1. What is it about education that ignites your passions? Why not anything else?
I believe every child has a right to a great education, and that Dallas needs a first class public school system in order to retain and attract families, businesses, and jobs. As someone who went to public school from kindergarten through college, and as the first person in my family to attend college, I want the kids at Dallas ISD to have the same opportunities that I had.
Why not anything else? Because there is nothing else more important.
2. You have a strong and well known legal background. Why did you originally choose to run for the board? Why did you choose to run again?
Prior to running for the DISD Board of Trustees, I started and chaired my firm's school partnership program with James W. Fannin Elementary School for seven years from 2005-2012. We provided tutoring, mentoring, field trips, safety and health programs, reading/art/music programs, and other enrichment activities. The program was one of three programs in the state to win the State Board of Education's highest award for community partnerships in 2011. I guess I developed the same passion for wanting to help children reach their potential that I observed in the teachers in Fannin. I remember being shocked by the level of poverty we saw during the first year of our school partnership and awed by the extraordinary commitment of the educators we met.
I ran for the school board because I thought I could make a difference. I want the kids at Dallas ISD to have the same opportunities that I had. I thought I could add something that the board needed, given my experience and service on many other boards (Red Cross, State Bar of Texas, American Foundation for the Blind, among others); my decade of experience in dealing with HR issues (hiring, professional development, employee relations, compensation); my experience as the leader of a successful school partnership program and many committees, groups and organizations; and my training as a lawyer.
Why did you choose to run again? Same reason. I see the tremendous needs and potentialthat our students have. I hope I have made a difference in improving the lives and education of many of our students, and I want to continue to try to make a difference.
3. What are some concrete things that you have already accomplished for the District 3 community?
Below are some examples of things I've helped accomplish for the District 3 community and the District as a whole:
o Successfully worked to reverse the Board policy that had extended the teacher work day by 45 minutes;
o Supported the effort to restore the right of teacher organizations to meet with employees during the lunch hour;
o Supported increasing local leave days from 3 to 5;
o Argued against Home Rule and offered suggestions for ways the City of Dallas and Dallas ISD could work together without Home Rule (Here is a link to an article I wrote on this topic: http://www.dallasnews.com/opinion/latest-columns/20140414-ways-to-improve-disd-schools-without-home-rule.ece);
o Wrote the policy that expanded volunteer tutoring to 92 elementary schools;
o Wrote the policy change that made campus/district climate surveys anonymous to increase the degree to which surveyed respondents would respond candidly and to increase the confidence in the accuracy of results;
o Persuaded the Administration to end “spring leveling;"
o Wrote the policy that restricts social promotion of first grade students;
o Successfully opposed efforts to increase class size ratios in middle schools;
o Successfully advocated for a reduction in testing (in K-2 specials, and when District tests are duplicative of state tests);
o Supported employee raises and increases to benefit contributions each year;
o Wrote the policy amendment that reaffirmed the right of employees to communicate with Trustees;
o Stood up for kids and staff in neglected campuses (including successfully advocated for an end to the neglect of Dallas ISD's most overcrowded and neglected campus, Truett Elementary);
o Successfully advocated last month for much needed capital improvements by persuading the Board to add Casa View Elementary to the Bridge Plan;
· Successfully opposed the unwise purchase of a new administration building;
· Supported the upgrading of campus security (buzzer system; video cameras; one-way eye portals for portables);
o Helped convince the Administration to make the expansion of early childhood education a top priority;
o Successfully advocated for each school to have a full-time counselor;
o Successfully advocated for the expansion of parental education programs -- Dallas ISD now has the largest HIPPY program in the United States;
o Successfully led the effort to pass Breakfast in the Classroom;
o Supported the Imagine 2020 initiative which increased teaching and staff resources and expanded wrap-around services in three of the District's neediest feeder patterns;
o Advocated that the City of Dallas increase its public library budget and open the city libraries on Sunday;
o Supported increases in vocational and technical education that more than tripled the number of career-ready certifications for high school students;
o Promoted community and parental involvement by, among other things, helping to form a feeder-wide parental and community engagement committee that meets monthly.
4. If you could secure one thing for your district that it desperately needs, what would that be?
Expansion of quality early childhood education from ages 0-5 is essential. More than 60% of our students, including many students in District 3, do not start school ready for kindergarten. In addition, almost 90 percent of our students, including many in District 3, are economically disadvantaged. This data is consistent with the thoughts that many teachers have expressed to me: the gap is very large for too many students even before they begin school. We need to invest in quality parental and pre-K education in District 3 and across DISD.
5. You've earned the reputation as kind of a swing vote or a neutral party on the board. Do you think that is accurate? If so, how did that come about?
Saying that I am independent and a leader would be a better description – I look at things issue by issue and vote by vote. I think independently and vote independently and examine the pros and cons of each issue. I use common sense. I listen to others and give others the benefit of the doubt and try to look at things from all points of view. When I disagree with someone, I don’t accuse them of bad motives.
