Making learning hip

When Monique Jackson was preparing to teach her third-grade math students at Stevens Park Elementary School about division, she wanted them not only to learn division, but also to understand what division was. Knowing her students were into music, specifically tik tok, Jackson wasted no time writing a song about division to engage her students. 

“On the first day that I taught them division, I told them that I wrote a song for them,” Jackson said. “I literally wrote it from scratch. I used the instrumental to the song ‘I’m Different’ by 2 Chainz and they were super pumped. The reason I did it was because I wanted to engage them with something that was cool, fun and would hype them up for a new unit of learning, which was division.” 

The results went above and beyond Jackson’s expectations.  

“Because of the song, if you go up to any of my students and you ask them what division is, they will answer the problem with the total given. They rap the lyrics,” she said. 

Omar Feliciano, principal at Stevens Park Elementary, acknowledges the great work that Jackson is doing. 

“Who doesn’t want to learn math in an exciting way, with a teacher who is creative, caring and innovating?! Our third graders have a great time in Mrs. Jackson’s math class every day because she consistently thinks about how they feel, what they like and what they need to know in order to gain their trust, engagement and ownership of their learning,” he said. 

The impact of Jackson’s work has extended beyond her classroom as her rap song about division has gained popularity with students of different great levels. 

“Fifth graders to Pre-K students will see me in the hallway and say ‘hey Mrs. Jackson, I heard you’ve been rapping.’ Parents have come up to me and have told me they play it on the way to school,” Jackson said. 

Jackson doesn’t plan to stop with the rap song about division. She has become a Dallas ISD celebrity and is often asked when her next single will drop. She already has another math rap song about fractions. To see Jackson’s video on division, click here.

As far as what Jackson hopes for her students, she often uses words like college bound to instill those expectations at an early age. “I’m very passionate about growing future leaders and I look beyond the classroom and look at my students as a whole. I want them to grow to be genuine, confident, kind human beings in life. I try to not only teach them math, but teach them things like respect for oneself and others,” said Jackson. 

“Mrs. Jackson’s original rap song is just a small part of how she leads her classroom, it is an absolute joy and blessing to have teachers like her at Stevens Park Elementary. Her third graders are going places, and so is she,” said Feliciano.

Tips to build positive family connections

The holidays are a great time to bring friends and family together to practice gratitude, enjoy favorite traditions and strengthen bonds. While developing positive relationships can be complicated, having them has also proven to contribute to decreased stress and enhanced healing. Strong relationships can also promote healthier behaviors and give people a stronger sense of purpose. 

Positive relationships are ones where any two (or more) people encourage and support one another, both practically and emotionally. While family relationships can be complicated, you can put intentional practices in place to strengthen those ties this holiday season. 

Identify what gives you meaning

Even within one family unit, people may have different values and belief systems, so take some time to identify what your loved ones find most important during the holiday season. You can do this by having everyone write down their favorite traditions or talk about why certain rituals or practices make them feel valued or loved. 

A tradition can be as simple as baking a favorite dessert or singing a specific song. If you get stuck, ask yourself what makes you feel connected, how you like to express your love for family and how you would prefer to have fun as a group.

Spend meaningful time together

It can be easy to get caught up in the busyness of the holiday season, whether it’s going to the grocery store one more time or working hard to find a great gift, so make it a goal to schedule quality time with your loved ones. Some ideas include: 

  • Going for a walk in your neighborhood or enjoying another outdoor activity. 
  • Cooking or baking a holiday staple as a group, with someone different choosing the recipe, heading to the store, preparing the ingredients and putting everything together. 
  • Form your own caroling group and sing along to your favorite songs in a park or in the comfort of your living room. 
  • Participate in a clothing, toy or food drive to give back to your community and honor some of the values you share. 
  • Call an animal shelter and see how you can volunteer, especially if you have children who love animals. 
  • Attend a holiday concert, tree lighting or recital, taking care to review the options as a family and trying one that sounds most interesting to everyone. 
  • Gather around a fireplace or the dinner table to share your favorite memories with each other.

Show how you feel  

Make it a point to express your love for your family, whether it is through meaningful gifts, words or acts of service. By doing so, you will remind your loved ones that they are what is most important to you and that you can enjoy time together whether your holiday budget is large or small. 

