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The Miseducation of Dallas County: Cementrification

Have you seen the news about two low performing schools in West Dallas closing? Well, it actually has to do with a lot more than test scores. And one may not even need to close after all. So go behind the headlines and into the history with this month's edition of Miseducation.

19 March 2018

DISD: It’s an entertaining tragedy. (1)

The Worst Enemy Poor Black Kids (2)

Save the district’s children from an educational nightmare (3)

Have Are Black Dallas School Board Members (4)

Pork-barrelling, nepotism, favoritism, vouchers, charters, snakes in the grass

Maybe the state should take over. (5)

The Dallas public schools, like many public schools around the country, are a punching bag for everyone from local journalists to internet comment sections.  Everyone, of course, has a right to voice their concern, and in some cases those concerns are justified. But all too often, the criticism aired is lacking in the necessary depth and context.

Dallas ISD to close up to five campuses, forcing up to 2,500 students to change schools (6)

That’s a headline from the Dallas Morning News. It’s an eye-catching, alarming pronouncement.  It’s also a little misleading.

On January 25th, 2018, the Dallas Independent School District Board of Trustees made a series of five votes that affected an even greater number of schools, but not all will necessarily be closing, and in a few situations, the definition of a “closure” is in question. (7)

In North Dallas, Sudie L. Williams Elementary will send their early learners to nearby K. B. Polk and transition to becoming a 4th-8th grade program for talented and gifted students. (8) In East Dallas, two campuses operating under capacity, J.W. Ray and John F. Kennedy, will merge with Cesar Chavez, a similarly underutilized school in the middle of the neighborhood. (9)  J.W. Ray will become Ignite Middle School, a science, technology, engineering and mathematics academy, a development approved by the board unanimously two months prior. (10) And in southeastern Pleasant Grove, Edward J. Titche Elementary may close, but not if scores on the standardized STAAR test are high enough to move the school off of the state’s “Improvement Required” list. (11)

That decision means the school’s students won’t actually know where they’ll be going next year until August.  But thanks to new accountability measures handed down from the state last year, if that call wasn’t made, the state could come in close the school themselves.  And just maybe replace our entire board of elected officials, as well. (12)

We could spend an entire episode on this new legislation and its broader ramifications (and as we get closer to next legislative session in 2019, we probably will). We could also spend at least an episode each on the unique circumstances surrounding the schools already mentioned. But much like board and staff tasked with making this difficult decisions, we have limited time and finite resources to work with.  And I haven’t even mentioned two other votes taken yet.

Because of this bill, there was the threat of closing Edison Middle School, which is the only comprehensive middle school in all of West Dallas, and Carr Elementary school, which is one of a few elementary schools in West Dallas, because they have been on the improvement required list for going on five years.

That’s Dallas school board trustee Miguel Solis, who represents West Dallas.  Or at least, a part of it.

There are certain communities in West Dallas that I represent and then certain communities that I don't. In fact there are three trustees that represent different areas of West Dallas: myself, Dr. Lew Blackburn, and trustee Audrey Pinkerton.

All three of these trustees led an effort to engage with their respective neighborhood constituents to find a solution for the future of these two schools.  Ultimately, the votes taken were to keep Carr open, assuming test scores go up, but close Edison regardless of results. (13) The reason why that decision was made speak to a larger set of issues specific to this part of the city.

West Dallas has a very unique history. This history is rooted in race. This history is rooted in governmental decisions that have had a significantly negative impact on the community. It's got a history of community leaders having to rise up and fight for their rights, and it's got a current history of displacement and development. There's no trust right now in West Dallas when it comes to our city, our school system, our state. There's no trust.

So let’s go past the headlines and deep into that history, to find out how much our schools are up against in their effort to regain that trust.  I’m Joshua Kumler, and this is Miseducation of Dallas County, powered by Commit.

Part One: The past.

This history doesn’t start with some French people trying to erect a socialist commune in 1855.  The land they called “La Reunion” was in fact just west of the newly incorporated town of Dallas, but it wasn’t suitable for growing wine grapes, and that was about the only thing they knew how to plant. Eventually they got hungry, and the colony went the way of every other attempted utopia. (14)

It also doesn’t start with Eagle Ford, the bustling railroad terminus on what is now the western edge of Dallas proper.  For a few years it was the “wildest town in Texas,” complete with a train robbery, but once the Texas and Pacific Company recovered from an 1874 economic downtown, they were able to extend their rail line out to Fort Worth, and the tiny city quickly faded into memory. (15)

No, this story starts in the same place that it ends.  With a cement plant.

The unique location of this Company’s mill, just outside the corporate limits of Dallas, assures a low tax rate on this Company’s property permanently. With its splendid deposits of raw materials, its abundance of cheap fuel, its proximity to great, increasing and locally unsupplied markets, it would be difficult to name any respect in which the location could be improved upon. (16)

That’s from a brochure put out by the Southwestern States Portland Cement Co. in 1907, just after purchasing a plot of land that would soon be incorporated, by the company’s owners, as the city of Cement, Texas.  It conveniently leaves out the one downside to the settlement: after two failed communities, nobody lived there anymore. They had to start a new city from scratch.

