A whole lot of ugly politics has happened during the last few weeks of this school board election. And if you’re like me, you’re dismayed by the antics of people you respected, worried about whether this signals a new round of hostilities at board meetings, and probably just flat out tired of it.
You may even have decided not to vote now.
I’m not in the business of telling you exactly who to vote for. We’ve provided snapshots of each race and their endorsements, but those in no way should be construed as endorsements of any candidate.
But I’d like to tell you a story – one that if you go to the same church I do, you may have already heard told masterfully from the pulpit. But it’s a true story, and one that has become my guidance when thinking about decisions I have to make regarding Dallas ISD – whether it be who I vote for trustee or recommendations I make as part of the Site Based Decision Making Committee I’m on.
I won’t name the school – mostly because it doesn’t matter, this can play out in any number of schools where the poverty rate climbs past 90 percent. But every day until her last day earlier this semester, this elementary school’s principal sat in the entry way of her school, greeting each tiny face by name. One day, as the clock inched closer to the time the bell would ring to begin school, she sat chatting with a few volunteers when suddenly, the front door flew open, and two hands appeared, shoving a wailing little girl into the building. The door closed quickly, and it was clear that whoever had thrust this child into the building had beat a quick path away from the school.
The child continued to wail in the foyer of the building as the principal got up from her seat and walked up to the girl, kneeling. She hugged her, then held that tiny, tear-streaked face in her hands and quietly asked what was wrong. Through gulps and sniffles, the girl whispered. The principal nodded, rose, and quietly walked the girl to the nurse’s office.
When she came back, the volunteers asked if the little girl was OK. The principal said yes, she just didn’t want to come to school. See, that little girl had been wearing the same uniform for four days straight. She felt dirty. She felt smelly. “She felt undignified,” the principal said, so she took that little girl to the nurse, who had a washing machine and dryer available for just this need.
“She felt undignified.”
That has stuck with me for months now. But how does this story have any bearing on why you should vote, or how – other than this is the sort of thing our schools address as part of the business of teaching our children?
The answer is simple. Every child that sets foot on a Dallas ISD campus deserves to feel dignified. They should feel dignified, regardless of what kind of family they have at home, regardless of how much money their parents are or aren’t able to donate to their school, despite the fact that they may be wearing uniform pants two sizes too big because that’s what was available from the donated uniforms.
They deserve to feel dignified when they stumble over words because they’re a grade level behind in reading because nobody ever read to them at home – they may not have even had one book in their home. They deserve to feel dignified if special needs make it hard sometimes to deal with the noise and bustle of a classroom and they have an outburst. They deserve to feel dignified if they don’t speak English fluently yet. They even deserve to feel dignified when the weight of the day becomes too much and self-control eludes them and they face discipline.
If that little girl had been allowed to remain feeling undignified, would she have heard anything being taught that day, or would she sit, feeling low and unkempt in her seat as her class functioned around her, not with her or even because of her? How do you tell a child she can be anything she wants to be with a good education if she can’t even feel clean, happy and prepared to learn?
And when you put it in those simple terms, you can begin the business of looking at school board candidates through that lens. Do they feel all children deserve to feel dignified, too? Do they understand what that means? Do you believe that a school board should consist of adults who feel this way? Because the adults who do, get it. They get the odds some of our brightest students face. They get what it takes to help them even those odds. And they get that at the end of the day, this gig is about every single child in Dallas ISD.
So if you live in districts 2, 4, 5 or 7, please do go vote. Less than 10 percent of registered voters take the time to vote in school board elections. Don’t be among the 90 percent who forget what it feels like to be small, vulnerable and undignified.