The University of North Texas Health Science Center is the recipient of a $10 million federal research endowment to study the health disparities impacting ethnic, racial, rural, and economically disadvantaged populations in the U.S. The National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities awards the endowments, which are paid over five years. UNTHSC is one of just two institutions nationally to get it. The endowment was put in place in 2001 by Congress to help out institutions committed to disparities research. The money goes toward scientists and students rather than the research projects themselves. Fort Worth-based UNTHSC lists its priorities… Full Story
Craig Miller became the DISD police chief more than six years ago, after 30 years with the Dallas Police Department. I worked with him when he was still with DPD and I was still with the City Attorney’s Office. When I received a call from a DISD teacher concerned about safety measures in her secondary school following the tragic shooting in Parkland, Florida, I checked in with him to find out how the DISD Police Department is responding. The interview has been edited for clarity and length.
I don’t know much about the DISD Police Department. How does it work? We’re the second largest school district police department in Texas. If you had 1,100 police chiefs in Texas, roughly 180 of those are going to be school district police departments. In the state of Texas, 90 percent of all police agencies have less than 30 people on the department. We’re up around 200 people in our department. If you put things in perspective, not just compared to school police departments, we’re in the top 5 percent of the largest police agencies in the state.
Who does your department report to? I think, for me, one of the things that’s important to the school district is that our police department actually works for the superintendent of schools. When you’re an SRO [School Resource Officer] for a municipal police department, you’re actually still working for your police department. If you’re in Richardson, Plano, Garland, Mesquite—they have SROs that work in schools, but those SROs are still assigned as employees to their police departments. Me and the guys that work for me are actually employees of Dallas ISD. I think for that reason, we have a responsibility to work with the campuses and the administrators because we’re all on the same team.
How do individual schools develop safety plans? I think when things like Florida happen, I think all of us feel the sorrow for the people experiencing the problem. Then we realize how important it is that we have a plan and we know what we’re going to do in the event something should happen. The emergency management function for the school district falls under the police department. We’re responsible for the safety plans that the campuses get, the Campus Emergency Operations Plan or CEOP. We work with them in the fall. In doing that, there’s a part that deals with active shooters, and the expectation is that every school in the district, in the first two weeks of school, will do an active shooter lockdown situation. We kind of start the school year off with that because we have a lot of principals that change here. Each new school year brings about new challenges for each of the campuses. Emergency management folks work with them on their plans.
Are the drills only done once a year? In the fall, the state of Texas requires that you do one type of drill. Dallas ISD does two drills. One is a lockdown drill, and then another type of drill. That doesn’t include a fire drills, which they do all the time. Then in the springtime we do, once again, two more drills. Those include the weather, shelter in place drills for the storms that come through Texas. I feel like we’re prepared that way. I just think anytime something like this happens, it’s a shock. There’s always outrage. How could this happen? I think it’s just a reminder to us of how important our function is here.
What do you think that DISD is getting right in terms of student safety? I think physical security is really important. I think two years from now, there’ll be a question when the civil lawsuits come out in the case in Florida about how did this person get onto the campus and get into the school to pull their alarm and then get back out? With many doors on our schools, I think it’s really important that we harden our facilities. Since most of our resources are placed at the secondary campuses, the middle schools and the high schools, I think it’s really important that we provide the elementary schools with things to make their lives easier. That really came about after Sandy Hook happened, and we were given $2 million. With that $2 million we were able to do some real enhancements in physical security. When you go up to the school, you’re greeted by a buzzer that has a camera. You talk to the buzzer. Then we made sure the portables all have the doors that have the peephole in them where a teacher can actually be 7 feet away from the door and see who’s knocking on their door. Previously, they didn’t know who was knocking.
Card access is something that we’ve really rolled out following Sandy Hook, and then we have crazy cool, intricate camera systems in our secondary schools and middle schools and high schools. We didn’t, at that time, have so much camera coverage in any of the elementary schools. Today, we have camera systems in all the schools in the district. I really think that’s something DISD is really getting right.
I heard from one DISD teacher who said she was concerned that her school has a secure front door, but there were a number of side access doors that were never locked. On several occasions, she had discovered former students and other individuals roaming the halls without authorization. She felt that her administrators weren’t taking the issue seriously. If teachers are seeing a failure in security on campus, how is that best handled? I think that the mantra going across the country right now is “See something, say something.” I personally take it another level and I say, “See something, say something, do something.” If you’re a teacher and you are aware that other teachers are leaving doors open, or there’s access points where an intruder could come in and violate your safety, it’s your responsibility to report that to your campus administrator and have them work with our emergency management folks. If you are at a school that’s a secondary school and you have a police officer or security on that campus, you can actually reach out to the police officer who’s on campus and say, “Hey, I’m noticing this, what do you think?” I think a lot of the times, if you really get into that “do something” part of the phrase—don’t sit there if you know there’s a problem. We can’t fix it unless you let us know.
Part of the problem with the shooting in Parkland appears to be the fact that the local police department, and even the FBI, had received prior complaints about the shooter, but that information was not followed up on or communicated to the school. Do you feel that you have a good line of communication with DPD and federal authorities? I tell you what I feel comfortable with, Kathy, is the fact that with 158,000 kids—and I have no idea if 100,000 of them are on social media or what the number is—it’s impossible for us to monitor every kid’s social media site. I think that gets back once again to that “See something, say something, do something.” When it’s brought to our attention that a student has made a threat, similar to what happened in Florida, I do believe that we do a very good job of vetting those complaints, those concerns. It’s an ongoing thing, where one parent will have heard from another parent who heard it from a parent that a child said they were going to do this. It’s incumbent upon us to be able to review those things. You and I, being from the city, have a great relationship with DPD. And the ability to reach out to the North Central Texas Fusion Center, gives us an asset being here in a large city, that a lot of places may not have. If we think there’s a threat, if we determine that there’s a level of credibility and it indeed rises to that level, we have the ability to reach out to the Fusion Center, which is an incredible intelligence source and can help us out. I feel real comfortable that when threats are brought to our attention, that we act on those threats and do everything we can to vet them and to ensure whether or not they’re legitimate.
The teacher I talked with was also concerned that metal detectors weren’t being used appropriately at her school, and that while students walked through them, their bags weren’t being searched. Do you think they are an effective tool? I think that metal detectors are something that there’s a lot of debate about. The Houston ISD’s larger than us, and they don’t use metal detectors. They use wands. I think that’s one of the things, moving forward, is doing random spot checks with wands, might be more effective. Our district’s stand is still to use metal detectors in the secondary schools and that’s what we do. Are they successful or not? I know that we don’t get weapons as they come through metal detectors. I know that we had a situation a couple years ago, a student did come through a metal detector and inadvertently shot himself in the leg. That tells me right there that they can get on the campuses. That’s the way it is. I think that it’s just incumbent upon us to stay vigilant, and when a kid says they think there’s another student with a gun, or when anything comes to our attention that we think there might be a gun, that we investigate each of those. I think that’s the beauty of us.
What’s your approach to potentially violent students? I can tell you something that the DISD is doing, I think, that’s really out of the box. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the term “restorative justice“? In our situation, a lot of times, a student, possibly like the one in Florida, might have been intercepted after having 36 calls to the police. Having his own history, he might have been interjected here into a restorative justice type of program. In doing that, he would have been surrounded in this circle, and had a chance to really vent and say the things that were going on, or the concerns, or thoughts that he had. In our scenario, a Dallas ISD police officer would have been a part of that restorative team. I think that’s trying to foster kids to come forward and tell campus officers. If you’re aware of something, let your campus officer know. I don’t know if they were doing this in Florida, and I don’t pretend to, but I know that in our district we’re moving forward with that restorative justice program.
How has DISD historically handled it when kids have brought weapons into schools? Our goal as police officers in schools is not to criminalize children. I always want to work with a kid. If it’s just a failed threat, and they don’t actually have a weapon, that doesn’t mean that we wouldn’t arrest them, but I think it’s our intent to try and find out what the problem is. A couple years ago, we had the clown threats and we had a lot of stuff going on. We had kids that weren’t in school and people were concerned, and we handled that in the appropriate way. I do think that we investigate those crimes that we feel are appropriate to be investigated. And if they need to be criminalized in our school district police department, I’ve got the exact same arrest capabilities I have right now as a DISD police officer as I did when I was a Dallas police officer—no more, no less. Being school employees, our goal is to try and work with these kids and not give them a criminal record, but if someone does something that warrants being interjected into the criminal system, we’ll certainly do that.
