Want to Get More Involved in the Dallas ISD? Then Here You Go. But It Ain't Free.

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Over the last couple of weeks I've received numerous emails suggesting I sign up for something called Leadership DISD, which promises to develop "education-focused, informed leaders within the Dallas Independent School District (DISD) service area who affect positive change and help to lead support efforts to bring about significant improvements in student achievement." OK, sounds good so far. The principal at my son's school certainly thinks so: She sent a heads-up to parents just this morning.

Last week I asked around to see what exactly this is. I was told it's the brainchild of newly installed trustee Mike Morath and Bob Weiss, the Meadows Foundation's veep for administration. And, sure enough, Morath's the trustee quoted in the press release I just received from Patricia Arvanitis, chair of Leadership DISD's board of directors (which also includes Weiss) and president of the Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts PTSA:
"To provide the best environment for student achievement, DISD needs great volunteers engaged in supporting the District at all levels," said Mike Morath, DISD District 2 Trustee. "Leadership DISD is an excellent way for individuals who weren't sure how to get involved to become highly effective and engaged in supporting public education in Dallas and to support the positive changes that are happening here."
The full release follows, and the site has much, much more info about the monthly half-day seminars, which kick off in September with one titled "The Dallas ISD Landscape." Only, this may be a deal-breaker for some: The class, and it is a class, will run you $200, which, per the press release, "includes the orientation, all sessions and meals, course materials, the class project, and the graduation."

I left Arvanitis a message, just so we could talk more about the program. But I've been told the goal of the program's twofold: to groom folks to run for the school board (since no one bothered to run this go-round) and to get parents involved in their kids' schools. And a fund is being set up at Communities Foundation of Texas that will allow for contributions to subsidize some of the costs. A follow-up item, no doubt. Now jump.
LEADERSHIP DISD ACCEPTING APPLICATIONS FOR INAUGURAL CLASS

DALLAS (July 28, 2011): Leadership DISD, a community-based leadership development program, is now accepting applications for the 2011-2012 cohort. Leadership DISD develops community members passionate about public education into informed advocates of, and empowered volunteers for, the Dallas Independent School District (DISD). These education-focused community leaders are then well-positioned to serve as volunteers in a variety of roles including on DISD Site Based Decision Making (SBDM) committees, volunteer board task force committees, and other leadership positions, and help strengthen DISD by advancing the broader education reform discussion within the community.

Open to all who live and work within and near the DISD service area, Leadership DISD strives for geographic balance, with spots reserved for residents of all DISD trustee districts and high school feeder patterns. Participants include parents, community volunteers, business leaders and anyone else passionate about education. While current educators are welcome to apply, the main objective is to train and empower those not already working in education. Leadership DISD costs a participant only $200, which includes the orientation, all sessions and meals, course materials, the class project, and the graduation. Application materials are available on the Leadership DISD website at www.leadershipdisd.org. Completed applications must be received by 5:00 pm on Friday, September 2nd.

Each Leadership DISD cohort begins their year in September with an orientation during which they engage in teambuilding, discuss advanced leadership concepts, and receive an intensive introduction to the Leadership DISD experience. Starting in October, the cohort meets on the second Friday of each month for a half-day seminar focused on a particular theme in education. Sample topics include:

* The Achievement Gap: Understanding Our Schools & Overcoming Demographics in Education
* Schools and their Communities: Building Parental & Volunteer Support
* Paying For Education: Texas Public School Finance & DISD Budgeting
* Educational Accountability: Federal, State, and Board Policy on Student Achievement and Teacher Evaluation
* Educational Leadership: Governance, Goal-setting, and Development of School Leaders
* Educating for the 21st Century: Current Trends in Education and Schools of the Future

To direct their acquired knowledge and experience into positive action, each cohort designs and implements its own education-focused community service initiative as a capstone project for the program year.

