Black History Month: An all-star journey

At Dallas ISD, all-stars work among us, sometimes literally. Shantell Grant, the executive director of Board Services, is one of them. Grant is a familiar face during school board meetings, but her legacy and her contributions to Dallas ISD began when she was a student. 

Grant, who started working for the district in 2006, was a track and field star for David W. Carter High School. As a student, she advanced and won state in the long and triple jump categories and in team relays. She was also a 200-meter sprinter and went to regionals in that category. Working for Board Services gives her a different opportunity to help Dallas ISD shine.

“I remember being recognized at the board meetings as a high schooler for going to state and winning,”  Grant said. “That memory was kind of distant until I began to work in Board Services. It’s certainly one of the reasons why I love working with Board Services, which is when we get an opportunity to highlight our students. When they go to board meetings to get recognized for their achievements, it’s a big deal, because I still have that lasting memory for myself.” 

As a Dallas native, Grant’s long history with the district began when she attended Mount Auburn Elementary School, W.H. Atwell Middle School and David W. Carter High School. Upon graduation, Grant was awarded an athletic scholarship to The University of Texas at Austin. 

Grant returned to Dallas ISD nearly 17 years ago, to work in the Compensation Department. She had only been with the department for six months when she received a phone call that would change the trajectory of her career. 

“I received a call from the superintendent’s office, and I had only recently started working for the district, so I was really surprised,” said Grant. 

Grant was offered the opportunity to work as an administrative assistant under the administration of then superintendent Michael Hinojosa’s team. She ended up working there for a total of five and a half years. When Grant expressed interest growing her leadership skills, district leaders supported her. She applied for a move to Board Services, where Deno Harris, who is now deputy chief of Operations, hired and mentored her. 

The team she worked in before is the team she now manages, Grant said. She says most of her team has 20 plus years of experience working in the district. 

“To come back and manage them is a privilege and an honor because everything I know about Board Services I learned from Deno, but also from working with these amazing ladies. I feel privileged to have that kind of experience on the team,” she said.  

In 2016, Grant had the opportunity to move back to the superintendent’s office as the special assistant to the deputy superintendent. 

“During the entirety of my tenure, I’ve had the chance to work for some phenomenal leaders,” Grant said. “They saw something in me and said, ‘You can do this.’ And for that, I am extremely privileged and honored to be in the position I am today.”

She acknowledges that had it not been for her mentors and leaders pushing her toward reaching her full potential, she might still have been in her previous positions because she’s enjoyed every role she’s served in.

Grant left the district for a year and a half to work in Houston as the director of Board Services, and returned to Dallas ISD in November 2018, as a project manager in Human Capital Management. In  September 2020, the opportunity to become executive director of Board Services opened up, and she jumped at the chance. 

Grant was so overcome with emotion when she learned she had the job that she pulled over to process this important moment.

“I was in tears when I got the call,” she said. “It’s not a call you get every day, and to have that trust and confidence in me was astounding.”

She was happy to work with the same faces she had grown with when she initially worked for Board Services. 

“They welcomed me back with open arms. I just appreciate Board Services and the support they give me, and I try to support them in any way that I can. They are the experts, and I just try to remove the hurdles that they have, so they can get the work done,” she said. 

Grant loves her job and working with her team and recognizes that it’s a high service position as the stakeholders include the superintendent, trustees, chiefs, constituents and anyone who may enter a board document for approval. They also work with external stakeholders, such as city council and other elected officials, when assisting trustees and school officials with district business. 

No matter where her career journey has taken her in Dallas ISD, Grant has always kept the reason for her services front and center: the students. 

“The message is that no matter what position you’re in, we’re here for children,” she said. “We’re in a job of making sure our kids get the best education. We all impact the accessibility and the opportunities for their education and support the needs of all our students. We must always keep our focus on the kids.”

Theater teacher finds his calling in the classroom

When Adam Garcia attended a Dallas ISD job fair last year, he didn’t know the path he was about to take would not only transform his life but also the lives of dozens of students. 

“It all happened so fast,” said Garcia, now a theater teacher at Young Men’s Leadership Academy at Fred F. Florence Middle School. “It just seemed like it was meant to be. All the chips lined up. I had just literally gotten off a plane from Florida, where I was previously working [in the theater industry], but for whatever reason, I had the strength to go straight from the airport to the job fair.” 

The job fair was a turning point in Garcia’s life because that’s where he met Maria Puentemejia, principal at YMLA at Florence, who mentioned to him that they were looking for a theater teacher. Garcia told her that he had grown up in the community and saw it as an opportunity to give back to the area that raised him and gave him his roots. 

