Dallas Public Schools: 10 Questions with a DISD Family

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Photo: Cindy Homsher

As much as I love to talk about Dallas public schools and what I’ve learned through talking with administrators, teachers, parents, students and school board members, nothing can replace the insight from a been-there-done-that family entrenched in the district. So I’ve come up with 10 questions (the same 10 I ask every DISD parent when I want to talk about their school or schools), and each month we’ll highlight a family who answered. Our inaugural edition will begin with the Homsher family, who live in Preston Royal. Mom Cindy Homsher and her kids – Natalie, Matthew, Nicholas and Catherine – answered our questions.

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Dallas Public Schools: My Goodness, the Choices!

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Saturday morning, the Mister, Tiny and I drove over to Ellis Field house to attend the DISD magnet school fair.

We left kind of stunned. A good stunned, though, because even with our two years of research and question-asking and review seeking, we were still surprised by the sheer volume of choice offered to families who attend Dallas public schools.

In fact, even if your kiddo isn’t even at the point of attending school yet, I recommend you go to next year’s fair, just to start getting the lay of the land and – even more so – to have a tangible way to visualize the myriad of ways your child can learn.

Our original plan had been to just make a beeline for the two schools we were interested in – Dealey and Harry Stone. We did go there, and asked plenty of questions (more on that in a minute), but then we spent another half hour or so milling around. Vanguard schools for STEM and fine arts. International Baccalaureate schools out the wazoo. Law magnets. Engineering magnets. Leadership and communication magnets. You name an interest, and there is a way to address it.

In fact, a teacher at Skyline High wanted me to make sure our readers knew that free transportation is available to all magnet, vanguard and montessori schools. “Make sure they know!” she said. (more…)

Dallas Public Schools: Committed, For Now

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Last week, I wrote about the decisions we have coming up regarding real estate, and our son’s education. And I love, love, love all the reader feedback and comments. This week? This week I’d like to talk about our thought process thus far.

My husband and I are products of public schools – albeit not in Dallas, since we both landed here as adults. But in our time as a couple, we have kept a watchful eye on our adopted hometown’s education offerings, and once Tiny became a waving little alien on an ultrasound screen, we began, in earnest, discussing what we would do.

We’re kind of planners. OK, more accurately, I’m a raging planaholic, and my husband is a planner. But this now-ongoing discussion needed to happen that early because it involved real estate – which, as we all know, is something you try not to go into willy nilly.

So we first took a look at the school we would be assigned to for elementary school – Withers Elementary. As luck would have it, we have several friends and acquaintances with children who were attending at the time, and at least one whose children are now attending. Nothing but raves. A dual-language program that has benefitted hundreds of children. Robust parental involvement. Great ratings from the TEA, and compares well with  many of the elementary schools in the area of similar size and make up. (more…)

If Lakewood Schools Splinter From DISD, How Will That Affect Property Values?

Woodrow Wilson High School

Thanks to a Facebook page started by former State Rep. Allen Vaught, meetings with Dallas ISD trustee Mike Morath, and a growing groundswell of support, talk is picking up about Woodrow Wilson High School and it’s feeder campuses splintering from Dallas ISD to form their own school district.

It’s an interesting idea, one that would either create a sort of charter school district inside DISD, or secede from the district forever, depending on whom you’re asking. The complaints are as diverse as the proposed solution, but many families inside Lakewood are just fed up with the slow-moving bureaucracy at 3700 Ross Ave, one that Vaught wants to ditch completely.

Should this actually come to fruition, what would happen to the home values inside the Woodrow attendance boundaries and Lakewood as a whole? And what about homes surrounding the area?

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“My personal opinion is that when Lakewood becomes it’s own entity, the children are the ones who will benefit,” said Scott Carlson, a Realtor who specializes in Lakewood real estate and East Dallas. “Absolutely property values in Lakewood will be protected and become stronger.”

Nancy Johnson, also an expert in Lakewood-area real estate and is the listing agent for 10 Nonesuch Road, agrees.

“I think it would have a positive affect,” Johnson said. “Of course many details would need answering but DISD has such a bad rap that I think localizing and separating from all the negativity would hopefully have some of the great affects the Park Cities have enjoyed.”

Lakewood Elementary

Of course, Park Cities home values have always held strong, thanks to the solid schools, and recently values have taken a turn upward. But there have been some side-effects. Increased density and over-crowded schools are growing problems for Highland Park ISD. As more people seek to live inside a higher-performing school district, builders tear down single-family homes to build duplexes and four-plexes, increasing the burden on campuses to make room for more children. It’s a double-edged sword, for sure.

