Celebrating Black history through dance

In the 2020-2021 school year, a group of dance teachers filled a gap in the dance curriculum not just for Dallas ISD students but students throughout the state when the Dance Appreciation: African American and Mexican Folkloric Studies course they created was approved by the Texas Education Agency for the entire state of Texas.

Dallas ISD dance educators Devondria Douglas, Alexandria Morris, Quan Powers and Daniel Negrete knew there was a need for a dance course in which students could more easily see themselves and their cultural heritage. The original push for the course came about when Quan Powers, dance director at H. Grady Spruce High School, had an idea to bring equitable practices into dance education in the district. After countless hours of work, zoom calls, research, and collaborations, their efforts came to fruition when it was approved. 

“I was having a conversation with Rachel Harrah, our former director, and I was looking through  the courses as to what we had to offer as dance,” Power said. “Going into these dance spaces with our black and brown students, I noticed that they really didn’t see themselves in those spaces.” 

Powers then asked Harrah what it would take to create a dance appreciation course that focused on African American and Mexican Folkloric dance. He got the green light to pursue the course. 

“Quan literally called us and said he had this really crazy idea to create this course, “ said Devondria Douglas, who was the dance director at North Dallas High School at the time but has since been promoted to manager of the Dallas ISD Dance Department. “In dance we realized that the way our TEKS are set up, we really don’t have a lot of room to do cultural dance, and even if we do, it’s very surface level. Our kids don’t get to experience a full cultural ambiance of what dance is, especially from a cultural, social dance standpoint.”

Alexandria Morris, dance director at W.W. Samuell High School agreed that students were missing this aspect in the dance curriculum. 

“We saw a need that wasn’t being addressed in the classroom,” she said. “Devondria and I went to [Texas Woman’s University] together, so we saw the lack of representation of African American dance and how it influenced a lot of things. This conversation came about during COVID, and we had time to talk about it, so we decided to write this course.”

And so Douglas, Morris, and Powers began to write the course on African American Dance Appreciation while Daniel Negrete, dance director at Emmett J. Conrad High School, was the lead writer on the Mexican Folkloric Studies course. 

Q&A with Douglas, Morris and Powers 

Why is this course important to you and your students?

Douglas: I always say dancers are social preservationists. It is our job to record history through movement. In African American dance specifically, there was a time when our bodies were our only instrument. And I think when we are making those connections for those kids, you see pride and an increase of awareness, which is what I saw when I taught the course for the first year, when I was at North Dallas High School. Students learned that they are more than what they’re taught in history books.

Morris: Dance is very much a part of our history and culture. At first, Devondria and I wanted to tell the whole story, but decided it was too ambitious for a semester. So we focused on dance in the 1400s to the1800s, from the 1800s to the Civil War, the Civil War to the Jim Crow era, and from that era until now. Students need to know the history that encompasses the social aspects and demographics, and why we needed dance to survive. They learn how things have changed from there to now and how we’re wanting to progress and push the advocacy and African American influences in the dance community. 

Powers: As I was looking through dance history, I realized there was no trace of black and brown people in dance. There’s no history, because our history is very oral. It’s not written down. I wanted my kids to see themselves in the fabric of dance. I didn’t want it to be when you hear about Bill Bojangles Robinson or Debbie Allen, that there would be no written history taught about these important figures and their contributions. So it’s one of the main reasons this course came about. 

How has the African American Dance Appreciation course impacted you and your students?

Douglas: Our kids are now able to go into these codified dance spaces, these colonized dance spaces, and they’re able to correct a lot of the wrong written history. One of the hardest things about writing this course was that a lot of our history is oral and we’re so used to education in a textbook. One of the takeaways from this is that you don’t just have adults advocating to adults. Now you have kids that are telling you what they need as learners. A lot of our kids have gone to say ‘this history is not correct and where you think it comes from also is not correct.’ They’re confident to make those corrections out loud. I think that has been a huge improvement with our dancers in the district. 

Morris: I’ve noticed that students now understand and say ‘oh that’s why you do it this way.’ I have real talks with my students and I definitely let them know that in our culture it’s the norm. I feel like it’s an even exchange of culture, and they can teach me just like I can teach them. I’m probably the only black educator in fine arts that they will probably see in a while, so for me to be able to have that platform is very rewarding. Dance instills pride and culture in oneself and you can stand tall knowing that you come from this rich culture. 

