Take a break

Dallas ISD will be closed for summer break July 4-8, and many staff members are already looking forward to how they will spend their week off. Summer break is special, some pointed out, because with the district being closed everyone has time to relax and enjoy with family and friends without worrying about what may be going on in the office.

“Finally, a break!” one of you shared. “Here at the campuses, we need more than a two-week break; we need at least three to really feel like a had a summer break. Especially with everything going on at different school districts or even ours with innocent people being killed and to top it off COVID is still around.”

Another take: “It is awesome to know that our district recognizes the importance of disconnecting to rejuvenate for the upcoming school year!”

And another: “R&R is what we all need to give ourselves some self care, rest and relaxation, take a mental break.”

While quite a few staff members said they will be using the time to rest and recharge, others have a series of activities planned: “Everyone, everyone needs time to be destress, relax, work on things we want to do… and just be in a different mindset to come back and do it all over again but de-stressed and relaxed.”

“My summer break will be busy; however, I am anticipating spending time with family and friends!” said someone else.

Water was a running theme in activities staff shared, including spending time at waterparks and the Texas coast to spend some time relaxing on the beach.

Ready to put my feet in the sand and watch my son splash in the waves. Padre Island here I come!”

“So excited to be off for summer break! Did summer schoolwork, but now it’s time to relax at least for a whole week. Family and I will be traveling to Oklahoma to Beavers Bend that is very exciting fishing, relaxing, sleeping spending time with family.”


You are not alone

While the district may be closed July 4-8, many resources are available if you need assistance with your benefits.

The Benefits Contact Center will be closed Monday, July 4, but will be open on its regular business hours—7 a.m. to 7 p.m.—from Tuesday, July 5, through Friday, July 8.  

If you want explore your benefits for the 2022-2023 year to take advantage of the enrollment window opening on July 5, you can use the Benefits Portal to enroll, or you can reach out to the Benefits Contact Center by phone.

For those non-emergency health concerns such as cold and flu, TRS ActiveCare participants can utilize Teladoc at a reduced cost.  Call 1-855-Teladoc (835-2362) or visit their main page.

If you have questions regarding your HSA/ FSA, contact Optum at 877-528-9876 or visit www.connectyourcare.com.  Optum is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

You may reach the benefits call center at 972-925-4000 or email benefits@dallasisd.org.  For questions regarding leaves of absence, email benefitsleaves@dallasisd.org.  During the periods in which the district is closed, the email boxes will be monitored periodically to ensure any critical issues are resolved in a timely manner. 


Extended calendars show early success

Fourth grade bilingual math and science teacher Yoban Quijano has been teaching full-time at Dallas ISD for eight years, but he has never seen test scores as high as this year’s, and he credits his campus’ School Day Redesign calendar for the improvement. 

Maple Lawn Elementary School is one of five district schools with this special calendar, which extends the year to start at the beginning of August and end in late June for all students, teachers and staff. As a result, teachers like Quijano were able to spend more time planning, connecting with students and getting ahead on test preparation. 

Dallas ISD adopted the School Day Redesign calendar along with the Intersession calendar— which allowed 41 schools to create time for five additional intersession weeks—to mitigate the learning loss caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, something Quijano experienced firsthand. 

One of his students missed most of last year due to virtual absences, leading her to get a score of 21 on her State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) math test. This year, however, she was able to triple her score and earn a 72 thanks to the extra time in class. And she was not Quijano’s only student who experienced such noteworthy growth. 

“I had another student who is on the spectrum,” Quijano said. “He got an 18 last year, and this year, he passed with a 68, so he tripled that score. His family was ecstatic because he had never passed any test in his life, so it was really a good moment for everyone.”

Extended school year campuses across the district are seeing similar success stories. Derek Little, deputy chief of academics, said it has been “a large ask” for teachers to spend so much additional time with their students, but Dallas ISD is seeing the impact of that work.

“All of the student surveys that we have put out this year at both School Day Redesign and at Intersession have been positive,” Little said. “With our preliminary STAAR data, we’re seeing really good results from the work teachers have done at these 46 extended schools. We are excited to see teachers come back next year ready to make an even bigger difference in the lives of their students.” 

While Quijano has faced additional challenges this year due to the pandemic, helping his students grow and develop kept him moving forward week after week. 

