A Daily Conversation
About Dallas



St. Mark’s Student Creates a Stir With ‘War on Boys’ Editorial

| 2 days ago

A ridiculous op-ed in the Remarker, St. Mark’s student newspaper, is apparently not going over well at St. Mark’s sister school, Hockaday. The piece is titled “Kavanaugh and the War on Boys.” Click here to read the whole thing, but here’s how it starts:

Boys will be boys. It was a phrase that used to be an admission of fact — that boys have natural tendencies to make reckless decisions, take enormous risks, and have unbridled ambition.

Now, that phrase is absolutely heresy to some.

Saying that one sentence could get you called a myriad of names from “sexist” to “rape apologist.”

In light of the Kavanaugh saga, the topic of the safety of our boys has come up again. Kavanaugh was put through a gauntlet of ridicule and slander. Even after an FBI investigation cleared him, he is still to this day called a rapist by some.

Boys, now more than ever, have to be careful to a degree bordering on crazed paranoia. It kills the essential part that relationships play in the path to manhood.

It’s not mentally healthy for boys.

Read More


Dallas ISD Takes a First Step Toward Addressing Its Homeless Population

| 3 days ago

Dallas ISD has about 80 students that are both homeless and unaccompanied by an adult. That’s according to the district’s data, which could be on the low side, considering it’s reported by the students themselves, and this is the sort of thing a kid wouldn’t necessarily want to talk about. These are students who continue to go to school despite sleeping in vehicles or under bridges or on park benches. And soon, the district will take an important step toward making sure they get some much-needed support.

“We hope to make Dallas the example in the nation for how to deal with the youth homeless population,” said Jorge Baldor on Monday afternoon, as dust and fumes circulated and extension cords slid across concrete floors at the new Fannie C. Harris Youth Center near Fair Park.

Tuesday, the fumes gone, Dallas-area leaders joined Baldor and others during an unveiling of phase one, a “drop-in” center geared for ages 14 to 21. Next door to a 35-bed overnight shelter—phase two—that officials say will open in the spring, the drop-in center will provide homeless teens and young adults with a place to eat, shower, wash their clothes. They can trade-in garments for ones that are in better shape or a better fit. There’s a computer lab, and there will be counselors to equip teens with mentorship and provide housing, medical, or mental health referrals as needed.

Baldor was a partner at Dallas-based Social Venture Partners when he founded After8toEducate, working with the school district as well as nonprofits CitySquare and Promise House on a partnership that is, he says, unlike any other in the country. For DISD, which provided the building that was previously Fannie C. Harris Elementary School, it represents a progressive look outside of the classroom. “The old way of thinking is, ‘We only have to educate them during the day,’” Baldor says.

It represents a first step. DISD currently has 2,500 students coded as homeless, a number expected to increase as the winter months hit and more families self-identify, according to a district spokesperson. That number includes accompanied youth. “This is an important but small step in trying to address where kids go at night if they don’t have a home,” says Larry James, CEO at CitySquare.

Read More


Felecia Epps, UNT Dallas’ New Law School Dean, Is Ready to Move

| 7 days ago
A window view from the old law school to the new.

Felecia Epps has only been the dean of the UNT Dallas College of Law for a matter of months, but it was clear at a luncheon she hosted yesterday that the former marine and dean of Florida A&M University College of Law already feels a sense of ownership and pride. She’s itching to move into the school’s new home in the Dallas Municipal Courts building after construction is completed, hopefully in June. Although, she points out with a shudder, there’s a certain unfortunate shade of historic green that she will be required to maintain.

Epps came on board after the retirement of the school’s founding dean, Royal Furgeson, in June. Furgeson’s mission was to create a workable model for a new kind of law school, one that was inclusive, affordable, and stressed experiential learning. The thinking was that by equipping graduates to start their own small practices, they could in turn provide affordable legal representation to others, not saddled by law school debt. Epps’ mission, seemingly, is simpler: to get final ABA accreditation before the clock runs out in 2022. But in many ways, that easily measurable goal is much harder to reach.

