Saturday, December 22, 2012

Dallas ISD communications chief Jennifer Sprague to resign, district ...

Dallas ISD communications chief Jennifer Sprague plans to resign, according to district officials.

As of Friday afternoon, Sprague had not turned in her resignation notice but district officials were preparing to officially announce her exit next week. It?s not clear whether Sprague will receive severance pay.

Superintendent Mike Miles made Sprague one of his first hires soon after he was named superintendent last spring. She came from the Harrison School District in Colorado Springs, Colo., where she worked with Miles for five years as his top communications person. The 31-year-old Sprague became one of his most trusted advisors and biggest defender.

Sprague didn?t return a voicemail message seeking comment. On Thursday, she wrote on Twitter, ?Ready for a the holiday break for some personal reflection time.?

Sprague joined Dallas ISD in June and immediately faced public criticism for her $182,000 annual salary, which was $100,000 more than she made in Colorado. Some trustees worried that Miles wasted political capital on hiring her and paid her too much.

But Miles fiercely defended her at the time, saying that she was among the most qualified school communication people in the country. Miles said her salary was warranted because of her good record and numerous awards, including recognition from the National School Public Relations Association.

?If Jennifer Sprague were an ugly, slightly older male with 20 years of experience who had won all these national awards, would any of you make a story of it if he received the same salary?? Miles asked. ?The answer would be no. It wouldn?t have been as nice of a story.?

He added: ?We?re going to do communications differently. Most people in the community will agree that our communications have to be better.?

During the summer, Sprague reorganized the communications department, dismissed some employees and expanded the district?s emphasis on parent participation. At last week?s board briefing, Sprague told trustees about the district?s efforts to increase parental involvement and volunteerism.

Her exit marks the second member of Miles? cabinet to resign in recent months, leaving several vacancies. Respected administrator Alan King, who served as Miles? chief of staff, resigned suddenly in October. The district now has openings for chief of staff, chief financial officer, chief technology officer and chief communications officer.

The first months of Sprague?s tenure in Dallas ISD were rocky. She battled criticism over her salary, and some trustees were baffled by her first presentation to the school board in August when she didn?t know some basic information about a back-to-school proposal.

But Miles remained loyal to her.

When Miles spoke publicly, Sprague was usually near him. Miles depended on her to help communicate his reform efforts to the public and DISD employees. Miles has said that his ambitious overhaul plans will fail without effective communication.

Under her leadership, Miles starred in short YouTube videos where he explained new decisions and changes. He responded to questions from staff members in bi-monthly newsletters. She and Miles held townhall meetings with employees.

Over the past couple of weeks, Miles has faced his most serious criticism yet. A draft internal audit, obtained by The Dallas Morning News, found that Miles and other senior managers broke various rules and policies in building a team of administrators to carry out Miles? ambitious district improvement plan. It also found that Sprague was offered a job in Dallas ISD before her position was formally created.

Miles has denied any wrongdoing and issued a biting response to the auditor?s findings. Sprague stood near Miles at a news conference Wednesday when he called the audit ?a witch hunt and an ambush.?

Afterward, some trustees questioned why Miles held the news conference when the audit wasn?t finalized. Board president Lew Blackburn said that if he had known about the news conference beforehand, he would have advised Miles to scrap it.

But in recent days, Sprague didn?t join Miles in public. She didn?t attend Thursday night?s board meeting. Miles came alone to meet with the News editorial board Thursday, a first without Sprague. At the meeting, a contrite Miles broke from his defiant tone and said he made mistakes in building his administrative staff.

He acknowledged he might have paid too much money to his cabinet members, who earn between $182,000 and $220,000. And Miles conceded that he should have interviewed more than just Sprague for the top communications job.


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