And let’s not forget that with higher property values often comes higher taxes.

“As you are aware, Texas does not have a state income tax. Never the less, we make up for that in our property taxes — mostly the school part of the tax,” Carlson said. “It’s a ton of money and therefore brings a lot of problems.”

But would White Rock ISD, or Lakewood ISD, or whatever we’re calling this proposed school district, become financially independent? Or would Lakewood property tax dollars still end up in DISD coffers? It’s something that has to be thought out carefully. If the school district becomes financially independent, and results in skyrocketing property values and property taxes, then the district will likely become targeted for redistribution according to the state’s “Robin Hood” laws.

Still, Carlson feels that the district already has a great amount of autonomy and support from the community.

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(Photo: Jenifer McNeil Baker)

“My thoughts are that Lakewood already operates on it’s own. What the parents and community has done for the Lakewood school district is extraordinary. A lot of families are moving to Lakewood primarily for the Lakewood school district,” Carlson said. As for support, there’s already a groundswell of that, thanks to the Lakewood Early Childhood PTA and their fundraising efforts.

“The upcoming Lakewood Home Festival, which is the weekend of the Nov. 8, shows how strong and financially viable Lakewood is,” Carlson said. “This being the oldest home tour in Dallas has set the standard for many other home tours. The focus and vision of the parents combined with their love for their children and community, grounded in the beauty of White Rock Lake and nature, is what has made Lakewood one of the BEST neighborhoods in America.”

And that is definitely catching on.

4219 Emerson extBradford, McCullough, Highland Park High School…  yes, while DISD continues to find an identity, your kiddos can be walking to and from school in the Park Cities. Best of all, you get an updated, liveable, classic home with 1936 charm and structure, but modernized to 2013 form and functionality. This was a circa 1930’s duplex the owner gutted and transformed into a 4300 square foot single family home with four bedrooms, four baths, two dining and four living areas. All is light, bright, and high ceiling’d with some rooms doing double duty. I love the third floor gameroom/playroom/study or exercise room! (Half the work-out is getting there!)

4129 LR 4129 Emerson DR 4129 Emerson kit1 4129 Emerson kit2 4129 Emerson FRYou will truly feel like you are living in the bindings of a Restoration Hardware catalog: marble countertops, rich dark hardwood flooring everywhere, Viking appliances, custom woodwork & a plethora of of built-ins. There is a covered front entry that is comfortable in the evenings right about now, and bold circular driveway in front. The lot is .16 of an acre, but the backyard still sports a large green space, a balcony and another porch. Now this home has no garage, but it has a darling playhouse the current owners use for storing bikes and play gear. There is a post-tension slab for a car port with rear gate entry to the back alley — an awning is available to make it a covered carport. Or keep it as charming back patio/play area. Asking $1,150,000, listed with Nancy Guerriero and Janelle Law at Dallas City Center Realtors, and proof that you don’t have to spend two million to live in the Park Cities.. 4129 Emerson Master 4129 Emerson Master bath 4129 Emerson gameroom4129 Emerson playhouse int 4129 Emerson playhouse 4129 Emerson side yard 4129 Emerson balcony

$799,000 Will Buy You Mike Miles North Dallas Home on Hockaday

Mike Miles 4026 Hockaday (2)Listing agent Linda Vallala, who really specializes in that area, just confirmed the pricing of 4026 Hockaday… $799,000. The property was listed for $749,000, which is what Miles paid for it last July 27. Figuring in a 6% Realtor’s commission, should he get asking, which I see no reason why he shouldn’t as the area is HOT, he will actually only be making a couple extra thousand.

5523 Druid extI’m throwing this together for our poor Jo, who has the flu. That bug is a tough bugger, so don’t freak if you see me touring homes wearing a mask! I found this house for you in Greenway Crest over south of Lovers Lane, 5523 Druid — there’s a sassy street — east of the tollway but not butting right up to it. And yes, it has been reduced a bit to $450,000 down from a high of $459,000, but no HPISD, sorry, DISD.

5523 Druid LA 5523 Druid kit 5523 Druid master 5523 Druid Master bath 5523 Druid yardThe home is just as cute as a button. You get 1886 square feet with three bedrooms, two full baths, everything remodeled. You get a large family room plus formals, both dining and living room. Like every house in Dallas, there is a new roof, also plantation shutters, a fireplace, granite counters and gleaming hardwoods. Here’s what I really like: a detached office or studio with full heat and air that has a tiled floor. Kind of don’t like the one car garage but you know, you cannot have the world for $450K. I don’t have to tell you how wunderbar this neighborhood is, the great mature trees and even a circular drive on a .5 acre lot. This would be a great investment house for a young couple to buy, enjoy, and then tear down in five years or so. The house is great but was built in 1949, after all. But you know what they say: location, location, location!

