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Miles picked for Dallas schools chief

Harrison Schools Superintendent Mike Miles, admired by some and criticized by others for his reform efforts in the district south of Colorado Springs, has been named the sole finalist to run the Dallas Independent School District.

The Dallas Morning News reported Monday afternoon that Miles has been named the lone finalist by school board members who interviewed 11 top candidates. Read the report. Miles attended an afternoon press conference with school board members.

According to the newspaper, board members cannot officially hire the next superintendent for 21 days after the lone finalist is announced. Eight board members voted in favor of hiring Miles, while one board member abstained.

A release from the Dallas school district says the school board plans to officially approve hiring Miles on Thursday, April 26. If approved, he would begin work Monday, July 2.

Miles appears to have been a surprise choice – the Dallas Morning News reporter, blogging about the announcement, wrote “There is a Mike Miles form (sic) Colorado Springs.” Names circulating in published reports included the interim superintendent and the president of a private Texas college.

The move would be a major career stepping-stone for Miles, 55, the former U.S. Army Ranger and Democratic political candidate who worked closely with Dwight Jones, the one-time Colorado education commissioner who now runs the Las Vegas, Nev., school district.

Harrison School District 2 serves about 11,000 students south of Colorado Springs while the Dallas school district has an enrollment of more than 150,000. It is the nation’s 14th largest school district.

The demographics of the two districts are not dissimilar, with both serving mostly minority, mostly poor students. Harrison’s poverty rate is 70 percent, compared to Dallas’ 86 percent. And Harrison’s student body is 41 percent Hispanic, 18 percent black and 33 percent white. Dallas’ student demographics are 69 percent Hispanic, 24 percent black and 5 percent white.

Harrison district officials issued a statement on their Facebook page which noted close to 100 candidates applied for the Dallas job:

“Miles was chosen in part because of his transformative work in the Harrison School District and across the state. Most notably, Harrison’s pay-for-performance system has gained national attention for the way the District ties teacher evaluations to student achievement results.

Miles is in his sixth year as Superintendent of the Harrison School District. During his tenure, the District significantly narrowed achievement gaps and raised its graduation rate and test scores. Formerly a district on “Academic Watch,” the lowest state accreditation rating, Harrison is seen as a Colorado success story and one of the most innovative districts in the nation.”

Harrison spokeswoman Jennifer Sprague said the board will begin discussing its own superintendent search at Tuesday’s school board meeting.

“We will certainly be looking for someone that continues the transformation journey we’re already on,” she said. “We need somebody supportive of that and looking to continue that.”

Miles is expected to return to work in Harrison Tuesday.

Dallas now has an interim superintendent, Alan King, who has been serving for nearly a year since the departure of Michael Hinojosa. Hinojosa resigned in 2011 to take the superintendent’s job in Cobb County, Ga.

What is Miles facing in Dallas? A reporter for the Dallas Observer sums it up this way:

“Although the next 21 days will be spent assessing Miles’ qualifications, it’s the district that’s in dire need of repair. A budget shortfall, shifting demographics and previous mismanagement forced the board to close 11 schools in January. Recent public squabbles with teachers have been PR blunders at best, incompetence at worst. And the district’s system for hiring and firing teachers was revealed earlier this year to be in shambles.”

Miles is well-known in Colorado education circles and has received national attention for some of his efforts, particularly his teacher merit pay system.

Those efforts have proven less popular with teachers unions in the state and with some Harrison parents and community members, who are openly advocating the recall of board members supportive of his work. “Prayers answered” wrote one poster about the Dallas announcement on a Facebook page titled “Mike Miles – Get Him Out.”

Others are sorry to see him go.

Van Schoales, senior consultant to the national Education Reform Now, described Miles’ pending departure as “depressing.”

“We have just a few very reform-minded superintendents in Colorado and so to lose one of the stars like Mike Miles is a big loss to the state,” said Schoales, who also serves as head of the education advocacy group A+ Denver.

Miles is one of only four superintendents who serve on the Education Leadership Council, a 40-member panel of educators, elected officials and community leaders that advise Gov. John Hickenlooper on education policy. He also runs a for-profit education leadership group, Focal Point, which works with school districts across the country.

Last month, Miles appeared before lawmakers at the Capitol to testify in support of House Bill 12-1138, the proposal to improve early childhood literacy that includes a provision encouraging holding back third graders with significant reading deficiencies. Under Miles’ leadership, the Harrison district has a policy of ending social promotion.

Miles’ views on that are at odds with some other superintendents, and he also differed with some other superintendents when he testified as a defense witness for the state in the Lobato v. State school funding trial last August.

But Miles was in line with several other superintendents in testifying before the legislature two years ago in support of Senate Bill 10-191, which created the state’s new educator evaluation system linking student achievement to teacher and principal evaluations.

In September 2010, Miles was mentioned as a possible successor for the state education commissioner’s job, held by Jones, although he quickly said he wasn’t applying for the job.

In 2004, Miles ran an insurgent campaign for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate. He won top-line ballot designation as the state Democratic assembly but lost the primary election to Ken Salazar, who went on to win the general election but now is secretary of the Interior.

Mike Miles talks about education reform

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