But they were lucky in one other respect: by 1910, Mexican immigration into Texas exploded with the outbreak of revolutionary violence down south. (17)  So Southwestern, later renamed Trinity Portland, and another cement company called Lone Star, set up workers’ villages around their plants. (18) These neighborhoods, Cemento Grande and Cemento Chico, remain two of the oldest Mexican-American communities in the city of Dallas. (19)

The housing was segregated as a matter of course.  The white supervisors resided in one area, while the black and brown workers rented in another.  Rent came out of their paychecks, as did the food stamps sold by the company to use at the grocery stores owned and run by the company.  What resulted was a sort of urban sharecropping in which workers, isolated from the larger Dallas community, were completely dependent upon their employers, who paid them cents per hour for eleven to thirteen hour shifts and ninety hour work weeks. (20)

If you work for a man, he’ll work for you,

He’ll help, assist, and pull you through,

And once he finds you’re with him to the end,

He’ll be more than a boss, he’ll be a friend (21)

That rhyme ends the Trinity Portland Cement Company Handbook, after 28 pages outlining all of the life-ending hazards involved in this line of work. Gruesome accidents caused by heavy machinery were all too common. (22)  Managers tried to demonstrate that friendship by throwing yearly picnics for the workers and their families, but their true colors showed when they virulently opposed the formation of a union. (23) They also built the Cement City School for the growing childhood population, but residents had to tax themselves for the funds to actually run it. (24) Unlike with black students, there was no legal segregation of Mexican American students at the time.  But that didn’t keep it from happening.

Families objected to having their children attending school with Mexicans. Formerly if these children wished education beyond the third grade they were sent to Cement City, but because of the objections of Americans there, at present only a few Mexicans attend Cement City School and the majority attend Cumberland Hill School. It has suffered much deterioration within the school and among the students since its founding. (25)

That’s from a 1936 sociological study of Mexican-Americans living in Dallas by a Southern Methodist University student.  Throughout, the author distinguishes between “Americans” and “Mexicans,” despite the fact that most of the children described were born in this country. (26) The Cumberland Hill School served the downtown community of Little Mexico, and as such became the de facto school for hispanic students, as well as Asian and Eastern European, regardless of where the kids actually lived. (27)

As there is no transportation the children must walk to and from school. The boys soon find that the city is more interesting than school, and few attend regularly. No effort is made to force these children to attend school. (28)

Dropouts rates turned into unemployment rates.  The population of West Dallas rose, and along with it cycles of poverty and homelessness perpetuated by a separate and unequal school system.  Soon, civic leaders were calling for changes, but less so for the sake of West Dallas residents than their own peace of mind.

There is no home in any part of the whole metropolitan area so restricted, so refined, so safeguarded in health, wealth and happiness, that its safety is not endangered by the slums of the lowliest level.  The health and safety of every home is threatened by the deadly dangers, moral and physical, of the worst slums in the city. Disease and crime like serpents strike far and deadly from their lairs. (29)

That’s former DISD Superintendent Justin Kimball, writing in his textbook “Our City, Dallas,” about the marginalized communities of his city, to be read in its white schools.  The solution proposed by Kimball and others was the creation of thousands of units of public housing. This was the ideal solution for civic leaders who wanted to keep the “tent cities” of West Dallas out of sight and mind, and ensure the growing black and brown populations wouldn’t extend into the affluent white neighborhoods of nearby North Oak Cliff. (30)

We remind the people of Dallas that if we do not provide home sites for Negroes who want, and can afford to, buy or rent suitable and decent homes, the alternative is terrible tension resulting from Negroes buying into white neighborhoods…  The Committee feels that the only satisfactory and permanent solution to this problem can be realized where there is racial segregation. (31)

That’s from a 1950 report by the “Committee on Negro Housing,” entitled, ironically, “Toward Better Understanding.”  It’s recommendations were accepted, and plans were made for the construction of 3500 units, each as segregated as the workers villages that came before. (32) All this, before West Dallas had even been annexed into the city of Dallas itself. The largest public housing complex in the country would come to West Dallas before paved streets, sewers, or desperately needed flood protection. (33)

The 1964 Civil Rights act made the deliberate categorizing of public housing tenants by race illegal, but that didn’t stop the Dallas Housing Authority, whose “Freedom of Choice” desegregation plan didn’t actually involve letting applicants know they had a choice.  Instead, residents who wished to live in a building with a different racial makeup had to get special approval of the DHA board, which was rarely given. (34)

All this resulted in the US Department of Housing and Urban Development withholding 31 million dollars from DHA over the course of five years, money which was specifically earmarked for the modernization of projects like the one in West Dallas. (35) These buildings quickly fell into disrepair; by 1983, “at least 35% of the West Dallas units were so deteriorated that they were uninhabitable.”  (36)

The entire situation lead Judge Jerry Buchmeyer to order the demolition of the West Dallas project in 1987, displacing nearly 2,000 families. (37) Buchmeyer’s solution to this issue was the creation of 3000 new units of public housing in affluent areas, but just as in the 50’s, such deliberate desegregation was widely opposed, and a subsequent decision on appeal allowed instead for the distribution of vouchers which could be used for housing anywhere in the city. (38) But only theoretically. In practice, voucher holders have to find landlords willing to accept them, who are generally concentrated in the same exact low-income neighborhoods. (39)

But while former West Dallas project residents were struggling to find a way into wealthier communities, rich white Dallas was coming right into the heart of theirs.

