Kristi Nelson, NBC 5 News
The Dallas ISD communications chief is resigning after a short tenure besieged by controversy. Jennifer Sprague, whose $185,000 salary came under harsh criticism, says she is leaving the district to focus on her family.
After just one rocky semester, the head of communications for the Dallas school district says she is stepping down.
Jennifer Sprague told NBC 5 in an exclusive interview that she needs to focus on family. She said she and her family plan to remain in Dallas.
"Well, Superintendent Mike Miles offered me a great opportunity to come out to Dallas ISD and do some great work and really drive forward the improvements in his improvement plan," she said. "And I accepted the opportunity and moved my family out here from Colorado and just realized over the past couple of weeks -- after some personal reflection time over the holidays -- I just realized that, career-wise, Dallas ISD is not the place for me, and so I look forward to the next chapter of my career."
Dallas Independent School District Superintendent Mike Miles brought Sprague with him from his previous school district in Colorado.
Her hiring sparked controversy from the beginning. Her salary -- $185,000 -- was about $100,000 more than she made in her previous job, and Miles hired her without interviewing any other candidates.
Sprague said she didn't necessarily think her salary would be so controversial.
"I think that I was hired here for the chief of communications position and it's a cabinet-level position," she said. "But most importantly, I agree with some of the ideas of the board as far as 'pay for performance.' I was asked to come to Dallas ISD to implement his -- Superintendent Miles' -- goals and improvement goals, and that consists of a pay-for-performance plan for our teachers and staff, and I am a huge supporter of that and I agree with the system."
At a news conference in June, Miles defended Sprague's appointment and salary by saying that she represented national-level talent and competency.
"I'm not trying to diss the people who have already been here, but we're getting national-level expertise and we're changing the paradigm of communications," he said.
In that same press conference, Miles said: "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 in this room make a story of it if he received the same salary as a communications person in Houston ISD?"
Sprague said in her interview with NBC 5 in her rented Pleasant Grove home this week that, in hindsight, there were things she could have said and done differently in the beginning.
"I think the superintendent would agree and, in many cases, there's always things that we could have done better or said differently," she said.
A board meeting in August fired up her naysayers even more. Sprague was criticized for being unprepared to answer questions from trustees.
Sprague said she kept a "laser-like focus" on what she was hired to do through it all.
"We really focused on internal communications, getting the staff on board with the changes and with the Destination 2020 goals and making sure everybody understood the core beliefs," she said.
Sprague didn't elaborate on how Miles responded to her resignation, but said that if she were not resigning, her job would be safe.
And she said she stands by the superintendent.
"Superintendent Miles is a great leader, and he knows what he's doing, and I back him 100 percent," she said.
Sprague said she is looking forward to the next chapter of her career.
"I, again, made the decision to resign based on my family and based on what's best for my family," she said.
Links to interview excerpts: