A screenshot of footage from Mike Miles’s musical about himself.After two days of disorganization and a visit from the fire marshal in response to over-capacity training sessions at NRG Stadium, Houston ISD teachers had to watch an hour-long musical performance about state-appointed superintendent Mike Miles on Wednesday.
Miles starred in the show. He played the role of a diner owner, who mentored students in a town with an “antiquated” public school system facing reforms from a new superintendent.
After the performance, rising senior Comfort Azagidi posted to social media that students who participated in the musical were “tricked.”
In an interview on Friday, Azagidi said they didn’t realize that the performance was intended to justify Miles’ sweeping reform agenda until the second day of rehearsals.
“We would get to the school, and we’d be like, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore,’ because at this point we were like, ‘This is full propaganda,'” Azagidi said. “We don’t really support this, but out of courtesy, we can’t really drop out because we were promised service hours for being in this.”
The show poked fun at reporters, who were portrayed as asking bad-faith questions about playgrounds. The scene was an apparent reference to concerns about Miles’ plan to remove librarians and convert school libraries into areas used for “differentiated learning” and discipline.
Azagidi played one of the reporters. They remember getting to that part of the script in a rehearsal.
“I was actually sitting next to my friend when we read that scene,” they said. “Right when we got to it, I kid you not, we both looked at each other with the meanest side eye … We were looking at each other like, ‘this can’t be serious.'”
In response to a request for comment, a Houston ISD spokesperson pointed to Miles’ comments at a press conference on Thursday, when he described the musical as “great.” He argued that most of the district’s approximately 11,000 teachers enjoyed the performance — even as multiple educators and union president Jackie Anderson, with the 6,000-member Houston Federation of Teachers, blasted the show as “a colossal flop.”
“Some people always want to bring down something that’s great,” Miles argued, pushing back against “naysayers” who criticized the performance.
“It’s a disservice to the students who were here, the teachers that worked hard, the staff that worked hard to put on a convocation in five weeks,” he continued. “It was great — something that HISD hasn’t seen before, at least not at this level.”
For Azagidi, the show created cognitive dissonance. Since Miles was appointed by the Texas Education Agency in June, he has insisted that reformed schools wouldn’t lose access to the fine arts. He’s pointed to the district’s “Dyad Program” — where non-certified, hourly contractors lead supplemental activities — as evidence that those schools will actually have more arts instruction. He also enacted a new payscale in reformed schools that has fine arts educators earning up to $15,000 less than other teachers.
“I think, personally, that’s really unfair to be like, ‘Oh, we’re gonna pay teachers who have a direct impact on STAAR scores more than the other teachers,'” Azagidi said. “Everybody is working to the same goal, whether it’s in academics or the arts. I feel like everybody should be getting the same compensation.”