Principal goes above and beyond to take students on more excursions

Principal Dawna Duke is taking learning on the go at Thomas C. Marsh Preparatory Academy thanks to recently getting cleared to drive a school bus for Dallas ISD.

Duke said she realized how expensive it is to use a school bus due to the cost of paying a driver and how limited field trips are if they have to be completed by a certain time, so she decided to step up and take on a bus driver role herself to make active learning more accessible. As a licensed bus driver, she can use a district bus. 

Now that she has her commercial driver’s license (CDL) approved in the state of Texas, she said she is looking forward to expanding her students’ horizons. Marsh already had a reading buddies program in place, through which they have taken 6 to 10 students to elementary schools in their feeder pattern to read to younger students, and now they can double the participation and continue building great relationships with their neighbors. 

The campus was also awarded a $21,000 grant through Texas State Parks to take students camping overnight at Cedar Hill State Park in the fall and in the spring of the 2023-2024 school year, and Duke said driving the bus herself will make a huge impact. 

“For a lot of our students, it’s the first time that they have been camping ever,” Duke said. “To rent a charter bus for an overnight trip is very expensive and would suck up a lot of the funds from that grant, so my goal is to drive the bus, camp with them, and then bring them back after the trip is over. Just having access to the school bus will likely be able to double our participation.”

This is not the first time Duke has driven a bus. She said she has had an active CDL since she was an 18-year-old taking students on daily field trips as part of an after-school program; she just was not certified to drive a school bus for Dallas ISD. 

To get that certification, she had to complete her medical clearance, a Dallas ISD onboarding program, the state driving test, a certification course, and a driving record check—all while managing her responsibilities as a principal, but Duke said all her hard work is paying off. 

“We don’t know what we don’t know as kids,” Duke said. “By giving them exposure and access to activities that aren’t in their day-to-day lives, it gives them opportunities to dream, think about what they want to be when they grow up, and see that the future is right in their hands. They just have to get these experiences.” 

Pride Month: Jonatan Cruz

Growing up in the rural-coastal town of Isabela, Puerto Rico, in the 1990s, I was always ready to go on an adventure with my brothers and childhood friends. We would discover new trails and creeks, collect seashells and sea glass along the beach, and explore tropical coral reefs together. These experiences became the foundation for my sense of discovery and awe.

My world was a place of wonder. Trying to make sense of it all. What or who would bring comfort, and what or who would bring quite the opposite, or both at once. Looking back, I can feel the energy being consumed by worry, anxiety, and fear, because at every turn I was redirected to “man up” for the slightest reasons: For the way I’d hold my books at school. For the way I held my drumstick at the dinner table. For spending too much time with the girls at recess. For not sitting or standing “manly” enough at church. For not having the right set of toys. “Behave like a boy!” “Sit like a man!”

Rather quickly, I had to develop a keen ability to predict when a scolding or a mocking was brewing, to avoid the uncomfortable and degrading “advice” from adults or the bullying from peers. Over the years, I internalized that it was best to be a people pleaser. People’s opinions mattered to me more than what I thought of myself.

Not knowing how to set healthy boundaries, I spent at least 15 years of my life questioning, as actor and author Viola Davis did in her memoir: “Am I enough? Am I worthy? Am I deserving? Am I lovable? Do I matter?” Learning to live in the closet takes its toll, particularly at the emotional level. It was not until I went away to college that I truly began the challenging, yet much rewarding journey of self-love, healing, and gratitude.

Transformed by education

The instinctive drive to explore and understand new things fueled my academic endeavors at the University of Puerto Rico, in San Juan, where I earned a Bachelor of Arts in Social Sciences. As an undergrad student, I took courses in human geography, geopolitics, and studied Brazilian Portuguese and the languages and cultures of the Portuguese-speaking world. In graduate school, I focused on linguistics, the influences of the African diaspora in the Caribbean, the complex history of neo-colonialism, language, and identity in Puerto Rico, and language acquisition. Interests that would eventually lead to my career as a dual language teacher in Dallas ISD, where I was recently honored to be celebrated as Teacher of the Year in the Choice/Magnet category.

