Only 69 votes separated Justin Henry from Dallas ISD incumbent District 9 trustee Bernadette Nutall in the regular called election on May 6. But Henry failed to get the necessary 50 percent of the vote (although he came close at 47 percent), so the two have been forced to hit the campaign trail again for a runoff election June 16.
So far, early voting is a mere trickle — something many worried would happen when it became apparent that a May 5 school board election followed by a May 20 primary runoff followed by a June 16 school board runoff election would be in the offing. As of Sunday’s report, 3,592 people have voted in runoff elections in Dallas County.
Now, in the meantime, I thought I would provide a brief primer on the two candidates. A previous rundown is here, but We reached out to both candidates last week via email with a quick second set of questions to augment the information found in the rundowns. Both candidates were informed of our deadline, and Henry responded over the weekend with his answers. Nutall did not acknowledge either of our two emails (both were sent to her dallasisd.org address listed on the district website) requesting her participation. Henry’s questions were sent to the readily available email on his campaign website.
Update: Citing a busy campaign schedule and end-of-school-year related scheduling conflicts, Nutall reached out to us Tuesday evening with her responses. We have added them and updated this story to reflect that.
Our questions and the candidates answers follow. None of the responses have been edited.
How many DISD campuses have you visited in the past two years?
Henry: “I have visited nearly all campuses in District 9 and many outside of District 9. These visits have been primarily for two reasons: (1) volunteering at a DISD campus or (2) meeting with parents, educators and staff at a campus to learn about best practices across the district. As one example, I have visited elementary schools in DISD that have IB programs so that I can better understand the challenge of starting and implementing a successful IB program at the campus-level.”
Nutall: “I have visited every school campus in District 9 as well as over 15 campuses in neighboring trustee districts.”
What do you think is the biggest obstacle to successful schools in Dallas?
Henry: “If I had to pick one, it would be ensuring that all of our kid have access to high-quality early childhood education.
As a parent, you remember the day your child was born. We do not hold our child for the first time and begin daydreaming about all the obstacles that could stop them from achieving their full potential. We hold our kids for the first time and dream big. Early childhood education is the fuel that ignites those dreams. The education and services that we provide our kids beyond early childhood education are what continue to fuel those dreams and love of learning within our kids.
The research is clear. We must get our kids in early childhood education as soon as possible. Our family has seen the impact of this personally. We have watched the growth of our children who have been in quality early childhood education as early as the age of 3 months. But, let’s be real: most of our kids in Dallas do not have this opportunity. I sure didn’t. We don’t have to just let the chips fall where they may. Privilege, access or resources should never be a pre-requisite to our kids receiving quality early childhood education. We are frustrated with this denial of opportunity, but we are hopeful because we can solve this issue.
We should also expand proven educational programs and services, such as Montessori programs, social and emotional support services, dual language, International Baccalaureate and other options. These opportunities are responsive to families in Dallas and provide opportunities for our kids in an ever-changing world.
The good news is that DISD has shown commitment (including passing pre-K policies) and very positive success in this area. DISD just received a report that pre-K enrollment is up and that DISD is leading every major urban district in the state in increases in 3rd grade reading over the last 5 years. Even with these successes, we have to ensure that the growth is equitable, meaning that kids of all backgrounds are seeing significant growth.”
Nutall: “One of the biggest obstacles that Dallas ISD faces is the resistance by some to allow educator, parental and community participation in the solution finding process. Instead, totalitarian methods have been deployed which frequently hurts the educational experience of students.”
Describe the families in your district.
Henry: “District 9 is an incredibly diverse district. I was able to interact with a lot of families in our community through my community service and DISD volunteerism. However, this campaign has increased that number significantly. Our campaign believes deeply in community engagement, and that is why I have personally knocked on thousands and thousands of doors over the last 8 months. This has been my favorite part of this campaign. Our team has collectively knocked on well over 14,000 doors. As a result, I have had thousands of conversations with families and people across our district. The people in District 9 are diverse and have different stories, but we have found some constant threads. Families in DISD want the absolute best (social/emotional/academically) for their kids. Even more, families and individuals without kids have also shared that they agree that public education is an incredibly important factor to the success of our communities.”
Nutall: “Although some parts of District 9 can be categorized as upper-middle income, the vast majority of my district includes households that are considered to be low income. However, they still want the best education for their children.”
How do you presently advocate for the needs of all the students in your district?
Henry: “I’ve spent nearly half my life, more than 15 years, working on behalf of our kids in public schools. This includes my years as a middle school teacher and diligently working the last 8 years here in Dallas. That is more than 15 years of building relationships and working to improve opportunities for our kids in public schools. That is nearly 15 years of experiencing, learning and working to address the challenges DISD students are facing. As a trustee, I am going to continue that commitment to our kids by utilizing these relationships and this intimate knowledge to positively transform our kids’ experience. I am running for students, for DISD, for opportunity and for collaboration.
