If You Want to Run For Dallas ISD Board, And Want a PAC's Backing, Fill Out This Essay Test

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On May 12 of next year three Dallas Independent School District trustee spots will come up for grabs -- those presently held by Bernadette Nutall, Bruce Parrott and Edwin Flores. (And, depending on which rumors you choose to believe about possible doings on the Dallas County Commissioners Court and the Dallas City Council, there could be a fourth.) You may recall that there was no school board election in 2011, as Adam Medrano, Carla Ranger and Mike Morath ran unopposed. Do not expect a repeat of that sad scenario in 2012. Educate Dallas, a political action committee with ties to the Dallas Regional Chamber, will see to that.

As a matter of fact, for the last few months members of its advisory board have been recruiting candidates for the school board, asking around to see who might be interested in running for those three (or four) seats. Just days ago it posted to its website this candidate questionnaire, a sort of essay test that poses such questions as, "Dallas ISD's mission statement is 'Educating students for success.' In your view, how should success be defined?" and "In your opinion, what are the top three issues facing Dallas ISD, and how would you address each?"

All of this is tied to something we've written about before: The so-called Commit! initiative, presented to the school board in September by Clint McDonnough, a managing partner at Ernst & Young and chair of education for the chamber. McDonnough is also EducateDallas's chair, a position he will share come January with tax attorney Mark Melton, who has a daughter at Woodrow and whose bio makes you feel like you'll never be able do enough good deeds to catch up.

Melton told me today that there's a "soft deadline of January 17" for those so interested to fill out the questionnaire. After that the board will read through the answers and call in folks for in-person interviews -- "to see if they're the kind of person we want to support," Melton says. "Early on, we'll pick some candidates to get behind." And, yes, that means financially: According to EducateDallas's year-end wrap-up, it has $50,000 and counting to throw behind candidates it believes will improve the state of the DISD.

I asked Melton: What are you looking for in a candidate? Because the trustees can't even figure out what they want in a superintendent without asking anyone with access to a computer. Are we talking, you know, a reformer candidate? What does "high-quality" mean, exactly?

"It's a good idea to define what you're looking for," he says. "It's not a good idea to use 'reformer' because in certain parts of the community it has a negative connotation for some reason. It needs to be someone who believes in accountability at all levels, who doesn't believe lower test scores should result in lowering the bar, who believes that when it comes to teacher evaluations you shouldn't beat up teachers but come up with an actual metric where you can measure real performance. And we're looking for trustees who are interested in holding the administration accountable. Accountability -- that's the one word that defines this. And people who won't be divisive, who won't be one-issue, who have a well-rounded look at the whole community and not just one school in their neighborhood."

After I got off the phone with Melton, I had a long talk with Jim Oberwetter -- president of the Dallas Regional Chamber, former U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia and EducateDallas's treasurer. More from him tomorrow. But long story short: If you don't know what EducateDallas is today, you will by early 2012.

"Absolutely," Melton says. "We've tried to be very careful to position ourselves in such a way that we have credibility with the comm. We don't want to go out on a limb and make a misstep. We want to have a long, lasting impact. We don't want to make knee-jerk decisions. There is no silver bullet when it comes to fixing" the DISD. "This is just one piece. It'll take parent involvement and a cultural shift in the district and a whole bunch of other stuff."
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Cliffhanger
Cliffhanger

Wading in with fists full of dollars and waving them around only proves your getting candidates who can be bought, not candidates who put kids first.

Omar Jimenez
Omar Jimenez

"And, depending on which rumors you choose to believe about possible doings on the Dallas County Commissioners Court and the Dallas City Council, there could be a fourth." What does that mean? 4 DISD Seats up for grabs in May?  Is someone going to go? All I've heard is that Bernadette was going to run for Commissioners Court early, but I'm not sure.

By the way, if you really care about DISD instead of crying, get out there and vote and go to the Superintendent Search Meeting- http://www.dallasisd.org/site/... It's worth a shot. No one really votes in theses election and yet some of them get away with your taxes.

Educated Dad
Educated Dad

I agree that people who care should vote and attend some of the meetings.  Unfortunately, neither of those are historically high priorities.  But I also think improvements can be made one child at a time or one teacher at a time.

We should want a good school district/system, because we want it to produce students who become good citizens (whether here or abroad).  If someone really wants to help produce a good citizen, they can walk into a school near their home, job, or gym, and ask, "how can I help?"  If you're not into working directly with students (because many schools will want you to help mentor a child or two), there is always a teacher who could use help completing tasks on-campus or off-campus.

2012!

Justsoyouknow
Justsoyouknow

wow, bill betzen will never stop promoting his archive project. He really thinks this is the silver bullet. Sad.

JustWondering
JustWondering

I doubt that he will, because for him and his school, it worked. Heck, it would likely work for other schools. Other ideas would work too, ideas that get the students, staff and parents to focus on something and work together. There is no silver bullet, no cookie-cutter solution, no "one size fits all". That's the trap that Ross Ave. falls into so often. There are solutions, and often a solution will work for several campuses. They all take effort and commitment.