College helped me acquire a deep understanding of the common elements and collective dimensions of the human experience in society. As my values and aspirations evolved, I volunteered for a literacy program for adults in San Juan. My grandmother had been illiterate – her signature was the letter “X” – so I had grown up with someone who didn’t know how to write or read, and here I was helping people to do just that.

I was inspired by the program participants every time they shared their milestones. They’d say, for example, “I was able to write a letter to my family back in the Dominican Republic!” or “I was able to understand the discounts at the supermarket.” That was when I first witnessed in real life the meaning of the quote, “Knowledge is power.” The experience struck something special in my heart. Little did I know that it was a pivotal moment in my call to service.

The path to Dallas ISD

Armed with my degree and some experience, I was filled with confidence and faith – so much so that, after interviewing with a Dallas ISD hiring team, I booked both the entry-level assessment test and my flight to Dallas at the same time. Family members believed I was over-confident and did not approve of this move. But, as well-intentioned as their comments and advice were, I knew I was going to make it work somehow. And so, I took the test and flew the next morning. Once in Dallas, I got the results, and started the Alternative Teacher Certification Program.

That was June 2017. The training began that summer and ended the following one. The professional development, led by Dr. Delores Seamster, included theory, hands-on learning-by-doing, experiential practices, and in-classroom observation. Of course, in the field of education, we know the real training begins once you are given a roster and your students walk into the classroom.

I interviewed for a teaching spot with several principals around the district and received feedback like, “Jonatan, you seem like you bring a lot of energy and enthusiasm, but you just don’t have the experience. I wish you luck.” That luck came in the form of Ms. Ruby Ramirez and Ms. Felicia Cook. After two intensive rounds of interviews. I was offered a second-grade bilingual teaching position.

Under the guidance of Ms. Ramirez, then principal of the now-renamed Bishop Arts STEAM Academy, and Ms. Cook, the school’s instructional coach, my skills improved quickly. Their feedback was immediate, in bite-sized, tailored-to-the-classroom context, and celebrating every milestone each step of the way. It was a blessing that my commitment and leadership skills were seen and continue to be nurtured by Ms. Ramirez, now executive director for OTI (Office of Transformation and Innovation) and magnet schools, and Ms. Cook, the magnet coordinator at the School for the Talented and Gifted in Pleasant Grove (STAG in PG).

Instructional leadership

I taught for two years at Bishop Arts, second and third grade, before moving on four years ago to STAG in PG. After two years of teaching fourth grade there, I now teach sixth and seventh graders in dual language, including the grammar and mechanics of language, and narrative essay writing.

My work doesn’t end with the school day, however. Through the years, I’ve worked with the Dual Language ESL department as a facilitator and co-presenter during Professional Development for teachers, and on a variety of district initiatives. I’ve served in leadership roles on districtwide and campus committees, trained teachers on dual language best practices and the new Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, and have been selected to serve as a Dallas ISD curriculum and assessment writer. And I try to instill my leadership skills in my students.

On my campus, we started the Owl Student Leadership Club, named after the school mascot. We teamed up with the Magnet and Recruitment Committee and offered the students an opportunity to participate as Owl Ambassadors for recruitment events. Little did I know the students wanted to showcase their school to prospective families and students. During open-house events, they were the ones conducting guided tours. Applicant families were impressed, the Ambassadors were ecstatic to be representing their learning community, and parents expressed gratitude that their children were given the opportunity to engage in leadership work.  

I welcomed most of these students in fourth grade when they joined STAG in PG. And now I have the honor to be their teacher again in sixth and seventh grades. I’ve seen some of them grow from very shy children to talented leaders. These are moments I share with fellow educators. Moments where we have concrete evidence of how we create leaders for our democracy. The students take pride in it. And so do I.

Jonatan Cruz told his story to a staff writer. 

Teachers are coming to Dallas ISD

More teachers have applied to come work at Dallas ISD every month since January than in the same period the past five years. The district received more than 6,000 teacher applications in May alone, considerably more than last May.

“Human Capital Management is committed to ensuring that our campuses have a highly effective teacher in every classroom,” said Chief of HCM Robert Abel. “There is still a shortage of teachers throughout the country, but with our competitive salaries, strategic compensation system, robust alternative certification program, and incentives in several areas, we have made our district attractive to teachers.”

