Miles: D-2's hero, or not? 

Between the Lines

Somehow, you knew Mike Miles' story in Colorado Springs would end this way.

He would spend a handful of years building his empire and image as superintendent of Harrison School District 2, amassing loyal allies and bitter enemies. He would make his résumé look remarkable, enhanced by statistical progress and community partnerships and, of course, public recognition. Lots of recognition.

And then he would leave.

So it came as no surprise Monday when the 55-year-old Miles was introduced in Dallas as the only finalist to become superintendent of the Dallas Independent School District. It's the nation's 14th-largest district, with 157,000 students and more than 20,000 employees. That's a huge leap from District 2, with two high schools (Harrison and Sierra) and 11,000 students.

His selection was anything but expected in Dallas; speculation there had focused on others. But DISD officials glamorized Miles as an aggressive reformer with a major success story in Colorado Springs. They also made sure to mention he was an Army Ranger, which will go over well in Texas.

Meanwhile, aside from a gushing D-2 news release, the reaction here was as mixed as it has been throughout Miles' run. For every supporter who's sorry to see him go and sees him as a trailblazer, there's another rejoicing at his departure.

On one side, Miles stands out as a heroic commander who turned D-2 into "one of the most innovative districts in the nation." A post on his Facebook page lauds him as "unafraid of making some of the hardest, most unpopular, but necessary decisions, in the interest of educating our students."

The detractors view Miles in less-praiseworthy ways. As one Dallas resident posted online after checking Miles' record, he should be regarded as a "teach to the test reformer that thinks teachers are the problem."

We'll also have to see whether part of Miles' history might haunt him. In 2007, three years after his unsuccessful 2004 campaign as a Democrat for the U.S. Senate, he called for removing then-President George W. Bush.

"For all of his faults and his administration's faults," he said, "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."

Even now, those could be fightin' words in Big D.

All that matters here, though, is whether Miles truly was such a superior achiever, and whether District 2 should blindly continue his "pay-for-performance" program and long-range plans without question.

Let's acknowledge this much: Miles wasn't afraid to tackle tough challenges, in a district worn down by years of economic erosion. He also did a brilliant job of convincing businesses and civic leaders to help D-2. And he pushed hard for improvement in test results, to pull Harrison out from potential trouble with the state. But at what cost?

It's hard to argue against holding teachers accountable. But the way Miles did that, using the "pay-for-performance" mantra and tying teachers' pay to test results, created an atmosphere that by many accounts was not conducive to quality learning. As we detailed in a cover story by J. Adrian Stanley ("School house rocked," May 13, 2010), Miles' teacher evaluation system empowered school administrators with the ability to torpedo many educators' careers, even if their students were "testing" well.

The most memorable quote from that story, as Miles defended the decision to fire an obviously high-performing teacher: "You can't conclude that just because someone didn't get any unsatisfactory marks, you're satisfactory."

Let's not forget Miles' D-2 salary. He's been making nearly $200,000 in base pay, rising past $260,000 with benefits and incentives. That's much more than Nick Gledich at District 11, with five high schools and about 30,000 students, and it ranks Miles among Colorado's highest-paid superintendents.

Has he been worth that much? Probably not. District 2 should be in the middle, not at the top, in executive-level compensation.

D-2's board has a chance to rectify that now. It also can re-evaluate Miles' methods, especially the teacher evaluations and whether D-2 might have discarded low-performing students to help overall test scores.

Meanwhile, Mike Miles can take his playbook to Texas and see how it works there. But he might be smart to keep his distance from one Dallas resident — a former president named Bush.


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