Dallas Public Schools: Committed, For Now

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Last week, I wrote about the decisions we have coming up regarding real estate, and our son’s education. And I love, love, love all the reader feedback and comments. This week? This week I’d like to talk about our thought process thus far.

My husband and I are products of public schools – albeit not in Dallas, since we both landed here as adults. But in our time as a couple, we have kept a watchful eye on our adopted hometown’s education offerings, and once Tiny became a waving little alien on an ultrasound screen, we began, in earnest, discussing what we would do.

We’re kind of planners. OK, more accurately, I’m a raging planaholic, and my husband is a planner. But this now-ongoing discussion needed to happen that early because it involved real estate – which, as we all know, is something you try not to go into willy nilly.

So we first took a look at the school we would be assigned to for elementary school – Withers Elementary. As luck would have it, we have several friends and acquaintances with children who were attending at the time, and at least one whose children are now attending. Nothing but raves. A dual-language program that has benefitted hundreds of children. Robust parental involvement. Great ratings from the TEA, and compares well with  many of the elementary schools in the area of similar size and make up.

In other words, we’d be happy to send him there.

And then there are the hard-t0-get-in-to but alluring montessori schools – Harry Stone and Dealey. We are going to be touring those next month (more on that in a later post), and attending a magnet school open house as well. As it stands, we plan on going through the assessment process, and letting the chips fall where they may. While we are perfectly happy with the prospect of sending our child to the school he is assigned to currently, if we can get in a school that he can stay at from pre-K through eighth grade, we’d be fools not to try. For one, it gives us a great deal of flexibility when it comes to timelines for what to do with the house. Suppose the market gets hot enough in our neighborhood that we’d be fools not to sell? Well, I don’t necessarily want to rip my child out of his school in second grade if I can help it, right?

Thinking far, far into the future, our high school (currently) is W.T. White. A bit of backstory – we are involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters. Our little brother will be the first in his family to graduate from high school, and is going on to college. I credit the teachers and counselors at White for recognizing his strengths and weaknesses, helping him do the same, and encouraging him along the way. A lot of people can be credited for encouraging his success, but those educators at White deserve a big thumbs up. If it is the same way when Tiny is in high school, I will be happy.

But as the title of this post says, we’re committed to Dallas public schools – for now. Things can change, we know. And if they do, and we feel the school district isn’t challenging our child anymore, then we will address it.  But after doing a great deal of homework and talking to many, many satisfied parents and students at DISD, we feel confident right now that our son will be challenged and happy (our two main concerns).  There are constant opportunities available to children (see here, here, here and here) – many nationally-ranked magnet schools, lots of gifted and talented programs. There are plenty of programs in non-magnet schools for kids to choose from as well – our little brother is in the engineering program, and is thriving.

The fact of the matter is this: If you go by media coverage of school board meetings and judge the district by political infighting, yes, it looks like a hot mess.  But if you look at the individual schools in your feeder pattern, talk to those parents and look at those rankings, you may find that the schools are far better than you’ve been led to believe (or vice versa). After all, do you go by the crime data for the entire city of Dallas, or your potential neighborhood when house hunting? Are comps based on sales in Dallas as a whole, or a neighborhood?  It’s the eating the elephant analogy – on the surface, the task looks foreboding. When you drill down, and you realize there are options and leaping off points throughout the 13 years of instruction, it becomes a manageable mouthful. When looking at schools, I look for a handful of things – parental involvement (a thriving and active PTA, Dad’s Club, etc.), first-hand reviews, open houses, test scores and accountability rankings. When we reach the middle school point in the journey, we will reassess, and will do so again at the high school level – as a family.

And I’m not saying I’m not concerned by the very public tussles involving the DISD school board and Superintendent Mike Miles – I am keeping a watchful eye on that as well. Future posts will also examine the idea of  home rule, and whether it is feasible. I’m also open to questions – if you have a question about a specific aspect of the district, or of the TEA or the state school board, please shoot me an email or comment, and I’ll try to suss that out for a future blog post.

