School Choice
School Choice

The Dallas Examiner

Over the last several years, the desire for parents to have more education opportunities for their children has steadily grown within the Dallas Independent School District, even considering the accumulation of traditional schools, magnate schools and charter schools within the same area.

Most recently, requests for school choice – parents or guardians opting where their children will be educated – have been a trending topic at the ballot box. The debate over school choice and input from a 2014 community survey by the district ultimately led to the creation of Transformation and Innovation Schools – also referred to as Choice Schools.

The Dallas ISD reports that such schools are meant to be a “best fit” opportunity for students, stating “Transformation Schools offer specialized academic programming, similar to magnet schools but do not have any academic entry requirements. They are created as brand-new schools that showcase a single, school-wide ‘anchor model’ around which all teaching and learning happens,” such as a science, technology, engineering and math or Montessori framework.

Transformation schools are open to all students and have no attendance boundaries; families who apply are selected by “a blind, randomized lottery.”

Angie Gaylord, acting deputy chief for the Office of Transformation and Innovation provided recent student application data that showed: one of its schools, Ignite Middle School, has 200 open seats but got 671 student applications; another school, Solar Prep for Girls, has 88 open seats yet received 271 applications. These examples highlight a sizable demand for such campuses.

Currently, schools accepting applications for the 2018-2019 school year are Montessori Academy at Onesimo Hernandez Elementary, Personalized Preparatory at Sam Houston Elementary and Solar Preparatory for Boys. Transportation is provided within Dallas ISD boundaries.

“It’s also unique in that, for many of these schools, we have this socio-economic immigration where we have a 50-50 split,” remarked Superintendent Michael Hinojosa as he indicated that transformation schools are also able to bridge barriers that the district has traditionally had difficulty challenging.

It is something District 4 Trustee Jamie Resendez, a Dallas ISD graduate, has also seen.

“When students from lower income households go to school with students from middle class or upper class students, they actually have better student achievement outcomes, and the kids from middle to upper class families, they don’t lose anything in terms of their academic achievement.”

A request to speak with Jonica Crowder-Lockwood, the principal of D.A. Hulcy STEAM Middle School went unanswered. Hulcy is a former traditional-school-turned-transformation school with an emphasis on project-based learning, art and robotics. It has a 2017 four-star rating based upon the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness criteria.

The funding for the transformation schools, as with all schools in the district, receive funding from the state, which provides tax dollars to districts based upon the number of enrolled students within those districts, according to Resendez.

“The money follows the kid,” Hinojosa specified. “If a student went to another school last year, but now they go to a transformation school, they get operating dollars. Of course, the district manages the facility dollars.”

He acknowledged philanthropic assistance might also be an option for transformation schools in the future.

With the unique and focused fields of education that school choice provides, the Dallas ISD may draw more students back into the district. The more students that attend schools in the district, the more funding the district would receive to improve its schools.

The trustee used his daughter as an example; he noted she and her mother lived in Mesquite where she went to school. When the opportunity arose for her to enter the all-girls Solar STEM School, it brought his daughter and her mother back into Dallas.

The superintendent confirmed that there are plans to create more transformation schools for the district even though these specialized schools also need specialized teachers, more funding and more attention from the public.

“The bottom line is yes; there is a demand, there is a need. But the dilemma is, where do we get facilities … and we want to grow our enrollment,” he said, reiterating the sentiment of the trustee on the subject of expanding the school rolls.

Resendez exp­lained his enthusiasm on developing more transformation schools south of downtown.

“The only transformation school we have at this point is Hulcy, and I think it’s extremely important that kids that grow up in the Southern Sector – all over Dallas, not just the Southern Sector … I’m from the Southern Sector and I grew up there. I never saw any type of magnate, talented and gifted or Montessori school in Southeast Dallas County,” he commented.

As popular as the schools have been, Hinojosa affirmed that he looks forward to continued improvement within the established system.

“They’re all doing well,” he said of these schools, “But there are some models that have been a little more successful.”

Gaylord mentioned that “spreading the word” on the schools alone would be the greatest improvement for the concept, with which the trustee agreed.

“I think the more we expand those type of programs the more that our students and their families become aware of those opportunities, and they’ll be more engaged with the district. And if we provide high quality education to our students, these opportunities, then I think the outcome will be much better,” Resendez added.

“We can’t ignore our traditional neighborhood schools. That’s why it’s important that we think thoroughly about what we’re doing to make sure these things are working before we move too quickly with the expansions of these programs.”

Resendez expressed that he and other trustees do not want to squander funds on transformation schools that do not work nor advance them at the cost of quality of the district’s other schools.

“This is a baby concept. It’s something new, and especially for us,” Hinojosa voiced. “So we’ll continue to monitor it, and monitor performance and there may be some other improvements that we identify, but we’ve been very impressed with the quality of success so far.”

Requested interviews with District 6 Trustee Joyce Foreman, who also has transformation schools in her district, did not take place due to scheduling conflicts.

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