New Dallas ISD leader was a polarizing figure in Colorado

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by CRAIG CIVALE

WFAA

Posted on April 2, 2012 at 10:56 PM

Updated Monday, Apr 2 at 11:02 PM

DALLAS — Mike Miles has been an Army Ranger, a diplomat and an educator.

The Dallas ISD has now selected Miles as the district's next superintendent, the man to transform the state's second largest school system.

He is a military veteran turned school leader who spent the last six years as superintendent of Harrison School District Two in Colorado Springs, Colorado. But with just over 10,000 students, its student population is a fraction of the 157,000-strong Dallas district.

At Harrison, 67 percent of the students in Harrison are minorities; in Dallas,it's 95 percent.

Mike Miles was a polarizing figure in Colorado, but Dallas ISD trustees see him an innovator who's not afraid to ruffle some feathers.

He comes to Dallas in with great expectations, and some say he has the right attitude to get things done.

Miles has an impressive resume. He is a West Point graduate, a military leader, and a stern educator who — supporters say — runs a tight ship.

"What we've done in Harrison is do the hard work and make decisions that other schools don't want to make," he said.

Miles is known for having one of the most rigorous evaluation systems in the country. It's called "pay for performance," which bases teacher compensation on how well they prepare and deliver instruction, something that accounts for 50 percent of their evaluation.

The other half is based on how well the students achieve. Miles' system takes a teacher's tenure out of the equation.

"I think that every teacher is not afraid of teacher accountability," said Renea Honea, president of the Alliance/AFT teachers union. "But it needs to be accountability that is fair, that is understandable, and that everyone in the process is familiar with and knows how it works."

Miles credits "pay for performance" with raising graduation rates in the Harrison school district, but his critics say the system is controversial.

"Is it controversial to have the quality of instruction be the focus?" Miles asked. "Is it controversial to remove an ineffective teacher who is actually not doing right by kids? If those are controversial, I plead guilty as charged."

His performance strategy drew protests in Colorado Springs, where he was accused of using fear to run the district. But Dallas ISD decision-makers like Miles' straightforward style.

"I think he would be very uncomfortable with any employees who are not working towards the goal of making this school district the best in the nation," said Trustee Lew Blackburn.

Miles has shown he's not afraid to speak his mind. Seven years ago, he unsuccessfully ran for Senate in Colorado on the Democratic ticket. He called for then-president George W. Bush to step down.

"For all of his faults and his administration's faults, this administration had a number of accomplices, so we would have to impeach not only Bush, but we would have to impeach a whole bunch of people," he said during the campaign.

The views of Mike Miles and his policies may have been questioned, but it's hard to dispute what he calls his number one priority.

"I promise you one thing: I'll wake up every day doing my very best for the children of Dallas," he told reporters on Monday.

As the lone finalist for the superintendent's job, Mike Miles will be voted in later this week and will officially begin work for the Dallas ISD on July 2. But he says he plans on starting informal meetings with administrators and teachers right away.

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings said it's time for the city to back its new quarterback.

"He's a proven leader, and I believe that he has shown time and time again throughout his career — as a Ranger; as a diplomat; and a school system that he knows how to lead and create change," the mayor said.

Rawlings has made public education a focus of his tenure at City Hall.

E-mail ccivale@wfaa.com

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