Dallas Public Schools: 10 Questions with a DISD Family

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Photo: Cindy Homsher

As much as I love to talk about Dallas public schools and what I’ve learned through talking with administrators, teachers, parents, students and school board members, nothing can replace the insight from a been-there-done-that family entrenched in the district. So I’ve come up with 10 questions (the same 10 I ask every DISD parent when I want to talk about their school or schools), and each month we’ll highlight a family who answered. Our inaugural edition will begin with the Homsher family, who live in Preston Royal. Mom Cindy Homsher and her kids – Natalie, Matthew, Nicholas and Catherine – answered our questions.

How many kids, what schools? Four kids. All four attended Preston Hollow Elementary, then Benjamin Franklin Middle School. Three of the four transferred to George Bannerman Dealey International Vanguard Academy for 7th & 8th grade. Our three oldest applied, auditioned, and now attend Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing & Visual Arts, the DISD arts magnet high school in downtown Dallas’ Arts District.

What neighborhood do you live in? What do you like about it? Preston Royal (technically Northlake Estates). We’ve lived here for more than 20 years, and love everything about it, from our wonderful neighbors, to the variety in age and architecture of the houses, the mature trees and small lakes, the “walkability” to Preston Royal, the overall location inside the loop in Dallas, , with easy access to everything – from downtown to White Rock and Bachman Lakes, D/FW and Love Field – via Central Expressway, the Tollway, Northwest Highway and LBJ,. You can get anywhere, even Frisco or McKinney, in 20 – 30 minutes, except during rush hour!

Did you choose your neighborhood based on the schools and feeder pattern? Why or Why not? No, we were newly married and a few years away from having children, and decided to adopt a “wait & see” policy on the schools. We didn’t start considering schools until five years after moving into our current home.

What spurred your decision to choose DISD? All four of our children attended a fantastic private pre-school (Northaven Cooperative PreSchool) and the students at that school went on to attend a variety of public and private schools. When our oldest was ready for Kindergarten, we visited several private (mostly Christian) schools, and several neighborhood elementary schools closest to our house. Although really any of the elementary schools near our home (Kramer, Pershing, Preston Hollow) were excellent choices, we benefited from DISD’s transfer process to transfer from our then-“home” school of Kramer to Preston Hollow Elementary. Preston Hollow was closer to my husband’s office at the time, and we preferred the curriculum and knew other families whose kids attended PHES. It seemed like the best fit for our family, and turned out to be a great school for all four children.

How has your experience with DISD been so far? Incredibly positive. Public school has so many advantages that get overlooked, even beyond the obvious economic advantage of letting our already-dedicated property taxes pay for our children’s education. Educating our children in a large, urban school district has given them the foundation of operating in the world at large, as opposed to a selective demographic. The broad variety of cultures and backgrounds they’ve been exposed to has provided a great perspective and given them the ability from a very early age to embrace differences with others. Like any large entity, DISD has some flaws but, overall, we’ve experienced tremendous resources, excellent administration, uncrowded classrooms, good physical facilities, and last, but certainly not least, excellent TEACHERS who have a breadth and depth of experience in dealing with such a wide spectrum of students that they can handle almost anything in the classroom. We’re continually amazed at the dedication, intellectual and emotional intelligence of DISD teachers and the great lengths they will go to support, encourage, promote and TEACH their students.

What advice would you give to someone weighing the decision of private school versus DISD? Visit several schools, both public AND private. Set up a tour through the school office or a PTSA representative, visit classrooms, ask questions. Ask about classroom size, curriculum, testing, auxiliary programs (speech therapy, occupational therapy, availability of remedial and advanced programs, extracurricular activities). Read reviews online as well as the printed information each school provides. You can find detailed information for all DISD schools here: https://mydata.dallasisd.org/SL/SD/cdp.jsp

What surprised you about DISD – good or bad? What surprised us is that so many families don’t even consider DISD as an option. For our family, all the surprises have been good ones – again, good teachers, good framework established by the TEA and schools that are actively supported by involved parents, inside and outside of the PTSA(s).

Name one thing you would change about your child’s school. Our only lament has been that more families don’t consider sending their children to a neighborhood public school. Common school attendance creates stronger neighborhood bonds and a sense of community that’s lacking when 9 out of 10 residents on a given street attend different private schools, often several miles from home, requiring complicated carpools and rendering shared neighborhood afterschool activities — playdates, homework sessions, sports, etc. splintered and more difficult. One of the most positive effects of having our children attend public schools in our neighborhood is getting to know our neighbors even better from sharing in school events – PTSA meetings, sporting events, extracurricular activities, like Destination Imagination, musical performances and competitions, theatre programs, science fairs, book fairs, clubs, etc.

What do you think constitutes a positive educational experience for your child? Positive education means our children are learning what they should learn at each grade in a safe and structured environment, from experienced teachers that have reasonable facilities, equipment and materials at their disposal, with at least 20 – 30% of the parents involved in the school at some level. We see over and over that the greatest predictor for educational success is parental involvement – so how much more should a school be providing beyond the actual classroom education? Should they really be feeding and dressing our kids? Teaching them basic manners? We don’t think so. As parents, our job is to prepare our children for school, from having them well-rested and fed, dressed in school uniform and/or dress code, on time to school, with their homework prepared and ready to learn. They have been taught from the earliest age that school is a privilege, and we’re blessed to have such great schools in this city, state and country – they should appreciate and respect their teachers and the opportunities that a good education can provide in life.

What would your child(ren) like to tell other kids about their school(s)? I’ll let them tell you:

  • Natalie (Senior in Music): Booker T. is a friendly school that welcomes the artistry and creativity of its students. It’s been a great place for my education and personal growth. Franklin and Preston Hollow were great schools, too. I wouldn’t be who I am, if I hadn’t gone there. Mr. McCormick at Preston Hollow was my first music teacher, and my choir teacher at Franklin, Ms. Warner, first encouraged me to audition for Booker T. That changed my life.
  • Matthew (Sophomore in Theatre): I love learning at Booker T. Washington, the teachers are great. They teach to the students and not just to the tests. They really focus on the individual student. It’s also an open place for creativity and finding out what you want to do in life. Dealey really opened up my world view and taught me about what the world was like – it was because of the Theatre program taught by Ms. Garrett that inspired me to audition at Booker T.
  • Nicholas (Sophomore in Theatre): Booker T. is fun and weird and the academics are hard, but it’s a good place. I love it and most people love it, when they come there. At Dealey, the teachers were really devoted to the students.
  • Catherine (8th Grader): The education at Dealey is really advanced. I love Ms. Garrett, who teaches Theatre at Dealey and her great teaching style. She inspires me.

So there you go! I hope that as we feature more families, this helps parents (and prospective parents) in their quest for the right school and the right neighborhood.  If your family would like to be featured, please email me.

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