1. Given your success in the business and non-profit world, why the interest in education? More importantly, why go from personal passion for education to elected office?
I have always been called to help children succeed. From the time I graduated college, I started tutoring kids every Saturday at the Steppingstone Foundation in Boston. Ever since, I have tried to help kids wherever I’ve lived. I have worked to launch new schools in both Boston and Chicago, and I’ve worked as a pro-bono consultant to help improve educational outcomes. When I moved to Dallas, I initially met with over 150 leaders in the educational community to find the most impactful ways for me to help kids. Ultimately, I chose to help children find a pathway to success as a board member of multiple organizations including Uplift Education, Reading Partners North Texas, Dallas After School, the Woodrow Community Foundation, Dallas Social Venture Partners (DSVP) and the Education Council of the Dallas Regional Chamber. I’ve spent over 20 hours a week for the past five years working with our public schools. I’ve worked as a volunteer tutor, as a board member, as a funder of impactful non-profits, and as an advocate. I have consistently dedicated my own time, energy, and resources to public education since returning to Dallas.
I feel that I’ve already had a positive impact on the lives of thousands of kids via my non-profit service, but there is more that I can do. I know that the greatest impact I can have on the lives of our children is by serving as a Trustee. I believe that all kids deserve a strong start in life, and that it is the obligation of our public schools to offer them the best education possible. I am confident that my passion for kids, my business experience, and my knowledge of the education space can help more kids to be successful. DISD has made a good deal of progress over the last several years, and I desperately want to see that progress continue. I think I am well suited to help push the board and the administration to continue that progress.
2. How do you see your experiences up to this point helping you as a trustee?
Personally, I feel that my experience growing up poor in a single parent household – but with the opportunity to attend a great school has taught me the positive impact that a world class education can have on the life of a child. This experience has instilled in me a strong passion to ensure every child gets a great start in life, regardless of their zip code or their socioeconomic status.
Professionally, I believe that my business training and my role as the CEO of a national expedited freight company - where I have tripled the size of the business – has taught me the leadership skills required to set a vision, implement policy, and provide the oversight required to steer a large organization towards its goals.
From a leadership perspective, I have served as Chair Elect of Reading Partners North Texas, and as a Board member with Uplift Education, Dallas After School, the Woodrow Community Foundation, Dallas Social Venture Partners (DSVP), and the Education Council at the Chamber. These experience have given me a deep understanding of the education space and an appreciation for progressive reform of our system.
3. Do you see any difficulties in working with the other board members? If so, how do you plan to overcome them?
All healthy relationships involve trust, mutual respect and a common purpose. So job one with me will be to build on the relationships I already have with fellow board members – and to grow new relationships where I don’t already have them. I currently have a strong relationship with six of the eight current trustees and with several of the candidates running for open seats. I have also already reached out to the candidates whom I don’t know and the two incumbents with whom I don’t have a relationship. I will continue to work on nurturing these relationships via social time spent together and via showing my strong interest in schools all over DISD – not just in District 2. As an example, I have already started touring schools throughout the district to help forge those relationships with other Board Members. I don’t think that we can expect board members with different backgrounds and different constituents to agree on all issues. But if we can develop an appropriate level of trust in each other - so that we know we’re all focused on helping kids - then we have a much better chance at moving the district in the right direction.
4. Can you think of a teacher that made a difference in your life?
There are many teachers that have had a significant impact in my life. In fact, I have stayed in touch with many of my teachers throughout my life – and still get together with them for significant life events. Perhaps the teacher that made the biggest mark on my life was my Debate Teacher, Alex Pritchard. He not only taught me self-confidence, research skills, and public speaking skills, but he served as a strong male role model who helped steer me towards the right path in life, and he worked to help instill in me a dedication to helping others.
5. Why do students struggle? When you were a student, did you? Why or why not?
Many factors can create a barrier to student success. These barriers range from poverty to stress to hunger to learning differences to absentee parents. Each child’s situation is different – but I believe that all children are capable of learning and that our schools have an obligation to help children overcome these barriers.
As a child, I struggled through some behavioral challenges and a difficult home life, but I had a mother and a grandmother who prioritized education. I was immersed in a caring environment where the adults around me helped me to overcome my barriers to success. Ultimately, I learned the soft skills I would need to be successful – like empathy, grit, communication skills, and a hard work ethic.
6. How did you get past those difficult times during your academic career?
I had the benefit of a strong network of family members, teachers, and school administrators who took an interest in my success and helped me to develop the self-discipline and control that I needed to be successful. At the coaching of others, I developed a strong work ethic, and I dedicated myself to my school work until I became more successful.