“At the end of my internship with The Naples Players, I realized that there was a lot going on with the theater industry,” he said of his decision to become an educator. “In order for me to make the change and the impact that I wanted to see in the theater industry, I had to start from the very beginning, and that’s in the schools.” 

Having grown up in southeast Dallas, teaching at YMLA at Florence has brought Garcia full circle. He is proud to say that he’s a product of Dallas ISD—having attended Annie Webb Blanton Elementary School and John B. Hood Middle School (now Piedmont Global Academy) and eventually graduating from nearby Bryan Adams High School. 

It was while Garcia was at Bryan Adams High School that he discovered his passion for theater. 

“It was the first time I was exposed to theater,” he said. “I knew I needed a fine arts credit and choir wasn’t quite cutting it for me anymore. So I ended up joining theater and I honestly ended up falling in love with it on the technical side.” 

Technical theater, which includes anything from stage managing, lighting, sounds, set design, costumes, etc., is Garcia’s forte. Nevertheless, he makes sure his students learn all aspects of theater onstage and behind the scenes. 

“When I was in school, I wished I would have had this creative outlet because I liked to move around and I loved the energy of it all. I know there’s a lot of kids here that like to get up and work onstage and backstage,” Garcia said. 

Garcia says that his students are able to identify with him for different reasons. 

“My strongest connection with them is because I know what they’re going through. I’m not an outsider. I’m an insider who came back to show that there is more outside this circle, and that anything is possible,” Garcia said.   

When the students pointed out that there were very few, if any, people of color in the theater videos that were part of the curriculum, Garcia knew he had to make some changes. 

“I had to really sit there and readjust my entire curriculum because they couldn’t see themselves in what I tried to show them,” Garcia said. Last fall, he had them create their own plays, where they were the writers, directors and designers. With Garcia’s guidance, the students directed and produced their own plays. 

Students took on classic tales and, with limited resources, produced them. 

“Some kids, for example, did a Little Red Riding Hood story and instead of the traditional story, it was Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader,” said Garcia. “What they were able to accomplish onstage with literally tables and chairs and what they had was just genuinely impressive.” 

Currently, Garcia and his students are preparing for their spring production of a play that Garcia wrote called “Los Hijos de La Llorona.” The idea came about after one of the students jokingly said they should do a story about La Llorona, a popular figure found in Mexican folk tales. 

“It’s a story they are all familiar with,” he said. “I did it in English, and, depending on how I cast it, I would love to consider doing it in Spanish. The script is very Spanish-language influenced.” 

In order to truly teach students about the different equipment that is needed in a professional production, Garcia recently raised funds through Donors Choose to get a new headset system, wireless system, and more light fixtures. 

His dream of transforming student lives as a teacher is already coming to fruition, he said. He has seen once shy and reserved kids become leaders. They are directing, writing, stage managing, and taking on other tasks. 

“Now they are comfortable and they’re not scared anymore to be in this space,” Garcia said. “They feel they can be themselves there. They are getting more creative with their projects and more intricate with their designs. Now they’re actively listening to each other and working collectively as a team, which I think is amazing.” 

Let’s hear it for school counselors

National School Counseling Week is celebrated annually during the first full week of February to highlight the powerful impact school counselors have on student success and career planning. This year’s theme is “School Counselors: Helping Students Dream Big,” and Dallas ISD is joining in the celebration. 

“School counselors are climate enhancers, trauma-informed care specialists, barrier removers, heart menders, dream weavers, mental health custodians, parent advisors, staff consultants, listening experts, relationship builders and student success team players,” said JoAnn Jackson, director of Counseling Services. “They help students develop critical life skills, face major and minor challenges and achieve academic and mental health wellness. Their work is critical to student success because they guide students to self-awareness to refine and realize their college and/or career dreams.” 

Janizelle Marichal, one of the district’s 467 school counselors, has been in her current position at Leonides Gonzalez Cigarroa, M.D. Elementary School for the past two years, and she said she loves what she does. Her main responsibilities include doing guidance lessons on topics like empathy and self-regulation in the classroom, providing individual and group counseling and delivering academic conferencing. 

Marichal said she enjoys watching her students have “lightbulb moments” and put lessons into practice. In one guidance session, she taught a group of students about self-esteem and how everyone is unique. They discussed using positive self-talk and daily affirmations in the mirror while they get ready for school and explored the idea that self-love is not just about who they are on the outside, but on the inside, too. 

