A New DISD Dad Offers Thoughts on How to Recruit More Parents

Urges better communication with parents about options within DISD


Last week I received an email from a new DISD parent, whose son is starting at Kramer Elementary today. He brought up many points I thought were worth sharing. His email is reprinted with permission below, with a few minor editing changes and notes inserted from me.


[Obligatory introduction about how awesome I am. People who don’t know me often start emails this way.]

My wife and I are excited about enrolling our oldest in kindergarten at Kramer Elementary in the dual language program. We had to transfer to get into this program (our feeder school doesn’t offer it). We’ve been met by great skepticism by friends when we mention DISD. We certainly have our own reservations, but we’re willing to give it a go. I don’t have many solutions to the tough issues you’re tackling with the board and home rule, but I feel like there surely could be more momentum on some of the smaller issues that drive school progress and growth.

Here’s something that I’d love to hear more about: tailoring content and experiences to meet the needs of the middle class — people who might be on the fence about choosing DISD and need some reassurances. The most encouraging things I’ve heard about DISD have been from parents and through unofficial channels. Not “hush hush” channels, but certainly not shouted from the rooftops, either. Parents said that if I take advantage of the system in place, your kids will be fine. Examples include dual-language slots; applying for Dealey Montessori (we didn’t get in even though it’s down the street); taking AP courses at Hillcrest to fast-track to college scholarships by being in the top 10 [percent in the graduating class].

It seems like DISD has given up on convincing North Dallas folks to give it a try and are afraid to speak honestly to alleviate fears and the real issue parents face: When it comes to my student, I’m selfish as hell and mostly have their interests in mind. I admit, I’ll do what it takes to ensure a good education for my boys, and will vote with my feet if need be, but there’s a big part of me that doesn’t want to go that route. So here’s my bullet list that likely has nothing to do with trustees/home rule and everything to do with our personal experience:

• Open up Dealey-style programs (application and interview required) in every elementary school and expand them till demand is satisfied. [Ed Note: Mike Miles’ school choice plan will allow for more schools like Dealey within the larger DISD community.] If they exist already, advertise it, and ignore the naysayers who say it caters to one group or another; who cares? It makes the schools more attractive to those who have kids in that school. We couldn’t get into Dealey simply because demand outstripped supply — that is pretty ridiculous.

• Make it easy for parents who can’t get a preferred slot to get seamlessly plugged into a slot in a comparable school. Here’s an example: Dealey aside, lots of friends live near or in the Withers [Elementary] feeder zone, like the dual language program as well, but couldn’t get in since that school has reached critical mass. Kramer’s a bit behind, but supposed to be a pretty good school. For every person looking to enroll in that program but couldn’t get in, they all shopped outside DISD afterward but could have easily been served at Kramer if there had been better coordination/communication. Involved parents who are willing to give DISD a try should be latched onto, not put through the ringer or turned away with no effort to place them.

• The Kramer PTA seems amazing. We’ve been to a meet and greet and came away impressed by the like-minded parents who’ve enrolled just like us. Wish this sort of thing could be spotlighted along with the dirt. [Ed note: PTAs across the district are pretty amazing. I met with folks from the Greiner middle school recently and was blown away by how they’ve turned that school around. I’ll try to highlight some during the school year.

• I think DISD should spend some serious time and attention on strategically gathering neighborhood support for schools where folks are most likely to vote with their feet. These parents and students, once committed, I think are more likely to hold the school accountable and try to push real reforms. [Door-to-door salesmen] drop by my front door all the stinking time, but not a peep from anything/one related to DISD (nothing in the mail either).

I’ve told the parent to keep in touch during the school year and provide me with updates. Also, I forwarded this email to folks in DISD, who asked if they could contact the parent. I’d love to publish concerns and suggestions from parents throughout the school year. Send them to [email protected]


  • Beth

    I wholeheartedly agree with him. We will start the application and interview process January 2015 for our kiddo, and have gotten a lot of side eye about our decision to try to get him into Dealey or Harry Stone beginning at Pre-K. Our current elementary assignment is Withers, and if he gets into the immersion program there, I’d be happy – thrilled. But just within a five mile radius, we have several exemplary elementary schools to choose from, too.
    And then there are the people who ask where they should move their families when they are moving to the area from out of town. It’s a little sad to be the lone person going, “Listen, DISD has a lot to offer if you look strategically, and has several high schools that are consistently ranked nationally and have excellent college acceptance rates,” and then everyone else in the area chimes in with a, “Oh, no, DISD schools are horrible, and there are gangs everywhere.”

