Special to The Dallas Examiner
A deep desire to advocate for children, a family legacy in education, and a lifetime of support in the classroom and at home are a few attributes which led Cheryl Nevels to join Dallas ISD almost 25 years ago.
Nevels started her distinguished career as a teacher within a struggling community, where she received recognition for consistently prioritizing her students. Throughout the positions she has held, the driving force that keeps her going is the students, many of whom experienced similar challenges as the ones she once faced growing up.
After stepping into her first classroom at Ronald Erwin McNair Elementary in 1996, Nevels knew she had selected the right career for herself, because she was working with children. After a few years, she was promoted to school counselor, where she focused on developing the whole child. Over the next few years, she found herself advancing to the roles of associate principal, principal and director. Today she serves as executive director of P-TECH and Early College Programs.
“In every position that I served, my ultimate goal has been to be a champion for students. To make sure that I am providing students with the academic, social and emotional supports they need to be successful academically,” Nevels said. “Although I have enjoyed the advancements in my career, I miss being with students in the classrooms. However, I have come to realize that it does not matter what my title is as long as what is best for children is at the forefront of my work. I make a difference by advocating for children. And when you do what is best for a child, then you know you have achieved something.”
Dallas ISD manages 18 P-TECH programs and eight collegiate academies. Students can choose a career pathway, take tuition-free college classes and potentially earn up to 60 college credit hours upon high school graduation. Just last year, 628 high school students earned a high school diploma and an associate degree after completing these programs.
The P-TECH and Early College Program department, under the direction and guidance of Nevels, sets the vision and mission for the program, monitors the campuses’ instructional processes and ensures that the outcomes are aligned to the requirements of Texas Education Agency.
She earned her bachelor’s degree, and master’s from Texas A&M Commerce, and is currently finishing a doctoral degree at Southern Methodist University. She is a graduate of David W. Carter High School and proud alumni of William Hawley Atwell Law Academy and Mount Auburn Elementary.
During an interview, Nevels talked about the highlights of her 25-year trajectory with the district. She discussed why she chose education as a career, her decision to join Dallas ISD, and the reasons that keep her fighting for our students every day.
QUESTION: What made you want to be an educator?
“It was always my dream to be a teacher. Within my family, I was surrounded by teachers. My mom was a teacher, my aunts were teachers, even my grandmother, great-grandmother and great-great grandmother were teachers. Most of my family taught within Dallas ISD. I even ended up marrying into another Dallas ISD family legacy. My husband is currently a Dallas ISD principal, and his mother and his father both were teachers and coached for Dallas ISD.
From the time I was a small child, I had that love for teaching. It was instilled in me as a child because teaching was what my family did. It was how we gave back to the community, how we shaped the future for others. My mom and I strongly believe in the message of Rita Pierson that every child needs somebody who believes in them. And throughout my years within Dallas ISD as a student – from elementary to high school – I had champions who believed in me. Teachers who told me I could achieve great things and who never gave up on me.
Even though my family was in education, we did not have much. I grew up in a single-parent household. My parents got divorced when I was in kindergarten, and I found it upsetting when we moved to the Dallas area. My academics did not match my intellect due to the emotional baggage I carried. I struggled in school when we relocated initially because I felt my family was broken.
During my first years at Mount Auburn, I had a teacher who often worked with me after hours. She saw that there was more to me. I think about the time and effort that she put in because I was a student who struggled, not because I could not do it, but because I had so many things going on at home and I missed my dad. That teacher was an educator who was born to make a difference, and she definitely made a difference for me. Teachers who understand the importance of making a connection to students are most impactful.”
Q: Why did you choose Dallas ISD?
During my junior year, one of my high school teachers at Carter encouraged me to get involved in the Future Teachers of America. Through my involvement, I was awarded a letter of intent by Dallas ISD, promising that if I went to a university and graduated, I could come back and teach for them.
Upon graduation from college, I was recruited by other school districts in the DFW area who promised me a job. I still had my letter of intent with Dallas ISD, and I interviewed with the district, but not many teachers were leaving at that time. Unsure of which position I should l accept, I sought the advice of my mom, which was the turning point for me.
‘People believed in you and worked with you to get you to this point,’ she said. ‘Why would you leave and go somewhere else? Why wouldn’t you stay in your community and try to help students who might come from broken homes and/or marginalized communities? Just think about all the benefits you have received from people believing in you.’
Those words resonated with me. My mom reminded me of what the Dallas ISD teachers had cultivated in me, and now it was my chance to do for others in similar situations.
Q: Why has Dallas ISD been your home for the last 25 years?
My favorite mantra is: Every child, Every chance, Every day! As educators, we are not just serving some of the students. Nor are we only serving the brightest students or even the students who score the lowest. As educators, we are serving every child. We are giving all students every chance to be successful, and we are doing it every day. That is one of the things that I still live by.
Before COVID-19, the Dallas ISD P-TECH and Early College Program department would host other districts interested in learning about our programs and the progressive way we rolled them out. These districts would come to learn about best practices, and we would frequently have student panels. There was one specific panel, and I will never forget this student.
She told us that the P-TECH program had been a game-changer for her. Like our other P-TECH and Early College students, this student was able to take high school and college classes, yet previously, she struggled with passing state assessments. This African American female student shared with our visitors the fact that this struggle was compounded by a disability.
The year she participated in the student panel was her last year in the P-TECH program. She was part of the first graduating P-TECH cohort. This student was not only graduating with a high school diploma and an associate degree, she also already had an offer from a university.
As audience members, we were moved when listening to the student speak about how impactful the P-TECH program was for her, how staff supported her, and that she was now confident she could go to college and excel. She and so many others like her are why we have early college programs. Listening to her speak also reminded me of how important an educator’s work is. Within the P-TECH and Early College program, students are surrounded by teams of educators who truly want to make a difference. To every campus teacher, counselor, coordinator, principal, teacher assistant, clerk supporting students…. thank you.
I remain in Dallas ISD because of my passion to make a difference. A passion instilled in me as a student in Dallas ISD.