The ABA granted provisional accreditation in June 2017, with the understanding that all requirements needed to be met within five years, allowing the first graduating class (which started in 2014) to sit for the bar exam. The school’s next scheduled review takes place in March, and Epps appears optimistic. The first graduating class had a 59 percent bar passage rate for first-time takers in July 2017. This past July, that number had inched up to 61.18 percent. That’s enough to put them within 15 points of the state average, which satisfies the ABA bar passage rate requirements. And it puts them ahead of the already accredited Texas Southern University’s Thurgood Marshal College of Law in Houston, which dropped to an abysmal 44.52 percent pass rate for first-timers this year.

A sign that passage rates may continue to climb for UNT Dallas is the increased application rate. In 2017, the school received 500 applications. In 2018, they received 997. Their total enrollment this year was 389, with 211 full-time and 178 part-time students.

It’s an important effort, because no one else is doing it. Not like this. Not by giving a chance to those who couldn’t otherwise get into, or travel to, or afford law school. Not by giving them the real-world courtroom experience and law practice management skills they’ll need to make it on their own. Not by giving them professors who were actual practitioners. Not by breaking down the assumptions of what has long been an exclusive fraternity and taking it back to its practical, apprenticeship roots. Not by paying it forward and creating an affordable class of lawyers.

But the proof will be in the graduates. There will be an induction ceremony in Austin on November 18 for all students who passed the bar in July, including 52 first-time takers from UNT Dallas. I’m curious to see what they decide to do with their degrees.

Sadly for them, they will have missed out on the new digs. Epps says they are working with the Sixth Floor Museum to create an exhibit commemorating the spot where Jack Ruby killed Lee Harvey Oswald in the basement. There may even be a line on the floor so you can follow in Oswald’s final footsteps. And if you are really having trouble focusing on International Shoe Co. v. Washington because you’d much rather be throwing Frisbees to your labradoodle in Main Street Garden Park, you might try shutting yourself up in one of the old holding cells, like Senator Royce West did on a recent tour (see: following video). But then you’d be surrounded by that dreaded pea soup green.

Read More


Tuesday Was a Very Good Night for Dallas ISD

| 1 week ago

Over the last few years, the outcomes at Dallas ISD have been on the up and up. Whereas 43 schools were marked “improvement required” by the state in 2013-14, just four received that distinction when the latest ratings came out earlier this year. Those ratings also showed that 40 percent of district students met the state standard on the STAAR exam—still below the state-wide 47-percent mark, but much better than the 29 percent that made standards back in ’13-’14.

District officials say the improvements are the result of several progressive programs instituted during that span. One key initiative incentivizes the best teachers and principals to stick around, and even to move to the schools that need the most help. Another the district touts is school CHOICE, creating specialized campuses that pull students from across the district. And then there’s early childhood education.

All of it costs money. None of it was ever going to get the axe, according to Superintendent Michael Hinojosa. Before the election, I asked him what would happen to those programs should the people of Dallas County decide not to pass a tax ratification election to grant the district an extra $120 million a year. “We’ll do those programs no matter what, but it’s going to be very painful to keep doing those things,” he said. “I would have to cut $30 million, which equates to 300 positions in the district.”

Read More


A Last-Minute Look at Dallas ISD’s Election Day Propositions

| 1 week ago

Most of you realize that, if you haven’t voted yet in the midterm elections, today is your last day to do so. I’m not here to tell you for whom you should cast your vote in the partisan races. Beto people can do that better than I can somewhere else. 

No, I’m here to tell you how you should cast your votes on the yes-no propositions many of you will find on your ballot: Propositions A, B, C, and D. 

Let’s keep this simple: you must vote yes on each one. 

Why? What are these propositions? Who am I? These questions are unimportant. But I’ll let a few links answer them for those not yet convinced.

Read More


A Dallas ISD Distinguished Teacher on Supporting Prop C, the Tax Ratification Election

| 3 weeks ago

Editor’s note: This editorial is written by Eric Hale, a kinder and 1st grade self-contained teacher at a Dallas Independent School District elementary campus. He is a Teach Plus DFW Teaching Policy Fellow and a father to a child in the district.

On Election Day, voters will have the chance to invest an additional 13 cents of property taxes in Dallas schools through a Tax Ratification Election (TRE). The TRE (proposition C at the bottom of the ballot) will provide our schools with the investment that they need to ensure that Dallas ISD can maintain opportunities for early learning, increase teacher and staff pay, and protect against budget cuts due to the state’s “Robin Hood” system. I will be casting my vote in support of Dallas’ kids.

