee Jones said that they did not receive the 2013-2014 performance evaluation. Which is it, Trustee Micciche? Did you receive something she did not?
“…we have protected the district and that we have thoroughly looked through all of the evaluation criteria.”

The bad news is that this contract extension guarantees that Miles will be fully vested (2012-2017) in the TRS. Even if he is fired, his contract will still be valid and the board must pay his TRS until 2017. So the taxpayers then will foot the bill for his retirement. Trustee Micciche said that the district was protected; he never said that the taxpayer was protected. This is the same game plan the trustees followed for former superintendent Hinojosa. In 2010, the trustees gave Hinojosa a 3 year contract extension. He left in 2011 for Atlanta, with a $200,000 per year pension paycheck from Texas in hand.

Micciche expressed his belief that “continuity of leadership is important” and stated “I don’t want to disrupt the movement by changing horses in the middle.” Someone needs to copy Micciche on the memo to Cowan concerning the stability of Miles’ leadership, as well as remind him of the wonders of “disruptive change.”

Trustee Micciche voted FOR the contract extension.

Score: Three for consistency, two for logic, and zero for prudence.

Bernadette Nutall:
Trustee Nutall questioned the attorney to ascertain that the board had not, in fact, conducted a formal evaluation of the superintendent. She expressed concern that the board has been accused of not discussing student achievement, and that it was irresponsible for the board to discuss a contract extension when they have not discussed the reason they exist as a board: “to ensure the academic success of all our students.”

She reiterated that she had repeatedly requested, both of the past and current board president, a full presentation by Miles on the academic achievement of the students in DISD, and that this had not yet been done. She stressed that they should first evaluate the superintendent, then talk about a contract extension. Trustee Nutall also objected to the allowance for consulting, stating that “we need a full-time superintendent” and “we need the superintendent’s full attention.” She implored the board to look at the Destination 2020 data and declared that “we’re not making progress.”

Trustee Nutall voted AGAINST the contract extension.

Score: 10 for consistency, 10 for logic, and 10 for discernment.

Mike Morath:
Trustee Morath has been unfailing in his support of the superintendent, despite leading the charge to dismantle the district because he says it is performing so terribly, and change it into a Home Rule Charter School District (HRCSD). Could there be some kind of under the table deal going on here? If the district is changed into an HRCSD, the attorneys have stated that the new district is still responsible for all ongoing contracts until they run out. Therefore, it won’t matter to Miles whether or not the district is completely changed and whether or not he will have a position in the new HRCSD. Regardless, he will still get paid until 2017 and receive his full pension.

Trustee Morath rather smugly stated that “while we as a board have not come together and finalized the formal evaluation, it sure looks to me that I have evaluated the superintendent.” Other trustees pointed out that the evaluation is something which the board must do collectively together, not as individuals.

Trustee Morath later spoke directly to Miles, saying, “This is a commitment to the reforms that you have initiated, to you and to your leadership team…. Do what you need to do to make sure that we have folks that are motivated, and committed to the reforms for the long haul, around you and in all of our campuses.”

Teachers and principals, please take note of that last sentence. Remember an article not too long ago about Miles equating teacher effectiveness with compliance, not performance. It sounds as though Miles is going to continue to have free rein to enforce his nonsensical programs.

Trustee Morath, as promised, voted FOR the contract extension.

Score: 4 for consistency, zero for logic, and zero for insight. Special prize for arrogance.

So, why is it that the DISD board of trustees acts in such illogical fashion? Not one trustee could justify the called emergency meeting in July to discuss a contract extension for an employee who had not yet received their performance evaluation. Could it be that there was a connection between the three influential visitors from the Dallas Regional Chamber and the votes which were cast? Were the Chamber members there to remind the board of who really runs the district? Could it be that the trustees, despite their big words, are not really in control? This is about the only explanation which makes sense of the total disconnect between the board’s actions and reality.

