Bernadette Nutall Raises the Stakes in the War Over Protecting Favored DISD Principals

Categories: Schutze

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On March 22, I penned a story for this page in which I portrayed school district trustee Bernadette Nutall as appearing to be "neutral" on school reform.

Her apparent neutrality made her a very singular exception to the rule at a heated community meeting the night before at Madison High School, where other southern Dallas black leaders came out swinging against a crackdown on ineffectual school principals.

See also:
- Carolyn Davis Comes Out Swinging Against School Reform, in Defense of Principals' Jobs

Can I reel that back in? Please? I believe I may have been in a state of self-induced journalistic coma. I like Nutall. She's smart. But, man, is she ever not neutral.

bnutall.jpg
Bernadette Nutall
What I did not know at the time was this: Nutall, who represents district 9 in old South Dallas, and board President Lew Blackburn, from district 5 extending down into the old Wilmer-Hutchins district, are absolutely at war with Superintendent Mike Miles over school reform. They are fighting him tooth and nail over his campaign to house-clean principals in schools with terrible student achievement records.

The War in South Dallas started last February 21 when a mid-level district executive wrote Miles to report that Nutall was grilling her unpleasantly about the job status of certain principals. The executive told Miles that Nutall had warned her the community would "rise up against me" if one principal in particular was touched.

I know this stuff because this morning I got a stack of documents I had demanded some weeks ago under Texas public information law. I am quoting from letters and emails that DISD sent me in response to my demand.

Within three days of receiving that first letter of complaint, Miles had figured out that Nutall was systematically contacting people in the post of executive director -- the front-line implementers of Miles' data-driven assessments of principals and teachers.

On February 24, Miles received a copy of an email one executive director had sent to her immediate boss complaining that Nutall had accosted her at a school event: "She was sure to tell me that as the new ED, I, too, was being watched and that I needed to be careful not to 'believe the hype.'"

The email said Nutall had warned the executive director to keep her hands off a specific principal. "After she was complete in releasing her venom about the superintendent, she left."

On February 25, Miles wrote Nutall back: "Please stop this behavior, which serves only to intimidate the district's staff and does not serve the interests of either the district or its children."

Miles also put out the word to the executive directors that he had their backs, urging them not to fear reprisals from the trustees. "Do not let others, outside of school leadership, influence the [process] ...," he wrote. "The leadership team and I will support you as you carry out this important work."

Miles's messages to Nutall and the executive directors had two effects. Nutall was furious, but the executive directors had more to tell.

At 7:17 p.m. on February 26, a Tuesday, Nutall sent Miles a long angry letter in which she called him "intentionally misleading and dishonest." She categorically denied trying to tell the executive directors what to do and accused Miles of racism, even citing a landmark desegregation ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court. She told Miles to "schedule immediately a meeting" with the executive directors who had complained about her "so that I may hear directly from my accusers."

Forty-one minutes later Miles shot back an email saying, "No, I will not call a meeting of my staff so that you can intimidate them further."

Blackburn joined the fray calling the charges against Nutall serious and demanding that Miles set up the meeting she had directed him to schedule.

On March 1, the following Monday, Miles received a copy of a letter that three executive directors had sent to their boss, who is just below Miles, laying out more specifically what they claimed Nutall had told them. They said she had told them to leave certain southern Dallas principals untouched no matter what. They said she had warned them "not to align ourselves with Mr. Miles." And they said Nutall had threatened that if they failed to heed her words, "the community would come after you."

Apparently all of this has discussed by the board in closed door executive sessions, which I'm pretty sure were illegal. They probably used the excuse that it was a personnel matter in order to hide behind closed doors. But how is this kind of basic question -- school reform and school district governance itself -- not an important political issue crying out for daylight? If this isn't public, what is?

I will have more on this in a column in the paper next week. Dallas is not the Lone Ranger in terms of this bitter coming fight over public school reform. It's a battle heating up all over the country, with the same heavy emphasis on race and job protection elsewhere. See two stories in The New York Times just this morning, one about a ground-breaking campaign in Tennessee to use charter schools to improve the achievement levels of poor black kids, and another about the fall-out from a cheating scandal in Atlanta.

