Was TEA boss squeezed out?
Dr. Shirley Neeley, the former superintendent of schools in Galena Park who Gov. Rick Perry named the Texas Commissioner of Education in early 2004, left that job July 1, after learning in mid-June that Perry wouldn't re-appoint her.
It started better. On Jan. 12, 2004, Perry called her "a results-driven educator (whose) focus on high standards and classroom excellence, her refusal to accept the status quo or conventional wisdom, and her proven track record of success make her the ideal Texan to lead the Texas Education Agency."
At the end, "The Governor felt that it was the appropriate time for new leadership and a new energy at the Texas Education Agency," said Perry spokesman Robert Black. "Over the last few years, he has been disappointed in the agency's lack of action to deal with the accusations of cheating in our public schools. He looks forward to bringing in someone who will take decisive action to deal with this issue and be willing to work hard to take education in Texas to the next level."
Neeley, the first woman to head the TEA, took her ouster like a - well, philosophically.
"I can compare my situation to that of a superintendent when a school board decides to take no action or not extend their contract," she wrote in a letter to TEA employees. "Anyway you look at it, the message is clear: when it is time to go, it is time to go."
Although evidence of widespread cheating on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills test, known as TAKS, may have been a big part of it, some think Neeley had tired of cheerleading for Perry. And there was tension with her deputy commissioner, Robert Scott, who served as interim commissioner before she arrived and now since she's gone.
Neeley had overseen impressive improvement in student test scores during her tenure at Galena Park, despite its lower middle-class status. She had been appointed by Perry in early 2004 to succeed Dr. Felipe Alanis. His tenure of just over a year as Texas Education Commissioner had ended on July 31, 2003. When Alanis left, Perry sent over his staff education adviser, Robert Scott, to temporarily head the agency.
Scott, 38, was no stranger to TEA. He was there from November of 1994, following a stint on the Washington staff of U.S. Rep. Gene Green, D-Houston, until early 2001.
Wizened viewers say Neeley made a mistake in not claiming more power at the outset. Agency employees had been reporting to Interim Commissioner Scott, who reported to the governor. Neeley agreed to keep that arrangement - becoming, in essence, a figurehead.
An occurrence in mid-2005 may help explain why Neeley began to assert herself. Perry invited her to a press conference. During it, he unveiled an executive order that 65 percent of state money for schools be spent in the classroom.
It was the first she'd heard of it. She was blindsided. She had no part in developing it, but was left, flat-footed, to try to explain and defend it to the state's superintendents and principals.
It was then, observers say, she began to regain her voice. A seasoned administrator as a superintendent, she began to assert herself more in policy. She decided her loyalty wasn't to the governor's politics, but to superintendents, principals, teachers.
Although as recently as the end of May Neeley told a reporter that because her reappointment hadn't come up all through the spring legislative session, she was confident of re-appointment. She was wrong.
Neeley, 59, wrote on the TEA website that she revisited priorities after her melanoma returned May 24, after 22 years free of cancer.
"We need to remind ourselves what's really important in life," Neeley said: husband Bill, her 80-year-old mother, three precious grandsons, daughter, son-in-law- and time to ride Harleys, continue ranching, travel and cross-stitch.
Adios, TEA. Reach McNeely at firstname.lastname@example.org or (512) 323-0248.