“I love when my students start to believe in themselves,” Quijano said. “Once they feel successful, the fear is gone, and when the fear is gone, they are willing to try anything. That’s when they start to learn. If I can make that difference and a student is able to triple their score, how far can they go? That’s my motivation for next year: Let’s see what the limit is.” To learn more about Dallas ISD’s extended school year calendars or to see a list of participating schools, visit https://www.dallasisd.org/Page/74532.

Spread the word nationwide

Do you have family or friends looking to move to Texas and specifically Dallas? Dallas ISD is making it easier for them to get a job teaching with its new certification exemptions for out-of-state teachers.

As part of the recently approved District’s Innovation Plan, teachers who hold standard teaching credentials from other U.S. states could be considered for positions upon a local review of the experience, education, and credentials. There are some exceptions to this as Bilingual/English as a second language (ESL) and Special Education certifications do not apply.

So spread the word far and wide that out-of-state teachers can begin the process of relocating to Dallas ISD by applying through the 2022-2023 Teacher Application. Applicants are also eligible for the new teacher incentives.

For any certification questions, inquiries may be sent to certifications@dallasisd.org.  For recruitment opportunities please reach out to futureteacher@dallasisd.org


Looking back at the school year

Campus and district leaders celebrated the end of the 2021-2022 school year by honoring the “Celebrating the Road We’ve Traveled.” The event honored the work of principals during the year and was designed to create a shared space of recognition, reflection, and empowerment.

Principals played an essential role in focusing and sustaining the efforts of school communities throughout the district to persevere through a different, and often difficult school year. Their efforts and successes were highlighted by Superintendent Michael Hinojosa, Chief of School Leadership Tiffany Huitt and other district leaders. The event, where Anthony Muhammad was the keynote speaker, took place at the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical conference space. 

“We are excited, not only about the road we’ve traveled, but the road that’s ahead,” said Deputy Chief of School Leadership Jolee Healey. “Thank you, principals, for all that you have done and all that you will continue to do for our students, families, and communities.”


Making the most of summer maintenance

The Maintenance & Facility Services department has been hard at work getting the district ready for the 2022-2023 school year. While each summer project takes time and effort—especially in the 100-degree weather—every Maintenance & Facility Services crew is proud to support students across Dallas ISD. 

Cesar Villarreal, director of maintenance, said his team’s efforts are currently focused on ACE campuses. They are updating carpets, wood floors, walls and ceilings, and they are painting and helping with graphics. The summer months tend to bring extra condensation, so they are also prioritizing condensation and plumbing issues.

“Any project that we put on our summer list gets completed,” Villarreal said. “I’ve been here for 37 years, and we have always met that deadline. We take pride in our work, and we understand that our job is to make sure that our customers feel welcome and that every building looks good when the students start.” 

Coy Frazier, director of grounds and athletic fields, is ensuring that the grounds throughout the district maintain their “drive-up appeal” by watering, fertilizing and irrigating them. Frazier is also working to update several baseball and softball fields with new brick dugouts, brick backstops and batting cages. His team’s mission is to provide students with high-quality facilities for the upcoming sports seasons, which started with new turf for the football fields and is now expanding to track, baseball and softball fields. 

Meanwhile, close to 1,000 full-time staff are combing through all district schools to provide “a detailed clean on every campus.” Aaron Stephens, assistant director of custodial services, said they have been working on a new rotating schedule to allow for summer programs and extended school year calendars, but they are on track to get each campus disinfected and cleaned ahead of the first day of school. 

“Our schools provide the safest environment for many of our students,” Stephens said. “The ultimate goal is to eliminate any distractions that could impede the learning culture. The appearance of the facilities, cleanliness, temperature, proper disinfection—all those little things—they factor into the comfort of the students and staff to ensure that we are all focused on the primary intent: learning.” 

Dallas ISD is appreciative of all the hard work, dedication and pride demonstrated by staff in Maintenance & Facility Services. Thanks to their efforts this summer, students will return to class ready to make memorable moments and pursue academic success. 

Strive for the green flags of mental health

Positive mental health encompasses more than not doing poorly. Mental health is all about a person’s overall well-being and how they cope with the stresses of everyday life to function at their highest level, which means positive mental health comes into play when someone’s social and emotional environment is producing their highest level of functioning. 

As you assess the status of your mental health, remember that having positive mental health does not require you to be free of mental illness. The two states can coexist, just as you can have good physical health and still catch a cold. 