I read a Dallas Morning Newsinterview with you, I think it was several years ago, where you were talking about the training that the officers go through for school shootings. You mentioned that, down the road, you wanted to see teachers receive active shooting training, but at the time I think it wasn’t an option or wasn’t a priority. Is that something that’s happening now? Well, I don’t think it’s not a priority. I just think that we’ve still not really evolved to where we have teachers engaged in that. I think a part of that problem is the fact that schoolteachers are what I refer to as 187-day employees. They’re off in the summer, and they’re off on the breaks. When the teachers are off in the summer and off on the breaks is when our police officers really have an opportunity to train them. We’ve not been able to marry up those two to where we can get teachers involved in our active shooter training. They get introduced to active shooters and what to do through the Campus Emergency Operation Plans.
When school shootings like the one in Parkland happen, does it prompt any sort of internal analysis? Unfortunately, in our world, to be honest with you, Kathy, major events are what prompts major change. Look what happened after Columbine. Police officers learned, as a result of Columbine, that we really don’t have the opportunity to wait for backup in some instances. Even with lesser resources, we’re going to have to handle that. Then you look at what happened in Virginia Tech, and the Clery Act that was basically introduced about that time, and how it’s enhanced today where you can notify 50,000 students at the University of Texas that there’s a problem. Then Sandy Hook prompted the changes that we made to physical security. One of the very first things we did that didn’t cost very much money at all was to put that peepholes in the doors of 1,500 portables. It’s as big as a silver dollar on the inside, and it looks like a peephole on the outside. And then we put the cameras in all of the elementary schools. We started card access, and we put what I call the buzzer intercom systems, some people refer to it as the 8-ball system, at the front of the school where you push the button and then you talk and you’re on a camera. We did all of those. Look at what’s taken place with Dallas PD following the shooting there—the officers getting millions of dollars to get Kevlar helmets, to get Kevlar vests. Sensational events prompt sensational things.
The Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center School of Pharmacy will move all four years of its program to Dallas-Fort Worth. The area has been home to years three and four since 1999, including partnering with 240 hospitals, clinics, and pharmacies. But students have traditionally had to move to Amarillo, Abilene, or Lubbock for their first two years. About half of the program’s enrollment comes from DFW and surrounding areas, but TTUHSC President Tedd Mitchell said in a statement that qualified candidates have been left on the table due to their inability to relocate. “So bringing all four years of… Full Story
Parkland is creating highly-skilled nurses fit specifically for the world of correctional health with a 12-week course the hospital says is the only one like it in the country. The Correctional Health Nursing Residency program, offered through Parkland’s Clinical Education department, combines classroom instruction and clinical experience with a mentor. It’s offered twice a year and trains nurses on the full spectrum of correctional health, from juvenile services to psychiatric services. Parkland took over healthcare for inmates at the Dallas County Jail in 2006. Dallas County Sheriffs Deputies are always on hand when patients are being treated, and very few… Full Story
Dallas Police Targets Home or Business Owners Who Tolerate Crime. Yesterday, the City Council passed a “nuisance abatement” ordinance, which lets Chief U. Renee Hall pinpoint properties that tolerate crime and focus on the owners. City officials can now put up a sign on these properties and mark them as “habitual criminal activity” sites. Anyone who removes the signs without approval will be committing an offense, but owners who fix up the property can get the sign taken down.
Developers Want to Save Part of the Old Dallas ISD’s Headquarters. Leon Capital Group is spending more than $9 million on DISD’s former Ross Avenue headquarters. It plans to build an apartment complex on the block at Ross and Washington with 380 rental units and a six-level parking garage. The space includes the existing central building of the DISD headquarters.
Dallas Firefighter May Be Charged with Intoxication Manslaughter. An off-duty firefighter, who was suspected of driving drunk in Cedar Hill yesterday, crashed into an 18-year-old woman and her unborn baby, who were killed in the crash. He rear-ended the woman, Alyssa Pimentel, who was ejected by the impact. The firefighter, Horace Shaw III, was booked into the Dallas County Jail and faces a count of intoxication manslaughter.
Hazing Gets TCU Fraternity Suspended. The Epsilon Beta chapter of Delta Tau Delta was suspended due to allegations of hazing. Details of the hazing are unclear, as is whether a police investigation is underway. “This chapter, including its leadership, willfully violated not only the fraternity’s risk management policy but also our stated values. Hazing is an aberration to those values,” said Jim Russell, executive vice president of the fraternity’s national chapter.
Earlier this month, UT-Arlington philosophy professor Keith Burgess-Jackson posed a question on his blog: “What’s the big deal about a 32-year-old man courting a 14-year-old girl?”
Burgess-Jackson’s take on the age of consent and changing cultural norms—he notes that his grandmother was 15 when she married a 41-year-old man—comes in response to sexual abuse allegations made against Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore. The Nov. 11 blog post seems to have gone mostly unnoticed until this morning, when it was quoted in a Federalist column arguing that Alabama voters should support Moore even if the accusations against him are true.
Here’s Burgess-Jackson’s original post in full:
His frequently updated blog is littered with his thoughts and opinions on politics, dating, sports, and ice cream. Elsewhere, Burgess-Jackson contends that “men use feminism to get sex,” and that philosophy is “a cesspool of political correctness, science worship, hypocrisy, and thuggery.” On Nov. 12, he repeats the long-debunked conspiracy theory that former President Barack Obama was not born in the U.S., asking to see his “original birth certificate (not a print-out by the State of Hawaii).” In 2013, in a series critiquing five columns written by women philosophers, he says that “[f]eminism has made women weak, timid, and fearful.”
Burgess-Jackson has been a professor at UTA since 1989. He teaches courses in “Logic, Ethics, Philosophy of Religion, Philosophy of Law, and Social and Political Philosophy,” and has tenure, according to his website. He has published or edited several books, including Rape: A Philosophical Investigation, and A Most Detestable Crime: New Philosophical Essays on Rape, a book whose one one-star Amazon review calls Burgess-Jackson a “debased academic megastar.”
The professor has left a long trail online. An old blog by Burgess-Jackson, last updated in 2004, is headed with the title “Anal Philosopher.” In fact, in the internet era before social media took off, Burgess-Jackson seems to have frequently battled with other philosophers with blogs, some of whom took umbrage then at Burgess-Jackson’s deeply conservative politics.
I’ve reached out to Burgess-Jackson and UT-Arlington. I’ll update this post if I hear back.
Update: UT-Arlington sent this statement: “The University of Texas at Arlington is aware of statements made by Associate Professor of Philosophy Keith Burgess-Jackson on his personal blog. These are not the opinions held by the university. We acknowledge a citizen’s right to freedom of speech and expression.”
DISD Will Vote on Jump-Starting Renaming Schools Honoring Confederates. The Dallas ISD board of trustees will vote tonight about when to begin the process of renaming four elementary schools that are named after Confederate generals. A resolution created by board president Dan Micciche proposes waiving current policy and making an accelerated timeline for the name changes. If accepted, the board would hear recommended changes in November and vote on their enactment in December.
Former Dallas Cop to Pay $6.3 Million Related to In-Custody Death. Ernesto Fierro had already gotten in trouble multiple times when he worked for the DPD in the 1990s and 2000s. In 2013, when he was a cop in East Texas, he pulled 70-year-old William Livezey over while off duty, and the man died of a heart attack when he was being arrested. Livezey’s family had brought charges against Fierro for an illegal traffic stop and excessive force. Now Fierro, who was convicted of aggravated assault, has been ordered to pay the family $6.3 million.
Fort Worth Teacher Caught Soliciting Minor. North Crowley High School science teacher Jarrod Cook was arrested in an online predator sting after he replied to a “Sunday Funday?” post. Investigators posed as 13- to 15-year-old girls and boys. Cook, along with six other suspects arrested, met at a location for sexual contact with a person they thought was a teenage girl. He and the others are in custody.
In his first 44 days on the job, Matthew Myers has spent time meeting with executives from Dallas-Fort Worth companies, getting the lay of the land, and understanding what role Southern Methodist University’s Cox School of Business should play in the development of tomorrow’s workforce. His conclusion: The region’s workforce, corporate demography, and business needs are becoming more tech- and innovation-driven. Therefore, the business school is going to have to adjust the way it approaches education.
“In the business community, expectations are high, so the expectations on us are high,” Myers said over breakfast Wednesday. “A lot of this is figuring out new ways to compete … and tech [is a] big part of that.”