Trinity Groves.  At the base of the Margaret Hunt Hill bridge just one mile west of the Dallas central business district sits this one of a kind development.  A visionary, urban revitalization project that is transforming the Dallas landscape and quickly becoming the city’s most unique development opportunity. (40)

This is an advertisement for an office / luxury condominium / restaurant incubator that sprang up on the other side of new suspension bridge that isn’t actually suspended going straight into the heart of the once neglected neighborhoods of West Dallas.  And with this development has come more displacement, this time in the form of enhanced code enforcement on rental properties that just happen to be located next to these investment properties. (41)

It’s important to note that proper code enforcement has been something desperately needed in these neighborhoods since the days of public housing, when 60% of the units assessed by city of Dallas inspectors did not actually meet HUD Housing Quality Standards. (42) But it’s also important to keep in mind the communities most directly impacted by the Trinity Groves development, the neighborhoods of La Bajada and Los Altos, were actually formed directly in the aftermath of the downtown Little Mexico community being systematically destroyed by the same thing: sudden code enforcement that paved the way for major redevelopment. (43)

All of this is exemplified by the decision on the part of the Dallas City Council, at the behest of the former representative from West Dallas, to move a cement plant away from the Trinity Groves development and into the backyard of Thomas A Edison Middle School a few miles down the road. (44) A decision that is incomprehensible… until put into the proper historical context.

Edison Middle School stands today in the same area where the Lone Star Cement plant once operated. (45) And in the time between 1910 when it opened and 2018 when another one will reopen, that immediate vicinity has also been home to a facility producing asbestos-containing vermiculite, (46) and two different lead smelters, one of which resulted in West Dallas becoming one of the largest Environmental Protection Agency Superfund sites in the country. (47)

I am here for one reason.  I am pleading for justice.

This is from the testimony of the Rev. RT Conley of Waverly Baptist Church before the Congressional Subcomittee on Environmental Justice, 1993.

In 1969, it was brought to the attention of Dallas. At that time when we brought the problem to the city, it was ignored. Kids in that area were suffering, parents were suffering, losing kids. The city moved the whites out of the project that is next door to the lead smelter and moved blacks in. Such things happen today in this country.  I am looking for help for the problem we have. Kids are dying and I am looking for justice. (48)

The RSR lead smelter, across the street from both the middle school and the housing project, was finally closed in 1984, but nothing was done about the tons of toxic waste that still remained. That effort wasn’t officially completed until 2004, and may never have happened at all had not community members like Conley, Luis Sepulveda, Mattie Nash, and Andrea Cervantes dedicated their lives to the well-being of their neighbors. (49)

The problem is the Dallas Public Library never asked for an oral history from any of these individuals.  None of the three sociological studies of West Dallas to come out of SMU in the 20th actually attributed quotes to their speakers. (50) Multi-part series’ on these neighborhoods out of the Dallas Morning News often barely contained any quotes from residents at all. (51)

Until we begin allowing for community members to speak for themselves, to tell their stories and offer their own solutions, we will continue to see history repeating itself. Current zoning still does not protect West Dallas residents from the type of industrial incursion seen at Edison Middle School.  Recent research shows that the particulate matter, or PM, emanating from cement smokestacks and even freeways can be nearly as harmful to the developing brain as lead. (52)

This stuff is so tiny that you breathe it in, you inhale it deeply, and then it passes right through your lungs into the bloodstream, and then it hitches a ride to whatever organ the blood is going to. And since so much blood goes to your brain, your heart, your reproductive systems, and so on, you can imagine where the most damage is done.

This is Jim Shermbeck, an environmental activist who helped get the Superfund designation back in the early 90’s.

And if you then combine PM itself, which is toxic, with whatever it’s caring with it as result of where it came from, if it comes from a cement plant burning hazardous waste, it would have lead and arsenic and all kinds of dioxins attached to it. It affects your behavior much less than your immune system, reproductive system, blood diseases, cancers of all kinds. There's the blatant stuff that's gotten worse but it's also this insidious list of symptoms that makes you less of your full self, less like yourself, it devolves you as a person, and that to me is really diabolical, the effects at that level, because they’re so nuanced, that you would never think to blame somebody’s suicide or depression on air pollution, but that's exactly what's going on if you look at the statistics. The more you can separate student populations from industry of all types, the better off you are.

Part two: The present.

Miguel: There’s no good reason that has ever been presented to me that warranted the removal of the Argos plant from where it is today to behind Edison Middle School. It was purely based on development and money, nothing else.