A student came up to Marichal after the lesson and told her, “I love my glasses. I used to think they weren’t cool, but it’s my favorite thing about myself now. I love that they help me learn better and be a better student.” The moment touched Marichal’s heart and reminded her of her purpose as a school counselor.

“I want them to know that yes, school is a learning place, but it’s also a place where we can reflect on our emotions and process them together so we can be successful in the classroom and in our overall lives,” Marichal said. “These students have deep stories. They come to school and they’re learning, but they bring so much from home. To know that we’re able to not just support them academically but emotionally and socially is very fulfilling.” 

Another key part of being a school counselor is setting students up for future success. They do this in a variety of ways, but Marichal said she is especially excited for Cigarroa’s upcoming Career Day in May. 

Last year, she invited 42 speakers to give presentations during Career Day, from doctors and plumbers to construction workers and lawyers. They represented pathways her students had never heard of or considered before, such as video game design and event planning, and Marichal said she got to “see their minds expand.” Her goal for this year is to bring in even more speakers to get the students dreaming of future possibilities. 

“School counseling really is life changing,” Marichal said. “Some of the students will never see a counselor or therapist outside of school, and to know that you have the ability to change a life and maybe be the first person to validate feelings for them is absolutely amazing. Their futures are so bright.” 

This Is Home: Couple finds forever love in the district

Imagine walking into a professional development training, bonding with a stranger over salsa during lunch and finding your “forever person.” As improbable as it may sound, that is precisely what happened to Jazmin and Marlon Harrison. 

Jazmin, who is now a director of business operations in Student Transportation Services, was a high school counselor when she first bumped into Marlon—now the assistant superintendent of enterprise, client support and program management—back in 2018. The PowerSchool training they were both attending lasted a few days, so they continued getting to know each other over their lunch breaks. When the training ended, Marlon asked Jazmin to meet for coffee. 

They started dating not long after. Both Marlon and Jazmin said they are very family oriented and love to travel, so they later decided to bring their children together for the first time on a trip to Disney World. 

“For me, that was the first glimpse of what life could be for the future,” Marlon said. “I was sold at that point. I remember driving home, and I told my son that I wanted to ask Jazmin to marry me. I wanted to know if he approved, and he said yes. So that was my green light to move forward.”

They got married in a small courthouse ceremony in Dallas on June 19, 2021, followed by a trip to California so their extended families could get to know each other and celebrate alongside them. 

Almost two years later, they are enjoying doing life together every day and crossing paths occasionally at work. With Jazmin in Student Transportation Services and Marlon in Information Technology, it does not happen often, but they said they love Dallas ISD and their roles. 

Each of them has over 15 years of experience working in the district in various positions, so they do not see themselves leaving anytime soon. 

“For me this is home,” Jazmin said. “My kids have grown up attending Dallas ISD schools, and they have been very fortunate to have an amazing education. As for me personally, I have been able to serve in different roles, grow in my career and get to know people from different departments—like I met Marlon. I have had the opportunity to build my extended family, and it has been a blessing.” 

“Jazmin is a remarkable woman,” Marlon added. “She is the smartest person in our family, and I’m very blessed to have had the opportunity in my work to meet my forever person.” 

National program grows future educators

Students from Dallas ISD high schools will have the opportunity to receive mentorship and support to become teachers thanks to the national Call Me MISTER® program and a partnership with the University of North Texas at Dallas. Dallas ISD is the first public school in Texas to offer this program to our high school students. 

The Call Me MISTER®— Mentors Instructing Students Toward Effective Role-models—program was developed 22 years ago at Clemson University to increase the pool of available teachers from a broader, more diverse background. Call Me MISTER® and Diverse Male Educators Destined to Teach, Hope, Respond, Inspire, Value and Empower (THRIVE) are UNTD’s programs to attract diverse males into the teaching profession. 

Through its partnership with UNTD, Dallas ISD male students from participating high schools will have the opportunity to be part of the Call Me MISTER® program. They will be part of a support group and receive mentorship as well as a chance to attend the Clemson Call Me MISTER® Leadership Institute and Investiture at Clemson University this summer on their journey to become teachers and join Dallas ISD. As their P-TECH Education Pathway Industry Partner, Dallas ISD’s Human Capital Management Department will focus on work with approximately 40 students from Bryan Adams High School Leadership Academy, Lincoln High School and Humanities/Communications Magnet, W.T. White High School, Sunset High School, W.W. Samuell High School and Rosie M. Collins Sorrells School of Education and Social Services at Yvonne A. Ewell Townview Center, along with students from all other Dallas ISD high schools that are interested in being a future educator. 

