Home Rule Commissioner Kevin Malonson has proven himself a smart, independent education advocate and DISD champion. Even when he voted to effectively kill the Home Rule Commission, he made clear that he believed it was still important to reform the district — but thought home rule too flawed a tool to do so. (We disagreed on this and discussed it on a SAGA Pod.) He has graciously agreed to contribute his thoughts to the blog when he has time, and he asked that he first be allowed to address the 160k DISD students. Here is Malonson’s post:
An open letter to the students of Dallas ISD:
Last month I was at DISD’s Ross Avenue headquarters attending a Home Rule Commission meeting. On one side of the hall we were hearing a great presentation by Regina Montoya about the Mayor’s Task Force on Poverty. On the other side of the hall, the Board of Trustees was settling in for an eventual six-and-a-half hour tongue-lashing of Mike Miles and DISD investigator Mike Singleton. In the hall were more Dallas TV and print journalists than I had seen at one time in one place ever. As this scene played out, I couldn’t help but think about the primary and most important reason for all the commotion: the 160,000 students of the Dallas Independent School District.
The home rule debate and the ongoing growing pains of education reform are directly affecting children, parents, and teachers. Yet, I rarely meet students who even know of the big picture issues. And I have spent more time explaining the home rule process and law to parents and teachers than actually discussing the challenges and possible solutions in DISD.
Now, State Rep. Rafael Anchia has filed a bill that would put many of these issues to voters. I am pleased at the Anchia bill and its intent. This bill, if passed, is a genuine opportunity for the citizens of Dallas to vote on real changes that could affect the way the district is run. For me, a “no vote” for home rule, this bill represents the way these changes should have been sought in the first place and further diminishes the need for conversion to a home rule charter district.
That said, I would like to offer a few suggestions to the children of Dallas ISD in the hope that they will become more aware and responsible consumers of their education system.
• Education is opportunity — Poverty is overwhelming challenge in Dallas in 2015. If you are not convinced, please see the Mayor’s Task Force on Poverty report. However, it is important to believe poverty is not a barrier to success in life. Education is one of few avenues that can change your station in life. Your education is your ticket to having options and opportunity to have a happy life. Your success gained via a post secondary education can and will affect generations of your family.
• It’s YOUR education — Do you know who your trustee is? Make it your business to know what is going on in Dallas ISD. There are many changes to the district being discussed that will directly affect parents and children. The proposed Comprehensive Plan represents a radical change in the way students will be educated in Dallas. It is important for you to understand the major issues in DISD so that you can educate your parents. At a minimum, make sure you know the following terms: Home Rule, Destination 2020 Comprehensive Plan, Imagine 2020, Schools of Choice, Career and Technology Education (CTE), High Quality Pre-K, Future Facilities Task Force, Personalized Learning.
• Talk to your parents — Parents and students are a huge constituency and their voice will carry weight and affect change. Tell your parents who your trustee is. Talk to your parents about what goes on in your school. Talk to your parents about what’s going on in the district. Talk to your parents about your teacher. Talk to your parents about what you want to be when you grow up. Talk to your parents about voting! Talk to your parents!
• Support your teachers — Please show up each day, behave, and put out maximum effort. Let your teachers know you and your parents take your education seriously and you want to do the best you can. A lot of the grown up commotion in education centers around the achievement gap and state test scores. The most direct route I know to show gains in test scores and classroom performance lies in the synergy between the teacher and student in the hundreds of DISD classrooms each day. Teachers are the program (thanks again Stephanie Elizalde) and education is the people business. Let’s start with the most fundamental relationship to move the needle on student achievement.
I can’t help but think how different DISD and Dallas would be if the halls between the dueling meetings on Monday night were filled with parents and students instead of journalists and educational/political operatives/activists. My hope for education reform and the future of Dallas lies in the children of DISD. My idea of reform is a ground up reform of the ultimate consumers of education and their attitudes and value of that education. As a first-generation college student, I know from personal experience the type of freedom an education can afford a person. I owe all I have in life to my parents and my opportunity to get a college education. I implore all parents and children of the DISD to take note of the battle of wills that is our district today. Remember all of this wrangling is ultimately about how to best provide an education to your children. Please get involved and make your voice heard.
Just to be clear, I know there are precious few school age kids who read education policy blogs…and even fewer that would read Eric Celeste :). But I know there are a number of parent readers who’s only skin in the game is their children. They want the chance to provide the best education possible for their children and if they are anything like me, they want to do it in the Dallas. I am a public school advocate and I hope these suggestions will resonate with other parents. I hope we can change the dialogue from the constant struggle between reformers and the status quo crowd (not my labels) to the more important issues affecting the 160,000 children of DISD and their families.