Trustee Solis again.

Miguel: And so the administration had to come up with a plan, and I’ve gotta give them credit where credit’s due, they took a lot of time to try to create the best plan that they could come up with. Unfortunately it was not a plan that both I, nor the community, thought had the best interest, not just of our students in the school system but of the community, in the future of the community, as well, because basically what was going to do was preemptively close Edison and ship all of the kids from West Dallas to a completely different neighborhood in our city, North Oak Cliff, which would mean something along the lines of a 3.25 mile transit for some children in West Dallas having to leave their community. That didn't sit well the community, because when you close schools, some of, like, the only schools in those communities, it leads to the death of a community. So this didn't look like a good plan. I was able to work with community leaders from throughout West Dallas in conjunction with both Trustee Pinkerton and Trustee Blackburn to try to come up with a solution that could preserve the integrity of the community: keep our kids in West Dallas and as best as we can provide a plan for the future of DISD schools in West Dallas and I think we've come up with that and I think that the community is supportive of it.

So that plan is this: West Dallas is earmarked to get a brand-new Pinkston high school. The children that would've gone to Edison starting next year will go as seventh and eighth graders to a wing of Pinkston high school, the current Pinkston high school. Once those students from Pinkston high school transition to the new Pinkston high school, basically Pinkston will turn into the old, but now new, Edison middle school for sixth, seventh, and eighth graders, and that building is slated to get bond money as well to basically make it a brand-new school for the students of West Dallas. But the other thing to note though is the end product, the idea of the kids remaining at the old Pinkston site for middle school, that wasn’t a plan that the administration came up with, and quite honestly it wasn't a plan that I came up with, or Dr. Blackburn came up with. This came from the community.

Raul: They call us leaders but we’re really we just neighbors, you know, we’re just going off of what we think or we would like to see in our neighborhood.

This is Raul Reyes, the guy Miguel credits with coming up with the idea that’s allowed Edison middle school students to stay in West Dallas.  He’s also vice chairman of the Los Altos neighborhood association, one of the areas hit hardest by the most recent housing crisis.

Raul: For me, my fight was “I just lost 200 neighbors.” Right? Now we’re about to shut down our middle school which is probably another 400 kids. Many would say that you know, Quintanilla is a better campus, or better opportunity. No. When you're not in your neighborhood it does have an effect, and it may not have an effect right then and there but in the long run it starts- it may put a seed in there where it’s like... “In order for me to improve I need to move out.” Then where is the investment? You know, and I can say that being that I was one of those kids, I was part of the [de]segregation efforts that DISD had in place. I was getting shipped out to Franklin middle school out in North Dallas when I had a middle school here. So I had friends there, so you know, when it was time for me to come back at that point, they said, well now you have to go to Pinkston. Well what about my friends over there at Franklin? So that was the same situation I feared was that if those kids went to Quintanilla and they built relationships, well, what’s their incentive to come back to Pinkston? So I said no we can't do that, we gotta keep them here so we as a community have to take ownership. So we want to partner with DISD. We already have a history of people coming in and telling us what to do and then just doing it and if it works, okay, if it doesn't, oh well. No. Those days are over. They have to be over.

Dolores: But it will take the community input though, that's the key ingredient, if you get the community input and get some solutions from them, some ideas, you never know what you’re gonna come up with and you’ll never know what good can come of that.

This is Dolores Sosa-Green, longtime employee and former CEO of Trinity River Mission, a historic after school program in West Dallas that Raul actually went to as a kid.

Dolores: We have 550 kids and 236 of those kids were going to either a charter school or private schools, even though those 236 kids could go to their neighborhood school but they weren’t because we were educating them in other schools that would be better for their children. Did we want to do that?  No. You always want to keep the kids in their neighborhood school, but when you don't feel as an organization that they're doing the best that they can for those students and not providing all the resources and everything that they need to to do well, you’re gonna look outside of that. And it's unfortunate that we have to do that, but we don't want to do that anymore because it's important because I see how we’ve impacted the district, because those 236 kids, that's a little over $2 million that's been taken away from the district. That's a lot of money, and when we could be working with the district to bring them back into the to the schools, but in order for us to feel comfortable with that, the resources need to be put into those schools to make sure that they're doing the best that they can for those kids, otherwise we’re not gonna do it, because there our babies, those are our kids too. I may not have had 550 kids biologically, but they're my babies. And so I’m going to treat them like they’re mine. But we don't want to do that anymore. We want to be a part of the solution, not the problem.

James: We’re entering into an age, a sort of a revolution, where individuals are really tired of having a foot against their neck.  I really think it's an awakening by underserved communities to really expect more from their elected officials, to be in the community, to craft policies that really benefit the community that they serve.

This is James Armstrong, CEO of local non-profit Builders of Hope, who was also actively engaged in the conversations surrounding the school closures.

