Beyond the Stink Over Shirley Ison-Newsome's Departure, Remembering the Good She Did at DISD

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OK, I guess we're all going to pile on departing Dallas school executive Shirley Ison-Newsome, a person accused of serial scandals and of making off with a bunch of loot in the form of a "golden parachute." Look, Unfair Park Czar Eric Nicholson was quite right to observe a week ago that there were all sorts of bizarre and fishy circumstances surrounding the recent departure of educator/administrator Ison-Newsome.

She resigned. She unresigned. She got some kind of $142,000 please-go-away-nicely package. She re-resigned.

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Shirley Ison-Newsome
And over the years I have known lots of people who got their feelings hurt by Ison-Newsome, who is nothing if not tough. A good friend of mine at DISD used to call her "Surely I'm A Nuisance." But behind her back. Waaaay behind her back.

I'm just saying that as Ison-Newsome departs, it would be profoundly unfair and a mistake not to note some of the serious achievements she has racked up as an educator in the interest of Dallas children. It was under her regime as superintendent of Area 2 in the late 1990s that Dallas saw its first serious test score successes in very poor schools with transient populations.

And it wasn't a one-off or an anomaly. The march of success spread from J.J. Rhoads Elementary to Chappie James to J.W. Ray and onward. Those successes made an important point: The story was not true that kids from bitterly poor and violent homes couldn't succeed in school. Not true. They could. Ison-Newsome was proving it. Does that kind of achievement by a manager maybe involve some ass-kicking? I think so.

I thought of another thing last night when I saw Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price at DISD headquarters defending Ison-Newsome. I'm all down on Price now because of ... well, a lot of stuff. I think he's had some bad chapters where DISD politics is concerned.

But education activists like Russell Fish will tell you that Price and Ison-Newsome both consistently have been on the side of high achievement standards and never on the side of using the school system as a jobs program for bad teachers and administrators. Hardly ever.

Twelve years ago when I was writing about the Area 2 successes, I asked people how Ison-Newsome did it, and the consistent word I got back was "discipline." So, you know, discipline works, but does it make people love you? Maybe not.

And, look, all this racking up of Ison-Newsome's so-called "scandals?" Let me tell you what her scandal was. She got The Dallas Morning News editorial board pissed off at her.

First "scandal" on the News' bill of particulars: She spent too much money renovating her bathroom more than a decade ago. That's complete bullshit, and everybody including the Morning News knows it. Toiletgate was a transparently trumped-up charge slung at her by a crooked superintendent of schools, a married lady who later got sent to the Big House herself for using school district money to decorate a Chinese love-nest for her paramour.

Second item: Ison-Newsome used a school district credit card to buy expensive pillows for her office. Hey, if we're going to keep bringing up the stupid pillows, then somebody needs to show me they were stuffed with crack, because otherwise there seem to be no laws broken whatsoever and I don't want to hear about a bunch of damn pillows. I've got enough fancy pillows to deal with in my own house. Sometimes I feel like I live in a pillow factory.

What else? She sent a group of all boys to watch a war movie about black pilots, and that discriminated against the girls. Yeah. I don't know. The Morning News kept calling it a $57,000 trip to the movies. If it had been just one kid, sure, that would have been way too much money. But it was 4,400 fifth graders.

Having been the father once of a fifth-grade boy myself, having watched him and his friends under the stimulation of heavily sugared soft drinks and war movies, then trying to imagine the same situation but with 4,400 fifth grade boys, I can't imagine allowing any fifth-grade girls within a city block of the joint. But there you go. Maybe I'm just chicken.

Hey, here's my real question. Did somebody say that Ison-Newsome was an ineffectual educator? Was she a lousy administrator? No, I don't hear any of that. Was she a bitch sometimes? Are good male administrators bastards sometimes? You get my point.

Bottom line, I am not quarreling with the suggestion that Ison-Newsome's departure maybe had some weird wrinkles. I'm just saying her overall career was marked by much larger and more significant positive achievements. I go in silence now.

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7 comments
leftocenter
leftocenter

Thanks, Jim...good to know.

 

Commenters, Jim takes a moment to give some credit where it is due.  I didn't catch the part where he said she was pure as the driven snow.

 

As far as the movie goes, my daughter woulda been bored unfortunately...controversial and politically incorrect move, yes...wrong...mmm probably not...

Michael.MacNaughton
Michael.MacNaughton

Shirley was smart and politic and certainly has 35+ years of institutional knowledge ("she knows where the bodies are buried").  The final straw for me was Shirley transferring the $57K  funds from the early childhood development program in order to pay for the movie tickets. That, alone, is a travesty.

 

The questions some have raised have still not been adequately answered: "How does one person at DISD have the ability to transfer $50K out of a needed program -  to purchase retail movie tickets?  What were the arrangements made for the purchase of those tickets?"  $57K for 4,400 kids is almost $13 per kid for tickets and transportation.  Hell, you could have bought each kid a DVD for that much. Although the district traded mandatory Title IX training and a written mea culpa for federal forgiveness I believe the TEA investigation is still ongoing. Shirley apparently forgot, like many administrators, that they are public servants who are supposed to be careful stweards of our tax money. And, by the way, that would include money spent for office decorations; or pillows; or air-conditioners ordered from in-flight magazines.

EastDallasDad
EastDallasDad

Don't forget that she sued the district and won. After that everyone, including superintendents, was scared sh*tless of her.

 

Does anyone really think Miles agreed to give her the golden parachute for nothing? Some one in her position would probably have a lot of leverage against someone as corrupt and shady as Miles, $142,000 worth of leverage to be exact.

MikeWestEast
MikeWestEast

I do not see how anyone can have that kind of tenure at a senior level in what is obviously a failing organization. In any regular business, you clean house just to get a fresh perspective. DISD has never done it and just keeps carrying the same baggage into each new attempt to fix it. Failed organizations are full of senior execs that were great earlier in their careers. Even at DISD, I always assumed senior staff had to have at least a few wins earlier in their progress towards senior level. Our problem is they could not get it done in those current jobs and have not been getting it done. Ms. Ison-Newsome's longevity reminds us of that situation.

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul
ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

Jim, Mussolini got the trains to run on time.

 

Seriously, SIN comes across as a feudal lord.  As far as pillowgate and toiletgate, these are probably the tip of the iceberg.

 

I also like the photo with the pale look on her face.  It looks so much like her ...

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

 @MikeWestEast Umm, at the risk of sounding touchy about it, did you scan my item? The whole point is that Ison-Newsome has had major wins and major successes all along the way, supported by testing and metrics and performance standards and all that good stuff you guys learned in your tire stores..

MikeWestEast
MikeWestEast

@JimSX @MikeWestEast She had some wins in a crumbling organization. If it was all along the way including recently, DISD would not be in its current shape. How could it be if she is generating outstanding results as her responsibilities covered larger and larger areas of the ISD. I expect she had small scale successes that never took hold. DISD has no record of consistent excellence except for the magnets. Did she run the magnets for her executive career? HShe was supposedly a major contributor to an organizations that is a failure, a team still trying to find its way after several decades of supposed improvement. She was an executive, one of the top five, not a clerk. Executives transform their entire area of responsibility or they are not doing their job. At some point every senior executive has to be accountable for how the entire organization performs. That point was long past for DISD. It is that way in a business, a sports team, and should be for public entities. I do not think she was bad and was likely adequate. Being adequate is no reason to be kept anymore. I have no idea what the reference to the tire store is. My only learning there is copying from the manual the specified tire size and telling the clerk four of these tires.

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