As I said, I like Nutall and think she's smart. I certainly hope I will be able to talk to her more about this in the next couple of days.

But, look, all you DISD people who have been commenting here about what a son of a bitch Miles is and how there's too much pressure on you and so on? You need to know that these emails and letters, simply on the face of them, confirm that this battle is about job protection.

Nutall clearly has been out there warning mid-level management that certain principals are protected no matter how bad their student achievement scores may be, that this is racial as hell, that keeping those jobs safe is a civil rights issue, and that anybody who obeys Miles and not Nutall will face the wrath of "the community."

I'm not saying you can't comment. Please, do. But do me a favor, OK: be honest with yourselves about the nature of this war and whose army you're in.

Bernadette Nutall's Letter to Superintendent Mike Miles by Patrick Williams


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91 comments
nammer
nammer

The district can't cut funding to schools then fire the principals when the schools don't meet "standards."  Miles's first goal is to decimate the schools of their staff who might resist the changes he wants to make, namely the privatization of DISD through charter and for profit schools. Everyone concerned about DISD should read Jonathan Kozol's book Shame of the Nation.  

randchoy
randchoy

A Big Joke, Nuttall should not even be in office.

SandraGraf
SandraGraf

Townview Science and Engineering is about that size. New Tech High school has less than 300 kids. TAG Magnet is about 250. What's the difference? Madison is a comprehensive high school with mostly African-American students and located in South Dallas.

RJette
RJette

Madison HS is down to around 400 students.  Why is it even kept open?

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

I wonder if Damarcus Offord is neutral on School reform?

SouthDallasCares
SouthDallasCares

Its funny!  Trustee Nutall wasn't doing all this hell raising when they were closing the schools in her district.  This community she is referring to, couldn't get her to come to a meeting to inform them of the schools closing.  I guess she has figured out that Sup. Miles is not on the same agenda as she is about converting public schools to charters.  But my my my!!!  She does know how to grand-stand for the principals who she calls friends. Those sorority sisters have to stick together. 

russell.allison1
russell.allison1

I gotta figure that the advertising budget of a private school in Dallas is about...nothing.  The politicians of Dallas and the DISD itself do more to promote a private education than any full page spread in the Morning News or D Magazine ever could. 

Jessibell
Jessibell

literacy is important; everyone should pick-up their litter.

Jessibell
Jessibell

I'm not saying I'm gifted or anything but I created my own birth certificate with Photoshop.

Jessibell
Jessibell

As long as I get my free birth control pills what difference does it make.

Jessibell
Jessibell

It’s easy to hypnotize chickens.

Jessibell
Jessibell

People must again learn to work instead of living on public assistance.

Jessibell
Jessibell

What difference does it make?

MikeWestEast
MikeWestEast

It is episodes like this one that show that DISD does not have a clue on how to run a large organization. Board members NEVER contact any execs beyond those individuals designated by the CEO. It is black letter law that board members individually have no power or input. Their role is to work as a team and that consensus view guides the CEO. just because you do not like a policy does not mean you violate the rules. It only leads to chaos and that is what DISD represents to the rest of us.

As for the principals, who cares? They work for Miles. They do not work for the Board. If Miles wants to keep, reassign or fire them, that is his prerogative. Given the performance of DISD, the normal expectation is most of them should be booted. No one is a winner on a losing team. DISD is the biggest losing team out there.

Does DISD have anyone that actually ran a large, capable organization? Complex organizations have to be run a certin way. No evidence exists that anyone at DISD has a clue on what that way is. DISD is simply not worth aggravation. We as a city will have to find some other way to succeed without middle class families that have children. Anyone in that demographic will just take one look and say he needs to get his kids out, pronto.

mutedobedience
mutedobedience

Only one thing is puzzling about Nutall's behavior. She was bought with the same PAC money that bought the rest of the board members or the money and influence that keeps all of them silent.

Doesn't she understand that being bought means she keeps her mouth shut?