I support the TRE, not only as a Dallas ISD Distinguished Teacher, but as a black man who knows the struggles of growing up poor. I know the hunger pains of going to bed on an empty stomach and dreaming about free school meals. I know from personal experience how hard it is to focus in class while enduring abuse and neglect the other 16 hours of the day. Sadly, my story is no different than that of many of my students. Because of the district’s demographics, many of the students in Dallas navigate a minefield in their home and in their neighborhood before they even step foot into their school. The untold stories of neglect and heartbreak that many Dallas ISD students face are only overshadowed by their grit, determination, and perseverance in fighting to break the generational chains of poverty.

Read More


A Report on Racial Inequality Reveals the Relationship Between School Segregation and Achievement

| 1 month ago

When I sat down with Dallas ISD Trustee Miguel Solis last week to ostensibly talk about school buses, much more of the time was spent on the district’s broader goal to racially integrate. He called it “one of Dallas’ biggest challenges.” No surprises there: Long one of the most segregated urban districts in the country, DISD has been attempting to reckon with its history and produce a more successfully segregated future. Of course, that’s true for the city of Dallas, too, and these are not unrelated efforts.

As a whole, DISD, as others in this space have laid out, has made strides in the right direction. The district has seen the payoff of progressive programs like Accelerating Campus Excellence, or ACE, which evaluated the district’s best teachers and then incentivized them toward schools of need. Where the district had 43 IR—”improvement required”—campuses in 2013-14, it has just four on which the state bestows that unwanted distinction today.

But by way of adding a point to the discussion, I’d like to present a couple of maps, put out today in a new report by ProPublica, that illustrate the importance of the issue of school segregation.

ProPublica visualized state education data on school districts across the country. Caveat needed: They got the most recent numbers available, which only means that this stuff is still at least a couple years behind real-time (a lot of the data is pulled from 2015-16 school year, as discussed here). Zoom in, zoom out, explore by district or by individual school—there’s lots of interesting stuff to take in (although, beware that all that grey space just means the data was unavailable or inconclusive in those areas, particularly misleading when you take a wide-angle view of the country).

The maps I’ve singled out and screenshotted below show us the close entanglement between segregation and achievement.

Read More


It’s Been a Rocky Start for Dallas ISD’s New Bus System

| 1 month ago

Over the last few years, Dallas ISD schools within the Ross Avenue corridor—there are nine of these within the East Dallas portion of Trustee Miguel Solis’ District 8—have undergone considerable change. To reverse falling enrollment, the district flipped several traditional neighborhood schools into more innovative options that give students a choice based on their particular interests and aspirations. They pull geographically from across the district (with a system of priority for students nearby). A few of those schools are now on a wait list, and at least one has received some national attention. It’s been a creative solution to, among other things, the challenge of displacement as a result of increasing property taxes and rent prices.

But busing in students from across the district creates a more difficult task when it comes to transportation. That, says Solis, presents one upside to DISD running its own bus system, a task it took over this year from previous operator Dallas County Schools (voters killed DCS last November and its executives have been indicted for a kickback scheme that involved Dallas City Councilman Dwaine Caraway). During this transformative time for the district, flexibility is a good thing.

But so far, the district’s new in-house busing system has produced mixed results.

“It’s very difficult to convey to an outside entity all the reformation going on,” says Solis.

Since the first week of class, the district’s woes have been on display across just about all the city’s major media, putting a spotlight on massive delays and a clogged call system. The Dallas Morning News wrote about it after opening day, quoting DISD transportation head Kayne Smith as saying day one struggles were to be expected. He argued that it wasn’t about staffing. But those day one struggles have turned into week one struggles and month one struggles and quarter one struggles. Two weeks after the school year started, Smith, who had only been on the job since February, left for something similar at Cypress Fairbanks ISD, near Houston. Then, five weeks into the year, the district fired five transportation managers that came over from DCS, which was, um, not a great spot to have been hiring from in the first place.