James: Also fourth-generation West Dallas-ite and pastor of Community Fellowship Church which is located diagonal to CF Carr, so right across the street, been there for about 30 years. When I was a kid in West Dallas I would go to the levees and I would see these big skyscrapers. To me it felt like it was just a different world, my cousins and I we often times dreamed, and we pointed at the skyscrapers, said “I’m gonna live in that one, I’m gonna live in that one.” So I was able to come back to Dallas working at a nice financial institution, J.P. Morgan, and I was living in one of those skyscrapers. And the crazy thing about it is that my balcony looked over into West Dallas. So every night I would look into the community, and I would come home to my grandparents house for Sunday dinners and I remember one Sunday in particular I was driving on Canada Drive, and was just starting to look at the deterioration and the kind of the condition of West Dallas and I remember I got back to my apartment and I was convicted, I began to weep for the broken down walls of West Dallas. And at that point I knew I had to get involved, I didn't have peace at night, I couldn’t sleep all that week, and so I went to my granddad, who again started the ministry about 30 years ago, and said “I wanna get involved, I want to be the champion for housing, I would be the champion of social justice.” He said, “Okay let's get started. The church needs their toilets cleaned.” So I started cleaning toilets. That was my initial involvement in West Dallas, and from there it bloomed to community organizing, to being involved with one of the major boards in the city, and to now being the head of an organization that focuses on transforming urban neighborhoods like West Dallas. Actually one of the homes that we that we bought and demolished was a home that the police did a drug bust when I attended CF Carr way back in the early 90s, so kind of full circle.

The interesting thing about me going to Carr is that I had a speech impediment, and my reading level was I think two grades below par, and so I remember my mother going to meet Ms. Anderson my first grade teacher and the discussion was if I should be held back, do I need to go to a speech pathologist, or what needs to take place to kinda catch me up. It seemed as if even at that time that the school just didn't have the resources it needed to give to a kid like me who was not slow by any means, my track record in suburban school proved that, it’s just I didn't have the resources. And I think you even see that today, where families are realizing the condition of DISD especially in areas like West Dallas and they're moving their kids to private schools or the moving to the suburbs even if they can’t afford it, and I want to say that because it was harder for us to live in Mesquite than to live in West Dallas, but my parent, my mother, made the sacrifice for the sake of my education. It boils down to economic mobility, and that's really dealing with the root of the issue. The fact that Carr is in the position that it's in, that's just the symptom, right? Closing schools is the symptom, low performing test scores, that's just symptoms. The root of the issue is lack of opportunity and lack of economic mobility. I feel that two years is not sufficient to turn a school around when you're dealing with 50 years of systemic poverty.  You’re even kind of handicapping and handcuffing some of the brilliant teachers who I know are at Carr because your giving them such a short time to turn around.

Natalie: We know that kids thrive in consistency and routine and with expectations, right, and when were thrown into situations of inconsistency and a lack of routine and constant changes and lack of communication it brings about challenges, of course.

This is Natalie Breen, director of children’s education at Wesley Rankin Community Center, where Raul is a board member.

Natalie: I think we have a larger need for socio-emotional development and working with kids in a one-on-one, quality time way that provides anything from counseling to just processing life, and having conversations about value, and worth, and identity amidst everything going on in the community, so we’ve definitely seen an increase in those types of challenges and have responded by expanding our resources that we provide in that way, so just this year we’ve probably quadrupled the number of students that we have in counseling services or group therapy. Across the board I think we’re really working to respond as well as we can to an increased need of academic and emotional support.

Raul: But all of that requires funding. ‘Cause it doesn’t come for free, you know?

Dolores: The only thing that I want people to know is that those families are just- I get emotional.

Those are families who want the best for kids, and because I grew up exactly like they did just on the opposite side, they’ll do anything to make sure their kids get the best education, those are some hard-working people, so they just want the best for their kids and we want the same for their kids as well. So we’re gonna do whatever we can, so this is for you Dallas ISD, we support you, keep doing the great work that you're doing, and you’re going to have an organization like ours and many others who will try to help you to win some of these kids back, but until we see more resources in these schools, it’s not going to happen. So guess what? I need a tax ratification election to be put on the ballot.

Part Three: The future.

Miss Alexander: Assata Shakur says?

Kids: It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win.  We must love each other and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.  We can, we will succeed.

Miss Alexander: After me: We can, we will succeed.

Kids: We can, we will succeed.

Miss Alexander: CF?

Kids: CF Carr! C-O-U-G-E-R-S! CF Carr we are the best!  Cougers!

Miss Alexander: Alright… we’re going into test mode…

This is Miss Alexander’s fifth grade class.

Dani: The first thing I would let people know is that they should not count us out.

And this Miss Dani Alexander herself.