Many companies, big and small, are looking at new ways to innovate, and that means hiring people with multidisciplinary backgrounds, Myers agreed. Both the trend and the need are growing in that direction as big corporations like Toyota make their way into North Texas. With Amazon searching for a landing spot for a second headquarters, local talent could tip the scales for the winning city.
SMU’s business school plans to answer the needs of these companies by offering much more diverse curricula and degrees. This could mean having departments partner in specialty or undergraduate degrees, Myers said. So instead of getting a degree that is heavily based on curriculum from the business school, a Cox degree could cross with training from the Lyle School of Engineering, the Dedman School of Law, or Perkins’ School of Theology, Myers said.
The demand from the students also seems to support Myers’ direction, as more students are interested in one-year specialty master programs than they are MBAs. Employers seem to prefer those degrees over MBAs, too, he added. One of the specialty master programs currently in high demand is a Master of Science in business analytics. That program is three times the size it was in 2014 and has doubled since last year. “The placement of these graduates is tremendous,” Myers said. “It’s been a real shift in the way companies are looking for talent.”
Myers said he’ll need some time to fully develop the plans for some of these new interdisciplinary programs. But it’s one of his top priorities that he believes will help the university compete. “SMU is a special cat,” he said. “What we can do is different, and we need to capitalize on it.”
Meanwhile, as Myers settles into the region as an Ohio transplant, he’s already revving up a friendly rivalry with Texas Christian University. Myers is planning to make a wager with O. Homer Erekson, dean of TCU’s Neely School of Business, for this year’s Battle of the Iron Skillet, which refers to the schools’ football rivalry dating back to 1946. They’re still discussing the terms of the wager. But so far it looks like the loser may end up wearing some regalia or spirit items from the winning team. It may not be a fair wager, as TCU, ranked No. 20 in the Big 12, is favored to win. But Myers doesn’t care. He’s going all in for his new school, hoping Erekson will soon be sporting some pony pride.
The Dallas Mavericks just sent out a news release. It reads, in part:
This upcoming school year, each student in the Dallas Independent School District (approx. 158,000) will receive school supplies including a notebook, pencil and a Mavs game voucher from the Dallas Mavericks and owner Mark Cuban.
On Monday, August 28th, the first day of school for Dallas ISD, the Mavs ManiAACs, Dancers, Champ and MavsMan will distribute over 6,000 school supplies to Skyline High School and Frank Guzick Elementary School in East Dallas to celebrate the beginning of the 2017-2018 school year.
This raises a question, though. Will DISD trustees Lew Blackburn, Joyce Foreman, and Bernadette Nutall allow this to happen? Their track record suggests they won’t.
Rally Against White Supremacy to Draw Thousands. The rally will take place Saturday near the Confederate War Memorial downtown. There will be speakers from local activist groups at the protest, which will happen from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. in Pioneer Park by City Hall. Organizer Eric Ramsey expects 3,000 people to show up. “Our point of the rally is to unite people of all different colors, genders, sexual orientations in a show of unity, diversity, and love,” Ramsey said.
DISD Wants to Get Rid of Confederate Names in Schools. DISD trustees want to discuss removing the names of Confederate generals from the names of public schools following the Charlottesville violence. There’s a petition out to change the names of two schools, and trustees will meet about that on Sept. 14.
New UNT Chancellor Comes from NASA. University of North Texas regents are expected to announce Lesa Roe as the only finalist for chancellor today. She is currently NASA’s second in command and has been with NASA for 32 years. At age 54, she’ll be the first woman to be chancellor for the UNT system.
Cowboys Think Bathroom Bill Failure Increases Chances to Host NFL Draft. Now that Texas’ bathroom bill is dead, the Cowboys think the have a good chance of getting to host the 2018 NFL draft. Their proposal is to have the first two days at AT&T Stadium and the last day at The Star in Frisco. The decision from the NFL should be coming relatively soon.
Of all the choices parents must make every day for their children, education is one that not only tops the list, but gets analyzed and debated the most. After all, children spend more time at school than they do at home. This is where their educational foundation begins, where friendships are formed, and where they take the first steps toward carving their life’s path.
While there are schools every few blocks throughout the Dallas area, the debate isn’t always which school, but which type of school. Public or private? For some families, the answer is an obvious one, and for others both options offer equal pros and cons, leaving parents wondering if they’ve made the right choice.
This is exactly what happened for one Dallas family whose two middle-school children are now enrolled at Greenhill, a Dallas private school. Says the children’s mother, “We heavily debated public versus private and still do. We seriously considered moving to an area with great public schools where we felt our kids could get a great education, first through twelfth grade. We ultimately chose a private option, but have revisited our decision many times, especially as tuition rates rise. It becomes important to understand for the cost of tuition, what are our children getting from their private school that they wouldn’t get from a great public school?”
For this family, a private school has won the debate from early childhood to preschool, presently in middle school, and likely all the way through 12th grade. “Smaller class sizes, which when paired with an amazing teacher, have allowed our children to have some unique and personalized experiences which would be difficult to replicate in a larger environment,” she says.“The benefit to my kids is they really feel their school is home, and they have made wonderful, lifelong friends.”
This mom can attest that extensive and thorough research is key to finding the perfect match, as her kids did at Greenhill. She researched schools online and visited them in person and talked to parents who had their children at schools that interested her. “I was nervous about not getting into our first choice, but we applied our children at a time when they could stay at the wonderful school they were in if they didn’t get a spot,” she says.
Families who live in an area with a mediocre school district that has made little or no progress toward improvement may consider a private education the only acceptable option. The same goes for families with a legacy at a particular private school. But when your home is perfectly situated in an area with a highly ranked public school district and a coveted private school, how do you choose?
The answer, mostly, is in determining where you think your child will excel, feel most comfortable, and have the best chance of success. But it also may come in the form of a taking a leap of faith, says Waverly Wilson, an admission consultant with Perfect Placement in Dallas. She has been helping families navigate the private school admission process since 2003 and has special insight into the process as a former director of admission and financial aid for a Dallas private school. “There are so many wonderful private and public school options in Dallas-Fort Worth,” she says. “Sometimes, the answer just comes from narrowing your options, making a choice, and knowing that living here, there really isn’t a wrong decision.”
Organizations, such as the National Association of Schools, Independent Schools Association of the Southwest, and Texas Association of Non-public Schools, are excellent starting points for research, as are online resources such as dfwprivateschools.com, greatschools.org, and privateschoolreview.com. However, seeking expertise from someone “in the know,” such as a private school consulting agency, can help you make the decision between public and private education and more specifically, which private school to attend if that’s your choice. Dallas’ Perfect Placement’s private admission consulting helps families successfully navigate the local private school selection and admission process, arming them with the information and confidence to make the best decisions for their children. From questions about school choices and testing to navigating the application process, the decision-making becomes less confusing with guidance and a personalized plan that includes the following tips.
Steps to Success
Identify the must-haves.
Do you crave a smaller, more intimate school or a larger school for your child? Does your child have particular educational or behavioral issues that require more attention? Do you want a co-educational experience or a school with only boys or only girls? Does religious affiliation matter? Does your child need a more traditional or a progressive environment? What age group do you prefer? “Some schools offer education from preschool through high school, and some are focused solely on particular age groups,” Wilson says. “You need to map out what you want for your child before you start shopping.”
Private schools have put considerable time and resources in the past few years to update their web sites, making them a comprehensive go-to source on most everything a family needs to know about the school before scheduling a visit. “You can tell a lot about the school’s personality by its web site,” Wilson says.
Be mindful of admission season.
There is a risk of “missing the boat” on getting into the private school you want, as many larger schools only accept new students during admission season, which is typically in the fall. And you have to apply to the school one year before intended enrollment. Some schools offer rolling admission, which means they’ll accept students who qualify any time of the school year. This is often the case for smaller or newer schools. Make sure you plan accordingly to accommodate time for admission testing, gathering transcripts and referrals, and parent and child interviews. According to the Independent Schools Association of the Southwest, most schools accept applications in December, January, and February and make admissions decisions in April and May for that fall.
Attend open houses.
Most private schools host open houses in fall. This is the time to visit the campus, take tours, and meet with administrators and teachers. Families new the Dallas area or who are unfamiliar with the area’s private schools can also attend the annual Private School Preview. “This is a way to help you narrow down the schools to maybe four or five you’ll apply to,” Wilson says. If possible, seek out families who have children enrolled or previously enrolled at the school, alumni, and teachers to get several perspectives on the academic style, personality, and reputation of the school. Also, many schools offer the opportunity for prospective students to attend the school for one day or a half-day, and their feedback can help parents narrow the options even more.
Apply to more than one school.