She ought to take a lesson from craven Cowan. He sleeps through most board meetings. He has an old pcard offender for an ED. Do you see Cowan worrying and making a stink about the fact that his schools are overcrowded and underfunded. Hell no,  doesn't make him lose any sleep. He doesn't make a stink about the huge loss of teachers at Sunset.

Or take Bingham. Failure is the middle name of her schools. Over the years she has allowed the dregs to troop their her schools, has allowed the rest of DISD to just forget Pleasant Grove. Yet she appears on the board with no concerns about the constant shuffle of  principals.

And how about that ED raising cain over in Nutall's area? He had the lowest score on record when faculty rated him at Skyline. He's been a joke brought on us by SIN. 

Even Elizabeth Jones hasn't reached over and slapped Miles out of his seat. We can tell she wants to, but she restrains her inner bitch. Nutall needs to take lessons.

Lew knows he's bought. He plays the role every once in a while of waking up and paying attention, but mostly he just blows in the wind. Lew is the perfect flunky.

Nutall needs to learn how to be a true whore. She has at least 5 perfect role models surrounding her who will roll over any time for anything. They know the mayor and Belo and Mark Melton call the shots. Parents and the community are never on their minds. Students--students don't have money. Students don't own this town.

Bernadette needs to understand that PAC money bought her 24/7, not part time.


EastDallasDad
EastDallasDad

So the only evidence that any of this actually happened is correspondence between Miles and his high level administrators? I'm not saying she did or she didn't but that's pretty flimsy evidence. We already know Miles isn't above using administrators to advance his version of things, just look at the three principals that spoke at  last week's board meeting.

Rumpunch1
Rumpunch1

After Miles's comments at the Townview Open Mike, I feel that he looks at Townview's success with the same distain as Dr. Hinojosa did.  Here is a successful program in the District that they had nothing to do with.  Hinojosa felt that if the approximately 2400 students at Townview were returned to their local high schools they would pull up that school, even if they perform at only 75% of capability.  Basically, educational socialism.  Some of the kids would leave the District, however most cannot.

I feel that Miles is headed down that same road.  To make matters worse, he is pushing his "theories" which are nothing more than resume building in order to land a high paying job at a consulting company once DISD drops him.  If he can make his departure appear based on his refusal to play ball with corrupt politicans, that even helps him more.

bealotcoolerifyoudid
bealotcoolerifyoudid

So if I am grasping the bottom line in the articles and comments concerning DISD over the last few days:

Invest in Pearson and G4S otherwise it's the same as it ever was, same as it ever was, water dissolving...and water removing.

mcdallas
mcdallas topcommenter

Please re-elect Cowan!  Before I go insane here.

bugnot999
bugnot999

I may not have all the information but this transcript paint Nuttall as abusive.

Coercing people not to "align" with Miles isn't helping children nor promote a positive workplace. The fact she could even mention this suggest there is a group of local influentials pushing for Mile's demise. 

When did this become war?

Money, teachers, and home conditions are all factors but ultimately the principle is responsible for a school success or failure. If schools have a history of failing, something must be changed. 

If you want better results, don't protect the status quo.

oakclifftownie
oakclifftownie

If there is as much concern  MS Nutall  claims there is it seems the locals would be doing more Hell raising about the crappy school situation as a whole than just being pissed that Principals  are being shown the door .


Rumpunch1
Rumpunch1

Its hard to pick a side in this fight.  Both are motivated by their own egos and not the children. Maybe they will destroy each other.

Currently, I dislike Miles more than Nutall, however only slightly.  I'm disappointed in Nutall but angry at Miles.  Sups like Miles, who have been on the consultant side of education, generally go back into consulting.  The similarities noted earlier this week between the Principal improvement plan his is pushing and his former company's back me believe that this is just field testing the product.  His relationships with TFA remind me of Hinojosa and Edison.  Dallas is just a stepping stone for Miles.  His flirtation with consulting firms and politics makes me think he has something like Sec of Ed in mind. 

When I found out from my kids that he was trying to change things at their exemplary schools, I became really concerned.  My kids teachers already stayed late.  When he added additional time for meetings, they have to stay even later doing the things they were doing when already staying late.