Powers: It’s impacted me personally as well as my students. I feel like we’ve created a safe space for students through dance and through this course. Students are able to identify and see themselves in this work. I always wanted to create a space that I didn’t have when I was growing up. I never want a kid to walk through my door and say ‘I was never given an opportunity to shine.’  We’re all one big family. I want the kids to understand that regardless if dance is going to be the thing you do for the rest of your life or just a hobby, you’ve had the experience to be an artist, to be a choreographer, to be a dancer and to learn your history through dance.  Not only are we changing lives here in the district through this course, we are changing lives statewide.

How does the district’s Black History Month theme of Black Resilience resonate with you?

Douglas: It means taking our narrative into our own hands.We get to finally speak for us, and we don’t have to have anybody else at the table, but us. I think through this work specifically, it’s showing that black is okay in every space. Black is beautiful in every space. Like I always say, my magic is sacred. And I get to choose where to put my magic, and I don’t have to be told where to use it. I finally am in a space, in a world where my voice is recognized, my experiences are valued. Being black, and being resilient is saying no to boxes. I tell people you can’t put me in a box.  I’m going to take a step and I’m going to keep going. 

Morris: I am resilient.  I had to put on my thick skin and focus on my end goal ever since I was a Dallas ISD student. I’m thankful for the village and the support that I had.I had my son at a young age and I had to be mentally ready for everything. I had to navigate having a kid, going to school, having a job – and through that, it made me wiser and I am now able to help my students. I’m the epitome of black resilience, and I tell my students that no matter what happens to them, they can overcome adversities and challenges and be whoever they want to be in life. 

Powers: We are resilient, because no matter what has happened, black people always seem to rise, through the good, bad or ugly. Black people find the sunlight in it and stand in it. They find the great things that happen and they rise. It’s never one of those things where I’m going to let others define me. We don’t let events define us at all. We give it the definition. 

America has been built on black people’s backs. Whatever has been accomplished, wouldn’t have been accomplished without black people, which includes dance. Without the Debbie Allens, the Alvin Aileys, the Misty Copelands, there would be no dance. 

Say goodbye to USBs

To enhance cybersecurity, Dallas ISD will be rolling out policies restricting and disabling the use of removable storage devices (or USB drives) on district devices in favor of more secure, district-managed cloud storage options. 

Starting on Friday, March 3, Information Technology will disable the use of USB storage devices on all computers issued to staff. The use of these storage options has been restricted on all devices issued to students since October. Mice, keyboards, 10-key, and other non-storage USB devices will continue to work without issues. 

The district understands that storage and sharing of documents and files is often necessary and encourages team members to use cloud storage options in the district’s OneDrive and Google Drive. To ease the transition to the available cloud storage solutions, IT has created a step-by-step guide and a training in dallasisd.csod.com/LMS

Public schools matter

Dallas ISD is home to more than 142,000 students from diverse households where more than 80 different languages are spoken. Our students are supported by 24,000 team members, parents and community representatives who work every day to ensure they are successful in their educational journey and beyond. 

Public Schools Week—Feb. 27-March 3—brings together families, educators, and community members to shine a light on local public schools and share the stories of the positive things happening in our schools.

The work that takes place in our classrooms and campuses positively impacts students and families, their neighborhoods, and communities where they live. They prepare the generations of tomorrow to face our nation’s future. Through a commitment to equity, creativity, and critical thinking, Dallas ISD team members continue to provide welcoming and engaging learning opportunities for our children.

Take a moment this week to recognize and celebrate all those who support our public schools during this week. If you share on social media, use the hashtag: #HerefortheKids. 

Support for new teachers makes a difference

Approximately 1,600 educators were invited to participate in a recent professional learning where they were able to collaborate with their peers while learning about the new STAAR item types, best practices for small group instruction, and multiple response strategies to strengthen student engagement during instruction.

The Professional and Digital Learning team hosted this after-school professional development as a support for teachers new to the profession and new to Dallas ISD. And several teachers who attended agreed that the support provided to new teachers in Dallas ISD makes a difference.

