Dallas ISD

Photo courtesy Dallas ISD

From staff reports

If you still haven’t nailed down pre-K yet, and you have a three or four-year-old, Dallas ISD has news: There’s a good chance you can find a spot anywhere in the city, no matter what your income is.

Just before the July break, the district’s board of trustees approved a program that would extend the pre-K program to include more children by raising family income limits and offering scholarships. 

The district’s Racial Equity Office and the Early Learning department said the new policy would help address structural racial inequities and bring the successful early-learning program to more families.

Currently, the state has six eligibility requirements for families to qualify for free pre-K centered around circumstances like special needs, income, and language. The new Dallas ISD policy gives three new potential qualifiers. (more…)

When the Texas legislature gavels into session in January, education will be a hot topic. (Photo courtesy Nicolas Henderson/Flickr)

When the Texas legislature gavels into session in January, education will be a hot topic. (Photo courtesy Nicolas Henderson/Flickr)

When the Texas legislature reconvenes January 10, it will have a laundry list of things to tackle – some controversial, some mundane (you can keep up to date on the full list of bills filed here). But some of the biggest issues will involve the trajectory of public education in the state.

While we can’t provide an exhaustive list of everything the legislature will address this session (although rest assured – we’ll be keeping you abreast of the most vital pieces of legislation), I thought it would be a good idea to look at three key things legislature will have to address this session.

The biggest, of course, will be school finance. This is the one that not only affects how schools budget for education and innovation, but also how good and great schools stay good and great schools, and schools that need improvement have the tools to improve. And this, of course, directly impacts the bottom lines of Realtors and homebuyers and sellers, since schools are frequently in the top five considerations when it comes to looking for that family abode.

And, of course, school finances are currently tied to property taxes, which makes whatever the legislature does of vital importance to homeowners. And trust me, the legislature will have to do something – the courts have mandated it. It won’t be cheap, and it won’t be easy, but expect much discussion over better funding formulas in the 85th legislative session. (more…)

Photo by Bethany Erickson

Photo: Bethany Erickson

“I get 15 minutes of recess, now I want 100 minutes,” an adorable student told Dallas Independent Schools trustees last night as several of her peers also stood up to talk about how recess would help their school day.

Dallas ISD Trustee Dan Micciche took up the cause last month, and while students didn’t get 100 minutes last night, trustees did vote (7 for, 1 abstaining) to require 20 minutes of recess for the rest of this year, and 30 minutes beginning in the next school year.  (more…)

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A few months back, we thought we had found a great Pre-K program (private, of course, because we don’t qualify for Pre-K with Dallas ISD), only to find the great program that allegedly churns out kindergarten readers who love books actually consisted of five worksheets Tiny was doing in the 3-year-old room at our beloved Mother’s Day Out.

After an arduous month where a bored 4-year-old boy did bored 4-year-old boy things, we opted to leave in favor of finding a new program. And this time, we decided, we wouldn’t let the checkbook necessarily be the thing that was the weighted factor in our decision.

We looked at schools where the monthly tuition is more than our mortgage. They were lovely, and no doubt would have taught Tiny ably and he would’ve had fun. We looked at half-day programs. We found three-day programs and co-op programs and foreign language programs. Ultimately, we found three we liked after phone conversations, a careful review of the curriculum, and looking at the tuition, but let Tiny pick the program after we toured each school. After all, once curriculum and realistic budget were out of the way, whether or not he liked it was really half the decision-making process. (more…)

So remember how I went to drop off Tiny’s Pre-K enrollment packet and was met with total confusion? And then remember how, still confused about how Pre-K in DISD works for sure, we opted for a new plan involving a private Pre-K? You do?

Good, because now we’re at the same point in the saga of “Dear Lord I Just Want To Send My Kid To School Next Year.”

Tuesday, I got a phone call from our feeder elementary – the same one that was confused about why we dropped off a packet in the first place. They wanted up-to-date proof of income. “You do know that we do not qualify based on income or language, right?” I gently questioned the registrar. She responded that she did, but she needed the form so she could submit Tiny’s packet so he could “be in line.”

Ok.

So I ran by yesterday to drop off new pay stubs, signed a form, and left. That evening, late, I came across a comment on one of my blog posts that pointed to the district’s new Pre-K enrollment webpage, in the FAQs:

If my family doesn’t meet the qualifications for free Pre-K, can I pay for my child to attend?

No, Dallas ISD does not offer tuition based Pre-K.

Cue the needle scratching on the record. What? I mean, I did my homework. I emailed someone in the district a year ago. I emailed the principal. I couldn’t find anything new to disabuse me of the well-documented notion that pre-k spots that were open could be filled by tuition-paying families, until now.