Dani: Even though they’re probably living in what seems like a war zone, right?  Whatever situation they’ve come from that day, whatever happened last night, here’s your way out.  This is what’s going to get you the success that you’re looking for, emotionally, mentally, academically, I’m giving it to you right here in this math class.  So we have that quote to empower them, to encourage them, to inspire them. It fires them up. And then the last thing is our chant for our school, because I want them to have pride in where they go, where they learn.  I don’t want them to continue thinking or listening to all the negative things people have said. “Oh, the school’s closing, oh it’s doing this,” it’s like, no. We are not thinking about any of that. Our school is great.  The students that go here are great. You’re just as educated as any of the other kids. You live in different places and you look different, but what you’re getting here is going to set you up to compete with anybody else, it does not matter.  I want them to always know that. So for me, that shows up as pride in our school, pride in our classroom, pride in what we’re doing, and then we literally go from that morning meeting and jump right into the work. We do not take any more time, we have so much to get done, but I had to carve out a piece of time for that piece because they come in with so much weight of their lives, their lived experiences, and I need them to be able to know how to navigate that, how to manage those feelings and emotions, and then also come in and do the work.

CF Carr is filled with heroic teachers like Miss Alexander, and that’s by design.  The school is a part of the district’s Accelerating Campus Excellence, or ACE, program, crafted specifically to turn low performing schools arounds in a short period of time.  This is done, in part, by identifying some of the strongest principals in the district and allowing them to build a new staff from some of the most effective teachers across the district. (53) And the effect this has on the professional culture is immediately apparent.

Dani: I know that I can come into my classroom and do whatever is necessary to get my kids where they are, whether it’s using positive affirmations, or the work, getting them to understand data, because whenever I go to meetings, my administration is doing the same thing.  They’re walking around, they’re always upbeat, they come in and support us at any time. And so, how can you not work, right? How can you not put in that kind of commitment, when the people above you are putting in that kind of level of commitment. Sometimes there’ll be a table out here in the hallway, and my principal will just be out there.  For anything. What do you need? Oh, well so-and-so, can they just get some space and do their work with you, and soon as they finish the question let them come back in? Sure. And even if she’s in her office she’ll do that. The level of commitment is just always there.

Carlotta: It starts with the adult expectations, and that translates to how well the kids will do.

This is principal Carlotta Hooks.

Carlotta: So the adults, you know, we have to own that first, how are we communicating their success to them, and then the kids will rise to that occasion. These kids are working so hard, and when you instill a belief that they can do it, the kids will do it. It's about how you approach them, how you treat them, and what you expect out of them. If you expect them to graduate from college, they will.

There are banners for various colleges above the entrance to Carr and on the doors of every classroom.  There are binders for every student with all the testing they’ve done in a year that they themselves track to monitor their steady improvement.  There was an official from central DISD administration who was sitting next to me in the front office, sharpening pencils. CF Carr, and other schools like it, in neighborhoods like West Dallas with a history of neglect, are now being flooded with resources by this program.  It may not be equal. But it is equitable.

Carlotta: Being fair does not mean being equal, and vice versa, so I have to meet these kids where they are, and I can't treat every kid the same, you just can't. So I continue to tell myself that, today has been a day I’m like “wow this is why that student has changed,” it’s because I approached that student in a totally different way, and now the student, all they want to do is do well. All they want to do. At first that was not the case. Then I started a different relationship: no more suspensions, no more time out, let's just work together, solved the problem. So you have to meet the kids where they are. And it takes a lot of work and a lot of time but if you want the results you have to do that.

The ACE program, in its first year of existence, got six out of the seven campuses it was piloted on off of the state improvement required list.  3rd grade reading and math proficiency in black students at four ACE campuses was four to six times greater than in the previous year. The data on this stuff is inarguable: it works. (54)

It also costs an additional $1300 per student. (55) This is what Natalie and Raul were talking about when they mentioned the costs of social emotional learning.  This is what James is talking about when he speaks on an inadequacy of resources. It’s what Dolores was referring to when she mentioned a tax ratification election.

Our school district knows what needs to be done to begin closing achievement gaps that are the result of our city’s discriminatory past.  But they need to be empowered by us, the voters and taxpayers, at the local and state level, in order to do so. And instead, too often all we do is blame the result of historic injustices on current leadership.

Last year, Miss Alexander was at Carver Learning Center, another West Dallas elementary school.  It was closed because of low enrollment and performance. (56) Many of her kids now at Carr are former Carver students.  Some have to stand in front of their own school, now abandoned, and wait for the bus to take them to a new school that may also be taken away from them.

If anyone has the right to call the Dallas Independent School District a nightmare and a tragedy, it would be those kids.  But they don’t have the time or the luxury to sit around on social media complaining. They are too busy receiving the help they need, at Wesley Rankin, Trinity River Mission, Community Fellowship Church, or Saturday school at Carr Elementary, to take responsibility for their own data, and be absolutely sure they will pass their test.

But before any of that, every morning, they begin by affirming one another, and themselves.


The Miseducation of Dallas County is powered by the Commit Partnership and produced by me, Joshua Kumler.  It is executive produced by me, along with John Hill, Kathryn Mikeska, and Rob Shearer. Mixed and mastered by Will Short.  Music by Trevor Yokochi. Voice acting from Stephen Gardner, John Hill, Dave Marquis, Bailee Rayle, and Carlee Kumler.