Educated Dad
Educated Dad

I agree that no cookie-cutter solution will work for all schools and communities within Dallas ISD, but isn't it Ross Ave's job to create solutions for the entire district and support ideas that are working for the local schools?

I think parents should be more involved.  Parents and relatives of students could be a vital source of volunteer manpower, ideas, emotional support for teachers, students, and schools.  The State and Dallas ISD promote Site-Based Decision Making Committees (SBDM) in schools.  The schools don't always do a good job implementing them.  I'm not blaming the schools alone nor the district.  Principals and teachers have a lot to do, and we can't expect all of them to successfully recruit parents and community members as well as direct them how to be successful.  The district has some training meetings, but I think more can be done from Ross Ave. to promote localized ideas and improvements.

JustWondering
JustWondering

Ross Ave. probably DOES need to do better on the "support ideas that are working for the local schools". Or perhaps it is not Ross Ave, but the learning community directors? Or some of each?I've attended SBDM training in past and I found it interesting when I compared TEA and DISD documents on the committee's form & function.

bbetzen
bbetzen

Mark Melton is right to say: "There is no silver bullet when it comes to fixing" the DISD. "This (EducateDallas) is just one piece. It'll take parent involvement and a cultural shift in the district and a whole bunch of other stuff." The critical cultural shift will be a significant increase in DISD "body language" that shows parents that their involvement is critical, and welcomed!  One such piece of "body language" would be showing parents how very important their dreams for their children are.  Every parent should be prepared to write their children letters as they enter middle school about their own dreams for their child. What type letter could be more valuable?  It would be a letter to their child about their dreams and hopes for their child in middle school, and in life, and how they are willing to help their child.  Such letters could become a priceless possession for thousands of children, especially as they years pass.  They would help change the culture. This priceless letter would then be read by each new middle school student and brought to Language Arts Class.  In that class one of the first writing projects would be to write a letter to themselves about their own dreams for themselves.  What are their goals in middle school and in their lives?  Once finished, both of these letters would be placed together into the same self-addressed envelope and placed inside a 540-pound vault bolted to the floor in the school lobby.  This vault is the School Archive where such critical plans for the future by each student are stored.  It is in a central location passed every day many times by every student.  It is under spotlights as a silent reminder of the letters and dreams inside. The last months of middle school these letters are pulled and returned to each student, again in Language Arts class. Both letters are written again, and the new letters again placed together into one self-addressed envelope and, in a short ceremony, back into the vault. This time they stay in the vault for a decade. Each students gets two copies of a group photo that is taken of them with their Language Arts Class holding their letters before placing them into the vault. On that backs of those photos are descriptions of the Archive Project with the month their 10-year class reunion is planned. They are reminded they will get their letter back at that reunion and will also be invited to speak with the then current middle school students, students a decade younger than they will be. They will give their recommendations for success. They are reminded to prepare to answer questions such as “What would you do differently if you were 13 again?”This Archive Project started at Quintanilla Middle School in 2005. Sunset High School where most Quintanilla Students attend has gone from a 33% graduation rate in 2006 to one that is now over 62% in 2011. Sunset installed a vault for a high school level Archive Project in 2009. Parental letters were only added to the projects in 2010. The school culture is changing! It is focused on the future.

This project must spread to more schools. Teachers and administrators who would love to see their students again in 10 years are needed to run such School Archive Projects.

SammySnead
SammySnead

So why are rich white guys with no kids at DISD trying to buy candidates for the school board?

Trisha Windham
Trisha Windham

If you'll look, it's actually governed by a very diverse Board of Advisors - the majority of which represent minority populations and are from all different parts of the city and backgrounds.   http://educatedallas.org/sampl...

Educated Dad
Educated Dad

I can appreciate your skepticism, but I can also see it from the other side.  Nevertheless, we must continue to watch carefully.

Think of the "successful" communities that are attracting businesses, attracting financially prosperous families and residents, and are places people want to live.  Whether you're thinking suburb cities or a communities within Dallas, I bet you're thinking of places with good schools.

I'm sure Dallas businessmen want to keep other Dallas businesses nearby.  Right now, they are being actively recruited by suburb cities.  And consider employees.  If you're a large company in Dallas, what type of schools do your employees want their children to attend?  This is a consideration for current employees as well as the ones that you need to fill open positions.  And long-term, do they want to hire employees that graduate as the exceptions at Academically Unacceptable high schools, or do they want a hiring pool of people that were part of a successful organization?

Smart schools is smart business.  If the suburbs attract more good employees and buyers with more money, why would a business stay in Dallas.

Omar Jimenez
Omar Jimenez

That's nothing new! They would buy Flores and Bingham out, but not the rest unless.

OC Banshee
OC Banshee

They want business as usual without the embarrassment of low ratings.

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