So I was confused. And since I was confused, I called Alan Cohen, executive director of Early Childhood and Community Partnerships, the department tasked with overseeing pre-K in Dallas public schools, to clear things up.

And in short, “We are not accepting tuition,” he said. “Our focus right now is on eligible children.”

Basically, the district wants to make sure there are spots available for qualifying children throughout the year. This is smart, because despite a massive campaign to provide information to potential qualifying families, everything from language barriers, economic issues that require moving, or even foster care situations could mean that a student could begin attending pre-K even in the middle of the school year.

As I’ve said before, the need for pre-K for qualifying students in DISD is astounding. I’m not at all upset that Tiny can’t go (I wish he could, though), because we are blessed to have the means to send him to private Pre-K next year. But for those who don’t have the means for that, pre-K is a wonderful way to make sure that every child entering kindergarten is operating from the same knowledge base.

In the next few days, I’ll be talking more about the upcoming school board election (next Thursday is the last day to register to vote if you want to vote in the May elections, AND  YOU WANT TO VOTE IN THE MAY ELECTIONS), and the candidates running. I’ll also be talking about an amazing panel discussion I attended that was moderated by Bill McKenzie.

Photo courtesy DISD

Photo courtesy DISD

Last night, the Dallas ISD board of trustees voted 9-0 to approve an amended bridge plan that will pump much-needed funds into improving some long-neglected schools, as well as set up more Pre-K classrooms.

But it is a drop in the bucket, which explains the long night and the wrangling that went in to coming up with a compromise. It’s saying something that of the schools that need improvements, the 20 schools that were picked included one that could’ve killed students and teachers with carbon monoxide fumes. If impending death is the benchmark for needing improvement, you can start to grasp at why some trustees needed assurances that their schools – that aren’t on the list – would indeed see improvement, too.

Trustee Eric Cowan passionately asked the large crowd who came last night to remember his vote when it came time to pass a new bond. And we should. We should remember it as a leap of faith that if we start improvements now, we will remember the schools not on this list, where children are also attending in portable buildings, in schools that need improvements. We should remember that if every single potential qualifying student signed up for Pre-K, we would not currently have the room to teach them all. I’ll have more on this next month, but early education is imperative.  It is absolutely vital to stopping the cycle of the school to prison pipeline.

So we need to remember these things in two or three years, when it comes time to vote on a bond package. If you’re a parent whose child will now go to a school that will be improved thanks to the bridge fund, it will be time to pay it forward.

Why? Because we’re in this together. I like to think of Dallas public schools as a body. We can get so caught up in the health of our one part that belongs to us, that we forget – decay and delayed improvement (both in a physical sense and educational sense) in one part can affect the health of the whole. So the health of Dunbar Elementary, for instance, goes, so goes the rest of the entire feeder pattern. So goes the health of that feeder pattern, so goes the health of the district.  And to take the point further, so goes the health of the district, so goes the health of the city, including the desire to move in to Dallas and send our children to our neighborhood schools.

The bridge plan is just that – a bridge, a step in the right direction of addressing neglect and overcrowding brought about through a variety of historical issues. This shouldn’t – and can’t – be a bridge to nowhere.

 

prekformsDear Dallas ISD:

I love you. I really do. Pretty much every single interaction I’ve had with you has been wonderful, hopeful and positive. But we need to talk – about talking.

Or rather, communication.

All the blogs in the world, all the tweets in the universe, all the Facebook posts in the lower 48 won’t help if your staffers aren’t uniformly informed of district practices. “What is she talking about?” you may ask.

I’m talking about my latest experience with some of the district’s elementary schools, and what I’ve discovered the front office staff doesn’t know regarding Pre-K policy.

About a year ago, when I first started investigating our options, I emailed about district policy (as a parent, not as a journalist, in fact I purposely didn’t mention my profession) regarding Pre-K. I knew that children who qualified because of income, language or parental military service were given priority, but I also knew that any open spaces could be filled by children who didn’t qualify under those circumstances, for a monthly or yearly tuition.

The response? “Ms. Erickson, there are several criteria for kindergarten. Usually, spots are filled with children who meet the criteria but some schools maintain a waiting list. You may want to check with your neighborhood school to see if that is the case.”

In other words, I had the correct information. So as time approached, I emailed our neighborhood school, because even though we have hopes that Tiny will get in to Harry Stone Montessori, I’m a planner – and I wanted a Plan B (to be truthful, I want a Plan B, C, D, and possibly E – can you really have too many plans?). (more…)