So we’re still working on getting District 2 representation on the Dallas Independent School District Board of Trustees because basically nobody voted in the election. Less than five percent voted in the election in May, forcing a runoff between Dustin Marshall and Mita Havlick.
Remember this map? This is the map that showed how poorly people showed at the polls. Less than 50 votes separated Havlick from Suzanne Smith in the May election. Less than 50 votes may very well decide this runoff, too, which is asinine.
Early voting starts today and lasts until June 14. Election Day is June 18. For information – including polling places – on early voting, click here. For information on voting on Election day, click here.
Now, in the meantime, I thought I would provide a brief primer on the two candidates. A previous rundown is here, but I reached out to both candidates last week with a quick second set of questions to augment the information found in the rundowns and in other responses from Dallas Kids First (Marshall, Havlick) and the Dallas Morning News, as well as responses at Turn and Talks (Marshall/Marshall podcast, Havlick/Havlick podcast).
My questions and each candidate’s answers follow. None of the responses have been edited.
How many DISD campuses have you visited in the past two years?
Havlick: I have visited 21 DISD campuses in the past two years.
Marshall: I would estimate that I’ve been in over 50 public schools in the last two years – and over half of those were DISD schools. I’ve always felt that it is important for community leaders to spend time in the schools to celebrate our successes and to recognize the efforts and contributions of our teachers and administrators. I also think it is important to see how policy changes play out on individual campuses, and I enjoy looking for best practices at each school that can help inform macro level policy.
What do you think is the biggest obstacle to successful schools in Dallas?
Havlick: Well, if it was just one obstacle, it would probably be easier to address. Unfortunately, there are a few –
- The dissention that has existed on the board for the last several years has proven to be an obstacle in the district moving ahead with a cohesive strategy.
- Not having a solid, cohesive three-, five- and seven-year overarching strategy has been a hindrance, which is exacerbated by not having consistent leadership in superintendent position.
- Not being able to create an equitable teacher and principal evaluation system. Our educators need to be measured, but the current system has resulted in not only some of our poor teachers leaving, but a number of experienced, effective teachers choosing not to return. This has resulted in challenges in recruiting effective teachers into our school district.
Marshall: I think it is incumbent on DISD to recognize that a litany of issues impact our kids before they arrive at school. Whether due to poverty or hunger or toxic stress, our kids come to us with many challenges, and if we are going to be effective as educators, then we have to tackle these challenges by devoting resources to our worst performing schools. The ACE program is a great start in this regard and the results have been outstanding. By identifying our strongest teachers and putting them in our poorest performing schools, we’ve seen stronger academic gains, much better climate scores, substantially decreased disciplinary issues, higher attendance, etc. This is great progress by the district impacting over 4,000 students at seven IR campuses. It’s worth noting that before you can send your best teachers to these schools, you need to be able to identify your best teachers – which is why TEI is such a critical component of the ACE program.
Your district is large and varied, containing arguably the most affluent school in the district and some of the poorest. How will you make sure you can address the needs of every student in your district, and effectively advocate for them?
Havlick: The role of a trustee is to represent each of the schools in District 2 and the district as a whole, and not only those that are the highest or lowest performing.
It’s important to continuously visit each campus and speak to administrators, the Executive Directors and community to understand their concerns and issues, and hear what’s working and not working on their campuses. Only then can we advocate for what needs to be done.
We cannot continue to have blanket policies that dilute our programs and schools that are functioning well, while not addressing the specific challenges at our underperforming schools. Additionally, our policies need to positively affect those campuses that are on the “cusp” of being on the upper end of the successful-school spectrum.
Marshall: I believe that ALL kids deserve a great education – not just those who attend affluent schools. Some schools in District 2 have strong parent advocates who will speak up on behalf of their kids and will mobilize to improve outcomes. For these schools, I intend to make myself available via periodic “office hours” at local coffee shops so that I can hear from concerned parents.
For schools where the parents may not know how to advocate on behalf of their kids, I will work to meet those parents in their communities (and in their language where possible). Principal Jackson at Sudie Williams, as an example, hosts “Meet the Principal” events in the community rooms of the apartment complexes where most of his students live. He brings a translator to ensure he can communicate with these parents. I’d like to do something similar to reach out to these communities.
I also intend to hold focus group sessions with teachers and administrators and to frequently tour schools in order to make sure I have a thorough understanding of the issues at all District 2 schools so I can be an effective advocate for our kids.