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Posted in Teachers Rule

The Charter School Debate: Does DISD Really Suck?

charter-manThe question of whether charter schools have discovered the secret formula for student success is a hot topic for discussion these days, especially in light of Mayor Rawlings’s push for a home rule district charter which will convert all of the Dallas Independent School District into one giant charter school experiment.

Proponents of charter schools tout their innovative programs and freedom from onerous state regulations as the secret to their success. Opponents have been said to argue that better outcomes for charters are a result of a different population, one that is more motivated or less poor, and that an apples to apples comparison would reveal that charters do no better than independent public schools.

Data available from the Texas Education Agency (and this is the ONLY source that should be used for accountability data) makes a startling revelation.

For both DISD and Dallas County charter schools, we compared only those students on Free and Reduced Lunch, an indicator of family poverty status, to eliminate socioeconomic differences between student populations.

Comparing similar student populations, DISD students performed better than charter students at the high school level on all End of Course exams last year. Even more importantly, DISD schools had a higher percentage of students that achieved Level III (the highest) status in all but one subject, English II, where their results were the same as Dallas County charter schools.

Level II % of Students
Level III % of Students
Dallas County ISDs not DISD
Algebra I
DALLAS ISD (057905)
Algebra I
All Charters
Algebra I
Dallas County ISDs not DISD
DALLAS ISD (057905)
All Charters
Dallas County ISDs not DISD
English I
DALLAS ISD (057905)
English I
All Charters
English I
Dallas County ISDs not DISD
English II
DALLAS ISD (057905)
English II
All Charters
English II
Dallas County ISDs not DISD
U.S. History
DALLAS ISD (057905)
U.S. History
All Charters
U.S. History

Any attempt to argue charter schools perform better falls flat in the face of these statistics. Instead of DISD supporters searching for excuses as to why their schools perform so badly, as home rule charter proponents maintain, we actually have a situation where charter proponents need to do some ‘splaining.

Why do charter schools do so poorly? In particular, why do charter schools fail at educating the lower income population?

And why would anyone want to make all Dallas schools charters?

But to answer the question posed in the title, yes, Dallas schools suck. Compared to all Dallas County ISD’s their performance is worse. It’s just that charters suck more.

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Posted in Baloney Meter, Teachers Rule

Pity the Rusk Teachers

food-trashThe education “reformers” currently besieging our city want public education to fail. They want public education to fail so they can profit. They support Mike Miles and his mandates because they believe his leadership will cause widespread failure and the collapse of public education (they definitely don’t support him because he has accomplished anything on behalf of poor kids).

One way to cause quick and certain failure in a district is to overwhelm teachers with so many duties they cannot possibly do any of them well. The stress will cause some teachers to quit mid-week; others will hang on, but only barely. Sure, the students in the district will suffer, the “reformers” will say, but to make an omelet, you have to break some eggs.

Let me be very clear: the education “reformers” in our city see DISD students as the eggs that must be broken in order to make profit omelets and they are more than willing to sacrifice thousands of students.

One school where rumors of this kind of impending failure and student suffering loom large is Rusk Middle School.

At the end of the school year last year, some Rusk teachers were left with the feeling that, if they dare to return, they will be pushed to the breaking point when the 2014-2015 school year begins in August.

For starters, teachers got the impression that, in August, they will be required to clock in at 8 am and immediately open their doors to students even though school doesn’t start until 8:45 am.

This would happen because Rusk teachers (and students) will be participants (victims?) in Breakfast in the Classroom, a scheme that requires districts to buy and serve larger quantities of food (which handsomely profits vendors). Instead of conferencing, planning, tutoring or setting up their rooms, Rusk teachers believe that they will be forced to host breakfast every morning.

So from 8 to 8:45 am, in addition to their teaching duties, Rusk teachers will become de facto custodians and cafeteria workers.

Meanwhile, the real cafeteria will sit empty; even the rats and the roaches and the snakes will leave to gather where the food is, which will be in or near the classrooms both inside and out (the portables). Watch out for the snakes, kids!

