This post pains my heart. You see, D Magazine is partnering with DISD to put on The Big Read — a partnership that was tricky to establish, in part, because of this critical story I wrote about Superintendent Mike Miles and his pricey communications chief, Jennifer Sprague. The Big Read will be a huge success, I can say with confidence, because from our side the effort is being led by the indefatigable, unflappable Krista Nightengale. Still, though, life would be much easier if we just moved on and forgot about this whole “power words” foolishness at DISD. And yet …
It looks to me like Sprague has once again given us all occasion to question whether she is up to the job that Miles has given her. I’ve been through the same Merrie Spaeth training that Sprague and certain other DISD brass recently went through. I found it immensely helpful. Of course, I’m an editor for a midsize city magazine. Which is to say, I tend toward hermitism. Most of the communicating I do is with a keyboard. Spaeth tried to teach me how better to stare into a TV camera and answer difficult questions. (Please don’t hold my past and future performances against her; I’m clearly a horrible student.) Sprague, on the other hand, is the head communications person for the second-largest employer in Dallas. One would at least hope that her training with Spaeth was a few levels above mine.
That hope, though, is hard to maintain when we are presented with this pamphlet of talking points that Sprague distributed to principals and vice principals around the district. From the looks of things, Sprague’s takeaway was that district leaders need to memorize some zingers. Okay, I’m not being charitable. I’m sure Sprague got more out of her Spaeth training than that. But even so, a competent communications executive working for a large public institution would surely foresee how such a buzzword-promoting pamphlet would be received. Right?
I asked Merrie Spaeth about the matter. She says that Sprague “adapted some of our methodology and used it in a way that it was not intended to be used. I’ve asked her not to do that again.”
Let’s hope this lesson sticks. And I look forward to a hugely successful Big Read.