How would you attempt to pitch Dallas ISD to a prospective parent who has a negative perception of the district?
Havlick: And as a parent-representative responsible for tours at my children’s DISD schools, I have had to do this on more than one occasion. I have even had a prospective parent ask, “Convince me why I shouldn’t go to private school.” I can’t convince anyone, but I do explain that if a family is fortunate to be in a position to have options, the best choice is what works for the family. (For our family, it’s public schools.) I respect the decisions parents make on behalf of what they feel is best for their children. My goal, however, as a trustee is to have our public schools be the top choice for our families.
I’ve adopted a phrase that a parent relayed to me some time ago: “Let the system fail you before you fail the system”. One can listen to all the negative talk about DISD and our public schools, but our district has many bright spots, and I encourage parents to be a part of that success.
There are numerous benefits to being in an urban public education environment and DISD, including:
- Choice. We have great neighborhood and choice schools, some of the best in the state and country.
- Diversity. Public schools offer a diversity not often found in most private school environments – ethnically, racially and socioeconomically. Also, with inclusion of our deaf–ed students, English Language Learners and general learning disability students, there are even more opportunities for a diverse student environment in which to learn. This affords children to understand and accept the differences that exist throughout our neighborhoods and city and across the country and globe.
- Creating a sense of community. We, together, make our schools great. There are a number examples in our district whereby a group of parents banded early, while their children were infants, and made the commitment to send all of their kids to their neighborhood public school. For example, this is happening right now at Dan D. Rogers Elementary School (a Personalized Learning Center). These parents are engaged at the school – volunteering and having conversation with current parents, teachers and administrators. By the time their kids start Kinder, these parents will not have the concern or fear of the “unknown”. And they are partaking and being active in their community.
Marshall: Negative impressions of the DISD are often rooted in biased or inaccurate data shared in the local media or by uninformed community members. I think it’s important for prospective parents to review accurate data when assessing DISD schools. While some parents may think that a local private, parochial, or charter school has better results than the DISD alternative that is often not the case. I would also encourage parents to investigate magnet programs and the new schools of choice to make sure they are aware of the wide variety of options available in the Dallas ISD.
What do you see as being the biggest strengths of your opponents – both runoff and prior?
Havlick: From a campaign perspective and prior to the general election, my opponent started his campaign first and early. Therefore, he was able to gain endorsements and start his fundraising efforts sooner, especially being well-connected in the political sphere in Dallas. This continues to be the case in the run-off.
I have gotten to know my opponent throughout this campaign cycle, and have a great deal of respect for him, both as an individual and as community volunteer. And I believe the feeling is mutual.
Marshall: I believe Carlos Marroquin’s biggest strength is his interpersonal demeanor. He has a kind-hearted and gentle persona that makes it easy to relate to him – and I admire his ability to disagree in a polite and respectful manner. I believe Suzanne Smith’s biggest strength is her breadth of experience confronting city issues ranging from homelessness to poverty to healthcare. I believe Mita Havlick’s biggest strength is her deep community relationships in East Dallas and the M Streets.
And if elected, would you reach out to those candidates to avail yourself of those strengths if the occasion arose?
If not elected, what will you do to help both your district, and the district as a whole? Be specific.
Havlick: This campaign has given me the opportunity to meet, get to know and have detailed conversations with a great number of educational, community and civic leaders in Dallas. I want to continue to grow those relationships – whether I am the trustee or not.
If, it turns out on the evening of June 18, I am not elected to be District 2 trustee, I will continue to do what I have done for the last 10 years, which is to advocate for our public schools, but, hopefully, I will be able to do so from a varied plane than before – and throughout the district.
One of my stated goals has been to create more parent and community engagement throughout our district. Family and neighborhood involvement will result in a successful school. I will continue to move forward with this intention no matter what the election results.
And not surprising to anyone, I will continue to advocate for our students, parents, teachers and schools to ensure that every child has access to a quality public education.
Marshall: Prior to running for Trustee, I played an active leadership role in a number of educational non-profit organizations serving DISD children. When I decided to run for Trustee, I resigned from those positions. If I am not elected, I would likely return to leadership roles in several of those organizations including Reading Partners and Dallas Afterschool. I would also look for other high-performing non-profit organizations serving DISD which I could help to scale. I would also spend time volunteering in DISD schools (across the district) as a tutor and a mentor.