Special thanks to trustee Miguel Solis and everyone at the Latino Center for Leadership Development, Jim Shermbeck and everyone at Downwinders at Risk and GoodWork, James Armstrong and everyone at Builders of Hope, Dolores and everyone at Trinity River Mission, Raul, Natalie, Shelly, and everyone else at the Wesley Rankin Community center, urban archaeologist Alexander Troup, the special collections at UTA and UNT (where his extensive research on Cement City is housed), John Slate and the team at the Dallas Municipal archives, the 7th floor staff of the Dallas Public Library, and Miss Alexander, Principal Hooks, and everyone else at CF Carr Elementary.  

This podcast is dedicated to educators everywhere. The future is in your hands. It is also dedicated to Olivia Solis, in the knowledge and faith she will one day make a great DISD student. We’ll be back next month with more Miseducation.

CF Carr Elementary

972-794-4300

Wesley-Rankin Community Center

214-742-6674

mary@wesleyrankin.org

Trinity River Mission

214-744-6774


  1. Mitchell, Keri. “DISD, the Movie.” https://lakewood.advocatemag.com/2018/02/26/dallas-isd-board-trustees-education-reform/
  2. Schutze, Jim. “The Worst Enemy Poor Black Kids Have are Black Dallas School Board Members” http://www.dallasobserver.com/news/dallas-school-board-vote-shows-black-trustees-care-about-jobs-not-kids-9791442
  3. Mitchell, Keri. “DISD, the Movie.”
  4. Schutze, Jim. “The Worst Enemy Poor Black Kids Have are Black Dallas School Board Members”
  5. “January 25, 2018, Dallas ISD Board Meeting, Items 3&10, Public Forum (Speakers to Agenda Items).” Swagit, https://dallasisdtx.swagit.com/play/01252018-1295   
  6. Smith, Corbett. “Dallas ISD to close up to five campuses, forcing up to 2,500 students to change schools.” https://www.dallasnews.com/news/education/2018/01/25/dallas-isd-votes-close-historically-black-jw-ray-elementary-despite-african-american-trustee-objections
  7. Smith’s article mostly discusses the changes coming to the campus of JW Ray, while failing to mention Sudie L. Williams in any way.  Both schools are undergoing a change in the grades served that is allowing the campus itself to stay open. If both are considered a “closure,” the headline should read “six campuses,” and if neither, than “four,” but the total schools possibly closes only adds up to five when you use different criteria for two schools in what amounts to the same circumstance.
  8. “January 25, 2018, Dallas ISD Board Meeting, Item 8.04.” Swagit, https://dallasisdtx.swagit.com/play/01252018-1295
  9. “January 25, 2018, Dallas ISD Board Meeting, Item 8.07.” Swagit, https://dallasisdtx.swagit.com/play/01252018-1295
  10. “October 26, 2017, Dallas ISD Board Meeting, Item 7.01.” Swagit, http://dallasisdtx.swagit.com/play/10262017-1254/47/
  11. “January 25, 2018, Dallas ISD Board Meeting, Item 8.05.” Swagit, https://dallasisdtx.swagit.com/play/01252018-1295
  12. “November 2, 2017, Dallas ISD Board Workshop, Item 3.” Swagit, https://dallasisdtx.swagit.com/play/11022017-912
  13. “January 25, 2018, Dallas ISD Board Meeting, Item 8.06.” Swagit, https://dallasisdtx.swagit.com/play/01252018-1295
  14. “The Story of Old Frenchtown.” Dallas Morning News, Nov. 23 1919
  15. “Depot Coming Down; History Loser.” Dallas Times Herald, May 8 1970
  16. Southwestern States Portland Cement Company, https://ia801302.us.archive.org/31/items/SouthwesternStatesPortlandCementCoCCA31151/Southwestern%20States%20Portland%20Cement%20Co%20CCA31151.pdf
  17. Zamora, Dennis. Hispanic Beginnings of Dallas: Into the 20th Century 1850-1976
  18. Oral History of Barney C. Jones, compiled by Frances James, collected in the Cement City Collection, Alexander Troup, University of Texas at Arlington Special Collection (hereafter referred to as Cement City Collection, UTA)
  19. Dallas Mexican American Historical League, Mexican-American Neighborhoods (Barrios) 1900-1970. http://docs.wixstatic.com/ugd/592fba_e380d0dccced45518d54062f8c0efbd0.pdf
  20. Andrews, Gregg. “Unionizing the Trinity Portland Cement Company in Dallas, Texas, 1934-1939”
  21. Safe Practices and Working Conditions for the Dallas, Fort Worth, and Houston Employees, Trinity Portland Cement Co. Collected in the Cement City Collection, UTA
  22. “Laborer Suffocates Unter Pile of Rock,” Dallas Morning News, November 25 1911.
  23. Andrews, Gregg. “Unionizing the Trinity Portland Cement Company in Dallas, Texas, 1934-1939”
  24. “Special School Levy Carries,” Dallas Morning News, September 15 1908.
  25. Davis, Ethelyn Clara. Little Mexico: A Study of Horizontal and Vertical Mobility.
  26. Mercado, Bianca. With Their Hearts in Their Hands: Forging a Mexican Community in Dallas, 1900-1925.