If you find yourself in need of additional support over winter break, help is available through Dallas ISD’s Employee Assistance Program by LifeWorks. The confidential, secure platform has countless resources online for free. From 24/7 on-call counselors to practical tips on subjects like relaxation tips and mindfulness exercises to help manage stress, employees can find what they need, when they need it. 

Reach out to LifeWorks at (972) 925-4000, or visit and click on Benefits Resources to access online EAP information. 

Sources: Northwestern Medicine and Lifeworks 

Emergency Paid Sick Leave ends Jan. 5

Dallas ISD implemented numerous strategies to support employees during the COVID-19 pandemic.  One such strategy was the conversion of the federally-legislated Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which provided paid leave for those suffering from COVID, to a local leave administered by the Benefits Department in December of 2020. Dallas ISD was the only district in the state to convert the FFCRA leave to a local leave to continue to support employees.

Through the course of the pandemic, the district aligned its response strategies and timelines to the CDC and Dallas County. These strategies included the mask mandate, social distancing, and periods of time in which an employee may quarantine or be eligible for Emergency Paid Sick Leave.

While EPSL was an absolute necessity during the pandemic, as of Aug. 19, President Joe Biden declared the COVID pandemic over. Furthermore, Dallas ISD positive cases are in line with what is being reported for Dallas County. Cases peaked the week of Sept. 8 with a combined total of 121 cases and have been on the decline since.

The COVID-related EPSL will end as of Jan. 5, 2023. With 84% of district personnel vaccinated, and the readily available booster vaccines, COVID-19 should be treated as an annualized, seasonal illness similar to the flu. For illness for any reason, employees may use PTO as needed or avail themselves of other resources available through the Benefits Department such as FML or general medical leaves of absence.

Being outstanding in the kitchen

More than 100,000 students eat school meals every day in Dallas ISD. To ensure that these students receive the best of food and service, the Dallas ISD’s Food and Child Nutrition Services department (FCNS) annually audits school kitchens across the district to find the outstanding “Five Star” kitchens.

This year, supervisors and their teams at 24 schools earned the Five Star School Kitchen Award. The areas of evaluation included: customer service, marketing, food and inventory management, updated recipes, food preparation, meal quality, dress code compliance, temperature logs, and work/cleaning schedules. The teams at 39 other school kitchens were also extremely high-performing, earning the Four Star award.

“We congratulate our Five Star kitchen supervisors and their respective employees for being top performers,” said Yetzel Meza, spokesperson for FCNS. “These supervisors and their team members serve healthy and delicious meals which support student achievement.” 

For the school kitchen teams that are working to achieve the Five Star rating, the department offers training and coaching to support reaching this goal. 

“These ratings are important to recognize and motivate FCNS staff, to make sure we’re doing exactly what is needed to provide a better service to our students,” said Meza. 

While the Five Star School Kitchen Award is for school kitchens, the reality is that it requires collaboration and support from the schools.  

“Our campus principals and staff are super heroes, and are essential partners in providing the best to our young scholars across the district,” said FCNS Executive Director Michael Rosenberger.  “School meals boost student success, and our goal is to serve the very best to our scholars to help support education.”  

The Five Star School Kitchen Award recipients are:

  • W.H. Adamson High School
  • Sunset High School
  • Emmett J. Conrad High School
  • Booker T Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts
  • Irma Rangel Young Women’s Leadership School
  • Raul Quintanilla Sr. Middle School
  • Dallas Environmental Science Academy
  • Hector P. Garcia Middle School
  • Arcadia Park Elementary School
  • Margaret B  Henderson Elementary School
  • Sylvia Mendez Leadership Academy
  • Nancy Moseley Elementary School
  • John F. Peeler Elementary School
  • Oran M. Roberts Elementary School
  • Seagoville Elementary School
  • John W. Runyon Elementary School
  • Arturo Salazar Elementary School
  • Frank Guzick Elementary School
  • Adelfa Callejo Elementary School
  • Frederick Douglass Elementary School
  • Thelma P. Richardson Elementary School
  • Rosemont Elementary and International Preparatory Language Academy  (Upper Campus)
  • Downtown Eduardo Mata Montessori 
  • CityLab High School 

For more information about services offered through FCNS, visit 

Dallas ISD teacher provides resources for hospitalized students 

When Dee Anna Pier, a kindergarten teacher at Anne Frank Elementary School, had a student with a chronic illness who was in and out of the hospital and was falling behind academically, she knew she needed to do something. She did, and in the process discovered a passion to help students who found themselves in similar situations.  