9 Comment

  • mm

    Pure awesomeness! My daughter is going through this same exercise over in Lakewood/Hollywood Heights. And I LOVE thinking about the Dallas public schools neighborhood by neighborhood, just as we do real estate!

  • My wife and I came to the same conclusion for our boys, our oldest just enrolled at Kramer in the dual language program. This is a sister school to Withers, very similar level of excellence, but a smaller percentage of neighborhood parents….likely due to insane real estate prices in close proximity to the school. So far we love it and have been very encouraged. FYI for those considering Withers, due to high demand, I think they have fewer slots in dual language than applicants, so parents out of feeder pattern won’t likely get placed. Kramer’s close to capacity, but still had some open transfer slots this year…..this year. That may change fast. An idea of the pull of dual language…an RISD couple and white rock couple are some of our most involved parents. East Dallas is paving the way with IB programs, and many campuses are slated to come on board, Kramer included. I met with one of the administrators and discussed school choice after our son applied, but wasn’t accepted, to Dealy. It was a very encouraging conversation about the direction DISD is hoping to head in replicating some of the successes like IB and expanding parent options so things like Dealt or dual language aren’t out of reach.

  • Thanks for the post. Have you heard good feedback about Dealey like you did about Withers?

    • I’ve heard excellent things about Dealy, but the problem is that so has everyone else, so demand far outstrips availability. Also thier program starts at pre-k, so its competitive lottery. I think lots of folks look no further, and then get frustrated thinking the other schools are not as good before giving them a chance. I got the strong impression that DISD will try to expand these programs to lure back neighborhood support…which immediately impacts educational outcome ratings and local funding efforts. A big win. It also fits with the push for expanded pre-k in DISD.

  • FYI, DISD has a good transfer program. We reentered DISD from private school at Dealey Intn’l Academy and used the transfer system to place them in the high school that best fit their needs- even though that h.s. wasn’t our feeder pattern school. We think DISD rocks. This decision was more difficult for us because of all the people talking trash about the district…..whom we discovered had never had their kids in DISD. We talked to actual parents…..and have never regretted our decision! They are challenged academically and are discovering their passions in life, thanks to their wonderful teachers and administrators!

  • Everyone staying committed is key. Some people flake off at the thought of going to middle school, where there are more poor minority kids who may not be as well prepared. So long as the committed parents band together, all groups benefit. There will be different levels including Pre-AP (and IB at J. L. Long in Lakewood). if there are enough kids to have a core group of challenging class offerings there is no problem. That’s how some schools weathered some bad times but are now blooming. It’s also a good lesson in loyalty for your kids.

    • You’re right about staying committed. However, programs like dual language naturally build on themselves as more elementary schools are getting ready to feed bilingual/biliterate and committed kids into new programs starting in the middle schools. I think this can only help at the ms and he level because it affords a separate specialization track that rewards commitment, longevity, and excellence. I do think it could be tough to enroll new entrants at higher grade levels….which probably explains why they’re rolling out the program 1 grade level at a time as each class graduates.

  • I’m late to the conversation, but we are a Withers family and our experience has been fantastic. My hope is that parents don’t get side-tracked by trying to find a “special” program. Every program – whether it be dual-lanuage, IB, magnet, general education – is made special through excellence in teaching, leadership, parent involvement and community support. Knowing what I know now, if my son hadn’t won a lottery spot for dual language, we would put him the general education program at Withers in a heart beat. It has just as much special going for it as any of these other programs, excellent teachers and a community of families who are involved and care about one another.

  • We are assigned to Withers, and have heard nothing but awesome things. Our bigger conundrum right now is Pre-K. As it stands in DISD, if you don’t fall under certain guidelines (free or reduced lunch, parent in the military, special Ed, homeless, etc), you have to basically sit on a wait list until they ascertain whether there are open spots after all qualifying students have enrolled.
    We do plan on enrolling for the wait list at Withers this month, too. But if there are no openings, we may look at other close by schools that might have openings.