Dallas ISD team members expand arts opportunities for students

Recently, more than 1,000 parents, students, educators and community members filled the Naomi Bruton Theater for the Arts in downtown Dallas to experience the results of a summer artistic collaboration with The Black Academy of Arts and Letters, Inc, that led to a standing ovation.

Approximately 300 Dallas ISD students—ranging in ages from 10 to 18—participated in “Stevie:The Musical,” a co-production between The Black Academy of Arts and Letters, and Dallas ISD that was part of its Summer Youth Arts Institute. 

Team members from Dallas ISD’s Extended Learning Opportunities Department were instrumental in making this happen. They partnered with TBAAL and provided the funding for students to participate in the institute. Students who were not from Dallas ISD, either had to pay tuition or received scholarships from private funding to be part of the program.

“Students need to be exposed to the arts,” said Merrill Devenshire, director of Extended Learning Opportunities. “Programs such as the TBAAL Summer Youth Arts Institute not only allow students to learn a craft, but engages students and allows them to learn many other valuable skills such as leadership, teamwork, and the importance of physical, mental, and emotional health.”

The Summer Youth Arts Institute included theater, music, dance, art, photography, and film. Students rehearsed and worked on the production, both behind the scenes and onstage for three weeks, in preparation to present “Stevie: The Musical,” based on the life and music of Stevie Wonder. Performances took place in June. 

The live performances, which included a full orchestra, showcased song and dance performances by students such as “Isn’t She Lovely,” “Sir Duke,” “Ribbon In The Sky,” “I Just Called To Say I Love You,” “Superstition,” “As,” and “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing,” to name of few. 

The performance culminated in a standing ovation from audience members when Curtis King, founder of TBAAL, called all the  students onstage for the curtain call. To catch a glimpse of the show finale, click here.

Numerous famous Dallas ISD graduates have participated in the Summer Youth Arts Institute in years past. Devonshire says among the famous former students are: Erykah Badu; Roy Hargrove; Regina Taylor; Skye Turner, who played young Tina Turner on Broadway and young Aretha Franklin in the Aretha Franklin movie; and Rachel Webb, currently on Broadway in a lead role. 

This partnership between TBAAL and Dallas ISD has existed for 30 years, starting with the Christmas/Kwanzaa concert, Devenshire said. 

For more information on The Summer Youth Institute and other opportunities available through the Extended Learning Opportunities Department, click here.  

ESSER programs make a difference

More than 70 activities funded with the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief fund last year have made a difference in how students and schools are recovering from the learning interruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The activities fall into three main categories—Learning Recovery and Acceleration; Equitable Access to Learning and Enrichment, and Healthy Students, Healthy Schools, Healthy Communities. They also fall into five different programs: Accelerating Learning (33), Operation Connectivity (8), Student Engagement and Interest Development (14), Mental Health Services (9), and Healthy School (9), which fit within the categories. 

One of the ESSER funds expires in September 2023, and the activities under this fund will be either sunsetted or moved into other available ESSER funding, which will be available through September 2024. 

A total of more than $275,170,000 is expected to be spent in activities that will continue to support the district’s three ESSER priorities during the 2023-2024. By far, the largest portion of the funds—60%—have been allocated to activities that accelerate student learning. 

For a dashboard of month-by-month expenditures and other ESSER information, visit www.dallasisd.org/esser.

Starting the year with a rhythm for opportunities

Dallas ISD will welcome back all team members on Aug. 3 with a special Districtwide Welcome Back Viewing Event featuring Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde as well as a special presentation highlighting the journey of one of Dallas ISD’s most dynamic opportunities. 

Schools and departments are encouraged to select a lead to coordinate the viewing area is team members are watching as a group and to distribute the Jason’s Deli box lunches that will be delivered to each campus and department between 8 and 11 a.m. on Thursday, Aug. 3. The event starts streaming at 11:30 a.m.

A link to access the event will be posted on www.dallasisd.org/welcomeback. For questions, please contact Tunisia Wallace at tuwallace@dallasisd.org.

On the path to campus leadership

In Miguel Guerrero’s eyes, education is limitless. After 13 years, the bilingual teacher who became an educator through Dallas ISD’s Alternative Certification program and has enjoyed his time at John W. Runyon Elementary School, decided to take the next step in his career through the district’s Learn to Lead program. 

Through Learn to Lead, Dallas ISD partners with Southern Methodist University, Texas A&M University-Commerce, Texas Tech University, and the University of North Texas at Dallas to provide team members with tuition reimbursement so they can receive their master’s degree for less than $8,000 out of pocket. 

Aligned with the district’s needs, each university offers tailored curriculum that prepares team members to lead transformational change in Dallas ISD schools. Guerrero first heard about Learn To Lead during a departmental meeting and said he could not wait to get involved. 

He started his program in 2021 and graduated from UNT Dallas this May with a master’s degree in educational leadership. 

“I was very happy to reach this point because it was something that had always been in the back of my mind,” Guerrero said. “When this opportunity came, I jumped at it, and I was able to get into UNT Dallas. I am very happy and proud to have been able to complete it.” 

Juggling his coursework while teaching full-time was difficult, but Guerrero said the challenge paid off. He took two virtual classes each semester to reach the graduation stage in May, coming home from work to have an early dinner and focus on his studies. At every step of the way, he said he received support from the Learn to Lead program with regular check-ins that helped keep him on track.

Moving into the new school year, Guerrero will be working on earning his principal certification so he can apply for campus leadership roles. He said the program has been a great opportunity to achieve his career goals, and now he is encouraging other team members to consider taking advantage of the district resource.  