Edgar Vazquez, a fifth-grade math and science teacher at H.S. Thompson STEAM Academy, was among the attendees. He became a teacher thanks to Dallas ISD’s Alternative Certification program and said “it just felt right” to return to the district as he is a product of Dallas ISD. 

While he is just a few months into the classroom, he said he is enjoying all the opportunities he’s had to connect with his students and transform lives every day. 

“If you are going into teaching, I would recommend Dallas ISD,” Vazquez said. “There is a lot of support, and if you have that passion and you want to make an impact, then, yes, teaching is worth it.”

Chai Gibert, a second grade teacher at Solar Preparatory School for Boys at John F. Kennedy Learning Center, agreed that the support she has received as a first-year teacher at Dallas ISD has been great.

With a mentor teacher and an instructional coach providing her with regular feedback, resources and recommendations and with the backing of her campus team, Gibert said the transition into teaching has been “pretty easy.”  

“We basically have a cohort,” Gibert said. “I know a lot of new teachers just from doing trainings, and I see their faces a lot. It’s pretty cool to see people in similar positions and familiar faces on campus or who come to other meetings. It creates camaraderie.” 

Jaci Rozear, who teaches reading at George Herbert Walker Bush Elementary School, said she is grateful to be on a team alongside veteran teachers who have been supporting her in her mission to “help students find their voice” in and out of the classroom.

Those teachers, along with the district’s professional development trainings dedicated to new teachers, have helped her master content areas like reading and grammar while providing instructional support to fill in gaps created by the COVID-19 pandemic and specific student concerns. 

“I would recommend Dallas ISD,” Rozear said. “I feel like sometimes it’s a little daunting because it’s a larger district, but I do feel supported.”

If you know any interested new teachers, encourage them to apply today and gain a teaching position where they are needed the most by visiting https://www.dallasisd.org/CAREERS

To learn more about professional development opportunities, visit the Professional and Digital Learning page at https://www.dallasisd.org/pdl.

Award winner helps students thrive

After working in business and finance, David Newhouse knew he wanted to do something he felt would be more impactful and remembered the difference one of his teachers had made. Now in his eighth year of teaching, he strives to motivate and encourage students at Thomas Jefferson P-TECH. 

It was the commitment and passion to his craft and his students inspired by his teacher that earned Newhouse a 2022 Teacher of the Year Award from the Rotary Club. He was one of three winners recognized this school year. 

Newhouse has been teaching Advanced Placement human geography and world history at Jefferson P-TECH for the past six years. Before that, he taught at Francisco “Pancho” Medrano Junior High School.

His students can attest to the impact he has had on their lives. Eimi Cabrera, a first year college student at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., said it was Newhouse who helped her on her journey to college. 

“He taught us that even if we are where we are at that moment, we can strive to be better no matter who we are. We can fight for more than what we already have,” Cabrera said. “He really wanted us to do better and strive for a better future.” 

Newhouse knows that being a teacher can transform a student’s life, which he finds to be one of the most fulfilling things about his career. 

“Not all of my students have positive affirmations in their lives, and they don’t have someone telling them that they’re proud of them,” he said. “Even just small celebrations can change the demeanor and the direction of a child. Even saying ‘I’m proud of you,’ can make a significant impact.” 

Many of his students who have gone off to college have told him that they remember specific moments when he uplifted them or when he talked about all the things they needed to be successful. 

“Those are the pivots,” Newhouse said. “Those are the moments if you’re honest and compassionate, and you’re sharing your feelings instead of being this stoic male figure. If you’re able to express yourself, the students feel empowered and loved and go on to do amazing stuff.” 

Some of his former students have stayed in touch with him. Cabrera is one of them and credits him with helping her get through some challenging situations. Coming from a diverse district like Dallas ISD, she struggled at first with being one of the few students of color in a university that is predominantly white. Her former teacher’s advice made all the difference in the world. 

“Mr. Newhouse said that there’s always a place where one may feel out of place, but it doesn’t mean that I don’t belong here,” she said. “It means that I fought harder than the other people who were there, and that it should make me feel even more proud of myself. I’m first generation, so I’m the first in my family to go through this.” 

