DISD's Running Full-Speed to Reform Through New West Dallas "School Zone"

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Patrick Michels
Chartering a new course: Mayor Tom Leppert and DISD superintendent Michael Hinojosa this morning at Dallas City Hall
This morning's mayor's breakfast at City Hall featured a parade of speakers covering the need for big-picture reforms in West Dallas education, the sort of shakeups that are remaking schools in such cities as Washington, D.C., New Orleans and New York.

Dallas Faith Communities Coalition board president Phil Wise announced the formation of the West Dallas "School Zone," modeled on the Harlem Children's Zone charter school. His mention that Heights Preparatory, a new charter school run by Uplift Education, is "taking applications now" drew a fist-pump of approval from Mayor Tom Leppert. In his own turn at the mic, Leppert -- who just over a year ago looked to be floating a takeover of Dallas schools -- told the audience of community groups and charter organizers, "We simply cannot afford to lose on this issue." 

The big announcement, though, came from DISD Superintendent Michael Hinojosa, who said that while he's "proud of where our schools are going, I'm not satisfied."

Hinojosa announced that DISD would be teaming up with Uplift Education and a new organization called the Teaching Trust to establish a leadership academy that would train new principals and teachers for West Dallas schools. "We need to be open to new ideas. We need to try innovative things," Hinojosa said.

It was a big deal in that it aligned DISD with charter schools and others pushing for dramatic school reforms in West Dallas, where Hinojosa said the one failing school -- Pinkston High School -- is only falling short because of its graduation rate, not its TAKS scores. The academy would be funded by a $5 million grant through the U.S. Department of Education's Investment in Innovation Fund.

While the grant application hadn't been completed yet, Hinojosa said they'd be sending it in soon, looking to tap into a wave of federal funding that will be opening up to school districts willing to shake things up. "There is a sea change happening, and we need to be ready for it," Hinojosa said. He said it wasn't about replacing teachers and principals who are already working in DISD's West Dallas schools, but about putting additional talent in the mix. "It is not a scarcity mentality, where we're gonna push these people out," he said. "It's an abundance mentality."


DFCC is holding an open house at 4 p.m. today to help spread the word about the morning's news. Hinojosa also said DISD would be busy with its own meeting this afternoon, stopping by Southern Methodist University (another Teaching Trust partner) to sit down with folks at the Bush Institute, which hosted a symposium on education leadership last month.

Rosemary Perlmeter, who founded Uplift Education, told us the Teaching Trust is a combined effort from West Dallas groups that's operating under the DFCC for now, until it can get its own tax ID. During his remarks this morning, Hinojosa pointed out Ellen Wood in the audience, who will be heading the group. Perlmeter said that the group is being modeled on similar nonprofits that have led education reform efforts in other big cities.

Perlmeter told Unfair Park that during community meetings over the last year, as Uplift prepared to open Heights Preparatory, she noticed a shortage of the leadership figures it would take to spearhead major education reform. Compared to other cities like New Orleans, which has based a school reform effort on training new leaders, in West Dallas "there was not a deep enough pipeline of the leaders you would need to do an extraordinary job."

The Teaching Trust also came out of a need she and other community leaders had identified over the last year, for a nonprofit pushing for reform that could operate more freely than a government agency. "Every time we saw a strong leadership program, it was built inside a nonprofit that had a strong, independent board," Perlmeter said.
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