Some people point to the hiring of self-described “disruptive” superintendent Mike Miles as the beginning of the most recent wave of education reform in Dallas. Others say it was ushered in by Mike Morath, the software entrepreneur who sold his company for millions then spent four and a half years on the Dallas ISD school board before being appointed commissioner of all of Texas’ schools.
But many believe the real starting point took place before either of those two Mikes arrived on the scene. It happened under another Mike, they say, the once and future superintendent Hinojosa, whose two tenures bookended the other Mikes and who, perhaps unwittingly, tossed the first pebble that rippled into the current reform movement.
Fittingly, it was a decision about teachers — the core of the education system.
In 2009 Wendy Kopp requested a meeting with Hinojosa to discuss the possibility of her organization, Teach for America (TFA), partnering with DISD. The 1990 Highland Park High School valedictorian and Princeton University graduate believed that TFA, in its 20th year of “eliminating educational inequity,” could make a big impact in Dallas.
Hinojosa agreed, bidding for a contract that would place 75 recent college graduates into some of the district’s lowest-performing schools.
Experienced teachers were concerned about bringing in classroom instructors with no college training. Rena Honea, who was then and is still now the president of the Dallas Alliance-AFT teachers association, acknowledged to the Dallas Morning News that the recruits would be “young and highly motivated, but they’re here for two years, and they’re gone.”
Just as Honea predicted, most of the TFA recruits signed two-year contracts and left the teaching profession afterward. But they didn’t actually leave Dallas ISD.
Almost a decade later, these mission-minded college graduates continue to pour into Dallas schools. Roughly 1,000 alums now live in DFW. Even after they fulfill their contracts, TFA charges them to remain active in education, everywhere from the classroom to the boardroom.
Miguel Solis, the TFA recruit quoted by the Dallas Morning News in initial stories about the organization, took this edict seriously. He just started his fifth year as a DISD trustee. And he strongly identifies as an education reformer.