Although your child may have his or her heart set on one particular school, apply to several. The reason a student isn’t accepted into a school can range from not being a good fit based on the application and testing process to the school simply being full. In many cases, a school only has a few openings for new students each year. “Most private schools in Dallas have more applicants than they do spaces available,” Wilson says. “I always recommend having a plan B, whether it is your local public school or applying to more than one private school.”
Most private schools are accredited through agencies approved by the Texas Private School Accreditation Commission (TEPSAC). Accreditation can have an impact when your child is applying to secondary schools and colleges, as some accept transcripts from unaccredited schools.
Don’t rule it out because of cost.
While a private school education can be a considerable financial investment—some costing up to $20,000 per year—cost shouldn’t be a deterrent, as many schools offer scholarships and financial aid to qualifying families. “When a student is a good fit for a school, that school will work with families to make the finances possible,” Wilson says. “Many schools offer payment plans or some form of financial aid for families who qualify. Some schools base this off of current income or how many students for whom a family is already paying tuition.”
Skip test prep.
Every private school requires students take an admission exam, called the ISEE. Families may seek out test preparation services, but private schools discourage this as the results from the test help them determine whether or not the child is a good fit for the school—an advantage for all parties. “It’s the best measure of who the child is, and the schools want to get the most authentic, natural result,” Wilson says.
Is it a match?
“That’s the ultimate question,” Wilson says. “There’s no one hundred percent certain way to know before your child is in the school for a while. The best fit between a student and a school, truly, is determined on a child-by-child basis. But families who do research ahead of time and try to fit their child’s personality and strengths with a school usually end up happy.”
Dak Prescott Takes ESPY for Breakthrough Athlete. The Cowboys quarterback and 2017 NFL Rookie of the Year took home the ESPY for breakthrough athlete last night—a very well-deserved win. The guy just can’t be stopped.
DISD Trustee Miguel Solis Shows Opposition to Bathroom Bill. Yesterday, Solis and others gathered outside DISD headquarters to oppose the bathroom bill legislation that will be discussed at the upcoming special legislative session. DISD’s bullying policy protects students from being targeted for things like gender identity and expression. Solis said the bill “marginalizes an already marginalized group.”
DART Wants to Overhaul Bus Service. It will hold a hearing in September on changes to its bus service, planned for next spring. Eliminating at least four bus routes is one of those changes, in an attempt to free up buses for busier routes. DART plans to host community meetings prior to the September hearing to gather customer feedback.
Affluenza Teen’s Mom Might be Jailed Again. Tonya Couch, Ethan’s mother, awaits trial for charges of helping Ethan flee to Mexico to evade arrest. She has been on bond but was caught drinking alcohol Friday, violating the conditions of her bond, which Tarrant County authorities are trying to revoke.
Person of Interest Identified in Deep Ellum Sexual Assault. The assault was reported Sunday near a DART station on the east edge of Deep Ellum. The person of interest is described as a 5-foot-6 Hispanic man with glasses and tattoos on both arms. Crime Stoppers is offering a reward if someone gives police information that leads to an arrest.
Dallas School Bus Board Votes to Investigate Finances. Yesterday the board approved $90,000 for an independent audit that will look into business deals and finances to find out the source of the agency’s financial troubles. The board hopes the investigation will be done in time for voters to take notice this fall when they decide the fate of the agency. “Until we know what went wrong, there’s no way we can fix it. We have to get to the bottom of this,” said DCS board president Gloria Tercero Levario.
Baby Giraffe Tsavo Will Meet the Public Today at Dallas Zoo. The calf—who was the long-awaited result of giraffe Katie’s live-streamed pregnancy—was born last month but will be introduced to the public today in the giraffe feeding yard. After that he’ll be making regular appearances outdoors.
The University of North Texas at Dallas College of Law has been granted provisional approval for accreditation from the American Bar Association after initially being denied accreditation last fall.
The ABA Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admission to the Bar announced its decision on June 3 following a positive recommendation from the ABA Accreditation Committee and a review of documents and testimony provided by UNT.
The provisional approval means that the school’s progress will be closely monitored by the ABA, which will determine whether the school should receive full accreditation. Provisional accreditation gives the school and its graduates all of the rights and recognition of a fully approved law school, according to the ABA. But UNT will have to wait at least three more years before it can gain full accreditation, assuming it meets all the standards set by ABA. In years two and four the ABA will visit the school for a full evaluation.
“Our goal has always been to equip graduates with practice-ready competencies and the practical knowledge to pass the Texas Bar Exam,” the school’s Founding Dean Royal Furgeson said in a release. “We now have a clear path to demonstrate that the innovative curriculum and the resources we’ve established will support exactly that kind of success.”
The positive recommendation came less than a year after the ABA denied the school accreditation in August 2016. The ABA released its initial recommendation alongside a 21-page report, citing concerns about the school’s admissions policies and financial conditions. The school was given the opportunity to respond to the negative recommendation—both with a written response and in an October hearing before the Council of the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar. Furgeson felt good about the school’s chances before the ABA Council. A number of new law schools have faced similar situations to UNT Dallas College of Law—initially denied provisional accreditation, only to win accreditation later on, according to a D CEO article published in October.
On May 20, the school held its first Juris Doctor hooding ceremony for 74 students of the inaugural class. The graduates are the first to come out of the first public law school in Dallas.
Founded in 2013, the UNT Dallas College of Law offers legal education to the increasingly diverse population of Dallas-Fort Worth. According to UNT-Dallas, nearly 52 percent of its law students in September 2015 were minorities (21 percent were Hispanic, and 20 percent were African-American). Last year, the school opened two community lawyering centers in downtown Dallas and in Fair Park, where students can practice meeting the legal needs of underrepresented communities.
Now, in its third year, the school has attracted students from a wide variety of socioeconomic backgrounds and life experiences—as well as garnered support from the Dallas legal community.
UNT System Chancellor Lee F. Jackson commended the school for its “new and innovative approach to legal education.”
“To its credit, the ABA Council viewed our application from that perspective,” Jackson said in a release. “Now we can focus on serving Dallas, the region, and the entire state with a low-cost, high-quality, practice-oriented legal education that will support economic growth and opportunity for a broad and diverse and talented group of law students.”
Dallas County Schools is in trouble. After the agency responsible for busing 75,000 students in 12 North Texas school districts lost millions on a stop-arm camera program (What do you mean people don’t pay tickets?), the Texas House Committee on Public Education voted to dissolve it. Meanwhile, a $25 million sale-leaseback of land used to park buses is expected to cost Dallas County taxpayers millions more in the long run. Then DCS Board President Larry Duncan stepped down amid allegations that his campaign profited from the land deal. Tonight, NBC 5 will air a 30-minute investigative report at 6:30 p.m. schooling us on who orchestrated the deal, who profited from it, and how much more it will cost taxpayers.
A Southern Methodist University medical anthropologist made a call for deeper understanding of and better communication on health issues like the flu during a lecture Thursday evening at SMU. Carolyn Smith-Morris took on the topic of the 1918 flu pandemic, which killed an estimated 50 million to 100 million people—as many as some Black Plague casualty counts, which range from 50 million to 200 million. Her thoughts, delivered in the Gene and Jerry Jones Great Hall at SMU’s Meadows Museum, were part of the ongoing Godbey Anniversary Lecture Series. Smith-Morris discussed the ways that an epidemic unfolds, beginning with the… Full Story
An assistant professor of kinesiology at the university of Texas at Arlington, Michael Nelson, has secured a five-year, $3.3 million grant to study the link between fat storage in the heart and cardiovascular disease. He’ll also look at how gender influences the development of cardiac dysfunction. The grant comes from the National Institutes of Health. Here’s Nelson and UTA with more about the genesis of the project: “You’re not supposed to store fat in the heart, but patients who suffer from obesity, diabetes or heart disease tend to store more fat in the heart,” Nelson said. “This excess fat is… Full Story
As we mentioned in “Leading Off” this morning, Dallas ISD is working to reassure students and their parents over uncertainty concerning the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, which could affect thousands of undocumented children enrolled in Dallas schools. The school district has more than 70,000 students who are English Language Learners (it does not keep track of students’ immigration status, so that’s not a flawless measure) and employs 78 “Dreamers,” including 36 teachers. That’s a lot of people whose futures are at stake while Congress bickers over DACA and immigration policy.
The district’s efforts, a campaign based on the always sensible advice of “don’t panic,” include the debut of a new webpage that’s very much worth a look. It has the text of a school board resolution from last year promising to protect students “TO THE FULLEST EXTENT OF THE LAW,” regardless of their immigration status, and links to useful resources for undocumented immigrants, like a guide to your constitutional rights, legal assistance for undocumented immigrants, and scholarships for undocumented students.
