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Making Dallas Even Better

Leading Off (8/28/15)

Dallas Police Chief Defends Use of Deadly Force. DPD officers fatally shot a man suspected in a robbery near Fair Park on Thursday afternoon. Top cop David Brown says the measure was a “last resort” after attempts to subdue him with Tasers failed. The suspect had a box cutter, though witnesses differed in their accounts of whether he was holding any weapons as he struggled with police.

Hinojosa Appears on Track to Get Super’s Job. Dallas ISD board members say they are pleased with the work of once-and-interim district superintendent Michael Hinojosa. Though they won’t indicate whether he’s the lead candidate to win back the job that was once his on a permanent basis, it’s looking like that might well be the case.

Ken Paxton Needs a New Lawyer. The Texas attorney general pled not guilty yesterday in a Fort Worth courtroom to the securities fraud charges that he’s facing. Afterward, his lawyer quit on him, with some wondering if the change in representation is part of a legal strategy.

Man Who Committed Suicide at D/FW Hyatt Faced Theft Charges. Eugene Dickey, who jumped to his death from a ninth-floor balcony at the airport hotel on Tuesday night allegedly had stolen $1.6 million from the Texas Educational Theater Association, of which he was treasurer.

How Much Money is DISD Missing Out On by Not Fully Funding Pre-K?

At this past week’s board briefing, trustee Nancy Bingham said something that thoroughly irritated me. Now, I feel bad calling her out, because she is, for the most part, a fantastic trustee. She understands proper governance, and she doesn’t allow herself to get dragged into the mud with trolling status-quo types. I also like her because she tends to zone out and play Candy Crush Saga when status quo trustees start filibustering. Last week, though, she said something I’ve heard often from other trustees, too, and it was way off base.

Bingham, in an off-hand comment, said that she believes the district should move forward with putting the $1.6 billion bond issue on the ballot in November. Nothing wrong with that. As I said last week, it’s the right thing to do.

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Good News out of DISD

Sharon Grigsby over at the DMN’s editorial board got to wondering how DISD is doing in the face of a national teacher shortage. School starts next week. So she called the district and asked how things are going. A spokesman says there are only 50 vacancies, and the number is falling. Related question: when Matthew Haag leaves for the New York Times, will he change his Twitter background, the one that reveals the adversarial lens through which he sees DISD? Asking for a friend.

Ask John Neely Bryan: How Dallas Police Reach Out to Kids

Question: Back in the day, Dallas police officers used to have trading cards with their names, stats, positions, etc. on them and featured photos of the officers, cool police cars, and K9 units. I remember them being like a super-prevalent thing at any Dallas event — parades, carnivals, and the State Fair. Living now in a time in history where police departments are trying to combat all the negative media and bridge the gap between police force and community, I wonder what happened to the program, if it’s still around, and if not, what the police department in Dallas is doing to facilitate that relationship with Dallas area youth? — Callie L.

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Hazing and Homophobia at a UNT Fraternity

Think Progress dove into a 2013 incident when a University of North Texas student named Derek Elrod rushed fraternity Sigma Phi Epsilon. Elrod speaks of a hazing incident which involved drinking straight vodka and being forced to do “complete countless push-ups”:

At that point, Elrod, who had been diagnosed in 2005 with a permanent medical condition involving abnormal nervous system functions, began to panic.

“I don’t even know how to explain the amount of mental anguish I was in,” he told ThinkProgress. “I felt like I was trapped…The lights were off, the blinds were closed…the door was closed, and there were guys in front of it…I had gotten to the point where I couldn’t even lift my own body up. It was the first moment in my life that I could not lift my own body up from the ground…I felt like I was not free to leave.”

Elrod eventually did get himself up, raced down the stairs, and dialed 911. According to video footage obtained by ThinkProgress, Randall denied Elrod’s allegations when the police officer arrived at the fraternity house, telling him: “We just kinda didn’t want him here because we thought he was on the homosexual side.”

