You know, I was really trying to keep an open mind about the Support Our Public Schools campaign to make DISD a “home rule” district. (You can read my initial thoughts on the topic in this month’s Lakewood Advocate Magazine.) I liked the idea of an open, honest, public conversation about the pros and cons of home rule, and who doesn’t love a good referendum? I particularly liked the idea of creating self-regulated sub-districts within DISD, so East Dallas could have its own school district.
This week, DISD requested that the City of Dallas create alcohol-free school zones around the more than 180 DISD schools in Dallas. The Texas Alcohol and Beverage Commission (TABC), which regulates alcohol licenses in Texas, gives cities the authority to create these zones to keep liquor (and its patrons) away from kids.
We at the city talk a lot about supporting our schools, and here is a perfect opportunity. The schools hardest hit by nearby bars and liquor stores are those in poor areas. Those kids in particular need every bit of assistance we can give them, and this is one small way we can help.
Are there some areas where a school can co-exist with alcohol businesses? Probably so, and we can exempt those schools, such as Booker T. Washington High School in Downtown and Sam Houston Elementary School in Oak Lawn.
By and large, however, alcohol establishments near schools, and the customers they bring, don’t create a safe environment for our children, and the City should work hand-in-hand with DISD on this issue.
The Council’s Quality of Life Committee voted unanimously to approve the measure. This will now go before the full Council for a vote.
In an effort to ensure better coordination and communication between the City of Dallas and the Dallas Independent School District, the Dallas City Council and DISD Board of Trustees have begun meeting quarterly, beginning last fall. We met again today to address the following issues:
• Coordination of children’s arts programs
City staff, along with Big Thought, a non-profit that provides arts outreach for economically disadvantaged children, gave us an overview of an exciting new collaboration. Late last year, Big Thought won a pretigious grant from the Wallace Foundation. One of only two awarded in the nation, the $1M grant will allow the City of Dallas, DISD, and area arts organizations to develop a comprehensive plan to provide arts programs to Dallas. Study after study shows that hildren who participate in arts programs not only do better in school but are much less likely to drop out.
I am pleased to learn that DISD will be adding 140 arts teachers (music, performing and graphic art), and have already hired 60. This commitment is particularly impressive and far-sighted when other school districts across the country are cutting or eliminating arts programs.
The City must also be prepared to increase our budget next year for after-school and extra-curricular arts programs for children as Big Thought works with us and DISD to develop a master plan.
• Partnering with DISD on new buildings and infrastructure
It makes sense to combine efforts and reduce costs wherever possible as well as coordinate to improve city infrastructure near our schools.
One such collaberation is the City’s partnership with DISD on after-school recreation programs. We have agreements with 29 elementary schools and 6 middle schools for after-school programs from 3-6 pm. The City Parks Department provides staff and supplies, and DISD provides program space, six hours of tutoring, and snacks. DISD and the City also coordinate on an after-school special education program, as well as a seven week summer program.
There are also joint efforts for new City/DISD facilities, including five joint efforts for park/athletic facilities with schools (Randall Park and Woodrow Wilson High School in District 14). The City’s portion is paid for with 2003 City Bond funds. Similarly, there are two joint library/elementary school facilities recently built (Arcadia Elementary/Library and Hampton-Illinois/Brashear Elementary), and a new library planned to accommodate three new schools in Vickery Meadows.
The City is also investing $70M of the proposed 2006 bond program to improve sidewalks, streets, parks, and storm drainage near schools in coordination with DISD.
• 2002 DISD Bond Program
DISD Superintendent Hinojosa gave the City Council an overview of projects funded through DISD’s $1.37B bond program from 2002:
-15 of 22 new schools complete, 5 under construction
-33 of 33 major additions complete
-94 of 155 renovations complete, 59 under under construction
• DISD’s “Dallas Achieves!” Program
Dr. Hinojosa also explained that he and the Trustees have set a goal for DISD to become the best urban school system in the country by 2010. That effort is called “Dallas Achieves!” and includes aggressive student performance goals:
By 2010, DISD students will be:
90%+ passing TAKS
50%+ highest level of TAKS
90%+ graduating in 4 years with more rigorous school work
The new collaboration between DISD and the City is extremely important, and it’s much greater than just these quarterly meetings. City staff is regularly meeting with DISD staff to work through the projects outlined above, and much of this success belongs to the good working relationship that our City Manager Mary Suhm and DISD Superintendent Hinojosa enjoy.
I also like the new quarterly meetings between the Council and Trustees. It’s clear they have a strong sense of where they want to take the school district, and we all know that the quality of our schools has a dramatic effect on our quality of life, employment rates, economic development, and crime.
I can’t end my blog without mentioning two things that I learned about DISD that are very impressive. First, 38% of DISD schools are either recognized or exemplary status. Second, two of our high schools were ranked in the top ten NATIONALLY (first and eighth).
It was a true pleasure to tour the Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing Arts, located in District 14 and the Arts District. Carolyn Clark graciously showed me around the school, introduced me to students studying painting, sculpture, music, and dance, and showed me the plans for the new addition. The students and teachers here are enthusiastic about their work, and it shows. Right now, the classrooms are cramped, and some classes even take place in the hallways. Despite the challenges, there is an air of excitement in every classroom.
I am proud this school is in our district, and look forward to the construction of the new school which will give these talented young adults and dedicated teachers the tools they need to create an even more exceptional educational environment.