Veterans of Breakfast in the Classroom already report that it’s basically a disaster. The food has to be transported to classrooms and the food teachers have seen is very low quality—so low that almost all of it gets thrown away (can you hear the rats cheering? Or was that the vendors?). In fact, classrooms and hallways at BIC schools must have several very large trashcans to handle all of the waste. I’m sure that smells good when the AC is out.

BIC veterans report that instructional time is wasted, as well. Hundreds upon hundreds of children must wait for the food to be transported all across the school (or they must go to cafeteria, wait in line and bring food all the way back to the classroom). The teachers must clean up after any spills (accidental or otherwise). Instruction cannot begin until all have eaten and cleaned up. Missed spills or sticky surfaces mean that the entire class gets to stop and wait…again…while cleanup is completed.   Even a minor food fight could easily eat up (pun intended) 20 minutes of instructional time. But middle schoolers never misbehave, right? So that’s not even a possibility, right?

Is this what Rusk teachers have to look forward to: waiting with students to receive low-quality food that will be thrown, spilled or trashed and then spending time cleaning up while dodging a proliferation of rats and roaches? Instead of meeting with parents who can’t meet after school? Instead of tutoring kids who must rush home after school to babysit younger siblings?  Instead of setting up their classrooms for another busy day?

But wait! There’s more in store for the lucky Rusk teachers!

After breakfast, the Rusk teachers may also be expected to give up their planning periods to tutor ISS students. And at lunchtime, teachers could be expected to stay in their rooms and monitor students who did not complete homework. Students who don’t go to homework detention during lunch will be required to stay after school, where even more supervision will be needed.  Gee, I wonder which adults will be forced to accept that duty (hint: it won’t be the instructional coaches).

Let’s see, that now brings the list of Rusk teacher duties to Teacher, Custodian, Cafeteria Worker, ISS Tutor and Detention Monitor.  And we wonder why DISD teachers quit by the hundreds and kids don’t learn?

My question is this: If all of this comes to pass, when will Rusk teachers have time for a bathroom break, parent phone calls, grading papers, dealing with the projector bulb that burned out in 2nd period, eating lunch and planning for the upcoming week?

Furthermore, what Rusk parent wants their child’s teachers to be so overworked, overwhelmed and overburdened?

What Rusk student wants to attend a school filled with permanent “subs,” exhausted teachers and a constantly changing cast of teachers who may or may not have any familiarity with science or math or French (or teaching for that matter)?

Thanks to this blog post, Miles, Rawlings, Todd! and Morath now have no excuse; they can’t claim to be unaware of what might happen at Rusk and what the low-income students at Rusk might have to endure.

If, next year, Rusk becomes the poster school for “reforms” that endanger students, it’s on Miles and Rawlings (and after Rawlings’ successes with Toyota and the GOP convention, how many more failures can he afford?).  Morath and Todd! will also have to answer for what the kids who don’t live in Goldman-Sachs-funded homes have to overcome just to get an education.

Trashcans full of wasted food rotting in schools; what a perfect metaphor for the “leadership” of these rich, arrogant men.

Rusk teachers:  be sure to take pictures of the filled trashcans and the classroom doors where permanent subs lead classes.  We’d be happy to show them to our thousands (literally) of weekly readers.

Posted in Teachers Rule
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Foundation for Empowerment (FCE) released 3 papers:

1. Disruptive Change: Mike Miles and the Crisis In Dallas ISD, which has been prepared with consultation by education academics, extensive research, review of data and education literature, and meetings and interviews with people of Dallas holding varying and sometimes conflicting points of view;

2. Digging Into Data and Evidence: Mike Miles, Dallas ISD, and Trickle-Down Education Report, by Dr. Julian Vasquez Helig, Lindsay Redd, M.A. and Dr. Ruth Vail; and

3. The Challenge of Disruptive Leadership in Dallas ISD, by Decoteau J. Irby, Ph.D. and Matthew Birkhold, M.A.

"You will see from these papers that, after much research and discussion, we believe the current Superintendent lacks the pedagogical, leadership and integrity qualities necessary to lead Dallas ISD and recommend the Board terminate his contract."

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Superintendent Mike Miles

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District 5
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email coming
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