The paper’s story today about the expected naming of Michael Hinojosa as the sole superintendent candidate has a telling quote right at that top from a longtime Skyline parent:
“I’m not excited about it, but at this time that’s the best we can do. He’s a great guy. He seems to want to do the right thing. But don’t tell me; show me.”
Behind the scenes, that’s the prevailing sentiment on Hinojosa. Most people are simply glad Mike Miles is gone, because most people are reflexively lazy, and systemic change is wrenching. Mike Miles shined a light on the failures in the system and asked for accountability. Most people don’t like that.
Hinojosa, however, makes everyone in the room feel good. He is a great cheerleader. I sat with him for nearly an hour a few weeks ago for my next D Magazine column, and I was thoroughly charmed. Great guy, says the right things. One of the funniest complaints about Miles was that he was too much of a politician. Miles was a terrible politician but a tough, focused innovator and education wonk. Hinojosa is a fantastic politician, one who so far has made everyone feel more comfortable.
The question many people have is this: Can Hinojosa continue the heavy behind-the-scenes lifting needed to let important reforms — pre-K expansion, school choice, teacher evaluation — take root? On that, there is a deep sense of skepticism everywhere, from the administration to certain trustees to young minority education activists in southern Dallas to the nonprofit education matrix to the business community. (The teachers with whom I’ve talked are just waiting to see what their next checks are going to look like once their TEI raise, or lack of one, is figured. Spoiler alert: expect much caterwauling.)
I’ve spent three weeks talking to people from each of these groups, and the consensus is this: the board of trustees is taking the path of least resistance, but not without reason. There is value in having a great communicator and cheerleader in the position, especially one as well liked as Hinojosa — so long as he keeps or adds dynamic reform-minded lieutenants under him.
(Sub-point: There is also a diverse coalition of young, reform-minded people who are very angry about the fact the board didn’t even try to go out and find a dynamic, reform-minded superintendent. In fact, they felt such a person might already exist in the district. This will be the group that holds trustees’ and Hinojosa’s feet closest to the fire.)
Most of the gains made under Hinojosa previously were due to a fantastic hire he made in his first go-round as superintendent: his former chief academic officer and deputy superintendent, Denise Collier. Collier’s specialty is curriculum and instruction, and the gains the district made during her tenure were due to many factors, but a large one was her leadership. Just as there is tremendous value in being a great politician, so too is there in retaining and hiring a great staff and letting them do the work. Miles excelled at protecting and emboldening his staff, but his bulldozing style meant they always had extra fires to put out. Eventually, it drained them. If Hinojosa can do the former but mitigate the latter, everyone will be pleasantly surprised. In that sense, Hinojosa’s own high-stakes test begins today.