Mike Miles faces critics head-on, changing minds




Posted on April 16, 2012 at 10:18 PM

Updated Monday, Apr 16 at 10:21 PM

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado — On a Friday morning in Colorado Springs, Mike Miles, the lone finalist for the Dallas ISD's vacant superintendent position, is sitting inside a fourth-grade math class at one of his elementary schools.

He was talking with a student about an equation on the board. The child answered the question correctly, and his classmates shouted, "Good job, Michael!" The students were so engaged, they hardly noticed all the strange people in the room.

Standing against the wall are three Dallas ISD board members touring the campus, and a News 8 TV crew capturing the moment.

"When kids do well, when they can show they are academically proficient, that's successful," Miles said.

Mike Miles found ways to make the low-performing Harrison District 2 in Colorado Springs successful.

Under his leadership, test scores and graduation rates went up — although he did so using what some feel are controversial reforms.

Among them: A pay-for-performance policy for teachers, where their salary is directly tied to how well their students perform.

It requires administrators to constantly monitor how their classrooms are being run.

"I was told flat-out by the principal, if you don't like it, just leave," Jennifer Young said.

Young quit her job at Sierra High School in Colorado Springs because she believed Miles was using fear to run the district.

"It made me cry in frustration," she said. "I had a tough time getting it together for the rest of my day."

What some teachers call "fear," Miles calls "accountability."

"There is no question that we have said you have to perform well," Miles said. "If you are not doing right by kids, we find ways to develop the teacher... retrain... or remove."

An anonymous survey of Harrison District 2 teachers taken last month showed that 72 percent believe they should be paid for their performance, while only 13 percent of teachers asked did not like Harrison's pay policies.

"It was hard at first," said Harrison District 2 Board Member Victor Torres. "It was hard getting people to accept it."

Torres should know. He had been one of the superintendent's biggest critics.

Two years ago, he pushed for parents and teachers in the district to protest Miles' policies, saying they would ruin the district.

When we interviewed Torres last week, he had quite a change of heart.

"He [Miles] has a tendency to suck you in," Torres said. "He sucked me in."

After touring a few campuses last week, DISD trustees raved about Miles' performance.

Board President Lew Blackburn said he was very impressed with how the classrooms were run, adding that "DISD needs someone in place to hold people accountable."

They believe they've found the right person to do it.

E-mail ccivale@wfaa.com