Friday, May 24, 2013

The Great Principal Debate is Over (for now)...Now What?!



In last night's Dallas ISD school board meeting, the school board made decisions on the fate of the careers of two principals and some 400 school teachers. Considerably fewer principals than the 50 anticipated originally and far more teachers than anyone imagined. 

Among those two principals being fired was indeed the principal of Madison High School, the one position that was source of such controversy over the past several months (there will be more replacements as principals and some teachers, will either resign, accept demotions, or be transferred to other schools; in short, the controversy hasn't ended). 

I think it's very important to mention as Mike Miles does in this interview, that citizens have a right to express displeasure with this decision. The principals involved have a right to appeal the decision. Jason Whitely, the reporter in this interview, mentions pastors and ministers who were 'indifferent' to the process. I am assuming his reference was to me and Pastor Jones in our appearance on 'Inside Texas Politics'. But it's important to make a clarification, I am not (nor do I believe Pastor Jones is) 'indifferent'. My stance has always been that this is a complex issue. Behind all of the emotions expressed by students, parents and other stakeholders, are some very valid points, that should not be dismissed. 

But Mike Miles, for all of his missteps, has some valid points as well. If what we expect is 'reform' but 'reform' with all of the same personnel, we have to question whether what we are getting is real reform. I hope going forward that the Superintendent is more collaborative and more relational during his tenure. No one holding a public office, certainly one giving oversight, management and direction to a democratic institution like a public school district, can do so without engaging the constituent groups that are the direct beneficiaries and stakeholders of that institution. There are some real issues to be taken into account. For the most part, the main issue being that a change in principal or new teachers do not address the real problem of education in poor communities. Be it TAKS, TAAS of STAAR (the three generations of standardized testing administered to students in Texas) or the ACT or SAT tests, we have shown throughout the country that we can create generations of proficient test takers. What we have not proven is that we can truly and adequately educate students in 12 years of schooling. 

Some 80% of DISD students going on to colleges and universities in our country require remediation. That means they are requiring remediation after passing every standardized tests that implies that they read, write, do math and grasp social studies proficiently enough to graduate and go to a post secondary school and work. It is only when they get to a college, university or work that we find out that this isn't the case. If the goal of moving a principal is to make sure more children can pass the standardized tests, then we should all let Mr. Miles know that we expect more. We should let him know that increased graduation rates are not enough. We need to require that our students have been educated enough to employ that education meaningfully in an institution of higher learning or in the workforce. 

Far from 'indifferent', I believe we owe it to Mike Miles to give him that chance. I believe we owe it to our children, our community and to our city. I believe that if we fail to give him that chance, we will all suffer. 

I have very good friends who are smart people who feel differently than I do. But the real question is not how we feel about Miles. The real question is what is our responsibility to the children of Dallas, and how do we undergird the efforts of these principals and teachers to help make sure that these children succeed? I would argue that the highest and best energies of those who have spent calling for Mike Miles' retirement, could be utilized addressing issues of poverty in communities that constitutes the barriers to the education our children. 

We're in the Commencement season. Graduating students aren't just ending their public school life, they are 'commencing' - starting - a new phase of life. I suggest it's about time we ALL 'commence' making these schools better - for all of us. 

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