When South Dallas native and executive director for Student Services Jamiele Choice calls himself a product of Dallas ISD, he means he was all but reared by district educators. Choice is now working to pay forward to a new generation the safe haven, inspiration and resources teachers and administrators provided to him.
“I grew up in a home filled with a lot of trauma,” Choice said. “My mom was addicted to drugs, and I lived with my grandparents. School was a safe place for me. Back then, educators were more than just teachers. They cared about the whole child. I can remember having a circle of support around me at H.S. Thompson (Elementary School), from the principal to the community liaison to the teachers. They truly took a vested interest in me, so much so that today, I feel I am here to pay it forward for what so many educators did for me coming up as a kid in South Dallas.”
One teacher in particular stands out in Choice’s memory and in his life today. His fifth-grade teacher at Thompson Elementary, Linda Collins-Graham, was especially kind, dispensing equal measures of care and discipline, keeping tabs on him and transporting him to and from school and, on occasion, to the Salvation Army, where he stayed for a time to avoid a threatening home situation. She says although Choice had a lot going on in his life back then, she always knew he was special.
“He’s just like my son,” said the retired teacher who called Choice boss for a while when she was a substitute teacher at New Tech High School at B.F. Darrell, where he was principal until recently.
Choice also hold fond memories of the school and the safe haven it provided him.
“Most students loved and looked forward to summer break,” Choice said. “I hated summer break because it took me away from the structure and the loving environment of school.
“I’ll never forget those summers [in South Dallas], walking up Bethurum to Thompson, looking to see if the teachers’ cars were in the parking lot. I didn’t know when teachers reported to work. I just knew when I saw an influx of cars, I was going to go up to the school to ask if they needed some kind of help,” he added.
After Thompson, Choice attended middle school at W.E. Greiner Exploratory Arts Academy, graduated from the Judge Barefoot Sanders Law Magnet at Yvonne A. Ewell Townview Center and earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of North Texas. He served as New tech principal from 2014 until recently when he was promoted to head Student Services.
Choice calls Dallas ISD home because “without those educators in sunny South Dallas, I don’t know where I would be today. I’ve never been more sure about my purpose in life since I began doing this work,” he said.
“I speak openly and honestly about my background. As a kid, I was ashamed of having a mother on drugs and not knowing who my father was. I lived in Section 8 housing and my late mom spent time in jail, but I didn’t let that deny what God had for me.
“As an adult, I’ve learned to embrace my past. I use my life as an example of coming from nothing. I’ve lived in the Salvation Army. I’ve been to juvenile. I tell the students ‘I am you. Don’t look at this suit and tie and think it’s been all good.’ As a child, I never imagined my life being what it is now. I tell them ‘Don’t become a victim of your circumstances. You can become a victor.’ I’ve been able to overcome through hard work, tenacity, not making excuses and getting an education.”
Student Services provides training and mental health services to create safety awareness throughout Dallas ISD. The department also conducts ongoing threat assessment training and support for school personnel, students, and parents throughout the district. Its staff works in collaboration with schools and Mental Health Services to ensure schools provide safe and productive learning environments for all students, teachers, administrators, parents, and staff.