"To provide the best environment for student achievement, DISD needs great volunteers engaged in supporting the District at all levels," said Mike Morath, DISD District 2 Trustee. "Leadership DISD is an excellent way for individuals who weren't sure how to get involved to become highly effective and engaged in supporting public education in Dallas and to support the positive changes that are happening here."

For more information please go to our website, www.leadershipdisd.org or contact us at leadershipdisd@gmail.com.

About Dallas ISD and Leadership DISD: Dallas Independent School District serves more than 157,000 students in over 220 schools. The 14th largest district in the country, DISD serves a diverse population of students across Dallas. Leadership DISD, an independent non-profit, was developed by DISD parents and community members to support the students and District through informed volunteerism with the goal of creating a stronger DISD through community engagement. ###

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19 comments
Diane Birdwell
Diane Birdwell

DISD Teacher--contact me if you want to get involved. The trustees--7 of them, forget Bingham and FLores--DO want to hear from teachers, but the admin discourages it for obvious reasons. However, they have given up on me, and know that you really just can;t shut me up. (Hey, if it worked for J W P in the early days, it can work for me,)

The biggest complaint I get from these trustees off-kine is that the DONOT HEAR FROM INFORMED TEACHERS. Not the gossip or crud they sometimes get, but the down and dirty of how we are not allowed to DO OUR JOBS because someone at 3700 listens to people who have never taught a day in DISD.

We have a chance now, as they search for a new sup't, to get one that they can hold accountable when the minions do not tell the trustees what they need to know, when they handicap us in the classroom, and when nepotism ruins honest people's chances at promotion.

The days of which chruch you go to, who is your brother or which sorority you belonged to can be over if we speak up....

But if you remain silent, you get the same old, same old.  

Patricia Arvanitis
Patricia Arvanitis

Leadership DISD is a non-profit group, independent of DISD.  It is actually the collaborative work of several parents and community leaders who felt there should be a more proactive way that concerned citizens could volunteer in the school district. Many administrators, educators and trustees have remarked that they are often asked by their constituents how they can help out in the district. But without a proper understanding of how schools and the district works, there are limits of what can be done by volunteers.  There was a need to educate these volunteers so that they could be informed advocates. 

After working with the idea for sometime, we found an ally in Mike Morath who had similar goals for building a community organizing network.  Mike provided us with some great groundwork, and we have taken the program and run.  We are focusing on building a grass roots volunteer development program.  While a possible by-product may be that a few of our graduates move into a trustee track, the majority will help out by building out SBDM programs for schools, serving on district advisory boards or simply helping out at their neighborhood schools.  The tuition of $200 is to cover the costs of the program and we are raising funds so that we can offer scholarships so this tuition does not prevent an applicant from participating.

The program outlined above was developed to provide a basic education for our participants with the goal of building a continuous and growing network of parents, concerned citizens, and business leaders available to work with schools and the district to improve the quality of DISD.  There are many issues that affect our schools; accountability, curriculum, budget, and low parent involvement and while we can't change these issues overnight, we can certainly take a step forward.  Organized and informed advocates can provide much needed support to our school system.  By working collaboratively with the  district administrators, trustees and educators, our graduates can make a difference in our school district and ultimately our community. 

DISD Teacher
DISD Teacher

You can involve whomever you like and charge them money, but it is not going to fix DISD.

Good teachers and good principals are suffocated by a thick layer of bureaucrats who waste money with abandon and hand down decrees that actually hurt kids.

DISD needs a paradigm shift to improve and all this navel-gazing aint gonna get her done.

But if it keeps Morath busy, ok.

The key is letting teachers lead, and Morath seems to think he knows better than teachers.  We've tried everything else and look at the results.Dallas Achieves, an "active" board, and now this.It's not going to accomplish anything.

Why don't we try something new:  survey teachers and implement THEIR wisdom?  Get teacher (not union) input.  Make board members meet with teachers.  Let teachers evaluate principals.  

Top-down hasn't worked because it can't work, no matter how many half-days you meet.