An FAQ answers immigration questions and elaborates on how the school district would respond to, say, a request from ICE for information on undocumented students. A: “We do not ask for students’ immigration status when they enroll. If we get a request for student information, Dallas ISD’s policies will protect all of our students’ constitutional and legal rights to keep their information private.” A few of the answers are frustratingly vague. For example:
Q: Are immigration enforcement actions allowed on school grounds? A: In February 2017, Dallas ISD Board of Trustees unanimously approved a resolution to designate all Dallas ISD schools as welcoming and protective to the fullest extent of the law.
Others describe a kind of worst-case scenario:
Q: If I am a parent or guardian, and I am worried about being detained while my child is at school, what should I do? A: In the event that any parents are detained during school hours, the District will keep students safe until an authorized adult can pick up the child. Please take this opportunity to update your emergency contact information for your students at your school.
The webpage also links to a letter from Superintendent Michael Hinojosa, which I found striking enough to copy below in full:
Dear Dallas ISD Families,
Dallas ISD’s top priority is providing a welcoming and protective environment for students and staff. Our mission calls for the education of not just some students, but all students.
As a member of an immigrant family, I see myself reflected in the faces of your children, and your faces are those of my parents who sacrificed, worked and dreamed of a brighter future for their children.
Thus, it is heartbreaking to see the uncertainty and fear among undocumented families across the country prompted by the recent developments in the federal government’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. While DACA primarily impacts young adults, it has understandably caused anxiety throughout our community.
Regardless of the outcome of DACA, you can rest assured that the great team of educators across Dallas ISD will continue to provide every child a quality education that prepares them for college and a career, regardless of immigration status.
This promise extends to our district staff. Dallas ISD has a proud history of helping young adults realize their dreams of pursuing a career in education. Their contributions, both in and outside the classroom, are vital to prepare our students to become future leaders. As Congress makes a decision on the future of DACA, our attorneys will continue working to determine how we can best support these valuable employees.
Dallas ISD is defined by our diversity. Our district stands united with students, parents and staff of all cultures who believe that every student can grow, succeed and contribute, regardless of background.
Thank you for your support as we continue our work to protect the rights of all students and staff to pursue their dreams!
Remember Tonya Sadler Grayson? If you read the Dallas Morning News from 2014 to 2016, you saw her name in a series of seemingly sensational front-page stories. Grayson was the executive director of Human Capital Management for Dallas ISD (human resources to you and me). An internal report accused her of lying about her criminal background on a job application. Then there was an alleged physical skirmish with a staff member and reportedly more than one heated argument with trustee Bernadette Nutall. After Grayson was eventually dismissed — a dismissal upheld by a three-member panel of trustees, which included Lew Blackburn — she filed a lawsuit accusing Blackburn of sexual harassment and the district of wrongful termination. Despite her claims, the News stories, written by Matthew Haag and Tawnell Hobbs, along with Channel 8 stories voiced by former journalist Brett Shipp, painted a picture of a woman who was fired because she was an unstable, bullying liar.
I always thought the case against Grayson was overblown. First of all, multiple DISD officials and trustees have told me about Nutall working diligently to undermine the human resources people brought in by then superintendent Mike Miles, because those new people threatened to dismantle her network of cronies. It seemed to me that Grayson fell prey to Nutall’s machinations. For example, Grayson’s “criminal background,” that thing she lied about on her job application? It was a misdemeanor from when she was 19. Apparently she defaced the front door of a rival for a man’s affection. And that alleged attack on the DISD staffer? It was thoroughly investigated, and the charges against her were dropped. And the internal “report” used to justify all this coverage? It was put together by a rogue district employee who was himself fired when it was discovered that he was “investigating” Grayson. At the same time, Nutall was attacking her publicly. After Grayson filed her lawsuit and the News ran its final story about her, in April 2016, that was the last we heard from her. But a lot has happened in two years.
The reporters mentioned above have all moved on. Haag writes obituaries and Metro stories for the New York Times. Hobbs was hired by the Wall Street Journal. And Shipp is hoping his high North Texas Q-rating will help him in his bid for Pete Sessions’ U.S. House of Representatives seat. Corbett Smith is now leading DISD coverage for the paper and doing a much better job of it. The self-serving leaks from status quo trustees have dried up. And, in response to an open records request from Smith, we’ve learned that Grayson and the district have reached a settlement in her suit. But his story, published yesterday, missed something important.
Here’s what I know. Grayson alleged Blackburn repeatedly asked her for “sexual favors in return for employment protection and support.” This past Halloween, Grayson and DISD came to an agreement that was a slam-dunk win for the district. For just $60,000, Grayson agreed to dismiss her case, and the district agreed to retroactively accept her resignation instead of terminating her. Grayson agreed to forever hold blameless the district and the board of trustees. She agreed to a confidentiality clause, as did the district — except when faced with open records requests like Smith’s.
That’s what the documents reveal. But after talking to numerous high-level sources who were there during the controversy or who are currently district officials, I’d like to raise three questions.
1. Despite the dismissal of the lawsuit, did trustee Blackburn have sex with Grayson?
2. If so, was he offering a quid pro quo arrangement wherein he agreed to protect Grayson from Nutall?
3. No matter the answer to No. 2, why did Blackburn sit on Grayson’s three-member review panel and uphold her firing when he had a conflict of interest?
Regarding No. 1: Blackburn did have sex with Grayson. This fact is not in the settlement documents that the district recently coughed up, but sources I talked to say he did not contest to district investigators that he’d had sex with Grayson. Sources say the lawyers on both sides operated as though that sexual relationship was a given. Blackburn, by the way, has not responded to multiple requests to talk about this.
Regarding No. 2: I don’t think there was a quid pro quo arrangement explicitly stated, not after interviewing people who knew key details about their relationship. But, under the law, it needn’t be explicitly discussed to exist. If Blackburn had hinted that he would protect Grayson’s job if she had sex with him, then that’s sufficient.
There is a lawyerly argument that Blackburn, who is not technically a district employee, had no real power over Grayson. There is a more than reasonable argument that she, as director of HR, should have known better. But that doesn’t get to the real-world fact that Nutall was lighting the fires that turned up the media heat on Grayson and the district. Media heat only made superintendent Miles dig in more to protect her, because he is stubborn and isn’t afraid of taking said heat. But then Michael Hinojosa became superintendent, and he wanted that heat turned down. So he quickly fired Grayson. Protection from Nutall and the media was a valuable asset that someone in Blackburn’s position could offer. Although that power isn’t made clear by an org chart, it is real.
A lot of people in DISD and the North Texas education ecosystem regard Blackburn as –professionally speaking — a “terrible trustee.” I’ve heard stories from administrators and his fellow trustees about Blackburn promising to vote one way on a matter before the board, and then a few hours later reversing course. (His most famous cowardly turn was voting multiple times against taking a tax hike to citizens despite having co-written an op-ed in the News that supported the tax hike.) He has been at this trustee job since 2001 and has done little in those 17 years but grandstand.
Which brings us to question No. 3: the answer is that Blackburn is, again, a terrible trustee. Let’s assume that he explicitly told Grayson, “No matter what happens, I do not have your back.” It’s still a clear conflict of interest that he sat on the panel that upheld her firing. He wasn’t compelled to be on that panel. He could have easily let another trustee take his place. In fact, he should have. Sources I’ve spoken with say that trustees recuse themselves from these panels with regularity and that they can do so without having to provide a reason.
(It must be noted that the review panel is not supposed to review whether the district’s actions were fair, just whether the actions taken by DISD were legal and within the district’s guidelines. In the past, other trustees have told me about Blackburn playing judge and jury with these exact sorts of cases before him, ultimately voting in favor of employees based on whether he thinks they were treated fairly.)
I think it’s awful that Blackburn did this, but it doesn’t surprise me. There are those who will tell you not to cry for Grayson. She’s a smart woman who made bad decisions all along the way, they say. But I cringe when I hear stories about how Grayson’s friends in the administration would do things to make sure Blackburn didn’t intimidate her, which they felt he did. One would go so far as to position herself during trustee meetings so that she blocked Blackburn’s sightline of Grayson, because of what she felt was his intimidation through his gaze.
One of the reasons Blackburn could vote to uphold Grayson’s firing is that there is almost no recourse against bad actor trustees. Boards can censure a trustee, but that almost never happens in Texas, and it’s only a political shaming anyway. We should add a provision that would allow for the impeachment of trustees, but such a change in the law is not likely to happen soon.