The district’s recruitment team strategically developed a robust marketing plan to promote the teacher application to build a viable candidate pipeline utilizing Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief fund, Title and general operating funding sources. In addition, the district enhanced its Alternative Certification program with initiatives like free tuition for program expenses.

“These teacher applications allow principals to screen, identify, and hire the best-fit candidates for their schools,” Abel said.

Providing outstanding Core 4 customer service

Claiborne Allen has been providing outstanding Core 4 customer service in the Information Technology department for the past 15 years. His customers have taken note, and the business systems analyst said being focused, fast, flexible, and friendly has always come naturally to him. 

“I base my behavior, my support, and my service on the moral of treating people how I want to be treated,” Allen said. “I never let a bad day get me down, and I never bring my bad day onto other people or my customers. The Core 4 just falls in line with that.” 

Allen primarily assists the Payroll and Human Capital Management departments with any issues that arise with Oracle and ensures that any help tickets he receives are resolved in a timely manner to help keep daily operations across the district running smoothly. 

Samantha Castillo, Olivia Pintor, and Krystal Castillo all work in School Leadership and praised Allen for always stepping up to meet their department’s needs.

“Mr. Allen exemplifies the Core 4 as he is always responsive, willing to help, and a great communicator,” Pintor said. “He goes above and beyond with a positive attitude to provide exceptional customer service.” 

For Allen, it’s all in a day’s work. He grew up watching his mother dedicate three decades of service to Dallas ISD, so when he was ready to join the workforce, he said the district was a clear choice. His first role was at a service desk, and as he gained experience over the years, he worked his way up into his current position. 

Allen said he appreciates everything about his job, as it allows him to do meaningful work that contributes to Dallas ISD’s mission of educating all students for success.

“I take pride in helping people every day,” Allen said. “I’ve always been a great supporter of others, and that’s what makes my days go by—making people happy by resolving their issues. I really do enjoy what I do now and want to continue doing it until I retire.”

Pre-K teacher brings “field trips” into her classroom

Hailey Rangel, a prekindergarten teacher at Jill Stone Elementary School, is on a mission to bring “field trips” to her students, which includes interactive activities to not only engage them, but also make learning more meaningful. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, field trips were restricted and schools had limited visitors. The expense of busing students to field trip locations even without the pandemic restrictions was also an obstacle.

So putting two and two together, Rangel decided to bring the learning opportunities of field trips to her school, instead. At the beginning of last school year, she did research for free on-campus activities students could participate in. 

“I built a list and invited different groups to visit the school, to give the students different opportunities to expand their learning,” said Rangel. 

Josefina Rodriguez, assistant principal at Jill Stone, describes Rangel as a vital asset to the school who has gone above and beyond to bring her students different experiences that broaden their possibilities to learn. 

The activities that Rangel has brought to the school range in areas from science to the arts. For example, Rangel is responsible for starting the school garden and bringing a mobile dairy farm to the school. 

Invited guests have included representatives of the Dallas Museum of Art and City of Dallas staff members who talked to the students about the importance of water conservation. 

This past school year, students also had the opportunity to study ladybugs, butterflies, and worms that Rangel received from the district’s Living Materials Center. 

One of Rangel’s motivations is remembering her family making it a priority to expose her to enrichment activities when she was a kid. She remembers how meaningful it was to her in her development and love of learning. 

Rangel has fond memories of her mom taking her and neighborhood kids to museums and places like Chuck E. Cheese due to good grades in report cards.

“I just want to give those same opportunities to my students, who otherwise might not have them,” Rangel said. “All students deserve to enjoy learning.” 

One of the things that Rangel loves about being a pre-K teacher is knowing her students are eager to learn. 

“They love to learn different things. Someone just has to show them,” Rangel said. She says that even seeing a little stem sprout from a tomato plant in the school’s garden is exciting to the kids, who soak everything in, according to Rangel.

The seeds to become an educator were planted in Rangel’s mind from the time she was a kid, as she comes from a family of educators– her mother, aunt and sister are all educators.

It was after graduating from college that Rangel found her calling. She was part of the National Civilian Community Corps from the AmeriCorps program, and one of her team’s projects was working in a summer literacy program at an elementary school in Maryland. She was a teacher’s assistant and was in charge of the garden. 