I have firmly supported the Administration’s early child education initiatives, including expansion of pre-K and parent education, Imagine 20-20, expansion of vocational and career alternatives, and the expansion of counseling services, as well as the volunteer tutoring policy, the breakfast policy, and the policy ending social promotion in first grade that I sponsored and that the Administration is now supporting.
But I have been critical of Superintendent Miles on many issues, including on testing, severance payments, and cultural issues (such as his delay in apologizing for the HR message incident and the general need to do a better job of working with and communicating with the board, teachers and the community).
Also, some of the things on the list in my response to Question 3 were achieved despite the Administration's initial objections. These include: ending the policy that extended the work day by 45 minutes, eliminating testing of the specials in kindergarten through second grade; the breakfast policy; expansion of volunteer tutoring; restoring the right of teacher organizations to meet with employees during the lunch hour; expansion of parent education (HIPPY); using outside parties to conduct the climate survey; ending spring leveling; ensuring that there will be a full time counselor in each building regardless of school size; and reaffirming the right of employees to communicate with trustees.
I have also stated that we need a thorough evaluation of all aspects of TEI. I have been critical of some of the testing and of the problems and stress associated with its implementation. I think we need to look at some more changes to TEI that would improve the coaching/professional development component of TEI and minimize the paperwork involved. We need to ask: is it working better than the old evaluation and seniority pay system?
6. What do you think this board struggles to find common ground?
We are a democratically elected school board in a large urban school district in a City with the highest child poverty rate. The problems are hard, and there are no simple solutions.
Can it be overcome?
I think it can be mitigated. We could start with more efficient board meetings. We need to consider and implement best practices from other school districts. The Board needs to do a better job building consensus when there are opposing views on issues. It's incumbent on all of us to work together to improve the lives and education of our students.
7. What do you think DISD is doing well and where do you think it can improve?
I think we are addressing the right issues within the District -- some more successfully than others. The Future Facilities Task Force draft report specifically addresses the expansion of pre-K education, including specialized early childhood centers and training of pre-K staff and the expansion of school choice programs in District schools, including the creation of four K-8 “community schools.” I think the expansion of the volunteer tutoring programs is going well.We need to find better ways to address the achievement gap and discipline problems.
I think as a city, we have not addressed adequately the fact that Dallas has the highest child poverty rate in the United States among large cities. In order to confront this challenge, we need to raise awareness of the need to increase community involvement to help lift our schools. We also need other government bodies to help deal with the many issues of poverty that face our students, including safety issues, health care, and state school funding and city library funding.
We also need to make the case for more state funding for public schools, particularly for early childhood education. In order to confront this challenge, we need to build coalitions with other high-poverty districts in Texas. With 90 percent of our Dallas ISD students being economically disadvantaged and 60 percent of all Texas public school students being economically disadvantaged, it is a tragedy that public school funding is not a higher legislative priority.
See also Question 9.
8. Can you share a story about a teacher that had an impact on you and your path to becoming a leader in Dallas?
I was very impressed by many teachers I got to know during the seven years at Fannin and since I have been on the Board. My mother and sister were both 30-year public school employees. If I had to pick one teacher, I would say Ms. Uranga, who taught at Fannin. Like so many teachers, she worked extremely hard, was committed and passionate, went the extra mile in so many ways for kids, had an optimistic view, and would do anything to help her students and challenge them. She was selected as Teacher of the Year at the school. I only learned years later from one of my coworkers that she had been a college professor but decided to become an elementary school teacher because she saw that many of her college students lacked the basic math foundation that they should have gotten in elementary school. So she decided that’s where she was needed most.
9. If you were superintendent today, what would you do differently?
I think we can do a better job showing appreciation for the hard work and commitment of our educators and our support staff in our DISD schools. In a city with the highest child poverty rate in the nation, their work is the most vital and under appreciated. It is not easy to be an educator in a high poverty, large, urban school district. Our educators and staff members show great dedication every day. The strength of that commitment was tested during the recent Ebola crisis. Six Dallas ISD schools in the Vickery Meadow area had students who had been initially exposed to the Ebola virus. But none of those schools experienced a decline in staff attendance when fears about Ebola ran high. Our teachers and staff were there for our students during this crisis. All showed courage and commitment by continuing to serve students at a time when they needed it most. I am continually impressed and inspired by the dedication of our teachers and staff.
I would also be more open to constructive criticism and try to do a better job of listening to our educators and reaching out to the community.
10. Why should voters choose you on election day?
Experience, a long history of volunteering in our schools, and a record of success for advocating for those struggling in poverty.
I have experience being a Dallas ISD Trustee and a proven track record. Please see Question 3 regarding some of the initiatives I have led and supported.
In case you missed it, you can check out David Lewis' DISD Board of Trustees interview