Could you find something in district policy or the Texas Education Code that forbids what happened between Blackburn and Grayson? Perhaps. But I wrote about the removal of school board trustees in 2014. This still stands: “Trustees can be removed from office if convicted of a crime and if subsequently removed from office by a judge because of that crime. But the local DA … would have to convene a grand jury to indict and convict one of our elected officials for breaking provisions of the Texas Education Code, which aren’t tied to the Texas Penal Code. These aren’t viewed as ‘go to jail’ laws.”
No, the only way to react to something like what happened here is for us to demand more of our public officials by voting out of office people like Lew Blackburn, someone who has proven himself incapable of putting the concerns of students before his own interests. His term ends in the spring of 2019.
For a while now, I’ve been following a local Twitter account called TheMap.io. I’m not smart enough to get the reference, but the bio reads: “Cities, Data, Mapping, Urbanism, Transit. And fashion!!!!!!” Pretty much describes me.
Anyway, the guy behind the account revealed himself to me today when he linked to something he’d written on Medium. I invite you to read this essay by Robert Mundinger, the title of which I stole for this post: “Is DISD a Better School District Than Highland Park?” You think that’s a ludicrous question? As Mundinger (God, I hope he’s married to a woman named Mandy) points out:
“Most people see a good ‘school’ as a school with a bunch of high achieving kids. But this is a bit like judging the quality of the food in a restaurant based on who’s eating it.”
Take a few minutes to read the whole thing — especially if you happen to work at Amazon.
Zeke Elliott Granted Temporary Restraining Order to Play Sunday. The Cowboys’ controversial running back will rejoin practice today at The Star and will play Sunday against San Francisco. A U.S. district judge, filling in for the assigned judge who was on vacation, ordered a temporary restraining order against Elliott’s six-game ban last night. It’s good through October 30 unless another hearing is held first. The assigned judge will make a more permanent decision when she gets back.
The Search for Sherin Mathews Continues in a Field Near Richland College. Police moved the search for 3-year-old Sherin Mathews to a field near Richland College yesterday. It’s less than 2 miles from the Mathews’ home in Richardson where her father put her outside in an alley at 3 a.m. as a punishment. Police said they found “objects of interest” but haven’t elaborated yet.
DISD Superintendent Wants to Close Two Schools and Convert Two to Charters. Superintendent Michael Hinojosa said the goal in doing this would be to avoid punishment from the state for the schools’ poor performances. He didn’t say which schools he had in mind, but he’ll present his plan to trustees on November 2. If no action is taken, the school board and superintendent could be replaced. “If I take a chance and they don’t make it, something is going to happen in August. We’re not running from the accountability. We have something great we want to replace it with,” Hinojosa said.
Getting Caught with Weed in Dallas Doesn’t Mean You’ll go to Jail Now. Yesterday, Dallas County commissioners passed a “cite and release” program to free up cops to focus on violent crimes. Dallas police can now give a court summons to people found with less than 4 ounces of marijuana. It will go into effect December 1.
As a Southern Methodist University alumna, it’s always a bitter pill to swallow when Texas Christian University wins the Battle of the Iron Skillet, the two schools’ longtime rivalry football game. Every now and then the Mustangs “fry the Frogs,” if for no other reason than to bump them down in the rankings.
This year, the deans of SMU’s Cox School of Business and TCU’s Neeley School of Business decided to turn up the volume on the annual tradition. The two entered into a wager. The terms? The dean whose school loses would have to don spirit items from the winning school. The items would be boxed up and sent by the winning dean himself.
Both deans prepared boxes, but of course just one of them prevailed. And the outcome didn’t come as a big shock to Cox School Dean Matthew Myers, who lost the wager Saturday when TCU defeated SMU 56-36. The Big 12’s TCU, after all, had entered the game ranked No. 20 nationally.
Regardless, the new Cox School dean, who’s just a month and a half into his job, backed the ponies wholeheartedly—and unfortunately, that also meant paying the price wholeheartedly.
“For better or for worse … congratulations to our Horned Frog friends at the Neeley School,” Myers wrote in a statement sent to D CEO, following up with a custom hashtag: “#waittillnextyearGoPonies!”
So today, for one day only, Myers is donning some TCU purple—though his pony pride isn’t the least bit bruised. SMU says the tentative date for next year’s Iron Skillet game is Sept. 8.
One day after the Dallas Independent School District’s board failed to get the votes to ask residents for a tax increase for at-risk schools, trustee Miguel Solis sat on a panel of arts advocates to discuss other challenges that hold students back. In a district with the third-lowest funding in the region, scarce resources could be put toward innovative approaches to learning, but are spent instead on the scourge of standardized testing, he argued.
“What it has become now is an education system that has led us to rote memorization, an education system that has created far too much emphasis on testing, and we begin to lose the soft skills that are necessary to provide a holistic education for kids,” Solis said. “Grit. Determination. How to have a basic conversation with another human being.”
The Youth in Arts Panel, held last Saturday at the Dallas City Performance Hall, was organized to make a compelling case for the arts as a key civic issue and an important factor in student achievement within Dallas ISD.
The Texas educational system, like much of the nation, de-prioritized the importance of arts and humanities over the last four decades and turned to a more mechanical approach to education. Solis traced the roots of our test-obsessed school model back to the infamous Reagan-era report entitled “A Nation at Risk,” which called for standardization and quantitative measures of student mastery. Many years and failed educational policies later, we’re left with a lopsided approach to learning.
Solis, though, brought a message of change, highlighting the district’s efforts to correct the imbalance, like district-wide investments in socio-emotional skills to prepare students for the future. Other panelists were examples of the type of success that can come with making the arts an educational priority. Julienne Penza-Boone, director of arts at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center in New York, underscored how the arts are uniquely positioned to prepare students for an unsure economy.
“We hear that everything is going to be automated in the future,” Penza-Boone said. “So we’d better be preparing our kids to have those skills that robots won’t have.”
Highly adaptive people have always thrived in the workforce, including panelist Lily Cabatu Weiss, a former dancer and school administrator at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, who is now the executive director of the Dallas Arts District. Weiss spoke about how artistic discipline equipped her for multiple industries, and thinks young creatives will experience similar benefits. “I wholeheartedly believe that everything that these students learn in and through the arts prepares them for any job. They will be articulate. They will be passionate. They will persist and persevere. And they will re-strategize until policies are changed.”
Weiss hit on an important point about the role of the arts in changing policies and ideas. For progressive societies, she contended that it isn’t often the data scientists who spur revolution, but the creators, dreamers, and entrepreneurs.
As Solis reminded the audience, “Remember it was a young woman who refused to give up her seat to move to the back of the bus. It was a young preacher who rallied people for the Montgomery bus boycott. It was young people who sailed across the Atlantic to fight fascism.” In fact, Solis told the audience that the masterminds behind the record-breaking Frida Kahlo dress-alike event at the Dallas Museum of Art were two undocumented Dreamers.
While references to cultural equity are sometimes dismissed as liberal-ese, the panelists skillfully explained how equal access to the arts is really about creating better citizens and humans. If we want Dallas to remain a city guided by innovation, we must raise up people who can navigate the politics of a complex workforce and increasingly unpredictable nation. The arts, offered widely and equally enough, might just be the best tool to get the job done—a glimmer of optimism even in the face of a public education system that sometimes seems hopelessly stuck in the mud.
The Verdict is one of my favorite movies. Everyone loves the final courtroom summation given by the beaten-but-not-broken lawyer played by Paul Newman. (“You know, so much of the time, we’re lost.”) It’s wonderful, but I’m partial to a speech he gives early in the film, when he’s trying to woo a woman in a bar, both of them a little drunk. He’s telling her why a jury doesn’t guarantee justice for the politically or culturally vulnerable — only a chance at justice. “Will they get it with your jury?” she asks him.
“They might,” Newman says. “Yes. That’s the point … is that they might … you see, the jury wants to believe. They’re all cynics, sure, because they want to believe. I have to go in there tomorrow to find 12 people to hear this case. I’m going to see a hundred people and pick 12. And every one of them, it’s written on their face, ‘This is a sham. There is no justice …’ but in their heart they’re saying, ‘Maybe, maybe.’”
“Maybe I can do something right.”
Tomorrow, Dallas ISD trustees are going to take a vote. There are nine of them, not 12. This is not one person who needs help overcoming long odds; it’s 158,000 of them, all kids. The majority of them are brown, a lot of them are black, and almost all of them are poor. And tomorrow we find out if we chose a just jury to decide the fate of those children. Tomorrow, their legacy will be written. We will know if they want to do something right.