Newhouse feels that the way he teaches history, going beyond “here’s a border, a name and a date” to bring first-hand accounts and other information that highlights the gritty and sometimes awful aspects of history helps him stand out.

“Reality is a lot more interesting than what we are taught,” he said. “But if you dig a little deeper you realize ‘wow this is crazy’ and you get into the stories, and you realize there is so much more.”

History games are another way that Newhouse keeps his students engaged. 

“Mr. Newhouse always made history fun and interesting,” Cabrera said. “He knew how to talk to the students and how to help us relate to him. He’s impacted my life for a very long time, and he’s one of the reasons why I was able to attend college here. He always made his classroom feel like a safe place.” 

Central opportunities

Do you know someone who might be interested in making a difference for Dallas students in the fields of safety and security and nursing? If you do, Dallas ISD is hiring for a variety of positions in these areas and others in central administration.  

Campus Security Officer (185 days)

Police Officer, Police Department (235 days)

Nurse- Districtwide (191 days)

To explore other openings, visit www.dallasisd.ord/careers. If you are a hiring manager and interested in highlighting your open vacancies and/or department, contact Central Recruitment at careers@dallasisd.org.

Take advantage of the ACE job fair

Fifth-grade math teacher Brittney Washington has been teaching for the past eight years, and she said she loves seeing the difference she is able to make at her ACE campus. 

Last year at John Neely Bryan Elementary School, she had a student who was struggling, but they formed a connection that encouraged him to come in from the hallway and spend time in her class instead. 

“He actually came to love math,” Washington said. “He went from being one of the students who didn’t want to come to the board to one of the students who always wanted to come to the board. It took all year, but I felt like he just needed someone to watch his back and support him.” 

The potential to make such a profound difference in students’ learning is why Washington is encouraging other teachers to take advantage of the upcoming ACE job fair on Tuesday, Feb. 28, from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. at Billy Earl Dade Middle School. Current Dallas ISD teachers with a Proficient I and above rating who are interested in joining an ACE team can attend the job fair in anticipation of this spring’s upcoming open transfer window. 

Washington said she has received great support from fellow teachers as well as from her administration team. They provide helpful feedback that gives her opportunities to grow, and ACE campuses emphasize planning, which Washington said enables her to hone in on the curriculum her students are working to master.

“If you want to make a big difference, I think that ACE will be the campus for you,” she said. “Yes, it will be extra work, but if you want to make a difference in a child’s life, you’re always going to have to put that extra work in. And you’ll have a lot of support. I think you should give it a go.”

Another job fair for external and internal candidates interested in high priority campuses will be held on Tuesday, March 7, at Harold W. Lang Middle School. Candidates will have the  opportunity to interview with Dallas ISD principals for a teaching position where they may be needed the most.

Attendees will need to have a completed teacher application on file, which can be found at www.dallasisd.org/careers. The recruitment team also asks that candidates upload their resume, references and teaching certification prior to their attendance at the in person job fairs. The recruitment team will confirm their registration prior to the event via email. 

To reserve a spot at the Feb. 28 job fair, click here. To reserve a spot at the March 7 job fair, click here. If you have additional questions, email Melody Tillman at meltillman@dallasisd.org.

Black History Month: Honoring diversity in procurement

In the 24 years that Annie Partee has been with Dallas ISD, she has seen minority participation in contracting increase, and during this year’s Black History Month, her department—Minority/Women Business Enterprise—is honoring that growth by highlighting African American in the industry. 

“Our distinguished guest speakers include M/WBE leaders, black owned businesses, philanthropic supporters, contractor and chamber of commerce leaders, and Dallas ISD executives,” Partee said of the M/WBE Department lecture series on Facebook. “These leaders have a vested interest in the success of Dallas ISD and their communities.”

To watch the recordings of the series, visit: www.facebook.com/DallasISDMWBE.

Partee, who is originally from Tallulah, Lou., has lived in the Dallas area for approximately 30 years and joined Dallas ISD as coordinator in MWBE in 1999. She is proud of the work she has done to uplift and support African American businesses and other minority groups. 

“My most important role is to serve and to help others to be able to support their families, their businesses, and their communities, so that they’re in a position where they can give back and help others,” said Partee, director of MWBE.