“I realized then that by being a teacher I could make a difference,” said Rangel.  “I felt I could open up the students’ minds and help to close learning gaps.”

After Rangel returned from her assignment with AmeriCorps, she began working other jobs, which included being a substitute teacher. That’s when she went through the district’s alternative certification program to become a teacher. 

“Teaching is probably the first job I’ve had where I don’t wake up in the morning and think ‘oh my gosh, I don’t want to go to work today,’” Rangel said. In fact, she loves teaching so much that she sees this as her career choice for the foreseeable future. 

Rangel’s hopes for her students include them having the freedom to choose their own pathways in life. 

“If they want to be an astronaut or a farmer or anything they want to be, there’s a pathway to that, and they can do it,” Rangel said. “I’m just bringing them different opportunities. They just have to do a little bit of research, but the sky’s the limit. They just have to keep trying until they reach their goals.”  

Recognize the Core 4

Through the Core 4—the district’s culture tenets—student success is at the core of everything we do. That’s why it’s important to model and recognize when team members exemplify the district’s four culture tenets by being:

  • Focused on transforming student lives
  • Fast by working with urgency for all 
  • Flexible when striving for the yes
  • Friendly to make memorable moments

Department recognitions

Central departments are encouraged to hold monthly recognitions to highlight outstanding examples of those embracing the culture tenets. These employees will then be recognized districtwide every quarter. Campus recognitions will launch later in the 2023-2024 school year. 

Departments can hold local recognitions as frequently as every month by asking team members, parents and the community (when appropriate) to share instances where someone has exemplified one of the tenets in an outstanding way. The example should be specific and mention the tenet and how the person being recognized exceeded expectations during their interaction. We recommend that examples be submitted in writing or by creating a Google form using these instructions. We recommend designating a Core 4 coordinator or ambassador for each department to gather these nominations, to coordinate who is chosen each month for recognition, and to share them with the department and, later, the districtwide recognition committee.

Once team members who embrace the Core 4 have been chosen by departments, we encourage you to share their names with the rest of the team by:

  • Setting up a Core 4 Board in the employee lounge
  • Announcing them in meetings
  • Adding a Core 4 card to their door or workstation

 Districtwide recognitions

In a few weeks, departments will receive a packet with items to recognize individuals in each of the four tenets throughout the year. Electronic copies of some of the materials will also be available.  

For additional recognition, a central recognition will be held periodically based on names of individual department winners that are submitted by the department’s Core 4 coordinator or ambassador. Sharing can take place at the end of each department’s recognition however often they take place. 

What should districtwide nominations look like?

Recognitions should be evidence-based, so the examples of team members who are chosen for embracing and practicing the Core 4 tenets in an outstanding way need to be specific. These submissions will be reviewed by a Core 4 Committee to choose four employees to be recognized at the district level—one for each of the tenets.

Once the Core 4 Committee chooses team members to recognize from all those whose names were submitted:

  • A story with their names and photos will appear in an issue of The Beat
  • An invitation to do Coffee with the Chief will be sent
  • Their information will be added to the Core 4 and Team Dallas ISD pages
  • Those housed in the Linus D. Wright Administration Building will be able to park (based on a predetermined schedule) in the special Core 4 parking spot

If you have  outstanding team members who you think especially embody one or more of the Core 4 culture tenets and you have recognized them in your department already, use this form to submit their names for districtwide recognition: Be specific! We are looking for evidence-based examples using the behaviors suggested by the Core 4 rubric for each tenet as a guide. 

Make sure to include a horizontal photo of each nominee.

Summer break benefits hours

Dallas ISD schools and administrative offices will be closed Monday, July 3, through Friday, July 7, for summer break. However, team members can still get assistance with benefits.

The benefits call center will be open Monday, July 3, from 7:30 a.m.-7 p.m. It will close on July 4, and will resume regular business hours for the remainder of the week.

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 Optum is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

You may reach the benefits call center at 972-925-4000 or email For questions regarding leaves of absence, email 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.

Keep an eye out for Annual Enrollment 2023-2024, which will run from July 10–Aug. 17, 2023.

Please visit for more information.