Read on to examine four signs of positive mental health. 

You find purpose every day. 

Experiencing a sense of meaning and purpose in your daily life is an important element of positive mental health. Do you feel fulfilled and energized by your work routine? How about at home and in your relationships with your loved ones? A sense of meaning keeps us engaged and motivated throughout the week. 

You cope with challenges and obstacles. 

Positivity does not equal an easy life. Each and every one of us faces various stressors and problems. The question is, how do you respond? If you are able to manage them without being overwhelmed or letting your worries take over, you are practicing positive mental health. 

You connect with loved ones. 

It takes a village to get through the hard times and to enjoy the good ones. Whether your community consists of three people or 37, engaging with others on a consistent basis contributes to positive mental health. We really are better together! 

You enjoy your time. 

Negative emotions are an inevitable part of life, but they need to be balanced out by positive ones. Do you often find yourself feeling delight, contentment, joy and satisfaction? Do you laugh and smile throughout the day? Ask yourself how many positive emotions you experience compared to negative ones. This will help you identify the state of your mind. 

Good news: You do not have to be perfect. You also do not have to check off every sign to be experiencing positive mental health, but they can guide you to the place you want to be. If you recognize any areas you would like to improve to live your life to the fullest, help is available through Dallas ISD’s Employee Assistance Program by LifeWorks. 

This confidential, secure platform has countless resources available online for free. From 24/7 on-call counselors to practical tips on subjects like managing grief, connecting with adult children and achieving work-life balance, employees can find what they need, when they need it. 

Reach out to LifeWorks at (972) 925-4000, or visit www.dallasisd.org/benefits and click on Benefits Resources to access online EAP information. Positive mental health is available to everyone, so do not hesitate to get the support you need. 

*Source: LifeWorks 

Getting recognition for extracurriculars

Most Saturdays during the spring semester, and quite a few during the fall, Leonidas Patterson can be found—sometimes in costume—surrounded by students of all ages who are eager to test their skills in one of the many contests offered by the district. One of these contests is for competitive debate, and Patterson’s commitment hasn’t gone unnoticed. He was recently recognized as Debate Administrator of the Year by the National Speech and Debate Association.

Being present for the students who gather on Saturdays to participate in debate and other competitions is crucial to him because they deserve to know “what they are doing, their presence is important and that you see them.”

Patterson was also recognized as Texas Debate Administrator of the Year by Lone Star District Speech and Debate organization to which he was nominated by the Dallas Urban Debate Alliance, a long-time district partner for growing participation in debate in the region.  

Patterson, director of Student Activities, was described as being integral to the success of the program in Dallas ISD and a true advocate of the program by making sure coaches have everything they need to run the program at their respective school, that students have the transportation to attend the debate competitions and workshops, and that everything runs smoothly.

Patterson—who has been involved in extracurricular activities throughout his career—says the program’s success is due in great part to district leaders who have continuously invested more than $500,000 annually to fund the debate program.

His involvement in and commitment to extracurricular activities began well before he became a teacher at Mansfield High School. Growing up, extracurricular activities gave him an outlet for his creativity and opened his eyes to possibilities.

“I’ve always understood the value of extracurricular activities,” he said. “Growing up, I was in theater, I was in the yearbook, so I knew how it gave me a sense of direction and influenced my life. It opened doors for me. I saw my first college because I was participating in theater. Learned how to write because I participated in yearbook. It taught me all these things.”

Now, after years of teaching in Mansfield and Dallas ISD and a stint in the district’s Communications Department, Patterson is making a difference by bringing to Dallas students the opportunities that opened doors for him.

“The district’s debate program has had a positive impact on the students it has served, which is evident by the many Dallas ISD graduates who return to make sure current students receive the same life changing experiences that inspired them during their wonder years,” he said this month during his acceptance speech for the national award.

The focus in offering debate districtwide was to give students access to policy debate and everything they need to be successful in the program—coaches, transportation, resources, etc. In Dallas ISD, any student who participates in the programs can do it at no cost. Student Activities also takes care of all of the logistics of participating in tournaments and distributing resources so debate coaches at the campus can concentrate on working with the students and not worry about the rest.

Whether it’s running the yearbook, directing student theater productions or running districtwide programs, Patterson has found that if extracurricular activities are available, students will eagerly take advantage of them and have access to tools and resources need to be successful.