Here is what’s at stake:
Tomorrow’s board meeting is a “tax ratification election presentation overview.” The district will present to the board three plans to take to taxpayers, so that those taxpayers can vote on whether they want to continue funding plans that have so far helped DISD teachers and kids produce greatly improved results. The board will vote on either bringing a 13-cent or 6-cent tax increase, or a 2-cent tax swap (tax neutral) to the voters in the November joint election, for the purposes of increasing educational opportunities for students and teacher development and supports.
Recall that we were here just last year. In August 2016, the board was expected to take to voters a Tax Ratiﬁcation Election, or a TRE, to raise property taxes 13 cents per $100 of valuation. More than 400 districts across Texas have approved a TRE, primarily because the Legislature has done a terrible job of funding schools. (Texas is 36th in the nation in per-pupil funding; the underlying numbers are even worse, especially when you consider that Dallas has the highest child poverty rate of any city with more than 1 million people.) State law says you need a supermajority to put a TRE on the ballot. In Dallas, that means six votes from the board. At the last minute, Lew Blackburn, who had publicly championed the TRE, joined the status quo and voted to not let DISD voters decide whether to fund the programs that are helping kids.
This can’t continue, especially not since DISD will, within a few years, likely meet the criteria of a Robin Hood school, meaning it will have to fork over more than $300 million of its revenue to poorer districts. (I know, I know. It’s absurd, given the crushingly high poverty of nearly 90 percent of Dallas’ student population. But here we are.) To fund the progressive programs, the board needs to ask voters for some sort of tax increase (or for that “tax swap,” which space prevents a full explanation of).
“With the state reducing its share of funding by almost $100 million this year, and with our schools dealing with some of the highest levels of child poverty in the nation, we have to give the citizens of Dallas the opportunity to decide whether they are willing to vote for a relatively small tax increase to fund these programs on a long-term basis,” DISD board president Dan Micciche told me recently. “They’re helping kids and changing lives. It is an investment in the future of Dallas.”
At the time, Micciche was pretty conﬁdent he could get the six votes needed — not to do a full 13-cent increase but a 6-cent increase. He cited polling numbers showing the appetite was there among Dallas-area voters to fund these proven programs. He pointed to the supporting facts: of 55 North Texas school districts, DISD has the third-lowest tax rate. With the 6-cent increase, it would have the fourth-lowest.
I’m not so sure now. Behind the scenes, there are all sorts of reasons being given as to why status-quo board members don’t want to let voters decide this issue. It takes every bit of restraint I have in my typing fingers not to chop down those arguments one by one.
But that’s not what I’m here to do today. I’m here to believe that every board member, in her or his heart, wants to do something right. And the district has formulated a plan that should be able to please progressives like me who want innovative programs that help kids continue to get better educations, as well as those concerned about equitable spending, who worry that the money will be properly apportioned.
Take a look at the chart at the top of this post (or see the plan online here). The plan includes a strategy labeled “Funds for Achievement and Racial Equity” (FARE) that would allocate funding to campuses based on need. With a 13-cent TRE, schools in District 5 (Lew Blackburn) get $15 million annually, $7.7 million for schools in District 9 (Bernadette Nutall), Joyce Foreman gets $5 million for District 6, and so on. These are our poorest districts, with the kids most in need. No amount of mental pretzel twisting can obscure the fact that voters must be able to decide whether they want to fund school programs for these kids.
Either tax raise plan (13 cents or 6 cents) would send funds to programs at 41 campuses across the district. And under all three plans (including the tax swap), the strategic priorities would be the same:
• Funds for Achievement and Racial Equity (FARE)
• Expansion of Public School Choice
• Making Middle Grades Work (Middle School Redesign)
• K-12 Literacy
• Gifted and Talented Teacher Development
• Expansion of Extracurricular Opportunities for Students
• Compensation for Staff
• Equity Audit Implementation
• Operations and Deferred Maintenance
Why does it matter which plan they choose, then? Because, obviously, the revenue generated is vastly different under each:
• 13-cent tax increase = $123.2 million
• 6-cent tax increase = $72.1 million
• 2-cent tax swap = $42.5 million
Here’s an example of what that means in the FARE program, the first strategic priority. The funds going to FARE would support supplementary curriculum and instructional programs, building enhancements, student uniforms, and technology upgrades. But the funding levels go from $1,526 per kid with the 13-cent tax raise (at 14 Improvement Required schools and 27 additional campuses) to $671 per kid with the 6-cent raise or the 2-cent swap. That’s a lot of money.
One of the biggest lies in the world of education policy is that money doesn’t matter. It does — especially in education justice, the business of addressing race and class inequities in our system. Nowhere does more money, more resources, more attention, more innovation matter than when educating our most vulnerable children.
There aren’t many moments that define us. We all get second and third chances. We can usually pass the blame to someone else. There’s always a rationalization for the mistakes we’ve made. The smarter we are, the better the rationalization, the easier we sleep.
But this is one of those moments where that won’t do. It’s time to stand up and be counted, trustees. In this world, I no longer believe that seemingly simple decisions about equity, justice, and fairness will be made by our leaders. That’s why I’m worried.
But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe they can do something right.
UT Southwestern has been named the best hospital in Dallas-Fort Worth by U.S. News and World Report on its 2017-2018 Best Hospitals list. U.S. News and World Report also says UT Southwestern is the No. 2 hospital in the state of Texas. Full Story
New Dallas Police Chief Says She’s Up to the Challenge. Some of the problems Ulysha Renee Hall will need to tackle are a shrinking department, increased crime, and police morale and pay issues. “The city of Detroit has experienced the same elements and challenges that the city of Dallas has right now. We’ve come out on top,” Hall said.
North Texas College Professors Want to Fight Fake News. Professors from UT Arlington and UT Dallas are working on a proposal that would use technology to help get rid of fake claims in the news. They have a one-year grant of $30,000 from UT Austin’s Texas National Security Network Excellence Fund.
Former Lab Tech Says Workers Celebrated Payday by…Groping Each Other? Yes, seriously. Holly Pinks, a former employee at Southwest Laboratory in Old East Dallas, is suing the company for sexual harassment during events called “Gropening Day.” The suit says that male employees, including her boss, told her that on Fridays “everyone would be getting groped or touched inappropriately.” Pinks said that “It was almost like a cloud of sexual harassment and assault on a daily basis.” Can someone help me understand how a group of people got together and thought this was a good idea? I am thoroughly disgusted.
Heat Advisory Today. It’s going to hit 100. We’re officially in the triple digits, people. Stay cool.
Dallas on Board with Fight Against Sanctuary Cities Bill. Along with other Texas cities like Austin and San Antonio, Dallas is joining the fight against the state’s sanctuary cities bill. Yesterday, Mayor Rawlings called SB4, which goes into effect Sept. 1, “unconstitutional,” and said it “greatly infringes on the city’s ability to protect.” There is talk among these cities’ mayors of potential litigation.
City Council Unsure How to Spend $800 Million. There’s a new $800 million bond package proposal from the Citizens Bond Task Force that encompasses streets, city buildings, parks, trails, housing, and flood control. Now the city just has to figure out how best to divvy up the cash and keep each district happy. They hope to vote on June 28.
Women Ambassadors Forum Helps Shape Women Leaders. The third annual women’s forum, being held at SMU, covered topics yesterday like preparing women to be successful leaders and promoting gender equality. Jen Welter, the NFL’s first ever female coach, spoke, as well as Neiman Marcus’ Carrie Tharp, and others. “Being the first is great, but what is most important is not being the last. I was so conscious every time I stepped up, because I didn’t want my narrative to be, ‘We had a girl once, but….’ Just realize as you’re the first, continue to set the stage so you’re not the last,” Welter said. The four-day forum ends tomorrow.
Exxxotica Versus Dallas City Hall Moving to New Orleans. The porn expo’s fight with City Hall is heading to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in NoLa. The expo’s attorneys filed an appeal on Tuesday, a few weeks after the case—initially filed last year—was dismissed here. Next week, City Council will vote on paying Dallas’ outside attorneys even more to fight the suit.
Dallas City Performance Hall is Getting a New Name. Yesterday, the city council voted to accept a $22 million arts gift from the Moody Foundation. A stipulation of the gift was changing Dallas City Performance Hall to Moody Performance Hall. The name change will happen in a few weeks.