“We are very excited to bring this highly-recognized national mentoring and support program to our students as we continue our efforts to encourage them to join the profession and to come back and teach in Dallas ISD,” said Chief of HCM Robert Abel. “We will begin programming opportunities this spring at several high schools with our education pathways and all male students across the district interested in becoming educators in Dallas ISD.”

Some opportunities offered to participating students include academic scholarships, attending the MISTER® summer institute at Clemson University, participation in Call Me MISTER® professional development and educational conferences, UNTD end-of-year banquet, and program leadership support.

Join Counseling Services for a treat

It is with much excitement and anticipation that Counseling Services invites all team members at the Linus D. Wright Administration Building to share a treat in celebration and recognition of No One Eats Alone Day on Friday, Feb. 17. 

Teams from central district offices are welcome to stop by room 202 from noon to 1 p.m. to enjoy the No One Eats Alone Treat Station and some relaxing music. Counseling Services will also have a contest, and the winning floor may get a prize. 

Learn more about the event and No One Eats Alone Day by watching this short video and reading this invitation

If you have any questions after watching the video and reading the invitation, contact Stacy Owens at or 972-814-9349.

The Counseling Services team expects the day to be a lot of fun and hopes to see everyone in room 202 on Feb. 17.

Two teachers are Cowboys Class Acts

Reliant and the Dallas Cowboys honor teachers throughout the Dallas-Fort Worth area who constantly encourage, lead and strive for excellence in the classroom through Cowboys Class Acts, powered by Reliant. During the 2022-2023 school year, Reliant and the Dallas Cowboys will recognize a total of six teachers across the area for their phenomenal work empowering local youth, and two Dallas ISD teachers recently earned the distinction.

Congratulations to Mount Auburn STEAM Academy’s Citlali Flores and Woodrow Wilson High School’s Theresa Benedetto, who have respectively been named the December and January Teachers of the Month. 

Both Flores and Benedetto received a $4,000 grant and a celebration on their campus during a surprise visit from Cowboys Legend George Teague, Cowboys mascot Rowdy, Reliant mascot Hugo and more on Jan. 30. 

Learn more about these extraordinary educators below.

Citlali Flores

Citlali Flores is truly one of Mount Auburn STEAM Academy’s best and brightest teachers. As a kindergarten teacher, she exemplifies the school’s mission to foster a joyful academic environment by the hard work she does every day to ensure her kindergarten students are ready to meet the challenges ahead of them. Flores received her degree from Texas Tech University and is currently certified as a bilingual EC-6 teacher. She is currently in her fifth year at Mount Auburn and in her first year as a recognized “Distinguished Teacher” in the state of Texas, a true indicator of her hard work and her commitment to education. 

When asked about her work in education she proudly claims: “One of the reasons I became a teacher was to contribute to my community and encourage others to love learning. In my vision for educating my students I hope I can help them foster open-minded thinking and become bilingual and biliterate to succeed in the future. I hope to inspire students to grow the self-confidence in believing in themselves and empower them, so they are excited and motivated to learn even when things can become challenging.”  

Theresa Benedetto

Theresa Benedetto, an instructional lead teacher, English teacher and cheerleading sponsor at Woodrow Wilson High School, joined Dallas ISD in 2020. Raised in Chicago in a home where teaching was the family business, Benedetto always dreamed of being an educator. It was hearing her brother, a former Dallas ISD teacher and football coach, talk about the district’s diverse students and communities that led her to land at Dallas ISD. 

Her teaching and leadership responsibilities at Woodrow Wilson include instructional training of campus teachers across contents, mentoring new teachers and creating an engaging environment and lively culture in her 10th grade classroom. Relationship building and creating impactful classroom climates are at the core of Benedetto’s teaching practice. 

Hulcy teacher makes mental health a priority 

D.A. Hulcy STEAM Middle School teacher Rebekah Jean thought she wanted to be a doctor until one student changed her life forever. She was volunteering in preschool classrooms during college when she met a child who she said had “a lot of anxiety with reading and writing—to the point that he would start throwing things and running away anytime you would put a pencil or a crayon anywhere near him.”

Jean patiently worked with him, and by the end of the year, he wrote her a letter and was able to spell his name. 

“The fact that he was finally able to release some of that anxiety and thought of me enough to do that was eye opening,” she said. “From that moment on, I knew teaching was what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.” 