Titus Groan
Titus Groan

Ah, Mike knows how to play the long game.  By overseeing the indoctrination of board candidates, you could stack the board to control it in a couple of election cycles.  Tip of the hat to you sir.  Well done indeed.

plfarmer
plfarmer

While a worshiper at the house of Dr. C, I cannot image this could not be done via the internet and with PDF's for a whole lot less money and with a far greater audience.If they need some ideas on how this might work, may I suggest the Khan Academy website.Only DISD could invite you to spend money on how to be a volunteer. How about we take that time on a monthly basis, and just go up to the school and work and hand the $ 200 to the Dad's Club or PTA.

Bob
Bob

The premise as you describe is not a bad idea. Similar to the concept of Leadership Dallas?

Michael MacNaughton
Michael MacNaughton

I admire and support Trustee Morath's efforts to recruit and educate those folks that want to help public education survive.I hope that the meeting times may be reconsidered because many interested folks may not be able to take a half-day off from work each month..."Starting in October, the cohort meets on the second Friday of each month for a half-day seminar focused on a particular theme in education."  

Titus Groan
Titus Groan

It's quite simple really: the talent is there, just get out of the way.  Let teachers run their classrooms.  Let principals run their schools.  Let the veterans help the newbies.  Stop shoving stupid and pointless rules and activities down campus staff's throats.  Lastly, clean all the deadweight (and good luck bcs there's a LOT) out of the Ross, Haskell, and Buckner buildings.

Guest
Guest

You'd be right if this were only an exercise ineducating the class members about education policy. I assume the idea is to get a group both educatedand motivated to take leadership positions. The second half of the equation isincredibly difficult to do via a video conference. Motivation is contagious,but you have to have contact with someone who is infected to catch it.

Guest
Guest

True, but that's usually the way these things go.  It's a terrible inconvience, but then again, the people you really want in the class are the people who will sacrifice half a day each month.  Otherwise, they probably aren't going to be the volunteers you want them to be.  I say this as someone who really would like to participate, but likely couldn't give up the half day each month. 

Michael MacNaughton
Michael MacNaughton

I believe we are headed that direction. Not all principals are good managers nor should all teachers remain in the classroom.  It will be difficult to break the back of a 40 year cronyistic and nepotistic system in less than one year. It took one year to have public budget hearings and two years to create a public commission to get a seat at the budget table. I am moderately hopeful because of the makeup of the current board...they are not exactly activists but they want to do the right thing and are taking tentative steps to develop policy for the future.

plfarmer
plfarmer

You already have leaders in PTA's, Friend's of ....., or Dad's clubs. Every school has a President of PTA. What most do not have is a large membership. The derth of motivtion is not with leadership, but lies someplace else.

Michael MacNaughton
Michael MacNaughton

And that is also the problem with finding qualified trustee candidates.  You either need to be independently wealthy or retired in order to commit to the time necessary to do a stellar job. Being politically connected with an ability to raise campaign funds is also a huge asset.  Folks who are true stakeholders will have fewer opportunities.  Perhaps it's time to think about salaries for School Board members? - although I fear an even larger can o' worms will be opened.

DISD Teacher
DISD Teacher

And WOW about the super telling a principal to button up.

Was that not enough for the trustees to see what is going on and why performance is so abysmal in this district?

DISD Teacher
DISD Teacher

I cannot get behind any trustee who does not find a way to ask the experts--teachers--what needs to be done.

DISD is a failing district because it ignores the experts.  Period.  Paragraph.Why can't teachers evaluate principals?In the original public school paradigm, that's how it worked:  principals served teachers.Why can't trustees get anonymous teacher feedback?We are desperate to tell the trustees what is really needed.  The superintendent and the "executive level" of bureaucrats stand between us.

Trustees and teachers should meet and then the trustees should direct 3700 Ross to implement what is decided.We've done it the other way for decades and it's been disastrous and wastefully expensive.Surely Morath can figure out a way to get around the grievance issues.As I've said before, DISD needs a paradigm shift.How many more million-dollar boondoggles do we need before teachers are asked?