Pier, who is a 16-year veteran of Dallas ISD, talked to the student’s mom to see how she could help the student stay connected to the school and to learning even though coming to school regularly wasn;t an option.

“Because [the student] was coming and going back and forth between home and hospital and [going to] school, [the student] wasn’t qualifying for Homebound Services,” Pier said. “So I thought that she wouldn’t be the only child in this situation. At times she would be too sick, but other times the student was bored and would love to have games to do that were educational, but she still was not able to come back to school just yet.” 

Pier brainstormed and put together activities that would encompass reading, math, sight words, and things of that nature. She felt that it wouldn’t take much more to provide this service to other kids in similar situations. She reached out to local hospitals. 

“I contacted Children’s Medical Center in Dallas and in Plano, and both hospitals said they had volunteers that work with the kids, but they usually didn’t  have any materials. So I put together packets with dice, manipulatives, and games. The first packet I put together was for kindergarten and first grade, so I delivered those to the hospitals. And that’s how it started,” said Pier.  

Pier, who specializes in early childhood education, has asked her colleagues to collaborate to help provide materials for grade levels such as fourth and fifth grade, as well as translating materials in Spanish for bilingual children. Most recently, Children’s Medical Center in Plano asked if she could put together packets that involved multiplication, division and materials in Spanish. 

Pier attributes the success of the program to the support of her colleagues as well as her mentors, Beverly Ford, principal at Anne Frank Elementary, and Juan Cordoba, School Leadership executive director. 

Ford says that it’s typical of Pier’s nature to go the extra mile for her students. “When Mrs. Pier told me what she was doing, how she had talked to her student’s mother, and how she was interfacing with the hospital, I congratulated her for the commitment not only she had to her student, but taking into consideration those other students who are in need of  someone’s services that go above and beyond. She would be that cognizant and considerate of that,” said Ford.  

Cordoba couldn’t agree more. “I have known Mrs. Pier for eight or nine years, and her level of generosity and the amount of work and her amount of  intentionality and how she’s always pouring her heart into the students, no matter the circumstances, is truly commendable. This is a perfect example of who she is as a person and the impact she has as a teacher that is not only impacting the students at Anne Frank Elementary, but expanding her impact to some of the neediest students who are not only struggling academically, but with all the health and emotional challenges that come along with being in the hospital,” said Cordoba. 

Pier, Ford and Cordoba would like for this work to continue and have hopes of expanding it in the future. “ I hope that it is a partnership that schools and hospitals can build. We have so many students that are periodically in and out of the hospital. Ms Pier has built a bridge that I hope we can walk and travel back and forth over because it is something that is needed, and I hope that for the future it does continue,” said Ford. 

Pier’s commitment to maintaining the program is founded on her that what goes around comes around, she said. 

“I have grandbabies. If they were in this position and in the hospital, I would want someone to be there for them, to keep them on track with their education. It’s the least I can do,” she said.

Making families feel welcomed

Staff members at the  Margaret and Gilbert Herrera International Welcome Center are doing their part to bring joy to the families they serve through their Adopt a Family Program. This endeavor began in 2013 when staff members decided they wanted to do something to give back to the immigrant families they serve. 

“Adopt A Family is something we’ve done every year as a way to give back to our families, to make sure that we are supporting them with other needs throughout the year. The holidays are a great time to do that,” said Amanda Clymer, director at the Margaret and Gilbert Herrera International Welcome Center. 

“We serve all students and families who are new to the country,  who come through us for registration,  enrollment, language proficiency testing and other services,” she said.  This year, approximately 2,700 students and families have passed through the center’s doors. 

Each year staff members identify five families from different parts of the district. Representation from countries with the highest enrollment is taken into account.  

“This year, the families participating are  from Tanzania, Venezuela, Mexico, Afghanistan, and Honduras,” said Adriana Lopez, supervisor in the Dual Language ESL Department. 

“When we adopt a family, we adopt the whole family, which means anyone living in the house,” Clymer said. “Our team reaches out to the families, and we ask them each for a need and a want. A need is something  like shoes or a coat, and a want is something like a toy or a bike, for example. Every family member gets two gifts. We also collect gift cards within our team, and anyone in the district is welcome to donate a gift card. We then divide the gift cards up among the families.” 