Multiple Career Magnet Center students to transition to Career Institutes

Starting in the 2023-2024 school year, the Multiple Careers Magnet Center and the Career and Technical Education clusters will merge with the Career Institutes to provide state-of-the-art facilities and an inclusive experience to students receiving special education services.

This merger is a result of the need to align with the Texas Education Agency’s move to a more inclusive environment for students who receive special education services through Career and Technical Education for the Disabled. While this means that the district will no longer offer CTED courses in a setting exclusively for students who receive special education services, the transition will provide CTE in the Least Restrictive Environment at the state-of-the-art Career Institutes.

Students who attended MCMC will attend the Career Institute North or the Career Institute South. The district will closely match the career clusters provided at MCMC with the career clusters provided at the Career Institutes. Because CTE will be provided at locations that may be closer to the students’ home school, they may have a different teacher. The Career Institutes already serve students with disabilities, which means many of the teachers have experience in this area, and the district is ensuring additional staff is available at the Career Institutes to support students with special needs.   

Dallas ISD will continue to provide CTE programming for all district high schools, continue to provide special education support at the Career Institutes, and ensure students with special needs are receiving instruction in the least restrictive environment. The Career Institutes will also offer Adaptive CTE courses. These are inclusive classes with a smaller population and additional support to meet the needs of our students.

“Merging with the Career Institutes is a wonderful opportunity for us to build on our current successes while making changes to serve more students with special needs in CTE,” said Elizabeth Casas, deputy chief Special Populations. 

Meet Teacher of the Year finalist Bobby Bailey

Bobby Bailey, instructional lead teacher and sixth-grade math teacher at Billy Earl Dade Middle School, joined Dallas ISD in 2011. A “proud product of Dallas ISD,” he was born and raised in Dallas and attended Dallas ISD schools from kindergarten through 12th grade, graduating from David W. Carter High School. Bailey earned his bachelor of arts degree from Huston-Tillotson University in Austin.

As a 12-year veteran teacher, he has served at four elementary and middle schools in various leadership roles. He holds the responsibilities of sixth-grade math lead, instructional lead teacher, mentor teacher, sixth-grade representative on the Discipline Committee, head football coach, head basketball coach, and TEI campus expert. 

His goal is to foster productive citizens and allow God to guide his steps. He is grateful to give back to the students, schools, and district. Above all, his greatest return is to invest in Dallas ISD, the district that cultivated who he is today!

What is some advice you wish you had received when you were starting out as a teacher?  

The advice I wish someone would have told me is to measure a successful school year not based on test scores but the growth of my students’ character and academics.

What is your best tip for classroom management?  

The best tip I have for classroom management is to establish class rules, expectations, and allow for student leadership in your class. Once students feel a sense of responsibility they also help manage the class.

How do you build strong connections with students?  

I build strong connections with students by speaking to them every day, hosting circle time with my class where we share stories about things outside of school, and attending students’ extracurricular activities outside of school hours. I always try to make myself relatable to my students. I take myself back to their age so I can see things from their point of view.

What are your hopes for your students in the future?  

My hope is that my students in the future are able to live a productive life with a healthy balance based on the education they received. My hope is that they are able to show good character and make a difference in this world. I want my students to be culturally diverse. 

If you were not a teacher, what would you be doing instead?  

If I was not a teacher, I would be working for the Dallas Mavericks as a front office executive. 

What do you consider to be your superpower as a teacher? 

My superpower as a teacher would be having the ability to prick the hearts and minds of the toughest students to teach and giving them the confidence to work hard each day in class.

Annual Benefits Enrollment coming soon

Annual Benefits Enrollment for 2023-2024 starts July 10 and runs through Aug. 17 and the Benefits Overview Guide with details on the benefits you’ll be able to choose from is now available. 

To find the guide, click here, and to get additional information about benefits, visit Look for more information coming soon.

In addition to these tools, the Benefits Department will hold virtual meetings to go over the 2023-2024 benefits and answer questions. Register for one or more of these sessions by using this form. A meeting link will be sent to you prior to the meeting. 

If you need some help or have any questions about your benefits please book an appointment with the Benefits Department by clicking here.

Questions or need help? If you have questions or need assistance, call the Benefits Call Center at (972) 925-4000. English- and Spanish-speaking representatives can assist you on weekdays from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.