Pre-K could be the achievement boost black DISD students need

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One of the vexing problems Dallas ISD continues to struggle with is African-American students lagging behind their white counterparts.

The achievement gap for these students has been persistent, as high as a 30-point deficit in reading and math for fifth- and eighth-graders on the 2016 STAAR tests.

That’s unacceptable.

The district needs to put some extra effort toward shrinking this gulf — and it can start by getting more of these kids in pre-K so they don’t start school behind in the first place.

Structured early-childhood learning is key, given that an estimated 90 percent of brain development occurs before age 5.

Kids in quality pre-K programs boost their chances of being ready for kindergarten, and they have more potential for success throughout their academic careers. And though DISD topped the 11,000 pre-K enrollment mark this year, hundreds of eligible 3- and 4-year-olds are not being served.

Black students make up about a quarter of the district’s pre-K program, but half of the total who attend classes outside DISD buildings, through partnerships with child care centers.

That has sent a signal to Derek Little, DISD’s assistant superintendent for early learning: The district has to do a better job of selling more African-American parents on the value of pre-K.

He’s found that many are more comfortable keeping their young children in informal home day care environments. Too often, they don’t see a place for their children in the district’s program, feeling as if they are geared more heavily toward Hispanics, which make up the majority of DISD students.

That has to change. These kids start school at a disadvantage if they’re not in a high-quality program. And they need more experienced teachers to keep them on track.

The district is doing a lot of things right. It’ll start its pre-K outreach tour on March 24, when educators take to the streets, knocking on doors. They’ll focus on southern Dallas neighborhoods with high numbers of eligible students and plenty of open seats.

What’s more, it’ll make its annual weeklong enrollment push with surrounding counties April 3-7. New this year: The district smartly decided to have families sign up at their familiar school campuses instead of the central office.

And there’s hope that the district’s new policy banning suspensions for minor offenses for young students will attract more black parents. Reports showed that minority children — African-American boys, in particular — are suspended at significantly higher rates than other students.

We urge trustees and council members who represent many of the city’s black residents to help rally support for pre-K. Trustees Lew Blackburn, Joyce Foreman and Bernadette Nutall and council members Erik Wilson, Casey Thomas, Tiffinni Young and Carolyn King Arnold: Let’s hear you sing the program’s praises in your community meetings.

Your youngest citizens deserve their best chance possible to compete.

This story originally appeared 3/9/2017 in The Dallas Morning News.

Texas Organizing Project parent leaders & their allies are victorious: Dallas ISD passes policy change to replace suspensions with solutions

Suspensions

The following statement was made by Chastity Masters, a parent leader with Texas Organizing Project’s education campaign and a Dallas ISD mother, in response to Dallas ISD trustees passing policy that will replace suspensions with research-based solutions to student discipline for children in pre-k through the second grade:

“Last night, Dallas ISD school board trustees rightfully stood on the side of justice and equity by passing policy to replace suspensions with real solutions to keep our youngest students in the classroom learning, rather than pushing them out of school, marking a significant win for families like mine.

“I’ll never forget when my four-year-old daughter Aaniyah was suspended from her elementary school in South Dallas nine years ago. She was only in pre-k when she received out-of-school suspension after a misunderstanding with one of her classmates. I remember thinking that there had to be a better way to correct her behavior than throwing her out of the classroom, keeping her from learning and being with her classmates. This never seemed right to me, so a few years later I joined other parents with the Texas Organizing Project to change the way our schools do student discipline.

“After taking a look at districtwide data, I was alarmed to find that in a district of 228 schools, out of school suspensions are on the rise for young students like Aaniyah, and about 54 percent of those went to Black boys, a disproportionate burden.

“That’s why I thank Dallas ISD trustee Miguel Solis for introducing this proposal that will equip teachers with the skills needed to correct behavior and teach students healthy ways of dealing with the root causes of their acting out, instead of just doling out school suspensions for our youngest kids. TOP parent leaders and our partners, including Texas Appleseed, the ACLU, Faith in Texas, CitySquare, the NAACP, and LULAC have been pushing for a change like this for years. This victory was a long time coming, and we look forward to building off of it to further curb the district’s pipeline to prison that keeps too many students from excelling in life.”

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The Texas Organizing Project (TOP), a membership-based organization, works to build power through community organizing and civic engagement. For more information, visit organizetexas.org.

Trustee wants Dallas ISD to be “safe haven” for immigrant students

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DALLAS – After President-elect Donald Trump pledged to deport immigrants who are in the country illegally, at least one Dallas ISD school board trustee wants to declare the district a “safe haven” for immigrant students.

It’s a move school districts have made around the country following Trump’s election.

The resolution hasn’t been written yet but would likely reaffirm the superintendent’s authority to protect students’ immigration status. It would also prohibit ICE agents from showing up at a school without permission from the superintendent.

Kattelen Peres says she’s afraid Trump will soon make good on his campaign promise to deport illegal immigrants. That would include her.

“I’m afraid of what he will do,” she said. “I want the American Dream. I want freedom and peace for every immigrant. I don’t want to live in fear. I want to belong.”

Kattelen has already talked about it with her little brother, who was born in the U.S.

“We’ve talked about one day if I am deported, he has to stay here with my grandma or family members,” the senior Samuel High School student said.

Worried that immigrant students will be distracted from learning, a group is urging Dallas ISD to pass a resolution to declare the district a safe haven.

One teacher explained why she believes it is necessary.

“I have one particular student, we’re going to call him David. David came to me and said, ‘If I’m not here, it’s because I’ve been deported,’” the teacher recalled. “The fact he came and said that to me just broke my heart.”

School Board Trustee Jaime Resendez explained why he wants to introduce a safe haven resolution for students.

“I’m the son of two Mexican immigrants,” the board member explained. “My parents worked hard all of their lives, set the example of what we should do to take advantage of the opportunities we have in this country.”

They are opportunities that Kattelen, who has lived in the U.S. for most of her life, does not want to miss.

“Immigrants have already made America great,” she said.

Resendez plans to introduce a safe haven resolution in time for a vote next month. The superintendent has not yet if he would support the resolution.

This story originally appeared 1/19/2017 on FOX 4.