Each year, the  gifts are delivered by staff members who dress up as Santa Claus and elves, while some staff members sing and play guitar, making it a festive occasion. This year,  the gifts will be delivered on Dec. 19.

“I’ve had the opportunity to go to the delivery for seven years, and it’s so rewarding to see the kids so excited and the families’ faces light up. It’s rewarding to see them so happy. That’s the most gratifying thing for me,” said Lopez.

It’s these caring efforts that have the Adopt A Family program grow each year, Clymer said. 

“We’re their first experience at Dallas ISD and we want it to be a welcoming one. We want our families to feel they can reach out to us to facilitate anything once they get to the campus. We have people that come visit us from Plano, Richardson and other areas because they have heard that we help,” Clymer added.

For anyone interested in donating a gift card to the Adopt a Family program, contact Diana Gonzalez, Dual Language ESL Parent Coordinator at

Dallas ISD talks with the superintendent

Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde recently met with almost 2,000 campus and central staff in a series of virtual talks to share comments she received during her entry survey and to answer questions.

In case you missed them, you can find the links to the Talks with the Superintendent in English and Spanish below. 

Dallas ISD Talks with the Superintendent – Central Administration – 11/30/22

Dallas ISD platica con la superintendente – Administración Central – 30 de noviembre de 2022

Dallas ISD Talks with the Superintendent – Campus Staff – 11/30/22

Dallas ISD platica con la superintendente – Personal Escolar – 30 de noviembre de 2022


Celebrating excellence in school counseling

School counselor Valiza Cameron-Patterson joined the team at Solar Preparatory School For Girls at James B. Bonham not long before a crisis. A beloved community member had passed away, leaving students, families and staff bereft. 

Cameron-Patterson dove in headfirst to help them process their grief and to build her counseling program from the ground up to provide daily social and emotional learning, cement strong relationships and give her school community the resources they needed to heal and be successful. 

Her hard work has helped transform student lives over the next few years and earned her recognition as a Texas School Counselor of the Year semifinalist. 

“I attended the conference my first year as a school counselor, and I remember thinking, ‘One day, that could be me,’” Cameron-Patterson said. “To be in the same room as counselors who have 15 or more years of experience was a big deal, especially when this was something that I had been working toward as I got my program off the ground.” 

Cameron-Patterson, who taught for five years and is now in her fifth year as a school counselor, first found out that she had been nominated for the award last March. When she heard, she said she felt “overjoyed.” 

“My mom has always said, ‘When you enter the world, you should be an asset to the world,’ and I felt being a school counselor was the best way to help,” Cameron-Patterson said. “I make sure that I am a part of every single student’s life here at Solar, because I want to be a part of their family.” 

Each day brings new challenges as Cameron-Patterson delivers guidance lessons, offers student and parent consultation sessions and manages crises, but she is up for the task. One of her goals moving forward is to research and implement additional social and emotional practices that specifically catered to the needs of middle school students. 

“Some people think school counselors are in the background, but the parents here know me by name,” Cameron-Patterson said. “When they see me in the hallway and say they need to call me, I say, ‘Let me call you.’ I just want to ensure that students feel seen and heard and so do their parents and teachers.”

Cameron-Patterson is proud to be among Dallas ISD’s 400+ school counselors as they work to sustain comprehensive programs that encourage social, emotional and academic growth while challenging students to become independent thinkers and responsible citizens. While she is excited to represent them as a semifinalist for Texas School Counselor of the Year, her commitment stems not from the accomplishment but from her passion to make the world a better place.

“Our students push us even as adults to be the fiercest females possible,” Cameron-Patterson said. “It’s nice to show them that even though we have made it into our career, we are all still striving for greatness.”

Dallas ISD is home for successful teacher

April Castillo, a fifth grade ELAR teacher at William B. Travis Academy/Vanguard for the Academically Talented and Gifted, celebrated her students’ State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) results by letting some of them pie her in the face. She had promised all 88 of her students that they could, but only if they received a score of 100 on the test.

“I thought they would forget about it,” Castillo said. “I told them, ‘I’m not going to stress you out about it. You just have to do it on your own.’ But they came back once those scores were released, and I got pied in the face by 22 students who made 100—and I had to wear a Cowboys jersey because I’m a Tom Brady fan.”

