Best of 2018: Dallas ISD Did Something Amazing, and Everyone Should Know About It

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Dallas ISD
Fresh from his runoff win Saturday, Justin Henry was sworn in as the trustee for Dallas ISD District 9 before the school board worked its way through the agenda. The district announced preliminary school accountability ratings revealed a significant drop in Improvement Required schools (Photo courtesy: Dallas ISD).

[Editor’s note: Merry Christmas! This week, we’re taking time off to focus on our loved ones, so we are sharing some of our favorite stories from this year. Keep an eye out for our top features from the archives as we rest and get ready for a brilliant 2019! Cheers, from Candy and the entire staff at CandysDirt.com!]

Bethany: One of the biggest stories of 2018 was the incredible successes Dallas ISD was able to celebrate this year – successes so incredible, in fact, that other districts and schools all over the state (and country) are making the trek to Dallas to learn how one of the biggest turnaround stories in the country happened.

Super nerdy confession: The original title of this piece was “Dallas ISD May Have Just Done Something Miraculous.”

But then I remembered a long senior year where my Honors English teacher insisted that we study S.I. Hayakawa’s “Language in Thought and Action,” a book about semantics so revered it’s currently in its fifth edition.

I may not remember much from high school coursework, but I do remember that book, and what it taught about language, and why the words we choose can impact the message. And miracle is not the right word, really, for what has happened in Dallas ISD.

You see, four years ago, 43 of the district’s 230 schools were labeled Improvement Required in the state accountability ratings — meaning that those schools weren’t just at risk, or struggling, but that they had actually failed to meet state standards.

Thursday night, at the district’s monthly school board meeting, district superintendent Michael Hinojosa told trustees that the district expects that the Texas Education Agency will confirm that the district has only four IR schools in the entire district.

Four.

And while that just might be the lowest number and the quickest turnaround of any urban district in the state, it’s not a miracle. Don’t call it one.

Why? Because a miracle implies that people didn’t work hard to achieve this — that some nebulous divine being or luck changed the tide for thousands of Dallas ISD students. It was neither of those things, and to use the word miracle — or any form of it — is semantically wrong and factually insulting.

Because to achieve that kind of win, that kind of impressive benchmark, takes a lot of work — an incredible amount of work. Work by teachers and aides at those schools, work by students, work by parents, work by principals and assistant principals, and work by district staffers under Jolee Healey, who oversees the Accelerated Campus Excellence program. After all, part of ACE includes a lot of extended school days and after-school tutoring, and all of that takes time and effort.

That ACE program, by the way, is so obviously successful that other districts are adopting it, too, including Fort Worth, Garland, and Richardson.

And these successes took patience. Because see, in 2015 — three years ago, the district’s IR count only declined to 37 from 43. Changes and reforms — like the ACE program — required some patience and time, and that small success was maybe not enough for some of the district’s fiercest critics.

But then by 2016, the district almost halved that number to 21, and then last year, it dropped to 13.

But this year’s drop to three may be even more of a win than that — Hinojosa told officials Thursday night that two of the schools are in the appeals process, which means that number could drop to a measly one or two IR schools.

One, out of 230 schools. And the three schools? Two are in their first year of IR status, and another is in the second year. This means that Carr and Titche elementaries, which were at the threshold of being shut down by the state, are off the IR list this year.

Whether it shakes out to be one, two, or three IR schools this year, Dallas ISD has achieved a success that other urban districts in the state can’t boast of. And do you know what that means for parents who live within the Dallas ISD attendance zone?

Thanks to the reforms and changes that brought about these changes, you can be even more assured that the district is likely even closer to being able to guarantee it’s ready to teach every single child that enters one of its 230 front doors.

It means that despite the moving parts and imperfections that every urban school district can face, Dallas ISD is by and large on an incredibly right path.

And that bodes well for a city that will be home to these future adults who will work, live, buy or rent a home, and play here.

Bethany Erickson is the education, consumer affairs, and public policy columnist for CandysDirt.com. Contact her at bethany@candysdirt.com.

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Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson lives in a 1961 Fox and Jacobs home with her husband, a second-grader, and Conrad Bain the dog. If she won the lottery, she'd by an E. Faye Jones home. She's taken home a few awards for her writing, including a Gold award for Best Series at the 2018 National Association of Real Estate Editors journalism awards, a 2018 Hugh Aynesworth Award for Editorial Opinion from the Dallas Press Club, and a 2019 award from NAREE for a piece linking Medicaid expansion with housing insecurity. She is a member of the Online News Association, the Education Writers Association, the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences, and the Society of Professional Journalists. She doesn't like lima beans or the word moist.

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  1. Cody Farris says

    Thank you for this piece, Bethany. I think it’s a a huge win, and as you say, no miracle because it came about through focus and hard work. This is a great talking point, especially to those moving here from outside the area.

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