Friday, January 28, 2022 Jan 28, 2022
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There is light at the end of the dark tunnel that has shadowed Dallas schools. But is anyone left to see it?
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Just pretend for a moment that DISD is the Chrysler Corporation. You’re flipping through the newspaper one day when you come upon this full-page letter signed by Linus Wright.

“Did we screw up?” it would read, “You her we did.

“But let’s get this straight. It was perfectly legal before 1983, when the State Legislature passed House Bill 72, to pass students with defective educations on to the public. We stopped, doing that two years ago when we ended social promotion. Maybe we should have recalled, the kids who went on to jobs without being able to read or write.

“But I want you to know that new systems are in place now, and it’s up to us to win back your trust. Because the buck stops here. That’s it. Period. Closed case.”

Of course, it’s hard to imagine such gutsy language coming from Linus Wright. For all Ins considerable strengths as an administrator, a financier, and a lobbyist, he’s never really gone in much for showboating his authority or waving his leadership like Old Glory over a Kuwaiti tanker. Preferring to work quietly as a peacemaker-often behind closed doors-Wright tends to let his light shine under a bushel. Unfortunately, the Dallas school system has been dimmed in the shadow, like Chrysler, B.I. (Before Iacocca)- just another mainstream manufacturer of mediocre products that can’t compare with the competition.

It will take more than brash talk to turn ’ DISD around. It will take a bold new leader-an absolute sterling first choice in the superintendent search due to conclude this fall. But for now, there is genuine good news about Dallas schools. And few people seem to have heard it.

Item number one: For the first time that anyone can remember-probably the first time since the inception of standardized national testing-DISD students are scoring above the national average in both reading and math.

Item number two: For the first time in memory, there are signs that the school board is actually debating some issues on merit, with rational arguments that do not automatically reduce to racist attacks. No, Kathlyn Gilliam has not retired from her interminable reign as queen of the demagogues. (Keep that thought in your prayers, i though.) But our sources say that Yvonne I Ewell, who some feared might be more I narrow-minded than Gilliam and twice as I mean, has struck a conciliatory pose with I the rest of the board members, and is actual-ly applying her expertise in the education of I minority children to positive effect.

Item number three; There is hope-not wild hope, mind you, but hope-that sometime this fall, Judge Barefoot Sanders will see fit to declare DISD officially integrated, thus ending a seventeen-year lawsuit that has cost the district millions of dollars to defend. However well intentioned at the time, forced busing, forced ethnic balance among teaching staff, and other solutions to segregation foisted on our schools by the courts, have done little to improve the quality of education-for blacks or whites. The end result, after years of white flight, is a school system that is 80 percent minority serving a population that is roughly 61 porcent white. Let’s declare the case closed and get on with building quality programs that will attract Anglos, Hispanics, and blacks.

Item number four: This one is iffy at this writing, because the finalists in the superintendent search have yet to be named and debated, but judging from the criteria de-veloped for the search committee and the harmonious relationship between the committee and the school board thus far, I am encouraged that we are seeking and will find the very best big-city superintendent the country has to offer. A blue-chip search team has been beating urban-area bushes for the man or woman with a proven track record who comes closest to the ideals laid out by the public and the board. Suffice it to say that we are aiming for the top of the heap. In the ! words of DISD’s Bob Johnston, school board liaison to Superintendent Wright, “All he or she has to be able to do is leap tall buildings at a single bound…”

So there are positive signs that our public schools are getting better. More good news can be found in “Back To The Neighborhood School,” page 50, a report by Glenna Whitley in which she finds that “not in a flood and not in a trickle,” parents are returning to their community schools and working to make them better.

These pockets of success give rise to optimism for the future. But they are not, by any means, the whole picture at DISD. Dallas schools still suffer from an image problem that will not improve overnight. I am constancy surprised, by people who don’t even set foot in their neighborhood school before rejecting it for a private institution or choosing to relocate to another school district. Each school must be measured and evaluated on its own strengths and weaknesses. Opting for Lakewood Elementary is no more “choosing DISD” than selecting Vanderbilt University is “choosing private colleges.”

And there are very real problems along with the perceptual ones. Dallas schools are combating unprecedented drop-out and failure rates. Social problems like drug and alcohol abuse, teenage pregnancy, and suicide have yet to be adequately addressed among public school adolescents. Some of our magnet schools-the keys to long-term, unforced integration-are woefully inadequate and underutilized.

And where are the city’s leaders on the issue of education? With few-very few-exceptions, the civic mountain-movers remain strangely silent on this one. Public support for the goals of education lags behind other key issues like transportation and crime. When will we wake up and realize that a generation that is uneducated is a generation that is unemployable? The roots of crime and welfare and poverty are sunk deep beneath the classroom.

Perhaps one reason for the apathy is the lack of accountability of the school board to the rest of the city’s political structure. The mayor’s race this past spring generated some noise on the part of the candidates about education “being a numher one priority.” But come to think of it, what can the mayor do about the problems in our schools? The school board sits out there in autonomy and obscurity (quick, name two members) with the power to levy taxes at will and the securi ty of knowing that few citizens are tuned in. I’m beginning to buy candidate Jim Buer ger’s proposal for joint city council-school board meetings on a regular basis. Every body is in favor of good education, but who is going to do something about it?

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