Now Dallas Business Leaders Are Lining Up Against Mike Miles. But Why?

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Three prominent Dallas business leaders have written a caustic public letter to Dallas ISD Superintendent Mike Miles, taking him to task generally for not conferring with them personally on school reform and specifically for threatening the job of a particular high school principal popular in South Dallas.

Everybody is entitled to an opinion, and all three of the letter-writers -- J. McDonald Williams, Arcilia Acosta and Pettis Norman -- have solid credentials for community involvement. But it's worth reflecting on other baggage they may carry with them into this fight.

In their letter beating up on Miles for pushing too hard on school reform, Williams, Acosta and Norman position themselves as members of Dallas Achieves, a business group put together by establishment political consultant Carol Reed with a goal of winning the coveted Broad Prize, an annual award for the nation's most improved public school district. It was to be won by the year 2010, a goal Dallas Achieves never achieved.

Williams is former chairman and CEO of Trammel Crow Co. and founder of the Foundation for Community Empowerment. Acosta is CEO of Carcon Industries. Norman is president of PNI Industries. All three have long records of community involvement beyond and outside their business interests.

But they do have business interests. Acosta, in particular, is at or near the top of the heap of minority-owned public works contractors who do business with the Dallas Independent School District, as well as the regional transit agency, the city and the airport. Her own corporate web page brags that her company is a general partner in the school district's $1.3 billion building campaign, a joint venture partner in DART's $700 million rail expansion program, program manager in the Fort Worth school district's $600 million building campaign and a joint venture partner in the Dallas Fort Worth Airport's $1.6 billion building campaign.

What's wrong with that? Nothing, nada, zip. They're in business. They do business. But it's worth noting that Acosta's company lives and dies -- mainly it lives very well -- on local politics. This is somebody whose personal livelihood is directly tied to staying right with local elected leaders.

Williams' foundation has done a lot of good in southern Dallas. He takes strong and courageous stands on southern Dallas issues, often making the city's comfortable elite a little less comfortable with the city's long sordid history of neglect. But all of FCE's biggest initiatives, like the rebuilding of the Frazier courts public housing project, depend utterly on support from local elected officials, especially in southern Dallas.

Norman, a former pro footballer who played for the Cowboys and the Chargers in the '60s and '70s, has a long solid track record of constructive involvement in civic issues. But his personal history also includes instances where his public cachet and his business interests seem to have been closely interwoven.

In one of those instances, he was a principal in the so-called SALT Group, accused of using political pressure to wring a contract and a surrender of partial ownership from the company developing the city's Inland Port shipping and warehousing project.

Apparently that involvement is why Norman and Jon Edmonds, a former executive of McDonald's FCE, were subpoenaed to appear two years ago before a federal grand jury investigating the affairs of Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price.

None of this is to say that these three should not speak out on school issues when they feel the need. Again, they all have personal histories on broad over-arching public school improvement efforts going way back. What is a little peculiar about their involvement right now in school reform, however, is their extremely narrow focus on particular district employees.

In this recent letter to Miles, they focus on the job of Madison High School principal Marian Willard, who apparently will be out of a job at the end of the year. Last November, the trio penned an essay for The Dallas Morning News complaining about the termination of school district executive Shirley Ison-Newsome, who enjoyed major political support from black elected leaders and little if any support at all among Hispanic leaders.

Why is the narrow focus now significant? By going to bat for particular employees in the midst of a difficult district-wide campaign of reform, the three surrender the high ground on education issues and look instead like they're responding to sharp yanks of the political chain out there in the community. This may be unfair, but I can't avoid wondering if J. McDonald Williams, Arcilia Acosta and Pettis Norman had to come to the defense of Ison-Newsome and Willard if they wanted to keep their own enterprises afloat in southern Dallas.

At the very least, a small disclaimer would be nice, next time they ride into town beneath the banner of Dallas Achieves and other selfless expressions of civic responsibility. They could put an asterisk on the next letter and maybe have some small type at the bottom saying, "All three of us must depend on the kindness of elected officials."

A previous version of this article had a headline that was written by an Idiot Named Joe.

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And this shit is just like immigration reform.  Nobody wants to admit they like, need, and use Mexican labor.  And at the end of the day, some people don't want to legalize.

No child left behind is a back-hand over the shoulder hat tipping that serves to pretend that Republican politicians give a crap about social justice.  

They just left it all in the hands of a $45,000 a year school teacher, and walked away.  

Republicans have no other plan, and really, since the era of the family is out, you know, child- rearing is really a teacher's problem anyway.  

I'm disgusted with games.  It's a game.  NCLB is a game to say = hey we don't give a shit about you if you're past school age and you're already poor- but if you're the child of a poor person, then we've got a sweet deal for you!  Teacher's going to smarten you up or get fired, and you're going to go on to strike it rich in the lottery of life, ending this cycle and making me, a Republican, look good for my foresight.