But that was not all. Every single one of her students reached mastery on the STAAR test, up from her previous year’s accomplishment of 98 percent mastery. This is only Castillo’s fourth year teaching, and she has already earned the distinction of Campus Teacher of the Year. 

“April goes above and beyond,” Principal Tom Brandt said. “She also earned the highest Student Perception Survey results out of all our elementary school teachers and presented her strategies to our staff to start the school year. She recently sent two students down to the principal’s office with positive referrals. She is a rock star teacher.” 

Castillo was inspired to become an educator by her parents. Her mom worked as a teacher assistant in Dallas ISD for 25 years before retiring, while her dad is a custodial lead in the district who is planning to retire this year. They instilled a passion for education in Castillo that carried her through her own schooling at Dallas ISD and the Tech Teacher Program at Texas Tech before leading her back to the classroom. 

Her approach to teaching is all about building trust with her students and empowering them to guide their learning. She has done this by incorporating data practices, one-on-one conferences, student-led activities, independent pathways and more, always striving to be a facilitator and a cheerleader. 

“I had kids coming in who were approaching and were barely not meeting,” Castillo said. “Seeing them go from, ‘I’m not good at reading, I get zeros,’ to, ‘I got a 100,’ on everything was my absolute favorite part of last year.”

One of her units includes novel studies, which she always demonstrates the first time before sending her students off to choose a book of their own the second time. She encourages them to select books of any genre, even if they have read them before, as long as they have a plot. 

“Once they start realizing they have the freedom to choose things according to their interests, they start to like reading because it’s not something that’s forced upon them,” Castillo said. “They love going to the library now. They absolutely love it.” 

Moving forward, Castillo hopes to get her master’s degree through the LEAD program and help shape the culture and climate of a campus for future students. In the meantime, she is working hard to continue developing her skills and is encouraging new teachers to “ask questions and don’t be afraid to make mistakes.”

“I love Dallas ISD,” she said. “Growing up in Oak Cliff and having teachers who took the time to get to know me and build relationships with me put me where I am today. While my story and my success are part of me, my teachers led me here. I have always known that the district gave me so much, so I want to stay and give back.” 

ESSER update: Nurse assistants support student health

School districts across the state were seeing nursing staff shortages before the pandemic even began, and those vacancy rates increased when COVID-19 hit and created additional strain. Dallas ISD has invested $260,000 in Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds each school year to hire and retain nurse assistants to get students the medical support they need. 

The initial goal of this ESSER project was to hire and retain 10 additional nurse assistants, specifically on campuses following the Intersession or School Day Redesign extended year calendars. Health Services has filled all 10 of those positions, adding to the 40 nurse assistants that were already in place during the 2021-2022 school year. 

Nurse assistants around the district provide crucial care for students of all ages and grade levels. Their routine vision and hearing screenings identify issues early, which helps keep students on track. They also put communicable disease control measures in place—like monitoring immunization statuses—to keep their communities safe, and they support RNs when they are paired together. 

“We’re hoping to see increases in immunization compliance at the schools where the nurse assistants have worked, and just an overall increase in the services provided to students,” said Jennifer Finley, executive director of Health Services. “And then an improvement in our vision and hearing screening rates, because these students would not have been served as well as they have been without these employees.”

According to Finley, the ESSER-supported nurse assistants are not necessarily paired with a nurse on campus, so the Health Services team had to think outside the box to give these full-time employees the resources they needed to thrive. Not only did they deliver additional training, but they also gave each nurse assistant a mentor from central staff to guide them through their work, as all nurse assistants work independently under the direction and support of a nurse. Initial feedback from school principals has been positive, leading Finley to believe the program has been successful.

ESSER funding will continue for this initiative for the next few years with an objective to further increase hiring and retention rates. In the meantime, Health Services will continue to monitor the impacts these nurse assistants are having. 

The pandemic has created additional stress for everyone, so Finley is encouraging students, families and staff to practice self-care and seek help as needed. 

“We are so fortunate that the district has a wealth of resources, not only physical health resources but also our mental health resources to support overall wellness,” she said. “Please keep that in mind, and reach out if you find yourself in a situation where you’re feeling stressed or concerned.” 

To learn more about Dallas ISD’s federally-funded efforts to mitigate the effects of COVID-19, visit