7. What is DISD doing well now and where can we improve?
Lots of progress has been made at DISD, and we have a lot to be excited about. DISD is home to two of the top 10 public high schools in the nation, our high-school graduation rate has increased from 62% to 85% during the last six years, and Dallas ISD’s financial health continues to be the strongest it has ever been closing the 2013-14 school year with a record $342 million fund balance. And yet, we still confront a monumental challenge:
- Only 55% of our Kindergarten students arrive on Day 1 of school appropriately prepared for school – this limits their subsequent achievement
- Less than one third of our 3rd graders are reading on grade level. These struggling readers are 4 times less likely to graduate high-school than readers at grade level
- Only 27% of DISD 4th Graders are meeting post-secondary readiness standards in Math.
- Less than 15% of graduating Seniors are college-ready and over 70% of graduating Seniors don’t earn a 2- or 4-year degree within six years of completing high-school.
8. If you were the Superintendent today, what, if anything, would you do differently and why?
I would focus on three priorities for the district. First, Early Childhood – Research is very clear that 85% of brain development occurs in a child before the age of 5 and yet only 5% of education dollars are spent on early education. If students are not reading on grade level by the 3rd grade, they are four times more likely to drop out of school. The board has made some progress on this already, but we need to go further. We need to ensure access to quality pre-K for all 3 and 4 year olds, and we need to partner with our communities to leverage the resources of third-party child care facilities to expand access. By investing wisely in early education, we can better prepare our kids for success and save money in the process.
Second, Teachers – We need to make sure every classroom has an effective teacher – Research is clear that a high-quality teacher is the most important controllable factor in determining the future of the kids we serve. This means Recruiting, Training, Developing, Measuring and Rewarding the best people to teach in our schools. It means standing behind the TEI initiative already passed by the board and ensuring that it is implemented with fidelity. Our educators deserve an accurate, real-time assessment of the quality of instruction they are providing their students and a system of professional support that develops their instructional knowledge and skills. And finally, the time has come to pay teachers what we all know they are worth. If we truly believe that teaching is the most important profession of our time, then it’s time we start putting our money where our mouth is.
Third, Principals – Good principals foster an environment where good teachers can shine. They create a culture that makes great schools. So we need to roll out a world class principal training program. Not something intermittent, done during in service days. Rather, constant, focused, ongoing efforts that make sure our principals are the best educational leaders out there. This means implementing cost-effective programs to develop great principals by using the right partners who are ready and willing to help the district. It means giving principals the freedom to do their jobs without bureaucratic meddling, and holding them accountable for student achievement.
9. What do you see as the role and responsibility of a trustee?
As an individual, a trustee should be working to understand the outlook, desires, and opinions of his/her local constituents in order to be an effective voice. A trustee also has an informal role to play as “District Cheerleader.” The more formal roles of a trustee apply only as part of the larger board as a whole. In this context, the Board should work to 1) Set the vision of the district and to establish policies that provide the direction required to reach this vision, 2) Approve the budget, and 3) Evaluate the primary employee – the Superintendent of Schools (and a second employee, the Board Auditor). It is important that each trustee understand the difference between governance and management. Trustees are tasked with governance; the Superintendent is responsible for management.
10. What role do you think charter schools play in Dallas education? What role should they play?
I believe it is important to distinguish between high-performing charter schools and all other charters. There are many charter schools that should have never been given charters and should be closed immediately. High-performing charter schools, on the other hand, can serve as an innovation lab to test new educational approaches. Since they do not have the same limitations on innovation, charters can incubate and develop effective tools that we can bring back to ISDs to serve more kids.
11. Identify an issue your constituents are passionate about. What would your ideal solution be to that issue?
District 2 constituents are upset with the quality of the facilities in District 2. They feel that historically our facilities spending tends to go to parts of the district with lower educational outcomes for kids despite the fact that the physical condition of the buildings are often far worse in North and East Dallas. Ideally, I would recommend that DISD rank facilities spending according to the severity of the conditions at each school using the Facility Index in the Parsons Report. These ranking were created to help the district prioritize facility spending and they should be used accordingly.
12. Why should voters on Election Day choose you?
I believe that my business training and experience as a CEO have given me the expertise to lead complex and bureaucratic organizations towards a common goal. I believe that my leadership positions in multiple educational non-profits have given me the content knowledge to push the district forward from Day 1 as a Trustee. I believe that my experience working successfully with all different types of people in conjunction with my existing relationships on the Board will enable me to be an effective voice for my constituents with the other Trustees.
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