    • Beth

      wow two Beths on this board 🙂
      I am further along in the process with my 2nd about to graduate and my 3rd in 8th grade (1st graduated from DISD 2 yrs ago). I got involved when a neighbor asked me to start attending SBDM meetings when my oldest was only 4. She knew we were looking at other options. So glad I got involved. We have found great programs at all the schools (3 DISD elementaries, one MS, one HS).
      The dual language immersion program is terrific, but not the only reason to look at DISD. All DISD elementary schools have TAG programs, art, music, and many other “extras”. We have folks transferring from private school to our area schools every year after they hear from friends all the DISD has to offer (we even tried private school for awhile but came back).
      The only problem is, if more North Dallas families come back to public school we may not have room for them all. Our schools are full of families who CHOOSE to be here. I hope that everyone will consider all their school options and take the time to visit schools, talk to parents, attend PTA etc before making decisions on what is the best choice for their child.

  • Amy Severson

    This makes me feel good. I hope they still have the after school programs like math team, chess (for as early as K), martial arts, fine arts, theater, and tutoring at Kramer. The PTA always made sure these were accessible to all income classes, and several parents spent countless hours applying for grant money for late busses to take kids home. Participation for many children is not an option without transportation.

    I recognize the desire to reach out to neighbors to also participate in a wonderful school, having sent our two through DISD K – 12. But it really comes down to a productive use of human resources. You can talk yourself blue in the face to maybe sway one person, or you can invest your time in the PTA and use the power of many to get the word out. They do this through several open houses and events through the year that reach out to neighborhood parents. They do this through making the school better for the teachers that work there and children that attend, so parents have good things to say. They do this through events like school festivals, neighborhood parades, bake sales during elections, and many, many, many more weekly, monthly and annual gatherings.

    But it requires many people to make this happen, and often the volunteer hours fall short of the goals. Thus there is an allocation of a precious resource, parental labor. Beat the streets to persuade unlikely parents to switch schools? Or make your kids’ school more awesome? Which would you chose?

    Embrace it. Have fun with it. Show your children how the world should be through it. They will appreciate the time and effort you put in, and see how invested you are in their future. Other children will also see your efforts and know they are worthy of someone’s time too. Even if their own parents cannot participate due to time or economic constraints. I still have kids that remind me of helping them learn computer skills (right click, left click) one-on-one back in 1st grade. A memory richer than diamonds.

    Amy Severson
    Kramer PTA President, 2002- 2003
    [email protected] (forever and always)

    • Amy Severson

      I would like to add a few more points about the development of public schools in North Dallas and the lack of neighborhood participation.

      When my oldest enrolled at Kramer, it had a student population of over 1,200 students. The permanent building had been constructed for 284 maximum. The sheer numbers of portable classrooms were (unattractive, frightening, overwhelming, gulag-ish?) offputting to say the least (none of that represented what was going on inside). Franklin and Hillcrest were similary overpopulated for their size. Elementary gymnasiums were not air conditioned, because years of messy board/superintendent management had undermined public support for a comprehensive bond to update facilities to modern standards. The oppression of federal court oversight was not only physically overwhelming for north Dallas schools, it was horrible PR for the district.

      These are things we fought to change during our tenure as parents. I think it is our hope that the next group of parents continue the momentum, and hold their DISD school accountable for excellence, whether a Montessori or not.

  • David Lee

    We’re planning on doing the same with our oldest next year. I’ve heard great things about the dual-language program at Alex Sanger Elementary from our neighbors. I hope more middle class parents will reconsider DISD.

    With that said, I am concerned about the proposals for a longer school year and longer school days. While they may be helpful for students that do nothing of educational value outside of the school day, this is not the case with our daughters. As the author of the email stated, “When it comes to my student, I’m selfish as hell and mostly have their interests in mind.” We certainly don’t want more hours of mind-numbing test prep tacked on to the school year. If that happens, well, as Nancy Sinatra sang, “These boots are made for walking…”

  • Amy Severson
  • Danny Hurley

    When looking for public schools we did our homework. We moved in the Sparkman neighborhood just to get them on the path to DeGolyer Elementary/ Marsh Prep Academy/W T White HS. There are a lot of parents in the hood that did the same, so the neighborhood kids all know each other, carpooling is easy, makes for a great community. The Dads club at DeGolyer is insane, raises about 40 grand annually to support the school. Marsh is upping the game as a Preparatory with individualized lesson plans.

  • The Doctor

    DISD will never change until* until North Dallas starts sending their kids to public schools. Generally speaking, those parents vote, they are more likely to get involved with their schools and they have more political clout to affect change.

    * I need to trademark this phrase