While Miles Cleans House at DISD, Will Old-Guard Warriors Try to Burn It Down?
Wow. I wonder how many other ancient mariners of the Dallas public school situation put down their daily newspapers this morning, nodded as I did, and thought to themselves, "So they're messing with Ison-Newsome."
That's serious. It could mean somebody's smart. Or stupid. I'm leaning toward somebody's smart. I'm leaning even harder toward it ain't me.
Shirley Ison-Newsome is the most powerful public school official in Dallas whom nobody knows. She has been right beneath the surface but right at the top for at least 16 years, since a battle over the Townview Magnet School campus -- subject in 1996 of one of Laura Miller's best Dallas Observer stories.
Currently the "interim schools chief," whatever in the hell that means, Ison-Newsome is one of an entire cadre of top school administrators ordered to reapply for their jobs under an edict just issued by our incoming superintendent of schools, Mike Miles.
I like Ison-Newsome. She's smart as hell. She comes from back in the day. She's like me. She doesn't suffer from all this post-modern niceness that seems to have infected people under the age of 40. I don't know where that stuff comes from. Must be chemical. I blame it on the food industry.
Not everybody likes her. A friend of mine who worked for her called her, "Surely-I'm-A-Nuisance." She's like anybody who has managed to survive and thrive this long in the public school system -- very well wired to the political grid outside the system. In '96 and since, she has been known outside the school system as a close ally -- both supporter and client -- of Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price.
There was a day when that connection alone was political Kevlar. Mess with her, and Shirley Ison-Newsome, the erudite and thoughtful educator, stepped into a phone booth and emerged in her Surely-I'm-A-Nuisance costume. People did not mess.
Now somebody is. Big time.
Things have changed. Price, back in the paper today as the embattled target of an FBI probe, can barely take care of himself, let alone his political clients. In this school board race just ended, the old southern Dallas African-American stir-it-up, mess-it-up leadership -- the ones I always liked -- lost their asses, at least in the race that put Bernadette Nuttall back on the board of trustees.
If I back off far enough, set my jaw just the right way and squint at this school district, I can see it tied down like Gulliver by an entire historical cast of Lilliputians, and ... man! ... I'm looking at that picture and I think I may even see myself in there.
The battles of the past were terribly important. They had to be fought, and they were fought, often well. But now we have to ask: How much time is spent by any of those old soldiers on any side of it thinking about what the school district actually does for children? We're all still on the river bank glaring at each other with our hands on our daggers while the kids get swept down the river toward a Niagara of failure.
This move to mess with people at Ison-Newsome's level would be stupid if it were naive, if the people behind it didn't understand the political wiring. But I have been interviewing people for a feature story on the schools, and those interviews lead me to believe that the folks pushing for this stuff are not naive and certainly not stupid.
I think they know exactly what they're doing. They're going to try to cut the old wires. Of course, that just means new wires. Life is wired, after all.
But what's my idea? Leave it the way it is? Hey, if I really believed that was a good plan, I'd have to look in the mirror and say, "Jim, surely you're a nuisance, too."
And by the way, don't count Ison-Newsome out because she may have to change her spots. Like I say, she's smart as hell, and she has devoted her life to educating kids from the tough side of the street. That's a skill set you can't buy at Walmart.
I'm just saying this is all really interesting. What was that sound? We freeze in our tracks. No! Does Gulliver stir?