Read More


St. Mark’s Moves on From Ploegstra Accusations

| 2 months ago

A little more than a week ago, I wrote about a teacher at St. Mark’s who had been accused of sexually assaulting a boy at a former job. Henry Ploegstra taught at St. Mark’s for 28 years and retired in 2012. The school had no indication of Ploegstra’s earlier alleged misdeeds when it hired him because Phillips Exeter Academy let him leave for “personal” reasons decades ago and gave him a good recommendation. St. Mark’s got a call in 2013 about the allegations. It’s not clear what — or if anything — the school did then to contact its students and alumni, to ensure that anyone who might need help could get it.

After I wrote about the Ploegstra matter and then about how the school refused to return multiple calls for comments, its headmaster finally issued a letter on the Friday afternoon before the Labor Day weekend. After saying that he hoped that everyone was having a good start to the school year, headmaster David Dini wrote that he wanted to “address a development relevant to our community with candor and timeliness.” Here’s the meat of it:

Read More


St. Mark’s Response to Ploegstra Story: Ignore It

| 3 months ago

Yesterday we broke the news that St. Mark’s employed for 28 years a man named Henry Ploegstra who sexually assaulted a 13-year-old at a previous teaching post at Phillips Exeter Academy. That is what Exeter called it: sexual assault. They covered up the crime when it happened and allowed Ploegstra to resign, only last week revealing to the public what had happened. In that sense, Exeter finally did the right thing.

Now it is St. Mark’s turn. So far, they are not doing the right thing. Administrators there are avoiding talking about Ploegstra, who retired in 2012. They have stuck their heads in the sand and are, from all appearances, hoping this ugly story just goes away.

When the Morning News ran its story, the paper noted: “Administrators at the Dallas school did not respond to several requests for comment on Thursday.” Heck, Ploegstra himself talked to the paper. But not St. Mark’s.

My first call (and email) yesterday morning was to the school’s headmaster, David Dini. I talked to his secretary, who told me he was “with someone and couldn’t take the call.” I explained in detail why I was calling and left a message for him. The secretary called me back a little while later and told me that Dini was “off campus for the day and couldn’t talk.” Instead, I was told to contact the school’s director of communications, Katy Rubarth.

Let me stop here and drive home this point: a reporter is calling about a longtime former employee who sexually assaulted a 13-year-old at a previous job. This is kind of a big deal.

So I have to assume that Dini’s secretary spoke with him, and he decided, for whatever reason, not to talk to me. He told his secretary to tell me to call Rubarth. And I have to assume that Rubarth, in turn, was given the heads-up that I’d be calling. Because, again: big deal. Yesterday, I called and emailed Rubarth. I called her again this morning. No response.

This avoidance is not encouraging. Problems don’t go away if you ignore them. Exeter told St. Mark’s about Ploegstra in 2013. They’ve known about it for five years. If St. Mark’s administrators don’t have a plan to talk to the media when they call, then it’s hard to believe they have a plan in place to talk with a student who might come forward. 

Read More


Longtime Former St. Mark’s Teacher Accused of Sexual Abuse at Previous Job

| 3 months ago

On Friday, the prestigious New Hampshire prep school Phillips Exeter Academy released a report that details sexual misconduct and abuse on the part of 11 former staffers over several decades. News about the Exeter revelations popped up on the AP wire and elsewhere over the weekend. But no one here in Dallas seems to have noticed that one of the accused Exeter teachers is Henry Ploegstra, who was allowed to resign from the school and eventually got a job at St. Mark’s. He taught there from 1984 until 2012, when he retired.

What’s most interesting to me is that the Exeter report says the school reached a settlement in 2013 with an alumnus who accused Ploegstra of sexual assault. That year Exeter informed St. Mark’s of the allegations against the teacher. The Exeter report says that St. Mark’s indicated that no similar complaints had been made about Ploegstra during his time here. But I wonder what St. Mark’s administrators did with that information about their former longtime employee, if anything.

I’ve sought comment from St. Mark’s headmaster, David Dini, both through his secretary and via email. Ploegstra is now 84 and living in Michigan. After I left him a voicemail seeking comment, he called our receptionist and said he didn’t want to talk. I’ll update this post if necessary.

Meantime, below is what the Exeter report says about Ploegstra:

UPDATE (1:46 p.m.) An hour and 45 minutes after this post went up, the Morning News published a story that includes comment from Ploegstra. “I am not a predator,” he told the paper. But he did acknowledge “an isolated incident” at Exeter. Dini’s office referred me to St. Mark’s director of communications. Messages left with her have not yet been returned.

Read More