By Lori Lee
NDG Contributing Writer
At the start, it was business as usual as DISD trustees read district reports and gave accolades to teachers and students. School Board Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde assured the public that despite a few now corrected A/C issues, the school year is off to a smooth start.
Elizalde reported STAR scores are up last year and announced DISD was named a District of Distinction by Texas Art Education Associates, an honor that only 68 districts achieved out of 1250 districts statewide. DISD’s visual arts program ranks in the top 5% in Texas, said Elizalde, and teacher vacancies are at a low this year, with only 70 vacant positions presently.
The meeting came alive when an audience of passionate community members stepped up to speak–some teachers, some parents, others with no children — just raising their voices for Dallas children. All had tried to work a little magic for the children. With 86% of DISD students economically disadvantaged, many do, in fact, need that help.
Citing studies showing students can have positive outcomes through intervention in districts with lower socioeconomic status, Shondria McDonald urged the board to restore parent/community engagement meetings and district resources.
District 6 Trustee Joyce Foreman reminded us what hard work and dedication can do, recalling how Carter High’s own Sha’Carri Richardson had helped Carter win championships in both 2017 and 2018. Now, setting a new world record in Budapest, Richardson never gave up, and she sets an example for us all, she said.
Recent Star reports offer hope for Dallas students. Superintendent Elizalde reported scores have rebounded since pandemic downfalls, and DISD students are now scoring higher than the state and higher than many suburban and charter schools.
However, community advocate Robert Ceccarelli pointed out that Dallas scores are not as high other large Texas cities, including Houston, Austin, and San Antonio.
Further, a number of presenters noted systemic inequities and deficiencies in some districts. Stephen Poole called out declines at Carter following departure of a former principal, explaining that children of educators no longer attend Carter High. This, due to parent/student fears of assigned gatekeepers, he said. DISD is not doing right by children in certain parts of town, said Poole. He cited bureaucracy and politics as why.
Another district criticized was Madison High when Robert Ceccarelli discussed recent unacceptable treatment of students by Madison’s principal, as discussed at DISD’s June 2023 board meeting. Ceccarelli encouraged everyone to review the video of that meeting and student Kamoya Howard’s discussion of her inappropriate and harsh treatment.
Yolanda Williams also spoke out against the Madison principal, explaining that twenty years ago, Willard had done great things, but in 2023, she should go. Williams argued, DISD is failing its students by keeping her.
It is notable that ten years ago, when Willard was included on DISDS’s “non-renewal list,” a student walk-out and protests had ensued.
All voices heard at the meeting were not entirely critical. George Rangel thanked the board for reducing test requirements for grades K through 8, noting teachers can now focus on teaching, as opposed to testing. He urged this be implemented for high schoolers as well and called for an end to class size waivers and a reopening of school libraries.
A number of libraries across DISD have been closed, to be used only as storage or, in some cases, detention centers, Christopher Wilkins explained. As a voracious reader, Wilkins said librarians had changed his life, and he urged that all students should have access to those opportunities. Resentments stem from a lack of equitable treatment, he said.
Others spoke against discontinued programs and altered curriculums. Citing expected gaps in learning, Sierra Tyler called out missing math courses, while Tanesha Bynham complained of no athletic period for girls. She argued that the unequal treatment of girls and boys constitutes a Title IX violation.
Rosie Kurtz discussed the new Carnegie lesson plans, noting a lack of corresponding supplies and describing them as somewhat restrictive. Changing to the new plans would necessarily require an adjustment period, she warned, explaining issues with the roll-out could impact test scores and affect teacher pay, and she urged the board to consider this.
Brittany Lawrence complained of failures to accommodate those with special needs, noting teacher vacancies, though low compared to previous years, are forcing the most vulnerable to scramble.
A common and very serious complaint involved high temperatures on school buses, Linda Barrett noting 108 to 110 F temperatures in some cases. Miracle Mallard noted some districts have not received new buses in five years. She and other speakers complained drivers have not been treated fairly.
One driver, Jay Hawkins, had passed out and suffered chest pains on May 5, having no A/C on the bus. He, who had not been rushed to the hospital but merely treated by an off-duty nurse, acknowledged the nurse for reviving him.
Sheila Walker, while thanking the district for a great first day, explained the tendency for metal vehicles to hold onto heat. She urged students and drivers should receive cold water to help them cool down. Walker went on to say she would never talk about striking, while encouraging others to stand by their districts and stand by their students. The students are our priority, and that’s who we are working for, she said.