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Making Dallas Even Better

Three Things That A.C. Gonzalez’s Replacement Should Promise to Do

Dallas City Manager A.C. Gonzalez has promised to resign come January, a development that will not surprise D Magazine readers. In March I wrote the following:

Now that Gonzalez, 64, is nearing retirement age, he can leave with a pension tied to that high salary so long as he earns it for three years—meaning he has a year left before we start hearing rumblings that Gonzalez will want to hand his job to the next longtime Dallas employee waiting at the trough.

Now, I was wrong in that I thought he’d wait until nearer that date to turn in his notice. I thought he wouldn’t want to look like a short-timer making a play for the most coin. My bad. I underestimated the zero effs Gonzalez has left to give. Still, in that column, I called on the city council to fire Gonzalez so we wouldn’t get to this point, but they did not listen and we are going to suffer for their inaction. The lesson: always do what I say.

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The Oak Cliff DISD Trustee Race Has Turned Ugly

Early voting has begun for the May 7 joint elections, which feature many ISD races. As I wrote about in my May column in D Magazine, this is an especially crucial vote for Dallas ISD, with four seats up for grabs. I point out that, contrary to popular opinion, the school board has overcome status quo efforts to maintain the status quo, putting in place important reforms that will help poor kids throughout the district. (Which, in turn, will help the city at large.)

Since I wrote that column about six weeks ago, one race has become awash in nastiness. Which happens, right? It’s local politics.

Except this time, that nastiness includes not just political operatives but also City Council members. In fact, the council members have become political operatives in these ISD races in ways that make me very queasy, in part because the folks doing this include people I admire and consider friends. Which means this is not going to be fun. Let’s do a little FAQ to get you caught up:

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Questions for the DMN on that Lewisville Dam Story

Finally got to the big dam story everyone is talking about. Good read! Lotsa drama. You can almost hear the scary music playing in the background, foretelling much damage and destruction. Highly enjoyed reading it.

Well, I enjoyed it the first time. The second time I looked it through, a few questions started to form. I wanted some supporting evidence and context that I suspect was not included because it would interrupt the excellent #longform #narrative. Especially after some light Googling. Those questions:

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SAGA Pod — Miguel Solis on pre-K, Mike Morath, and, of course, Wu-Tang

Miguel Solis drops by the new SAGA Pod World Headquarters in beautiful Oak Lawn to break some news about the latest developments in his efforts to establish a pre-K board policy for DISD. We also talk smack about his soon-to-be-former colleague on the school board, new Texas education commissioner Mike Morath. We wonder what changes a Morath-led TEA might undergo, and what his absence means to kids, parents, and citizens of Dallas. He also makes fun of my previous world headquarters and demands I try to play some intro and outro music, which does not go swimmingly. You can listen below, or subscribe here on iTunes. As always, please listen with your ears.

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Dallas Trustee Mike Morath Named TEA Commissioner

The Quorum Report has the scoop: Gov. Abbot has named District 2 DISD trustee Mike Morath to become the state education commissioner in 2016. (He was one of five candidates for the job.) He’ll have to resign his seat, and they’ll need to add District 2 to the May election. (In addition to the three seats already up.)

Who will run for his seat? I hear that longtime D2 education advocate Dustin Marshall will file tomorrow.

Please place your popcorn orders accordingly.

UPDATE: Here’s the press release.

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Pre-K, Money, and the Future of School Reform

Last week, the DISD board met to discuss policies, procurements, and whatever else tickled their fancy, like they do with great tedium every month, twice a month. If you read this story about last Thursday’s DISD board briefing, you probably think you missed a rather routine discussion of a disagreement between some trustees and the administration about how to best fund the district’s pre-K needs.

That’s true and false. It’s true that the story gives a good summary of a discussion. But it wasn’t routine. What actually happened: A seemingly predictable discussion – technically, a first read of a proposed pre-K policy – disguised what was really at stake: the entire future of DISD’s reform efforts as we have come to know them.

If you think I’m being hyperbolic, allow me to re-raise: Given the battle lines being drawn on the board and within the administration itself, we will look back on the next two month’s discussion over this proposed policy as the moment that determines whether meaningful reform that closes student achievement gaps will continue in DISD.

Let’s examine why this debate is so crucial in light of what was said last week — and what those words really mean.

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SAGA Pod: Jim Schutze on DISD, Racial Politics, and Scott Griggs

We go deep on education in this one, as Jim Schutze and I talk about DISD, merit pay for teachers, and how politics and race figured into the bond election. We also discuss the city attorney deciding to leave his job in the wake of the failed attempt to get councilman Scott Griggs indicted. Also, Jim likes the fact a house got destroyed. Never forget he is evil. You can subscribe or download from iTunes here (there’s usually a few hours of delay before it goes up), or listen to the link below. As always, please listen with your ears.

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Lessons From DISD’s Merit Pay: Finding Great Teachers Takes More Than a Calendar

Over the weekend, I had beers with a Dallas ISD middle school teacher. Longtime teacher, moved here from another state just this year. Good guy, smart guy, has a master’s degree, etc. We finally got around to talking about DISD’s merit pay system, which I wrote about a little last week. (And which Jim Schutze wrote about yesterday, covering some of that ground and some of the ground I’m about to cover. You should read it.)

“So, are you a fan of TEI, or do you hate it?”

