Sixteen months into the job, you’ve got some good news: The Dallas Independent School District’s TAAS scores are up over last year’s.
The trend lines are moving in the right direction. In reading, African American students were up by seven points. Hispanic students were up by eight points. Economically disadvantaged students—that’s 72 percent of our district—were up by nine points. But we still have work to do. Statewide, 85 percent of all students passed the tenth-grade test. We had 75 percent passing.
How do you get those numbers up?
We have to keep our teachers focused on their mission: excellence in literacy and computational skills. We have to make that and that alone the mind-set. I think large bureaucracies get lost sometimes trying to do too many things, trying to be all over the field.
You make it sound easy.
Well, let me tell you what I did in December 2000, when I started as superintendent. I passed out the 27 objectives of each TAAS test to every DISD principal. Also, because I’m a competitive person, I passed out a chart of how we had been doing versus the other large urban districts in Texas. And I said, “Here’s our target. Don’t be confused about what we’re expecting.” I wanted the message to be easily understood, and it was. The results speak for themselves. We had 28 low-performing schools when I took the job. We’re down to 10 now.
You recently got a raise, from $294,000 a year to $310,000 a year, making you the highest-paid superintendent in the country. What do you say to perennially underpaid teachers about the gap between your salary and theirs?
There’s no question that we need to pay teachers more. That said, there’s a market out there for superintendents, just as there’s a market for teachers. Districts try to respond to those markets. Many people think my compensation ought to be market-driven—including some teachers. After news of my raise made the papers, I got several nice notes from teachers saying, “We’re glad you’re staying.”
The New York City schools have almost ten times as many students as DISD, yet your New York counterpart’s pay is $65,000 less than yours. How do you explain that?
You never know what has gone on in a district or how size comes into play. The Spring Branch district, near Houston, has only 33,000 students and just hired a superintendent for $250,000. I would observe that Dallas is on its sixth superintendent in less than five years, and that