Let’s face it: Realtors fly a school district’s accolades like a flag because good schools drive buyers to neighborhoods. I don’t talk about schools enough here on CandysDirt, partly because there is so much real estate news to cover. And truth be told, my kids, both products of private schools, are grown. I am admittedly biased. But that’s short-sighted, as a reader recently (and rightfully) admonished. For twenty years real estate agents have steered buyers to Park Cities, Plano, Frisco and Southlake because of poor schools in Dallas. Couple weeks ago in Benbrook, the developers and builders were bragging about the Aledo School District as if it were Harvard. This editorial by  Diane Ravitch (pictured above left), author of The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education, Research Professor of Education at New York University, an educational historian and a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., was in Sunday’s Dallas Morning News (subscription required). She offers Dallas advice in hiring a new superintendent: find someone who first and foremost knows how to TEACH!

“Don’t recruit a corporate leader who knows nothing about teaching and learning. Find a man or woman who knows how children learn, who knows how to encourage teachers and principals, who knows how to reach out to all parts of the community and bring them together to support Dallas’ children. Above all, look for someone who has a compelling vision of what a great education is and the energy to make it happen for all the children.”

Her words are such jewels, I’m tempted to cut and paste. Her point: current national school reform was born in Texas, and likely hatched here in Dallas. The nation is obsessed with results-oriented education — testing testing testing and merit pay, firing the teachers whose students are not getting higher scores. As a parent who flogged myself whenever my child didn’t get a straight A, I understand this. We simply want to put our children in the best possible place so they can get into the best possible college and lead the best possible life.

Test scores! Bah! I am someone who has never tested well, unlike my husband, who is a much more linear thinker. I am a creative soul whose neurons jump ahead of and all over the line; I over analyze answers. So what Ms. Ravitch wrote really hit home to me, and is worth putting on your listening ears to hear:

“During the presidential campaign of 2000, the nation learned about “the Texas miracle.” The achievement gap would close, we were told, by testing and accountability. Test every student every year, and post the results. Public exposure would encourage successful schools and humiliate the low performers into improving. Throw merit pay into the mix to push even bigger gains.

About the same time, the research department at the Dallas Independent School District discovered that children who had three great teachers in a row would see dramatic test-score gains. This is now the battle cry of the national school reform movement, which says schools will get better if we test more, award merit pay for higher scores and fire teachers whose students don’t get higher scores.”

Dallas, says Diane, knew this knew this 20 years ago yet still struggles with “a daunting achievement gap and low (but rising) graduation rates” . I say it like this: 25 years ago I was not impressed enough with the Dallas public schools to send my children to them, and I am still not impressed.

“We now know there was no “Texas miracle,” and yet No Child Left Behind is still the law of the land. Across the nation, schools are being closed and educators fired because they couldn’t meet the law’s utopian goals. Neither Dallas nor any other school district has figured out how to deliver on that claim about “three great teachers in a row.” It turns out to be a wishful slogan, not a policy proposal. And merit pay, wherever it has been tried, has failed.”

Diane says that in order for Dallas schools to improve, social conditions must improve: and that is a hard hand to be dealt. If Dallas wants to see success for its children, it must improve both schools and social conditions. “Eighty-five percent of DISD students live in poverty,” she says; these youngsters need access to nutrition and medical care. Pregnant woman, she says,  should receive good prenatal care lest they deliver malnourished, low-birth-weight babies, at risk of learning disabilities. Do not even get me (wife of obstetrician who believes parents ought to be licensed) started on this! Nutrition and vitamins and zero exposure to smoking and alcohol are vital during pregnancy to give that child the very best brain!

She advises DISD to hire teachers who are well-educated and can work with ESL children and children with disabilities.

Teachers should engage in continuing education, utilizing our city’s vast cultural resources such as the Dallas Institute of Culture and the Humanities, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and soon the Perot Museum of Nature and Science. And then, surprise surprise, it takes a vilage but most vitally, it takes parents:

“But that is not enough. The achievement gap begins long before children enter school. Schools and community groups must collaborate to provide excellent early-childhood education for every child, not just daycare. When children regularly engage in healthy play and interact with educated adults, their vocabulary and their social skills increase. Parent education is important, too, so that parents learn how they can provide positive support for their child’s development.”