June 13, 2004
Shirley Miles shuns the sidelines.
The new superintendent of the Tempe Union High School District climbs rocks, crosscountry skis, kayaks, rides motorcycles, hikes and studies martial arts.
She also has run marathons, earned a doctorate in curriculum and instruction from the University of Denver, raised money for the American Cancer Society, is a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, worked 10 years in private business and danced five years in a professional company.
"I don’t like to sit on the sidelines. I like to do," said Miles, a 48-year-old single mother of two who will start her position in Tempe about July 1.
She said her sons, 18 and 20, are responsible for many of the activities she has tried.
"To stay with them and participate in their lives, I had to do a lot of things," Miles said.
Miles has also welcomed challenges as a Colorado educator.
She took her first principal position 10 years ago at Thomas Jefferson High School in Denver, where enrollment had dwindled to 800, attendance and test scores were below average, more than 300 students read below a third-grade level and teachers were on strike.
Miles went to work — and soon, so did the students, teachers and parents.
Before long, the school had the highest attendance and graduation rates in Denver. Test scores also shot up after Miles launched a literacy program and then told her students she would shave her head if test scores climbed more than 5 percent.
Miles said she did not think the goal was attainable, but the students worked hard and surprised her. "I have hair that grows like a Chia pet, so it didn’t really bother me to have my head shaved," she said.
By the time Miles took a position in 1998 as director of human resources at Academy District 20 in Colorado Springs, enrollment at Thomas Jefferson had reached 1,200 students.
"It was a wonderful place to be for my first principalship," she said.
Now, Miles has turned her attention to Tempe.
From her home in Colorado Springs, which she still has on the market, Miles is poring over Tempe Union’s budget and technology plan and mapping out her first 100 days as superintendent.
Her colleagues in Colorado Springs said Tempe families will soon see the results.
"She is probably the most outstanding person and boss anybody could have to work with and for," said Maridon Harris, Miles’ assistant in Academy District
Miles, who was born into a military family in Panama, grew up at various locations until her father settled at Fort Carson near Colorado Springs when Miles was about 13.
She participated in gymnastics as a child, which led to a career as a dancer after high school. After a career-ending knee injury, Miles enrolled in business school at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.
She said the business skills she learned have helped her as an administrator and in other pursuits, including her brother’s campaign for the U.S. Senate in Colorado. Mike Miles is the Democratic frontrunner to replace retiring Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, R-Colo.
"My business background has helped me in every position because budgets are a major part of our lives," Shirley Miles said.