ABOVE: Mike Miles is shown at Wheatley High School, 4801 Providence St., Thursday, June 1, 2023, in Houston. (Photo by Melissa Phillip for the Houston Chronicle.)
TEA Names Mike Miles as New HISD Superintendent
The Texas Education Agency has chosen a new HISD Superintendent. On the first day of its takeover, TEA finally revealed the names of the district’s new leader — and a new board of managers.
TEA Commissioner Mike Morath broke the news in a letter to the now-former HISD superintendent and board of trustees. “I hereby appoint F. Mike Miles as the Superintendent of School for the Houston Independent School District, effective immediately,” Morath wrote on June 1. “Mr. Miles is a remarkable educational leader with an established track record of success improving outcomes for Texas students.”
“It is my great privilege to lead HISD in this work and make it one of the best school districts in the country,” Miles said in a tweeted statement. “For the families of students who are not getting what they need from their schools, improving your child’s education experience is job one.”
In his message to HISD constituents, Miles wrote about where he came from and why he’s committed to education. “I was one of eight children in a military family. I am the son of a Black father and a Japanese mother. I know what it feels like to feel different or like you don’t have a seat at the table. We struggled. But school was a refuge. My elementary school in Fort Leavenworth, KS — the teachers in that school — saved me.”
Miles served as a U.S. Army Ranger, then spent five years as a diplomat for the State Department in the early 1990s. (He earned bachelor’s degrees from West Point Military Academy and UC-Berkeley.) After six years as superintendent of Harrison School District in Colorado Springs, CO, he became head of Dallas ISD — the second-largest school district in Texas.
When Miles took over as Dallas ISD Superintendent in 2012, more schools than not had the state’s worst academic rating. Test scores remained largely flat during his tenure, although he instituted some substantive reforms. During his takeover, Miles also brought some of his staff with him. And that’s where the trouble started.
In 2012, a district audit found that Miles and other managers broke rules by hiring people before their jobs were posted or their background checks were completed. Miles’ chief of staff, Jerome Oberlton resigned in 2013 after facing federal indictment. (He was sentenced to three years in prison for accepting $60,000 in bribes at a prior gig with Atlanta Public Schools.) And in January 2015, head of human resources Carmen Darville agreed to resign after The Dallas Morning News obtained instant messages in which she and other administrators ridiculed other employees’ race, religion, age and weight.
She was replaced by executive director of human resources Tonya Sadler Grayson. But just months later, in May, an internal audit found that Grayson bullied a subordinate at work and failed to disclose a misdemeanor trespassing charge on her job application. She was fired in July 2015; on the day she appeared in court for an assault charge against a Dallas ISD employee.
By then, Miles himself had already left. He resigned in June 2015 after a dispute over contract negotiations. He then became CEO and founder of Third Future Schools, a charter school network that provides consulting to about 4,500 schools in Texas, Louisiana, and Colorado. That charter school experience may unsettle advocates who believe the TEA takeover of HISD is part of a plan to move toward charter schools.
Still, Morath backs Miles. “Mr. Miles is the right leader to serve as the Superintendent of Houston ISD during this intervention, and I am confident he will be able to drive the system-wide changes necessary to increase student achievement,” Morath wrote in his letter. He also thanked outgoing Superintendent Millard House II, whom Miles is replacing.
House bid farewell in a message emailed to the HISD community. “For two years, we came together and worked hard for the common goal of providing an exceptional educational experience for every student in our district […] We accomplished many of the goals we set together,” he wrote. “And while I know our time was cut short, I have no doubt that there will be more successes to come.”
In addition to replacing the Superintendent, Morath is also replacing the board of trustees with a nine-member “board of managers.” In his letter, he wrote that “with this appointment of a Board of Managers, the powers of the district’s Board of Trustees are HEREBY SUSPENDED until further notice and for the duration of the tenure of the Board of Managers.”
Of the nine members, only one has ever taught in HISD schools; some work outside of education. Audrey Momanaee (nominated for board president) is a litigation attorney, native Houstonian and HISD parent. Ric Campo (recommended for vice president) is CEO of Camden Investment Trust (a company that owns/operates in real estate). Angela Lemond Flowers (recommended for board secretary) taught at Jesse H. Jones High School and has been an English teacher and education administrator for over 20 years. The remaining six members include an education policy advocate, a chemical engineer, an energy management consultant, an HR manager in the Texas Medical Center, and two small business owners — all parents of current or former HISD students.
The board’s first meeting will take place June 8. In the meantime, Miles has already gotten to work on some major reforms. On last Thursday, he outlined a plan for 29 low-performing schools, including Kashmere, Wheatley and North Forest High Schools. All of those schools’ employees — teachers, principals, maintenance staff — will have to reapply for their jobs, which are open to any qualified applicant. Those who are not re-hired for their positions will be placed at a different campus within the district. Those who are hired again will be supported by apprentices and learning coaches in what Miles calls the “New Education System.”
In an interview with the Houston Chronicle, Miles compared the system to a “hospital model” in which coaches and apprentices do “prep work” like preparing lesson plans or exam answer keys. Teachers (the “surgeons” in this scenario) execute the most critical tasks and thus get paid the most money. Miles said that he’s raising teacher compensation at those 29 schools to a record $95,000. Soon, all district employee pay will be tied to student performance.
Opinion editor Lisa Falkenberg asked Miles how he would pay for these raises; Miles said that the structure of schools would change. Librarians at these schools would likely be dismissed; security, janitors and cafeteria workers would be centralized. “We just have so many fewer employees in a school. It’s the teacher. It’s the apprentices, the principal and the APs. Yet, we still have to have special education teachers, and, in some cases, English-language development interventionists. But apart from that, there’s not a lot of other people running around,” he said.
“When we took over Ector College Prep in Odessa. The year before, they had eight office managers doing different things. We have today, three and a half. So, take five times $60,000, if you count benefits, or even $50,000, which is kind of normal pay. You’re talking about $250,000 right there that you can put into salaries to teachers,” he said. “And it’s things like that — where people have all these additional people running around, coaching teachers, consultants coaching teachers, everybody coaching teachers except the principal. The sad part is, sometimes those office managers end up teaching classes because of the shortage. And that’s why we have learning coaches and teacher apprentices…Third Future Schools have not had one vacancy all year. It’s not that people don’t get sick or go on maternity leave. It’s because teacher apprentices step right in,” he said.
“So, then you don’t need subs?” asked op-ed editor Lisa Gray.
“No subs,” Miles replied.