Is it acceptable that I raise the question if that is even a reasonably possible feat for nothing but one public entity to achieve in a real human's life over a 12 year span of their lifetime?

It sounds great, like universal healthcare, but at the end of the day, somebody's got to pay for it.

Do we all want games?  Do people really need games?

The only  thing I like about immigration reform is that it is forcing politicians to stop playing games and actually discuss what is going on. 

I can tell you a cycle I see in Dallas ISD.  I had 1/2 my 5th grade students qualify for GT one year.   But they made it to 5th grade without being identified for all those years.  Because the GT teacher doesn't speak Spanish.  

  How about being evaluated constantly in your classroom when you teach in Spanish by people who don't speak Spanish.  Instructional coaches who don't speak Spanish .

You know what , either it doesn't make sense, or someone doesn't care.  But I am nothing but a lowly fish.  What do I know about this world.


I don't give a shit what everyone complains about the testing scores of these schools until the police men eradicate crime from the neighborhoods those kids live in.  I'm sorry but which of us community workers is really supposed to be doing their job here.

And if social equality and safety matter so much to the rich patrons of Dallas, why do police men and teachers make low paying salaries?

And then everyone in society cries out when someone gets shot or a kid fails a test.  The high minds in society go where the money is.  There's never been a question about that.  No confusion about it.  

 If you want crime out, and tests up, pay policemen more.  Pay teachers more. 

You will have geniuses in education and geniuses on the police force.  

But even the geniuses in upper Dallas business sectors forget the food chain and how it all shakes down at the end of the day.  

Mike Miles wants what everyone in this city wants.  To drive through town and not see all the smut.  As if a public school teacher is the only person in this town who can do that.

There's a lot of smut-dwellers that are past school age and will continue to inhabit smut- areas of town for years to come.  

I got one for school district administrators, instead of threatening to fire everybody, offer high salaries for high achieving teachers and let the regular teachers keep their already low punishment salary they already have for getting summer vacation.  Districts will find that intelligent people from all business sectors may suddenly have the "time" to be a school teacher.   You're not going to get a 6 figure lawyer who passed the bar exam with little effort to come "save the town" for $45,000 a year, working twice the hours until summer vacation.  You put the salary equal and any of those higher uppers can save this town.


Number 1 there's parents.  So nobody really believes that ALL of a child's education depends solely on public school.  I hope.  

Number 2.  How come nobody gives a shit about equalizing the social status of all Dallas residents except when it comes to education?   Do people really expect to eliminate poor people?  I don't see the city taking that one very seriously.

 Number 3:  Is the job of a public school teacher to erradicate all of the underachievers from the city?  Is it truly realistic to believe that a public school teacher, someone garnering a salary that is nearly the lowest of all professional salaries in the work force, has some kind of powers stronger than a Jedi that can stop the wheel in the sky from its motion of churning out the endless cycle of social classes?

 I am confused.  Because if that is what administrators really believe a teacher's job is, then they should pay teachers more.  They should pay them like they believe that teachers can do something that no one else in any job sector in society can do- erradicate poverty.  

To assume no kids are born with autism, special needs, etc.  To assume that Jo Blow who works at the grocery bagging position really could have been president if his $45,000 a year teacher would have been doing her job.  Because she should have saved him, damnit.  It was her job to save him from the grocery bagging position.  He was supposed to president of the United States, and she let him down.

Why?  Did she not work 100 hours a week like a 6 figure doctor?  Or what if she did.  What if she believed in Mike Miles and she worked 100 hours a week for $45,000.   How many Joe Blows would she have saved while she neglected her family?

   And answer me this.  What if Joe Blow's personality is that he prefers working in the grocery store anyway?  What if she rescued his intelligence but never appealed to his preferences?  Did she fail him then?  

  And she should have given up her family, her life,- worked the 100 hour weeks- because WHO IN THIS CITY SAYS THAT all people should achieve the same social status in life and this by right of public education?


I'm  going to be out of a job soon; how do I apply for Mike's?


Why is it that when anyone criticizes Miles they are critiqued and attacked but when someone offers their unwavering support (Mayor Mike, or was it Citizen Mike, and Educate Dallas et al.) they're given a free pass? 

Sotiredofitall topcommenter

Vote farming is a hard business and we don't need some outside agitator upsetting the status quo.  Miles must go before he ruins the years of established patronage.


"They surrender the high ground..." great damning with understatement. Actually they brand themselves selfish parochial turds throwing their weight around to feather their nests under the guise of civic-mindedness.


Are the initials JWP involved somewhere in this?


Jim:  You are probably correct in what you claim is the motivation for these three businessmen penning this letter. 

