four-photo collage of (clockwise l to r): Dr. Lew Blackburn, Miguel Solis, Rena Honea and Sharon Middlebrooks
(Clockwise L to R): Photo 1: Dr. Lew Blackburn is a veteran educator former Dallas ISD Board of Trustee; Photo 2: Miguel Solis, former Dallas ISD Board of Trustee; Photo 3: Rena Honea, President Alliance AFT; Photo 4: Sharon Middlebrooks, President of NAACP Dallas Branch. Credit: Courtesy of Dr. Blackburn/Miguel Solis/Sharon Middlebrooks/Rena Honea

Dallas leaders who’ve carefully watched the actions leading up to the announcement of Houston Independent School District’s new incoming superintendent Mike Miles are speaking out about their experiences of Miles’ tenure as the superintendent of Dallas ISD.

Miles isn’t new to the attention and mixed opinions of his decisions as an education leader over the years. The former State Department diplomat and Army Ranger is known for his no-nonsense, top-down leadership style, and as a disruptor for pushing significant reforms to improve the underwhelming student achievement in the state’s second largest urban school district.

DISD had a few active initiatives aimed at closing the achievement gap and providing access to opportunities for Black students, such as the African-American Success Initiative which launched in 2006 and the Accelerated Campus Excellence Initiative (2015), a program to turn around chronically low-performing schools by supplying them with the district’s best resources, including the highest-rated teachers and principals. The Accelerated Campus Excellence Initiative is said to have shown improvements in disciplinary rates and student test scores.

Additionally, Miles launched the Teacher and Principal Excellence Initiatives, an approach to measure and evaluate their impact on students in the classroom.

As the former CEO and founder of Third Future Schools, a charter school network with campuses in Texas and Colorado, supporters of traditional public school education are concerned about whether his advocacy of charter schools will impact his decisions for HISD.

Miles is already hitting the ground running with his plans to enact several reforms that will impact administrators and educators across the district, as well as students attending historically low-rated campuses.

There is a growing sense of anticipation and uncertainty regarding his style and its potential effects on Houston’s diverse education system.

The Defender spoke with a few Dallas leaders to share their insights on Miles’ tenure and his impact on the predominately Black and low-performing schools.

headshot of Dr. Lew Blackburn
Dr. Lew Blackburn is a veteran educator former Dallas ISD Board of Trustee. Credit: Courtesy of Dr. Blackburn

Dr. Lew Blackburn is a veteran educator former Dallas ISD Board of Trustee and led AASI. He spent 18 years on the board which overlapped with Miles’ tenure. He says Miles wasn’t focused specifically on just Black students but all students, stating his priorities at the time were to “get the best principals, teachers and people in the right schools” to improve student achievement.

“Part of his idea was to introduce the Teacher Excellence Initiative, which pays teachers on merit rather than the years of service. If the teacher shows progress in the classroom, they get a raise. The question is if all the teachers do well, how will the school district afford to pay all teachers who progress that year?”

Currently, Miles is laying out a similar plan in HISD which offers pay raises for teachers to an average of $85,000 per year plus a stipend. Some DISD educators loved the system, while others did not, claiming discrimination against older teachers and veterans who already had larger salaries saying they lost out on merit raises due to capped salaries.

Miguel Solis was the former special assistant to Miles during his time as DISD superintendent in 2012, before leaving the position a year later at 27 years old to become the youngest person elected to the Dallas school board. He says his experience working as both Miles’ employee and employer gave him a different perspective of who is he as a leader.

“Houston needs to give him a chance. Some concepts he has tried in Dallas will look different if he intends on bringing those ideas to Houston, and it will look different because he has learned over time,” he said. “Many people may disagree with his approach. He instituted whole scale systems reforms, but built systems around kids who needed support the most. Three years was enough time to establish the foundation for change to begin to occur. I hope Houston doesn’t write him off before he can be given the chance to see what he can do.”

Sharon Middlebrooks is the president of NAACP Dallas Branch. She wasn’t in leadership during Miles’ time in office, but the former Dallas chapter president, the late Juanita Wallace was. She was known to be critical on his Principal Evaluation Plan. Middlebrooks, however still wishes Miles’ the best and hopes that he engages the community in his decision-making process.

“This is the time for the Houston community to be engaged. This is all hands-on deck, she said. “Common sense can go a long way if you can keep politics out of it. I don’t see why things shouldn’t work out for Houston, as long as he has the support of the community that it affects.”

Alliance-AFT President, Rena Honea, said that she wishes she could be more positive about Miles’ tenure, but she couldn’t. The veteran educator said Miles brought in “a lot of fear and intimidation through the leadership he had and the people he selected” in his cabinet. She said he would have conversations with the community, but eventually his mind was made up about what was going to happen.

“During the time Mr. Miles was here, it was very hard. It was change after change. Revolving doors, spending of a lot of money, personnel, bringing in people that agreed with him, and would implement what he wanted to do,” Honea said. “He took what he did in Colorado Springs, and brought it to Dallas. He was the CEO of a charter school network. He says he’s not bringing the charter school agenda, but that’s what he knows. His new cabinet has former employees of his charter school network.”

Laura Onyeneho is the Defender Network Education Reporter and a Report For America Corps member. Email her at laura@defendernetwork.com


I cover Houston's education system as it relates to the Black community for the Defender as a Report for America corps member. I'm a multimedia journalist and have reported on social, cultural, lifestyle,...