“For our pledges, we just get like, ‘hey, you know man, he’s kind of on the weird side of heterosexual,’” Randall remarked. “I honestly thought he was homosexual. Hey guys, we shouldn’t invite him over to our house. It’s kind of weird that he is here.”

When the officer pressed: “You don’t like him because you think he is a homosexual?” Randall responded: “Honestly, yes…I mean, you get where I’m coming from?”

View the video above for more. Elrod was afterward told by the fraternity chapter to have no further contact with its membership. Read the whole thing to learn how the fraternity’s national organization has reacted (or, actually, not reacted).

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Leading Off (7/10/15)

Violent Crime Up in Dallas. Through the first half of 2015, the total number of murders, rapes, aggravated assaults, and robberies is up 10 percent. No one has a firm explanation for the spike, but police say they are flooding high-crime zones with more manpower to try to stem the tide.

Bush and Clinton Play Nice. Though former presidents George W. and Bill each have a family member vying to win the White House in 2016, they shared the stage last evening to celebrate the graduation of the first class of Presidential Leadership Scholars at the Bush Presidential Center:

“Last night my granddaughter spoke to me in Mandarin,” Bush said, before the crowd, and Clinton, erupted in laughter.

Sounds like it was an easy room.

Former Morning News Editor Takes UNT Gig. Bob Mong, who retired from our local daily newspaper in May, is apparently already sick of spending more time with his family. He’s been named the lone finalist for the presidency of the Dallas campus of the University of North Texas. The current president, Ronald Brown, is being promoted to run the university system’s health care programs, including the newly announced medical school in Fort Worth. I’ll always remember how Mong took the time to write me a short note of praise for a column I’d written for the group of community news sections I once ran at the DMN. He understood that it means a lot to know the guy in the big office on the other side of the building is actually reading your stuff, especially when it’s not the stuff on the front page. He was extremely kind and supportive of our team’s work — not to mention a surprisingly good softball player. Big congrats to him.

Blind Alligator Removed From the Trinity in Fort Worth. “Nuisance Alligator Hunter” is not a new Animal Planet series. It’s something someone can be licensed to do, someone like Chris Stevens, who was called in to catch a 10-foot-2-inch reptile that showed up in the river near the city’s downtown after heavy rains in June. The animal was safely moved to a nature preserve.

Lake Dallas Mayor Resigns Without Explanation. Tony Marino stepped down as the top elected official in the small Denton County city last night, just a few weeks after the shady shenanigans in which he and the city manager/police chief seemed to have engineered the ouster of a newly elected city council member who’d been critical of them. Marino’s replacement, Mike McCaleb, vowed to bring the “wounded” city back together, descending from the dais to address those in attendance:

McCaleb began to cry. “I’m a big baby, too,” he said. “My sister used to accuse me of having a bladder behind my eyes.”

Many residents laughed at his joke.

Sounds like it was an easy room.

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Leading Off (7/3/15)

Hood County Threatened With Gay-Marriage Lawsuit. Two men in Granbury want to exercise the right to which the Supreme Court last week affirmed they are entitled, but the men so far have been denied. They’ve now moved towards taking legal action against the county government for not issuing them a license. Meanwhile dueling rallies converged upon the courthouse Thursday to express their support for, or opposition to, the county clerk’s refusal to comply with the law.

UNT, TCU to Partner on Medical School. It’d be only the second program in Dallas-Fort Worth to confer M.D. degrees. Though neither university has confirmed the news, sources told the Fort Worth Business Press that the board of trustees for the UNT Health Science Center in Fort Worth is expected to vote on the plan Monday. UNT already operates the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine there, and the school’s previously announced intention to add a medical school has been opposed in the past by osteopaths. TCU would provide much of the funding that the state has so far declined to contribute to the effort.

Murder Rate Up in June. Dallas saw 20 homicides during the month — the most since August 2013 — and police don’t have a solid explanation for the uptick.