“Students involved in extracurriculars have to pass to play, which is an incentive to get good grades, and it also creates opportunities for them to learn leadership, teamwork and organization,” Patterson said. “Studies have shown that by participating in extracurricular activities, students can explore their own interests and talents and create a social network. They also get an opportunity to say, ‘This is something I want to do with my career.’ Whether it be a teacher, a lawyer, an advocate, participation gives them those soft skills.”






A classroom at home 

Dallas ISD is committed to providing an excellent education to every student in the district, so when the COVID-19 pandemic put immunocompromised families at risk, the district searched for innovative solutions like a virtual academy. 

With about $360,000 allocated from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) fund, Dallas ISD hired staff to oversee and support the virtual program during the 2021-2022 school year. Through the worst of the pandemic, nearly 60 teachers from different campuses stepped up to provide virtual instruction to approximately 1,100 students. 

Derinda Hunter, the director of the virtual academy, said they opened enrollment to all no-show students under the age of 12 who could not receive the vaccine and to any medically fragile students in that same age range. They also extended spots to students who received recommendations from their doctors or whose family members became immunocompromised and could not risk having their child carry the virus home from school. 

“During  the pandemic, we wanted to make sure we sent the message that we do care about our students, we do care about the families,” Hunter said. “Health is important, and education is important, so this is how we responded to supporting these families during the pandemic.” 

The virtual academy followed the base calendar for the school year and ran in nine-week cycles. After each cycle, families were able to decide to send their children back to in-person classes at their home campus or continue remotely. The virtual academy had about 690 students enrolled in its most recent fourth cycle. Most of these students were the same ones who first entered the program, but their number decreased as their families grew more comfortable with face-to-face learning. 

Students at the virtual academy followed a similar schedule to their in-person counterparts. They logged in around 8 a.m. and dove into four blocks focused on content classes: math, science, English and social studies. Two other blocks were built in for specialized subjects like world languages and physical education. The students then finished the day with a period for intervention. This intervention time allowed teachers to give them extra support, whether they were struggling to keep up or required additional acceleration opportunities.  

The success of this initiative was due in part to the creativity it sparked among teachers, students and parents. Teachers had to find new programs and methods to successfully engage their students from home, while students and parents had to adapt to online learning and gain new virtual skills. The initiative also gave families a way to stay with Dallas ISD when they did not feel safe on campus. 

“Our parents in the program swear by Dallas ISD,” Hunter said. “They loved their campuses, and wanted to remain in the district. So one of the big successes of having the virtual academy is that we were able to retain those families who truly did not want to leave. They consider us family.” The virtual academy was intended to last only a single semester, but the continuing severity of the pandemic extended it. Overall, the program allowed Dallas ISD to meet families where they were and to provide a safe, high-quality alternative to in-person instruction. 

“We’re all human, managing life in different ways,” Hunter said. “We’re just trying to be compassionate and supportive as much as possible, and that is the message I share every time that I’m speaking to a family or a staff member.” 

To learn more about how the Virtual Academy works, visit https://www.dallasisd.org/virtualacademy. To learn more about Dallas ISD’s pandemic relief and recovery efforts, check out https://www.dallasisd.org/esser

Funding education

The Association of Hispanic School Administrators awarded $13,000 in scholarships to Dallas ISD staff and students earlier this month. The organization also honored Superintendent Michael Hinojosa for his years of service to education and Dallas ISD.

Dr. Michael Hinojosa Pursuing Excellence Scholarship (Given to AHSA members)

  1. Ashley Fortner-Dominguez, LEAD—$1,000
  2. Marina Spataro, teacher at Jerry Junkins Elementary School—$1,000

Adelante Educators: 

  1. Beatriz Bustamante, teacher at the School for the Talented and Gifted at Pleasant Grove—$1,000
  2. Angelica Casanova, teacher assistant at Cochran Elementary School—$1,000
  3. Linda Stackhouse,  teacher assistant at Arlington Park Early Childhood Center—$1,000

Si Se Puede College Bound Seniors

  1. Noemy Burciaga—$1,500
  2. Syra Castillo—$1,500
  3. Jennifer Gomez—$1,500
  4. Tania Morin—$1,500
  5. Samantha Sanchez—$1,500

The mission of the Association of Hispanic School Administrators is to cultivate a pipeline of effective Hispanic leadership that reflects school district demographics and ensures educational equity for all students.