Newly elected District 1 trustee Elizabeth Jones entered the arena during a pivotal time for Dallas ISD as the budget remains tight, and we’re receiving significantly less funding from the state. Nonetheless, superintendent Mike Miles’ sweeping changes are taking effect, and Jones wants to make sure our schools reap the benefits.
Past superintendents have tried to reform DISD. How is Superintendent Mike Miles’ plan different than those that have come before him?
Our new superintendent is approaching a number of things that have to change all at once. The first is that we have to change the quality of the management of our education system. And I think he is very aware of the fact that we’ve been spending lots of resources over the years and haven’t gotten the results that we potentially should be getting. The second is that it’s a very large system, and it’s a highly complex system because 80 percent of it is human capital, so you have to manage people for results — people in a highly complicated system that is already challenged because you’re dealing with a structure that is really quite antiquated. The third is he has to deal with the challenge of restoring public trust and public confidence in a system that hasn’t been managed well. And lastly and most importantly, he understands the urgency, and so do I. We’re at the moment where we must change. The one thing about his Destination 2020 plan that is so compelling is he’s restructured the system to be much more bottom-up than top-down. But the top-down part is now being held to a very different standard of accountability than we’ve seen before … There’s more transparency and a much higher expectation for performance. If you took a billion-and-a-half-dollar company, you would have similar performance requirements. The investors, the shareholders would demand it.
How are the needs of District 1 different than those of the other districts in DISD?
We have Anita Hardwick [former W.T. White principal] and Eddie Conger [Thomas Jefferson principal] as executive directors in the new School Leadership Department for our feeder patterns. Our executive directors allow us to function more practically as a group as opposed to silos. As District 1 goes, we have so many more choices because of the private schools. We have to be able to compete and offer the best opportunities to families.
Well, as we talked about before, the test scores for W.T. White and Thomas Jefferson are around the same level as the coveted magnet schools.
We’re just not telling the story. We just have not really gone to the public with the strengths of some of our schools. The Chinese program, I know they just did a great article the other day, finally talking about the Marsh Middle School summer program as well as what’s been going on at TJ all these years under the guidance and proactive work of Principal Eddie Conger. You want to empower the great principals to come up with these ideas and implement them successfully as Principal Conger has done. Who else can compete with that in our area?
You have a particular interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math education. Why is that area so important to you and how will you help continue to make it a priority in District 1?
STEM is in everything today. I have more than 25 years of business experience and being on the investment side of that, you see that the only thing constant is change. Industry has evolved because of technological innovations. There isn’t an industry out there that hasn’t been affected by it. I’m a product of public schools. I was blessed in that I went to one of the finest math and science high schools in the United States. Having those skills today is critical. Our student achievement is lagging in math and science, compared to the top industrialized nations. That should be concerning enough. Now, if we’re just testing, and all we’re finding out is students are memorizing but haven’t learned anything, then what have we accomplished?
How do you plan to navigate the politics that inevitably will enter these discussions?
I think we have a board with diverse backgrounds and a board that is aligned in this transformation. We may disagree on some things, but we’re in an important place to start moving the district forward. I’m not interested in distractions from that. As I said, we need to take an antiquated system into the 21st century, and anything that distracts from that is the problem.