James080
James080 topcommenter

I wrote several years ago on this blog that the problem with the DISD was that it was managed like a jobs program rather than an educational institution. Plus les choses changent, la chose reste la même.

mdcunningham
mdcunningham

I'm pretty sure I don't like either side in this fight.

Tom434
Tom434

Too bad the DISD isn't under the control of a Federal Judge anymore.  Then everybody could have some real fun down at the Federal Building and with any luck he/she would throw the whole lot of them in jail for contempt

if6were9
if6were9

If all the hippies cut off all their hair/ I don't care, I don't care

PACsnothelping
PACsnothelping

Jim, have you done any investigating on your own into this issue?  Did you attend the last board meeting when many concerned community members spoke out?  Did you speak to any of them afterwards to understand their side of the story?  Bernadette represents her community, not Mike Miles. I'm not saying what she did was right or wrong, but you have to understand that she is listening to her constituents.

And did you happen to listen to the Madison student who questioned why he STILL has no English teacher?  In April?  And that his math teacher has disappeared (very much like the students at Sierra High School in Miles' old district complained about)?

How can these students be expected to score well on the state tests if they do not have teachers, or only have permanent subs for most of the year?  Have you done your journalistic duty and investigated this situation thoroughly?  Don't fall for the party line that the poor scores are as a result of ineffective teachers and principals.  Why hasn't HR provided the principals with candidates to fill those positions?  This happened at Rangel, as well.  A student at SEM asked Miles why he still has substitutes for 2 of his classes 

So, the problem of low scores may not rest with the teachers and principals.  It may rest with the upper administration, who handicaps the schools. Why don't you check into that and see what kind of job the principals are doing, despite the lack of help from the administration. Let's put you in the burlap sack and have you hop to the finish line while everyone else gets to run freely and see how well you do.

ptmoore2012
ptmoore2012

The last two paragraphs of the letter says it all. She needs to be sober when she writes her e-mails.

PrestonHoller
PrestonHoller

Jim:

You say: “But, look, all you DISD people who have been commenting here about what a son of a bitch Miles is and how there's too much pressure on you and so on? You need to know that these emails and letters, simply on the face of them, confirm that this battle is about job protection.

…Nutall clearly has been out there warning mid-level management that certain principals are protected no matter how bad their student achievement scores may be, that this is racial as hell, that keeping those jobs safe is a civil rights issue, and that anybody who obeys Miles and not Nutall will face the wrath of ‘the community.’

I'm not saying you can't comment. Please, do. But do me a favor, OK: be honest with yourselves about the nature of this war and whose army you're in.”

Don’t you understand that there are two different and unrelated issues going on here?

Yes, this brooha with Nutall is probably racially motivated.  But that does NOT have anything to do with the issue about Miles being an SOB and putting too much pressure on teachers.

Any attempted protection of substandard principal by the “the community” simply on the basis of race is wrong.  Plain wrong. 

But just because Miles might be trying to get rid of these infective principals, that is not a reason to excuse the  stupid, lame brain, idiotic  procedures he imposes on teachers.  Nor is it a reason to enlist in his “army” and its associated policies that are driving good teachers out of the District.

Simply put, just because Miles might (and I stress “might”) be on the correct side of one issue, that does not mean he is correct on all issues.

Surely even you can understand that.

DISDTeacher
DISDTeacher

@MikeWestEast You're right and, sadly, the district is fixable.  Miles is just not up to the task.  He hired someone with zero-to-little HR experience to head up HR because the guy is ex-TFA? Does Miles serve DISD or TFA?  Now we have hundreds of permanent subs "teaching" high schoolers. And then he hired a "Special Assistant" or whatever the hell that is--also ex-TFA (who just quit mid-stream, by the way).  Again, DISD or TFA?

And we wonder why everyone smells blood in the water and knows they can outlast him.  