Celebrating Black History Month honors the department’s commitment to ensure the inclusion of minority and women owned businesses in all aspects of the district’s purchasing and contracting opportunities, something that Partee says she and her team are intentional about practicing every day.

“This work is extremely important not only because of diversity, equity and inclusion, but it also affords us an opportunity to help others that are being underrepresented and underutilized. We are giving back, serving others, and helping others to reach their goals,” she said. 

One of the ways that the MWBE department honors the district’s commitment to diversity is by offering outreach to Black and other minority and women owned businesses to teach them how to do business with Dallas ISD. This is done through a series of educational opportunities throughout the year which can be found in the M/WBE Department visit their page here.

Celebrate innovation 

Dallas ISD will celebrate and showcase the hard work of teachers, assistant principals and central staff who have been reimagining what the next generation of teaching, learning and leadership could look like in the district at the Seventh Annual Innovation Showcase on Feb. 28. 

The Innovation Showcase is an in-person celebration designed to recognize Dallas ISD’s Innovation in Teaching, School Retool and iDesign Central Fellows for the 2022-2023 school year. The event will take place at Emmett J. Conrad High School from 5:15 to 7 p.m. and will elevate the voices of the fellows through three panels and a release of a virtual exhibition for attendees to explore their design projects over the year. 

See all the fellowship members recognized here, and register for the event at www.thepltoolbox.com/showcase. If you have any questions, reach out personalizedlearning@dallasisd.org


Make a difference with kindness

Random acts of kindness can change the world or, at least, make a difference for those who practice them and receive them. 

In honor of Random Acts of Kindness Day, celebrated on Feb. 17, Dallas ISD team members shared some of the random acts of kindness that they have been on the receiving end of or participated in. 

A Dallas ISD team member, who is an educational diagnostician, remembers having to go the extra mile to help a parent in need who was new to the district. The parent, who had just moved from another state, was living in a motel with her children, several of whom had disabilities, and was working seven days a week. When the team member first met the parent, the mom was apprehensive about sharing her story. But once she did, the team member knew the student needed more than an IQ and achievement test, due to the needs of the family. 

“I immediately went into action. I requested special education records for all her disabled children from her previous state, got her in touch with several organizations in Dallas to help her with daily needs, and then reached out to our Homeless Education Department,” said the team member. Thanks to this act of kindness, the family is now on the path to connect with agencies and resources that will help them succeed. 

“It makes my heart happy that all it took was stepping out of my role as an assessment professional and making a few phone calls and sending a few emails to change a family’s life,” the diagnostician said. 

Another Dallas ISD team member recalls recently helping someone who had a flat tire: ”I felt good about being able to be there at the right time, in order to bring relief to someone who was having a challenging day.” 

Yet another felt good being kind to a complete stranger by giving giving $20 to a person in need to buy something to eat at a fast food drive-thru.

 “He said ‘God bless you,’ and the entire day, I felt good because to me, I had been a blessing to a person who needed a blessing.” 

As far as being on the receiving end of an act of kindness, a few shared instances of someone paying for their coffee or meal at the drive-thru. 

Another team member said they received $25 in tickets from a kind couple who was leaving the state fair and didn’t plan to return, so they gave their tickets away. 

“It was helpful to me and my family, as the fair can be quite expensive. Thanks to these kind strangers, my family was able to enjoy the fair a little more,” they said. 

Another team member shared that their neighbor gave them tickets to see the Dallas Mavericks play, as they weren’t going to be able to use their tickets that day. 

“It was an unexpected surprise that absolutely made my day,” they said. 

One team member recalls being surprised by coworkers who decorated her desk with balloons and a birthday banner. 

“It was just what I needed, because I was having a rough week. They made my birthday really special and that thoughtful gesture turned my week around. My coworkers made me feel appreciated and validated,” she said. 

As far as ways to commemorate this day, the consensus was to be thoughtful and to take care of and to look out for one another. 

“Do something for someone else with gratitude. Buy them a cup of coffee or buy them some lunch,” is advice that was shared by team members. 

If you’re looking for ways to commemorate this day, visit the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation at https://www.randomactsofkindness.org/.