Last week I received an email from a new DISD parent, whose son is starting at Kramer Elementary today. He brought up many points I thought were worth sharing. His email is reprinted with permission below, with a few minor editing changes and notes inserted from me.
[Obligatory introduction about how awesome I am. People who don't know me often start emails this way.]
My wife and I are excited about enrolling our oldest in kindergarten at Kramer Elementary in the dual language program. We had to transfer to get into this program (our feeder school doesn’t offer it). We’ve been met by great skepticism by friends when we mention DISD. We certainly have our own reservations, but we’re willing to give it a go. I don’t have many solutions to the tough issues you’re tackling with the board and home rule, but I feel like there surely could be more momentum on some of the smaller issues that drive school progress and growth.
Here’s something that I’d love to hear more about: tailoring content and experiences to meet the needs of the middle class — people who might be on the fence about choosing DISD and need some reassurances. The most encouraging things I’ve heard about DISD have been from parents and through unofficial channels. Not “hush hush” channels, but certainly not shouted from the rooftops, either. Parents said that if I take advantage of the system in place, your kids will be fine. Examples include dual-language slots; applying for Dealey Montessori (we didn’t get in even though it’s down the street); taking AP courses at Hillcrest to fast-track to college scholarships by being in the top 10 [percent in the graduating class].
It seems like DISD has given up on convincing North Dallas folks to give it a try and are afraid to speak honestly to alleviate fears and the real issue parents face: When it comes to my student, I’m selfish as hell and mostly have their interests in mind. I admit, I’ll do what it takes to ensure a good education for my boys, and will vote with my feet if need be, but there’s a big part of me that doesn’t want to go that route. So here’s my bullet list that likely has nothing to do with trustees/home rule and everything to do with our personal experience:
• Open up Dealey-style programs (application and interview required) in every elementary school and expand them till demand is satisfied. [Ed Note: Mike Miles' school choice plan will allow for more schools like Dealey within the larger DISD community.] If they exist already, advertise it, and ignore the naysayers who say it caters to one group or another; who cares? It makes the schools more attractive to those who have kids in that school. We couldn’t get into Dealey simply because demand outstripped supply — that is pretty ridiculous.
• Make it easy for parents who can’t get a preferred slot to get seamlessly plugged into a slot in a comparable school. Here’s an example: Dealey aside, lots of friends live near or in the Withers [Elementary] feeder zone, like the dual language program as well, but couldn’t get in since that school has reached critical mass. Kramer’s a bit behind, but supposed to be a pretty good school. For every person looking to enroll in that program but couldn’t get in, they all shopped outside DISD afterward but could have easily been served at Kramer if there had been better coordination/communication. Involved parents who are willing to give DISD a try should be latched onto, not put through the ringer or turned away with no effort to place them.
• The Kramer PTA seems amazing. We’ve been to a meet and greet and came away impressed by the like-minded parents who’ve enrolled just like us. Wish this sort of thing could be spotlighted along with the dirt. [Ed note: PTAs across the district are pretty amazing. I met with folks from the Greiner middle school recently and was blown away by how they've turned that school around. I'll try to highlight some during the school year.
• I think DISD should spend some serious time and attention on strategically gathering neighborhood support for schools where folks are most likely to vote with their feet. These parents and students, once committed, I think are more likely to hold the school accountable and try to push real reforms. [Door-to-door salesmen] drop by my front door all the stinking time, but not a peep from anything/one related to DISD (nothing in the mail either).
I’ve told the parent to keep in touch during the school year and provide me with updates. Also, I forwarded this email to folks in DISD, who asked if they could contact the parent. I’d love to publish concerns and suggestions from parents throughout the school year. Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.