Ditch Miles.  Ditch anyone connected in any way to Broad.  HIre Alan King--he doesn't play race games or TFA/Broad games.  Attract great teachers by fixing working conditions and discipline issues on the campuses.  THEN go after the principals.

tinmre123
tinmre123

@mutedobedience What you don't understand is that PACs don't buy trustees. You think they do because you want a scary story of big business running things, when in reality it's just informed citizens crowd funding people they like over people they don't. I'm sorry life isn't more interesting. 

dalmom
dalmom

@mutedobedience She lost the most schools in her district and she probably conveyed to constituents that they wouldn't suffer further losses. Just a guess. 

And on the overarching theme, Miles' methods are unproven and a waste of resources. All the schools are focusing on are DOL's, LO's and studying the Core Beliefs (ad nauseum). This is a pathetic waste of our teachers' time and all of our tax dollars. Every school that succeeds does so in spite of what is happening at 3700 Ross. Miles is actually figuring out what might work and rather than copying it, is destroying it to dumb the whole group down. Taxpayers and parents....take back your school district!!!!

bealotcoolerifyoudid
bealotcoolerifyoudid

@mutedobedience I kind of doubt Melton calls the shots, repeats directions from above- sure, but don't give him too much credit.

PACsnothelping
PACsnothelping

@Rumpunch1 

Rumpunch, I am glad to hear that you are concerned about what is going on at Townview.  You didn't like it when your son's AP English teacher left due to Miles' micromanagement.  

My question to you is, what are you and the other concerned Townview parents planning to do about this?  Judging from the very low turnout of Townview parents at the Open Mike, board meetings, candidate forums, and other venues, it does not appear that many are informed or perhaps they just don't care. 

When previous superintendents tried to dismantle the magnet system, the outcry from the community was loud, strong, and active.  Even Hinojosa backed off, despite earlier private declarations that he would take apart the magnets.  He didn't just change his mind by happenstance.   He had to bow to the unyielding pressure from the community. 

The Townview community appears castrated.  Their PTSA's had better wake up and see the future which is coming at them.  Anyone who has children in the magnets, or would like to someday, had best get out their poster boards and magic markers. No one else is going to fight this battle for them. And make no mistake, this IS a battle.

meninwhitecoats
meninwhitecoats

@mcdallas Why? So when Miles leaves we can have another just like him? Or so Sunset and WTW can have the fewest teachers for schools their size with, largest class sizes in the state along with the lowest per student spend in DISD? Or more audit findings swept away? Or another magic calendar like this year's? 

DISDTeacher
DISDTeacher

@oakclifftownie Who says the schools are crappy?  The Pearson tests the private schools refuse to give?  Mike Miles?  White people in North Dallas who haven't stepped foot in a school in Nutall's district?  Does anyone have any clue what those schools are dealing with?  No.

I suspect those schools are doing the best they can with the constraints they face from parents, Miles, and Pearson tests that, suspiciously, only middle-income white kids seem to pass.

RobertStinson
RobertStinson

@DISDTeacher I like your idea about addressing working conditions and discipline issues first, but I think DISD is simply too big and too complex for this approach. There is no sense of a shared vision and buy-in among parents, teachers and the Board. It would be much easy to identify and address issues if we broke up DISD into smaller, more manageable-sized school districts. Yes, that would mean separate boards and potentially taxing districts.

EastDallasDad
EastDallasDad

@tinmre123 @mutedobedience Bullshit. Anyone that has looked at the campaign finance reports knows better. The evidence is conclusive that the PACs are buying board members.

DISDTeacher
DISDTeacher

@dalmom @mutedobedience Meanwhile, fights on campuses remain rampant.  Permanent subs "teach" many secondary classes in difficult areas like science and math.  But we all have our worthless DOLs on the boards!

EastDallasDad
EastDallasDad

@bealotcoolerifyoudid  You're right. The real power players in this fiasco don't lower themselves to mingling with the peasants. Melton is just their spokesperson.

mcdallas
mcdallas topcommenter

@DISDTeacher @mcdallas Thanks for the most random response I've ever had to a post.  The only way this could remotely make sense is ... never mind, it doesn't.

DISDTeacher
DISDTeacher

If he can't be in the schools to find out what's really going on and what is really needed, then he should be ignored.

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