She pursued her bachelor’s and master’s degrees, studying education and applied psychology so she could continue transforming student lives. In the process, she formalized her personal philosophy behind teaching. 

“I’m a strong believer that if we can’t teach children how to manage and understand their emotions, there is no way we can begin to teach academics,” Jean said. “With everything that I’ve learned in psychology, if they don’t have those basic fundamental needs met, which includes a lot of those emotional needs that some children are lacking, they can’t start to learn.” 

In her four years of teaching, Jean has brought social and emotional learning to the forefront of every classroom she leads. One of her favorite ways to do so this school year has been leading a community circle every Friday. 

After guiding her students through a moment of mindfulness, Jean delivers “mini lessons” in social and emotional skills or different life skills including practicing good hygiene. They then discuss what is going well in their community—whether it’s related to their classroom or to all of Hulcy—and what improvements or changes they might like to see, and they practice conflict resolution with their peers. Finally, they close with a community reward and a game to celebrate the good work they are doing academically and emotionally. 

The results have been positive. For example, during one community circle, a student who was experiencing some anger was talking to another student who was upset about something that had happened at recess. Jean said she saw the first student “building up and starting to get angrier,” so she encouraged the student to take a moment and practice coping exercises. 

“Ever since then, anytime he starts to notice that he’s feeling really angry, he has been saying, ‘Hey, I just need a minute. Can I step off to the side?’ Or he’ll call me over and say, ‘This is happening and I need some advice,’ or, ‘I need you to listen,’” Jean said. “A lot of things that are happening with the community circle are seeing different students advocating for themselves and understanding that they don’t have to let their emotions control them.” 

Jean’s passion for mental health and wellness contributed to her becoming Hulcy’s 2022-2023 campus teacher of the year, and the community is celebrating her dedication and commitment to making a difference. 

“Rebekah Jean is an amazing whole brain teacher,” said Amber Harrison, one of the school’s counselors. “Hulcy is fortunate to have a teacher with her experience, drive, dedication and empathy for the success and growth of students. She consistently brings her lessons alive and creates lifelong experiences for students to remain engaged. Her inclusion of SEL and mindfulness tools also help students to grasp core content and real-life concepts. Ms. Jean is an exemplary educator!” 

The Dallas Mavericks offer opportunities for students

The Dallas Mavericks are offering two programs during February and March to engage students, inspire future leaders and promote literacy. Learn more about the Mavs Black History Month Art Contest With American Airlines and the Mavs Reading Challenge presented by Whataburger below, and help us spread the word to get more Dallas ISD students involved. 

Mavs Black History Month Art Contest With American Airlines

To honor Black History and inspire future change makers, the Dallas Mavericks and American Airlines are encouraging students from eighth to 12th grade to create and submit a visual art medium that interprets the beliefs of past and present Black leaders and how they inspired others to unite and join hands for justice.

Five students will be selected as grand prize contest winners and will receive an invitation to the Feb. 28 Dallas Mavericks home game, an opportunity to have their art featured in the African American Museum of Dallas at Fair Park during March and more. Learn the details by visiting

Mavs Reading Challenge presented by Whataburger 

The Mavs Reading Challenge presented by Whataburger is fostering a love of reading in students of all ages. Students K-12 who read (or are read to) for 20 minutes a day for a total of 40 days can earn cool prizes from the Dallas Mavericks and Whataburger. 

This year’s challenge runs now through March 31, so encourage any students you know to get started. Visit to learn more about how students can participate. 

Food and Child Nutrition Services earns perfect review

Dallas ISD’s Food and Child Nutrition Services deserves a hearty congratulations for receiving a “perfect” Administrative Review from The Texas Department of Agriculture, making Dallas ISD the largest district in the state to earn this recognition this school year. 

FCNS received the “perfect” AR over the last full week of school in December, when 12 on-site and five off-site Texas Department of Agriculture auditors and review specialists spent a week visiting the participating schools, auditing every part of the food services department. The key review areas included financials, procurement, federal and state program compliance, operations, meal quality, and food safety. 

On-site auditors visited 19 schools for breakfast and/or lunch service and 24 schools for after-school meal programs. In addition to the week of on-site review, the off-site auditors spent three months examining last year’s records. The rigorous process included FCNS staff uploading thousands of documents and records for review.  

FCNS deeply appreciates the partnerships of campus team members and administrative support, without which the “perfect” audit result would not have been possible, said Michael Rosenberger, executive director of Food and Child Nutrition Services.

“Earning a perfect Administrative Review is a direct reflection of our FCNS staff’s hard work and dedication,” he said.