Suzanne Wooten Declared Innocent Over Bribery Charges. The former state district judge had been convicted in 2011 on nine counts, including bribery and money laundering. But yesterday, she was acquitted of all the charges. Her attorney called the whole ordeal a “legal fiction.”
Interim Dallas County Schools Leader Wants Records to be Reviewed. Interim Superintendent Leatha Mullins asked law enforcement officials to review business records for the agency. This will also include a forensic audit of stop-arm camera contracts as well as real estate dealings. “We have completed an audit, refinanced the bonds, reorganized procedures, and there’s a complete team of new leadership including the Board of Trustees. We’ve truly transformed DCS and are moving forward,” Mullins said.
UNT Wary After Multiple Sexual Assaults Near Denton Campus. There have been multiple sexual assaults and attempted assaults northwest of the school, and police are investigating them. They don’t know if one or more people are responsible for the incidents, which entail someone entering homes after knocking or breaking in. An alert was sent to UNT students and faculty advising them to be extra cautious.
As I talk with Taylor Toynes in his office at For Oak Cliff, at the corner of Marsalis and Ann Arbor Avenue, he points out the window at what is now a service station.
“My grandfather’s grocery store was across the parking lot from here. He sold the best burgers in Dallas. Promise.”
I ask him if he got paid. “I ate for free,” he says with a smile. “I ate for free and I got a lot of knowledge from my grandfather and a lot of love from the community. Now, when I come around, everybody already knows me.”
These days they know him not as the kid who took their burger order, but as the community organizer who got Mark Zuckerberg to help clear a vacant lot for a community garden. And they know him as the guy who has big plans for this part of Oak Cliff, starting with backpacks and school supplies for thousands of kids (this year’s Back to School Festival will take place August 12 at Glendale Park) and ending with college-ready graduates prepared to give back to their community. Recently, his organization joined forces with Strong Schools Strong Dallas to advocate for a Tax Ratification Election (TRE) to raise more than $100 million for DISD, which is facing a $60 million shortfall.
On Thursday, four DISD trustees, including Lew Blackburn, voted against the TRE, which would cost the average taxpayer an additional $220 per year and save the district millions in interest by allowing it to pay off its debt earlier. Blackburn was quoted as saying, “I don’t know what we’d do with an extra $100 million a year. I’m sure if we had the sandbox, we’d figure out some kinda castle to build.”
But Toynes isn’t daunted. He grew up in this community. He knows what it is capable of and what it needs. Sand castles aren’t on his list.
So, you share an alma mater with C.J. Miles and Larry Johnson? We went to state this year in basketball. Skyline High School never went to state before. This was the first year. You ought to take a trip up there. It’s like a university. It was the first magnet school in the country. They have the aeronautics cluster where students can graduate with a pilot’s license. They work on planes in the school; there’s a hangar at the school. The cluster that I was in was called Man and His Environment, and it included sociology, psychology, and law. Those were the three tracks that you could take. My first year, we learned sociology. By the end, I was taking AP Human Geography, which was the coolest subject. We learned about people, and the movement of people, and different cultures. It prepared me so much for college.
Did you end up going to law school? I decided not to go. When I attended the University of North Texas, I majored in political science because I knew that was the track to go to law school. Then, when I graduated, I worked at the District Attorney’s office in the Family Violence Division. I had taken my LSAT and did okay on it. I had written my personal statement. I had gotten recommendations. Heath Harris, who was the First Assistant to the District Attorney at the time, wrote me a letter of recommendation to the Thurgood Marshall School of Law in Houston. And then I read the article.
What article? It was an editorial on the prison pipeline, and it had the number of inmates in the state of Texas compared to the number of college ready graduates broken down by zip codes. I saw 75216—the zip code where I grew up, where we are right now—and it had 681 inmates and only two college ready graduates. Right then, as I was sitting in the DA’s office, I thought, I don’t know if I want to do this because I’ll probably be a prosecutor. I thought, Man, I want to be a teacher. I want to get to kids before they get to this point. So I signed up for Teach for America. I could’ve ended up anywhere in America, obviously, but I chose DISD in South Oak Cliff. And they granted me my wish.
Where did you end up getting assigned? I was placed at W.W. Bushman elementary school on Bonnie View. I grew up in Oak Cliff and have lived here all my life. I’ve seen a lot and experienced a lot, but, as a teacher at W.W. Bushman that year, I recognized the little privilege that I did have just growing up in a different neighborhood, off of Red Bird Lane, when I was working with my students. I really began to understand what poverty looked like.
How did For Oak Cliff come about? It came out of my classroom at Bushman Elementary School. A lot of my students didn’t have backpacks when the school year started. I ended up saying to one of my close friends from growing up, Kenny Reaves, “Man, let’s have us a block party to raise money for backpacks for my class.” He was like, “Cool. What we going to call it?” I was like, “I don’t know, but we going to do it for Oak Cliff.” He said, “So you want to have a block party for Oak Cliff?” I was like, “Yeah. Let’s call it that.” That’s literally how For Oak Cliff happened.
How did the first backpack block party turn out? Another friend, Juliana Bradley, helped me organize. By the end of that summer—the event was August 13, 2015—we had over 1,000 people in Glendale Park, the most beautiful park in Dallas. We partnered with the United Way, Texas Instruments. William’s Chicken donated a lot of chicken to us. A whole lot of chicken. People ate for free. We registered 75 people to vote. We got 10 people employed. We gave out a thousand backpacks to kids. That was the first year.
Has it grown since then? Our goal with the Back to School Festival is voter registration, job fair, college fair, and school supply giveaway. Last year, we had over 3,000 people in the park. We gave away over 2,000 backpacks, fed over 2,000 people, and registered around 200 or so people to vote. We worked with Uber and the Express Job Professionals and got a dozen people employed. I realized, man, if we work together, we can make something happen. And if we listen, if we really listen to the students and to the community and what they want, they are always going to support us when we bring it to them.
Have you expanded beyond the school festival? On Mondays and Wednesdays, we have partnered with El Centro and WorkReadyU to offer GED classes. We currently have 10 parents that come in here to get their GEDs. It’s a two-generation model, so we’re working towards not only teaching the parents, but educating the children as well. Parents can bring their kids and we work with them to reinforce some of the things they are learning at school. We just really want to build a culture of education over here.
What do you think are some of the biggest challenges this neighborhood faces? The stat that’s getting thrown around a lot is Dallas has the highest childhood poverty rate. But if you look at where it’s concentrated, this spot is burning up. In this neighborhood, more than 75 percent of children under the age of 5 live below the poverty line. I heard Geoffrey Canada [president and CEO of the Harlem Children’s Zone in Harlem, New York] say one time—and this was very profound to me—he said he remembers the day that he realized Superman wasn’t coming to save the day. That’s when I realized we’ve really got to do it ourselves.
Why do you think this area of Oak Cliff has become the hottest spot for poverty in Dallas? It’s a systemic issue. Segregation was a very real thing in this community. My grandmother’s from Dallas, too. Once I asked why she didn’t go to W.H. Adamson or Sunset High School, near where she grew up in the Tenth Street Historic District. I asked her one time, “Why did you go to Madison? That’s so far away from where you grew up.” I thought about it right when I asked her. I was like, “Man, segregation. I forgot.” It’s that close in our history. It’s neglect of a community. It’s a lack of resources. Where can people go work over here? People don’t understand. Food deserts are one thing, but job opportunities come along with having a grocery store. You can employ 20 people or more with a grocery store. Not even a Walmart, but just a neighborhood grocery store. A lot of people have been oppressed for so long in so many different ways, but the main thing is that people are starting to see it now and understand it a little bit more. It’s going to take a lot of work. It’s going to take a lot of work from the powers that be within Dallas, as well as from within our own communities. We’re going to have to come together, work together, start loving one another more, and start building a culture of education.
How you think a TRE can help? I think people should have the opportunity to decide what they want for their schools. That’s my whole thing. Let people make the decision because we are underfunded. From a national level, to a state level, to the local level. It’s all the way down. When you look at it, which are the first schools to get hit? How are the first schools going to miss that hall monitor, that urban specialist, or that additional principal? Some schools can be okay without that. They have things like PTAs and booster clubs, a lot of parental involvement. They could thrive still. When we talk about schools that need these resources, that have been at the bottom of the totem pole as far as just about everything, what are we going to do? We have got to make sure we are educating our children. Not only educating them, but giving them the best quality of education possible.
The next DISD Board of Trustees meeting, with presentations of TRE town hall findings, will be Thursday, May 25, 6:00 PM, at the DISD Administration building in the Ada L. Williams Auditorium (3700 Ross Ave.).