But you don’t know what you are talking about when you criticize Williams’ performance.  Learn some facts.  Marian Williams, principal at Madison, is NOT underperforming when one considers the demographics of Madison.  Check this out:

 Here’s a few quotes:

  “Principal Marian Willard and The Great James Madison High School made astounding gains in Texas successful public college transition rates over the last year in data recently compiled by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. Willard’s senior class of 2011 increased their successful college transition rates by almost 30% over the class of 2010, beating out Peak Preparatory, a nationally known charter school.  As a result of this improvement in true college readiness, Principal Marian Willard has been targeted for termination by Dallas Superintendent Mike Miles. Peak Preparatory’s former Director has been promoted in a position of training principals at the Teaching Trust at SMU.”

“But back to the data and Willard. Grigsby repeats Jim Schutze’s error in comparing Madison’s SAT scores to the state average. Apparently Grigsby and Schutze need an introductory course in education reporting and the AEIS data system used in Texas.”

“Poverty is the most consistent correlation to low standardized test scores, and the predictive ability of the SAT falls as the student population being tested becomes poorer.Grigsby and Schutze, in their fervor to prove their points, missed the demographic AEIS campus match to Madison High School supplied by TEA. If the state of Texas were as poor as the students served by Madison High School, we would be a third world country. The demographics of Texas students don’t match Madison, butMadison’s scores are in line with its demographic peer group.Schutze’s cheap shot at Willard by comparing Madison High School to the state average isn’t just inaccurate. It is character assassination of Willard and her students.”

“Growth on the PSAT and SAT from time a freshman enters high school to a final SAT score is typically around 80 points in Dallas high schools. SEM and TAG have growth rates of around 120 points.

Marian Willard’s leadership at Madison puts her right in the norm for PSAT and then SAT growth at her high school. Willard is getting the same gains on SAT scores from the time ninth graders enter her campus as her peer high schools.

Schutze has already been apprised of this. Grigsby would have learned more from reader response to Schutze than from Schutze’s article. Schutze’s responses to accurate information were snarky, sophomoric hysterics.”


Must be related to the fact that we haven't had the obligatory new DISD superintendent billion dollar bond election yet.

primi_timpano topcommenter

That is one poorly written, headache inducing letter. It leaves me wondering about a few things. First, why did the triumvirate not employ or find a more gifted writer. Second, does the triumvirate think as murkily as it writes. Third, why did they not present their list of grievances to the board in an open meeting?  And last, since the triumvirate has done such an outstanding job improving DISD, why are any changes needed? And really last, if these Dallas Achievers are so adept at improving student achievement, why were they not appointed superintendent?


Point of clarification--Arcilia Acosta is a female.

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

Wow, that letter is all over the place, lacks cohesion, a clear thesis and a clear statement of objectives that this group expects to accomplish.

Of course between the lines it says, "Back off Mike or you are toast."

How anyone can stand up with a straight face and support a principal who by all reported metrics appears to be nonperforming is beyond me.

With respect to the Ms. Nutall "blessing" because this is "her district", this is absolute nonsense.  It is "my" independent school district and I not only expect, but demand, that the entire board of trustees act in a manner to ensure that the goal of educating children is achieved, which is not only their job, but their duty and obligation.

PS: Find out who approves the DISD contracts that are let to these people and you will find out what the source of the problem is.


Equity!  If there is unapproved change they will lose their cut.


a whole page of the letter appears to be missing from the link you provide

Myrna.Minkoff-Katz topcommenter

So, it seems that this unholy triumvirate is deeply distressed by any wisp of change or reform that would offer a challenge to their cash cow, the DISD.  The results are in, and their "community involvement" in school improvement has been a disastrous failure.

primi_timpano topcommenter


30% improvement in one year?  I have found that when something sounds too good to be true, it usually isn't.  I find it hard to believe that all of a sudden the 2011 class is 30% better than the 2010 class.  I would lok real hard at how those numbers were compiled because they look impossible.

JimSX topcommenter


It takes a lot a lot of flim-flam to cover up your real message when your real message is, "Don't mess with our friends."

JimSX topcommenter


we say above, "... her own website."



You need to take a closer look at "all reported metrics". Things at Madison aren't all good, but they aren't all bad either. Miles wants to make everything look as shitty as humanly possible so he can be the Superman that saves DISD.

everlastingphelps topcommenter

@ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul "How anyone can stand up with a straight face and support a principal who by all reported metrics appears to be nonperforming is beyond me."

 Here's a hint -- it has to do with the color of her skin and that of her supporters. 

JimSX topcommenter


You sure? I'm seeing all of whatever it is, five or six pages.

JimSX topcommenter

@citygirl @JimSX 

Good point. And Don Williams is not a Southern Dallas businessman.

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