Interim DISD Chief Supports Teacher Evaluation System. Dallas teachers who had hoped the departure of district superintendent Mike Miles would spell the end of a controversial means of determining which classroom educators are getting the job done may be disappointed to hear Miles’ temporary replacement, Michael Hinojosa tell WFAA, “We need to support the teachers but also they need to realize these initiatives are going to move forward.”

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Leading Off (6/23/15)

Mike Miles To Resign Today. You have to get up early to scoop Eric Celeste. He beat Leading Off today with the bad news.

Jordan Spieth Is Golf’s “Golden Child.” Bill Nichols writes that Spieth doesn’t care for the term. But it’s the truth.

Six New Dallas Council Members Sworn in. Adam McGough and Casey Thomas bumped fists to celebrate. Next time, work on your chest bump, boys.

Virgin Hotel Coming to Design District. The 200-room hotel on Hi Line and Turtle Creek will likely open in 2018. Feels like it’s getting very hotel-y in and around downtown Dallas. Here’s hoping we’ll have enough backs for all those beds.

Dwaine Caraway Has Good Timing. Today at a luncheon he will announce that he’s running for John Wiley Price’s seat on the County Commissioners Court. Yesterday he got some more material for his speech. An Austin woman was charged with lying to the FBI about payments in the Price corruption case.

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Dallas ISD Superintendent Mike Miles to Resign

Barring a last-minute change of heart or trustees changing their minds, DISD superintendent Mike Miles plans to resign at a morning press conference, according to multiple sources.

The decision comes after the board refused to consider amending Miles’ contract to protect him from repercussions if he was fired this year — an increasingly likely scenario given some board members’ seething hatred of the man who tried to break up their fiefdoms.

But that is really just the culmination of a long slog Miles has endured as he fought to pass reform initiatives, including a revolutionary teacher and principal evaluation system, school choice, preK expansion, and others.

If you care about kids, especially poor kids, make no mistake: This is a sad day for Dallas.

I’m out of town but will have much more to say about this later in the week.

UPDATE (7:49) Miles confirms via text that he will resign.

Was Dallas ISD Better Off When Hinojosa Was Superintendent?

Over on Learning Curve, Eric bristles at the suggestion made by Morning News editorial writers that because Dallas ISD was making gains in its TAKS standardized test results under previous superintendent Michael Hinojosa, current superintendent Mike Miles should be faulted for not continuing the trend in the recently released STAAR scores.

The problem is that what occurred under Hinojosa was something of a mirage:

Because TAKS, the state realized, was measuring not what kids knew nor whether they could think, but how well they had been trained to take the TAKS test. In edu speak, TAKS wasn’t “rigorous.” That’s why the state switched to STAAR, a more-rigorous test in many ways. (Too rigorous, many critics contend.)

The funny thing is, the state got exactly what it wanted – a tougher test that would better give educators a sense of where kids really stood in relation to the rest of the nation and the world. But that has caused everybody to freak out. Because it turns out that our state isn’t making any noticeable educational progress. It hasn’t for years (see the NAEP or SAT data, which goes back far longer than TAKS). But our state has, up until about three years ago with the advent of STAAR, hidden that fact with easy tests that have shown consistent gains (statewide, and in DISD). This is partly because of the Faustian bargain everyone made with TAKS (and its predecessors): educators, media, parents, all the stakeholders in the game said, “Look, we really just want to report year-over-year improvement; it makes everyone feel better.” In fact, a TEA official was complaining just last week about this, wondering just WHY these damn STAAR test results are flat.

Fearon to Business Community: Early Childhood Education Will Impact Labor Force

Educator and philanthropist Regen Horchow Fearon had a warning for the Dallas business community Tuesday: If children aren’t nourished and stimulated during the first five years of their lives—when 90 percent of human brain growth occurs—there could be dire consequences for business and society down the road.

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