Michael MacNaughton
Michael MacNaughton

Good questions.  Of course I cannot speak for the Trustees but I can give you my impressions over the last two years.  

There was (and is to some extent) a corporate culture of fear and intimidation at 3700.  Trustees were expected to govern lightly - heck, they are even trained for governance and not management.  Now, that works as long as management and leadership are strong and there are no crises. But Supt. Hinojosa was a coach, not a manager. We needed Trustees who were activists and not arms-length governors.  Over the last 2 years (and unprecedented 3 elections in 18 months) Nutall, Parrott and Cowan have changed the tone of the board. Morath's election helped form a raggedy coalition of reformers and Trustees more willing to listen to citizen, parent and teacher input. There is currently a movement to move away from "Managed Instruction through Earned Empowerment" (top down) to giving principals more power to hire staff, counter-balanced with the principal evaluated on their staff's performance. The idea is to allow the schools to tell the administration what they need to provide the best education for their students. This will take time to implement. There are plenty of good principals but many who cannot manage. There are plenty of great teachers and some that should not be in the classroom and should not be promoted just because they are part of one big "family" of public educators.  

Because Trustees also sit on panels for grievance hearings there has long been a rule (not sure if it rises to policy) that they shouldn't have contact with teachers or principals so as not to taint the grieving process.  Personally I think that "rule" has been used to purposefully isolate the Trustees from any meaningful input from teachers and principals.  I saw the former Superintendent threaten a principal with disciplinary action at a board meeting after a Trustee asked her a direct question.  Needless to say the principal sat down very quietly while the Trustees were left speechless.  

There are many Trustees who care deeply for their neighborhood schools and actively visit the campuses - Bruce Parrott is one.  I personally believe that there would be no unfairness at the grievance hearings if the Trustees simply recuse themselves if they have specific knowledge of the teacher or principal but, hey, I am not an attorney.  I will tell you that when the DFPE gathered teacher and public input for the budget meetings on the web site that all the Trustees were very interested in the opinions of the teachers - so much so that we opened the data to the public in raw format. http://www.dfpe.org/dfpe-surve... 

Trustee Morath is quite bright and a quick study. He is also a bit inexperienced with the political brinksmanship that is sometimes waged.  He is young and dedicated and excited about trying to make a difference.  He is impatient.  He has a missionary mind-set and zeal. Many may find fault with these traits.  Me? I have known Mike for two years and you can't pigeon-hole the guy although everybody keeps trying.  He is his own man and that scares the hell out of some people. He has no political or monetary aspirations past doing his very best as Trustee and is beholden to the notion that public education should be the best education for all that want it.  How can you not get behind that idea?

DISD Teacher
DISD Teacher

You have input and you know the trustees, so maybe you can get thru to them.Why aren't they at our campuses asking US what WE need instead of telling us what to do from afar?

And Morath's uncreative idea is just more of the same:  Let's ask everyone BUT teachers how to run the schools.  And you see how well that's worked out.

They never visit, they never ask teachers.  How in the world can they feel qualified to make decisions without ever finding out what's really going on (bc if they think 3700 minions and even principals will tell them the truth, they need a mental check)?

We teachers have a long list of ideas that would benefit ALL of Dallas by making our school district usable for the middle class and a better servant to the poor.

Guest
Guest

I'd be all for salaries for trustees.  I find it remarkable that anyone expects them to serve for free given the time committment.  As you say, you need to be independently wealthy or retired, and neither group seems like the best candidates. 

Sadly, I doubt salaries would result in many more qualified people taking the job.  The downside to being a trustee isn't just the time or lack of pay, it's the fact that everyone will hate you eventually.  Teachers, parents, students:  None of them understand or care how difficult a job it is to run a large urban school district.  It will always be a thankless job.   

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