Here is a summary list of my advocacy for our kids in DISD and beyond:
Texas Subcommittee for Higher Education, Committee Staff/Intern (2004-2005);
Los Angeles Unified School District, Middle School Math Teacher (7th Grade) ;
American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Law Clerk — Conducting research, writing and advocacy in the areas of anti-discrimination, disability and education law including School-to-Prison Pipeline (2007)
DISD Citizen Budget Review Commission District 9 Appointee (2011-2014)
Long-time DISD Volunteer
Kappa League Middle School Advisor (2010-2014) o Southwest Province Volunteer of the Year o Weekly mentorship of nearly 100 black boys and lead the middle school cohort of roughly 25 boys
Former Billy Earle Dade SBDM member (Volunteer)
Friends of Lakewood Member (Volunteer)
Former DISD District 9 Task Force Chair (2 terms, volunteer)
DISD District 9 Task Force Member (Volunteer)
Former Chair of the DISD Racial Equity Committee (Volunteer)
Latino Center for Leadership Development (Fellow)
Literacy Instruction for Texas (LIFT) – Math Instructor (2016-2017, Volunteer)”
Nutall: “I advocate by inclusion. I constantly work with not only educators and principals, but also families and community stakeholders. I believe that a comprehensive approach to addressing the challenges that many of our students face.”
How will you make sure you can address the needs of every student in your district, and effectively advocate for them?
Henry: “(1) COMMITMENT – As a freshman in the College of Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin, I personally recognized the extent of educational inequity in our public schools. From that point, I have committed to providing educational opportunities. Educational inequities is not something that I just began to advocate for and I did not just recently move into District 9. As soon as I moved into District 9 roughly 8 years ago, I became engaged in public education because this has always been about serving our kids. I’ve spent nearly half my life, more than 15 years, working on behalf of our kids in public schools. This includes my years as a middle school teacher, earning a Master’s in Secondary Education, diligently studying/reviewing/drafting policy, and diligently working the last 8 years here in Dallas. That is more than 15 years of building relationships and working to improve opportunities for our kids in public schools. That is nearly 15 years of experiencing, learning and working to address the challenges DISD students are facing. As a trustee, I am going to continue that commitment to our kids by utilizing these relationships and this intimate knowledge to positively transform our kids’ experience.
(2) KNOWLEDGE AND VISION– I have a unique breadth and depth of understanding public education. This stems from being a classroom teacher, earning a Master’s in secondary education, working as an intern for Senator West in Austin while in undergrad at the University of Texas-Austin and again while at the University of Texas School of Law, and spending the last 8 years in Dallas studying local, state and regional policy. In addition, I have plans that I have already encouraged the district to implement (including Racial Equity) and plans (developed from experience, research and conversations in communities) for the future that I believe will provide equitable opportunities to our kids and increase academic achievement.
(3) AUTHENTIC RELATIONSHIP BUILDING – I believe in authentic and respectful relationships. This is not a negotiable for me. You will always find that I am treating others (including those with whom I disagree) with respect. You will not find me belittling or insulting individuals because we disagree. I think we need leadership that has a consistent and proven track record of being respectful. Yesterday was about fear and negativity. Tomorrow can be different. It has to be. “We can choose the politics of cynicism or the politics of hope.” I choose hope. Anything else cheats our kids. This is not blind hope, though. I know we have work to do. I think we must unite when we are tempted to divide; and my actions reflect that. We must build on the values that we share instead of tearing each other down where we may differ. That is why I have worked in various spaces to do just that including attempts to bridge the gap between factions in our community. We can change the future for our kids if we lead with principles, not personal scores. I have a track record of doing just this.
(4) THOUGHTFUL LEADERSHIP – I am thoughtful and intentional about my decision-making process and interactions with others. As an example, I do not return an attack with another attack. I firmly believe that this does not help to build relationships or accomplish great things for our kids. In addition, I have continually researched and thought about various ways to build relationships, create effective policy and create solutions for problems that we are (or will) address in our public education system.”
Nutall: “In order to advocate on behalf of children, you must first listen to not only the parents, educators, and principals involved in the process, but also students themselves. I have worked extensively to establish and maintain relationships and advisory committees to better help all children receive the education that they deserve. Open communication is key.”
Please provide your elevator pitch for Dallas ISD to a prospective parent who has a negative perception of the district.