“Hate it?” he asked.

“You know, hate the evaluations, and all the work that goes into the standardized lesson plans, hate getting evaluated by students – all the complaints I hear in the comment sections.”

He looked at me like I was an idiot. “TEI is why I came here.”

This teacher’s point:

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Lessons From DISD’s New Merit Pay System: Bad Teachers Go Bye-Bye

Nearly a month ago, the Dallas ISD board was given a briefing on the impact of the district’s revolutionary Teacher Excellence Initiative (TEI), the evaluation and scoring system that determines a teacher’s effectiveness and pay. I didn’t write about the briefing then because I was knee-deep in covering the DISD bond. Now that the bond passed, I want to tell you the important takeaways from the TEI data, because the findings and results are pretty amazing.

That’s not to say that there aren’t ongoing bugs and glitches in the system – important ones that need to be addressed. (I wrote about some concerns last year, and these were largely addressed.) I’ll write about those soon. First I want to talk about the big lessons from the TEI data that should change the way we think about public education and could change the way districts operate.

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Reason No. 3 to Vote for the DISD bond: Because Hope is a Good Thing

Last night, I was checking my Twitter before going to bed, and I noticed I’d been mentioned in a Tweet by a status quo type. This person suggested I was wrong to be for the bond because [insert made-up complaint about DISD here].

Normally, late at night, when I get on the social media, I like to engage trolls with annoying behavior. (Ask anyone who knows me: I may be the most stubborn person alive, especially if my goal is to infuriate you.) But when I read this, I was just sad, so I didn’t respond.

This person – no need to name her; doesn’t matter – has been complaining about DISD for more than a quarter century. She files open records request that amount to nothing, she calls journalists with elaborate theories of evildoing by DISD officials, teachers, or trustees. She spends much of her time railing against any effort at district improvement because she feels like someone, somewhere, is running a scam against the citizens of Dallas, and only she will be there to protect us. So she rants and raves against everyone who dares disagree with her because they can’t see the conspiracy that she sees.

This makes me sad because I know people like this in my own family.

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The League of Women Voters of Dallas Is Officially a Joke

Have a peek at who the League of Women Voters of Dallas — ostensibly, a nonprofit that educates voters — has made its director of education issues.

I would write HAHAHAHAHA for about 10 lines if it weren’t so serious. I mean, Bill Freaking Betzen, the chief online troll and puppet for every status quo clown in the city. A person who wants DISD to go back to the days when we had feeder patterns where 1 percent of young black men graduated college ready. They may as well have made #TalkDISD the League’s official hashtag. No wonder the League’s “fact sheet” was so riddled with obvious errors, red herrings, and lies. C’mon, League. Pull yourself together. You used to be a respectable organization. Do you want to be more irrelevant to the next generation?

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Reason No. 2 to Vote for the DISD Bond: It’s Fiscally Sound

This is going to be about half as long as it was going to be (lucky you), because Sharon Grigsby at the DMN covered a lot of the things I was going to say in this post. You should read her reasons to vote yes on the bond.

But I do want to quickly give you a takeaway about how the bond makes fiscal sense.

I’ve heard some legitimate concerns from conscientious voters about the bond. (Vote tomorrow, people.) The concern is usually expressed something like this: “Eric, I pay a lot of taxes to DISD, and I don’t even send my kids there. They haven’t proven they know what to do with the money they have. Why should I give them more?”

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Turn and Talks Podcast: Why a Former DISD Teacher Voted For the Bond

Correction: a commenter pointed out that John Hill left DISD last semester. She’s right! I thought he was still a teacher when I recorded the podcast. His co-writer on the blog is still a DISD teacher. Carry on.

Former DISD teacher John Hill co-runs a great education blog called Turn and Talks. Yesterday he taped his Dallas Education Podcast with me at the Meddlesome Moth, a podcast in which we discussed all things DISD bond. (You need to vote tomorrow. Make plans now.) I think the most interesting part of the discussion is when Hill says critics of my education writing say I focus too much on numbers and not enough on the history of racial inequity in DISD. If you’re still on the fence about whether to vote for the bond, I hope this helps.

You can find the podcast here for direct listen. As well, there are links for iTunes, Stitcher, and Soundcloud on his site. As always, please listen with your ears.

P.s., I mention the anti-reform groups and their standard “Trojan horse” argument. Background on this can be found in this post from this past December.

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Reason No. 1 to Vote For the DISD Bond: It Helps Kids

Today is the last day to early vote, so I’m going to give you the best reason to vote for the $1.6 billion DISD bond, in hopes it will inspire you to get off your butt and go vote. The reason: It helps kids all over the city. That may seem obvious, but I think it’s important to remember.

The bond is good for kids for several reasons:

First, this bond is equitable, in that it helps schools all over the district. Take a look at the full Google Maps list pictured above to see the distribution.

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Why DISD’s Anti-Everything Critics Are Wrong on School Boundaries

Before I got vote yes on the DISD bond at lunch – tomorrow is the last day to early vote, slackers; get to it – I wanted to address a particularly silly reason anti-bond goofballs are suggesting you vote no.

It has to do with attendance boundaries. The Dallas Morning News did a pretty darn good story on it this week, wherein they quote said goofballs as well as more thoughtful members of the community who rightly point out the goofiness of said complaint.

What is the complaint, and why is it hogwash?

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