  27. “Speaking of the League of Nations!” Dallas Morning News, June 7 1925
  28. Davis, Ethelyn Clara. Little Mexico: A Study of Horizontal and Vertical Mobility.
  29. Kimball, Justin Ford. Our City, Dallas. 1953 (Not to be confused with an earlier version published in 1927)
  30. “Pelt Recommends Site for Negro Community” Dallas Morning News, February 26 1950
  31. “Toward Better Understanding: Mutual Good Manners and Simple Courtesy Promote Inter-Racial Understanding.” Report of Joint Committee on Negro Housing of the Dallas Chamber of Commerce and Dallas Citizens Council, May 24 1950.
  32. Walker v. US Dept. of Housing & Urban Dev., 734 F. Supp. 1289 (N.D. Tex. 1989) US District Court for the Northern District of Texas. September 22, 1989. Memorandum Opinion: Joinder of the City of Dallas As a Defendant to the Consent Decree. https://law.justia.com/cases/federal/district-courts/FSupp/734/1289/1461714/ (hereafter referred to as Walker III)
  33. West Dallas was annexed on December 30, 1952 by Ordinance No. 5658-5659.  Urban area studies carried out by the city of Dallas of the Eagle Ford and Los Altos neighborhoods in 1964 and 1978, respectively, demonstrate the continued basic infrastructure needs.  Even as recently as the 2017 bond package, issues of flood protection in the area are still being addressed.
  34. Walker III
  35. Ibid.
  36. Dallas Task Force on Public Housing. “Report of the Task Force on Public Housing.” Jan. 1983
  37. Walker Consent Decree
  38. US Dept of Housing and Urban Development. “Baseline Assessment of Public Housing Desegregation Cases: Dallas.”
  39. “Why the top program to help poor Dallas families make rent is failing” Dallas Morning News, September 13 2017 https://www.dallasnews.com/news/investigations/2017/09/13/top-program-help-poor-dallas-families-make-rent-failing-section-8
  40. Trinity Groves - “The Sky is the Limit” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zcETECax6VY&t=3s
  41. Schutze, Jim. “Eviction Notices Coming This Week to 150 Families Caught in Political Crosshairs” Dallas Observer.  April 11, 2017. http://www.dallasobserver.com/news/west-dallas-renters-to-get-eviction-notices-this-week-150-families-face-moving-9358291
  42. Walker III
  43. Mercado, Bianca. With Their Hearts in Their Hands: Forging a Mexican Community in Dallas, 1900-1925.
  44. Young, Stephen. “Despite Protests, Council OKs Cash for Concrete Plant to Move Near School.” October 29, 2015 http://www.dallasobserver.com/news/despite-protests-council-oks-cash-for-concrete-plant-to-move-near-school-7726782
  45. Dallas Mexican American Historical League, Mexican-American Neighborhoods (Barrios) 1900-1970. http://docs.wixstatic.com/ugd/592fba_e380d0dccced45518d54062f8c0efbd0.pdf
  46. Interview with Jim Shermbeck.  Transcript available upon request.
  47. Bullard, Robert. The Wrong Complexion for Protection.
  48. Environmental justice : hearings before the Subcommittee on Civil and Constitutional Rights of the Committee on the Judiciary, House of Representatives, One Hundred Third Congress, first session, March 3 and 4, 1993.
  49. Robinson, Ronald. “West Dallas versus the Lead Smelter.” Unequal Protection: Environmental Justice and Communities of Color, ed by Robert Bullard. Interviews with Jim Shermbeck, James Armstrong, and Dolores Sosa-Green, available upon request.
  50. They are the aforementioned Davis Little Mexico study, A Social Survey of West Dallas by Kathryn Feagin Baines, and Of Thorns and Roses: Variations in Cultural Adaptations Among Mexican Americans in an Urban Texas Barrio by Shirley Achor, which became the basis for the book Mexican Americans in a Dallas Barrio. The lack of attributions is in keeping with academic standards for anthropological study, but the fact that conversing with people living a matter of miles away from their university was considered anthropology speaks to a larger sense in which the West Dallas community was considered “other.”
  51. See Dallas Slums and Proud of Dallas?... See Its Slums!, collections of the writings of Alonzo Wasson and Allen Quinn, respectively, on West Dallas for the Dallas Morning News.
  52. “Effect of time-activity adjustment on exposure assessment for traffic-related ultrafine particles.” Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology. https://www.nature.com/articles/jes201511
  53. “About ACE.” Dallas Independent School District. https://www.dallasisd.org/Page/46765
  54. Texas Education Agency. 2014-15 & 2015-16 Texas Academic Performance Report. Meets “Post Secondary” Standard per STAAR Assessment.”
  55. See figure above.
  56. “When the worst elementary school in Dallas closes, what happens to the kids?” Dallas Morning News, July 27 2017.