Henry: “Great things have occurred and are occurring in DISD that you will not find in other places. Programs such as dual-language immersion, International Baccalaureate (including throughout some feeder patterns), the phenomenal TAG and magnet program (considered the best in the nation). We have schools of choice and innovation and other unique opportunities that this initiative is bringing to the district. DISD has amazing extracurricular activities and there has been great growth of student involvement in extracurriculars. We have many great partnerships with non-profits, community colleges, and other organizations that give students the ability to receive associate degrees while in high school. There is a long list of great things that have happened and continue to happen in DISD. I would prospective parents to be fully aware of these great things while also knowing that DISD is committed expanding programs that have proven to be successful.
We also have great educators, staff and diverse families in DISD. The people in our district our pivotal to the success and culture of DISD.
Last, I offer to visit DISD campuses with prospective parents. I think the perception of our schools is much different than what is occurring inside the four walls of the schools. DISD must continue to improve the marketing of the many positives of DISD.”
Nutall: “Dallas ISD provides excellent educational opportunities for students of varying backgrounds and interests. The district has a wealth of professional and compassionate educators whom are so dedicated, that I have entrusted them with the care and education of both of my own children.”
What do you see as being the biggest strengths of your opponent?
Henry: “The biggest strength of the incumbent is that she has a long history and deep commitment to community service.”
Nutall: “My opponent has substantial access to supporters who have significant financial resources which can be of great use in our schools and communities.”
And if elected, would you reach out to your opponent to avail yourself of those strengths if the occasion arose?
Henry: “Yes. I worked with the incumbent for years before the election even through points of disagreement. I have worked to build bridges between the incumbent and others in our community. In addition, Mr. Ed Turner (another District 9 candidate this year) has endorsed our campaign and we are currently working together to bring new leadership and positive change to District 9. I believe this shows that Mr. Turner and I are able to reach out to opponents and work collaboratively for the best interest of our kids.”
Nutall: No response.
If not elected, what will you do to help both your district and the district as a whole? Be specific.
Henry: “I will continue to serve our kids in DISD the way that I have over the course of the last 9 years. This means that I will (among other things) (1) serve DISD and District 9 (or other volunteer committees where there is an opportunity); (2) continue to look for opportunities to be on Site Base Decision Making Teams (SBDMs) or support PTAs in our community; (3) continue to mentor and work with students across the district and (4) continue to be a voice for increasing academic achievement of our kids in DISD and equitable opportunities for all kids. Given our life experiences, serving to improve public education for all of our kids in our city is a purpose for both myself and my wife.”
Nutall: “I will always be an active participant in District 9 and DISD matters. I have a child who is a student in DISD and I remain committed to not only her, but all students. Prior to being elected as trustee, I worked for and volunteered for DISD for over 10 years. I am vested in the outcomes of DISD. I plan on helping voice the concerns and needs of children, parents and educators.”
How would you define a good, effective trustee? What are the policy hallmarks of such a candidate?
Henry: “I think an effective board governance includes: (1) hiring and firing the superintendent, (2) approving a fiscally responsible budget, (3) setting policy and (4) being responsive to the community as an elected official.
- The school board is responsible for hiring and firing the superintendent.
- The approval of the budget allows for the Board to evaluate the superintendent’s priorities. The approval requirement allows the board to ensure that the superintendent’s budget is aligned with the Board’s vision and goals.
- Setting policy can be the most impactful aspect of a trustee’s role, because policy can create an environment that increases achievement and provides equitable opportunities. Policy is a significant aspect of governance because it is only limited by the collective will of the Board. Policy can be created as long as there is a positive relationship among the Board and the superintendent.
- In addition, trustees, like all elected leaders, must provide constituent services. They are elected by the people for the people.
With respect to policy hallmarks, I think a candidate should be familiar with the policies that DISD has implemented (both successful and unsuccessful). I also believe that a candidate should have a good understanding of local, regional, state and national education policy (including trends). This policy understanding should be rooted in how to increase academic achievement and educational opportunities for our kids in DISD. For me, the most important policy hallmark is a willingness to develop progressive policies that provide solutions to our challenges in DISD. I do not think it is productive to consistently advocate against policies without being willing to offer solutions. There are certainly policies that I am are ready to propose so that we can improve the academic achievement and educational opportunities to all of our kids in DISD.”
Nutall: “An effective trustee is one who first seeks to understand the challenges and concerns of all children and educators. The trustee must always be unwavering in their commitment to the children and educators to whom the trustee has been charged with representing. An effective trustee must be willing to work with all, not just certain special interests groups. An effective trustee must be willing and able to work with other trustees. I have been able to experience this pushing forward various initiatives such as the Frazier House Initiative and the After8 to Educate Homeless Student Initiative. The policy hallmarks of this trustee is that they must first seek to always adhere to established board policy.”