Dallas voters are going to the polls to elect a school board member in District 8, which includes the Love Field area and parts of central and northwest Dallas. KERA’s Bill Zeeble reports the choice could affect the future of Superintendent Mike Miles.
Earlier this month, three Dallas school board members voted to oust Superintendent Miles while five decided to keep but punish him. Now, a new trustee will weigh in. The choice is between Kristi Lara, who is 36 with a Master’s Degree in Education, and 27 year-old Miguel Solis, who also has a Master’s in Education.
Solis taught school in Dallas with Teach for America before pursuing graduate school. He also briefly worked for Miles as the superintendent's special assistant, but says that won’t make him a Miles “yes man.”
“When Superintendent Miles hired me, he held me accountable to the job he hired me to do," says Solis. "Superintendent Miles can expect the same from me. I’ll hold him accountable. And I’ll do it objectively and as an independent voice. I think it’s every employee’s dream to be their boss’s boss.”
Solis says he would have needed information available only to trustees before deciding on the superintendent’s future. So he doesn’t’ know how he would have voted on the dismissal question. But he likes the path Miles has defined.
“I think where he wants to take the district is where we need to go," says Solis. "It builds on the past ten years of reform we’ve seen. But on other hand, if I become a trustee it’s critical I remain independent. I pledge to do that.”
Lara has been a community activist and volunteer for at-risk kids. She says if she’d been the trustee, she might’ve voted to dismiss Miles. She considered teacher concerns about his top-down management style, and evidence in the Coggins report.
“Almost every parent I’ve spoken to is frustrated," said Lara. "Frustration because if the teachers are feeling unbound, then we need to address that because the parents are then going to be aware of that and the students are going to be affected by that. We need to make sure that that friction, that - quite frankly, mistrust - is resolved.”
Both candidates say they want to put top teachers in front of every child.
Solis would combine his classroom experience with recommendations from Miles to reach that goal.
“I would want to work with other trustees to identify areas that we can work on, policy that would improve professional development," said Solis. "But then I also want to work hand in hand with the superintendent to make sure our teachers are supported. I also want to make sure we know who our excellent educators are so that way we can continue to grow them as educators.”
Lara is concerned for those teachers not necessarily deemed excellent by the superintendent.
“Many teachers are struggling every day to provide a quality education and they’re doing an amazing job," said Lara. "What we can do is focus on what works. I think what does work is one-on-one education. We know that lowering the teacher-to-student ratio is imperative to success.”
Some Dallas classrooms grew in size and some excellent schools were closed following state education cuts. Lara says she would’ve fought to prevent the closures if she were on the board. She also believes better communication among trustees, the superintendent and teachers is imperative.
“The primary reason I would sit in that seat is to help encourage more collaboration," said Lara, "more community outreach. There are difficult decisions we have to make in our communities, but it’s important we make them together. And that people don’t feel left out of the process.”
Lara has the support of the district’s largest teacher organization. Solis meanwhile is backed by several PACs and the former District 8 trustee Adam Medrano, among other elected officials.