“I would say go for it,” Guerrero said. “Yes, you have to get used to the timing and the workload of it, but go for it because it’s worth it. You feel extremely proud of yourself at the end, and the people you meet along the way are incredible. Every one of my professors at UNT Dallas encouraged me to get my doctorate. I had never considered that, but now I want to pursue that as well.”

If you are interested in learning more about the Learn to Lead program or any of Dallas ISD’s other leadership pipelines, visit https://www.leaddallasisd.org/aspiring-leader-preparation

Mental Health Matters: How to cope with the news

While it’s important to stay informed, especially during times of crisis, constantly checking the news, social media, or television for updates can have a negative impact on your mental health. 

Anxiety and fear is common during uncertain situations, but if you find yourself feeling extremely anxious, experiencing sleep issues, feeling depressed, being irritable, or having increased fatigue and headaches, it may be time to intervene for your mental health. 

Practice the following tips to manage your emotions and cope with any potential mental health concerns during trying times and news cycles: 

  • Stay connected with your loved ones and let them know how you are feeling. World events may be frightening, but you do not have to go through them alone. 
  • Take breaks from the news or set time limits on how much news you are consuming. If you start experiencing strong emotions, it is probably time to take a break. 
  • Set boundaries around the topics that upset you. You do not have to engage in debates or arguments that distress you, whether they are online or with a friend. 
  • Don’t make assumptions. Many people skim headlines without reading all the information in a news story, but headlines are meant to be eye-catching and do not have many details. Read or watch the full story to gain a better understanding of the situation. 
  • Practice self-care. When you feel overwhelmed or upset, it’s OK to step back. Go for a walk, have a board game night, or engage in something creative to relax and unwind.
  • Care for your body. Remember to eat regular meals, get enough sleep, and prioritize exercise. Feeling better physically can help you feel stronger emotionally. 
  • Check your sources. Social media allows for incredible connectivity, but it is not always a reliable source of information. Seek out reputable sources, and be careful not to spread misinformation.
  • Balance your inputs. Bad news can sometimes feel like it takes over, but good news is always present. Seek out positive news and stories that will lift your spirits and boost your optimism. 

If you still find yourself feeling overwhelmed and anxious, help is available. Reach out to a mental health professional, get connected to a support group, and rely on your social network.

Dallas ISD’s Employee Assistance Program by LifeWorks is also available free of charge to all team members and their dependents. The confidential, secure platform has countless resources available from 24/7 on-call counselors to practical tips on subjects like managing your budget, identifying anxiety in children and coping with depression.

Reach out to LifeWorks at (972) 925-4000, or visit www.dallasisd.org/benefits and click on Benefits Resources to access online EAP information. Support is always available, so do not hesitate to ask for what you need. 

Source: LifeWorks

Core 4 Spotlight: Flexibility is the key for educator at Conrad

The Core 4 tenet of Flexible—We strive for the yes—is a necessity when it comes to working directly with students in the classroom. This is something Abigail Rufer, an instructional coach and lead teacher in the areas of English as a Second Language and algebra at Emmett J. Conrad High School, exemplifies. 

Rufer says that working with a diverse group of students at Conrad is always going to allow her to be flexible in her teaching due to the different backgrounds her students may come from. 

At Conrad, there are at least 30 languages spoken and 50 different countries represented among the student population, according to Rufer. 

“You never know what the students’ math conceptual background comes from in their home country, or if they went to school in their home country,” said Rufer. “Some kids come with no education, and some come highly schooled, and just need language support.”

Rufer believes that it is crucial that every time she interacts with her students she is flexible in teaching them in the way they learn best. 

“Meeting every kid where they are at is important to getting the buy-in and motivation that they need for them to grow,” she said. 

Rufer, who has worked for the district for the last seven years, was named the 2021-2022 campus Teacher of the Year. 

From the time she was a sociology and psychology student in her undergraduate college years, she knew she wanted to work with kids, but she didn’t know in what capacity. She went the alternative certification route after graduating with her Bachelor of Arts degree and has been at Conrad ever since. One of her favorite things about teaching is having the opportunity to teach kids from different countries. 

“I think it’s important for me to invest not only in my students but [also] in their families and community,” said Rufer. “I think that helps build the ties with our kids and helps them stay invested in the education system.”

Rufer also believes that as a teacher, it helps her stay more connected with her students. Even though there are challenges in communicating with students at times, due to language barriers, she finds ways to build a sense of trust and communication.

For example, this past school year, the school hosted a night specifically for students and families from Afghanistan, as there was a bigger population of students from this country this past school year.  

“Inviting our families to build community and to be a part of the kids’ educational process, really helps the investment from both sides. It goes miles in overcoming some of those obstacles,” Rufer said. 

One of the things that Rufer likes the most about her role is seeing her students’ reactions and how much confidence they gain in themselves when they are successful. 

On the instructional coaching side, Rufer says it’s also important for her to see that with the teachers she coaches, an equal part of her job.

Rufer says there’s a broad misconception that students from different countries who speak a different language should not be held to a high expectation, but that is not her belief.   

“Having those moments with my kids where they are not only hitting the expectations, but they are surpassing our students that already speak English, is special to see,” she said. “That builds a sense of confidence in themselves.” 

Safety gets a new home

Starting this school year, the new School Safety, Monitoring and Resources Department will be in charge of cameras, keycards, keycard readers, door buzzers, and all other security technology across the district. The department will also be in charge of providing security enhancements to support the district’s priority of student and employee safety.

“The School Safety, Monitoring and Resources Department ensures that all schools and district facilities are equipped with tools and technology systems to monitor and provide a safe environment for students, employees, and the community,” said David Bates, chief of Operations. “We will oversee the purchase, the implementation, and subsequently the monitoring of safety and related systems and supports at schools and on district facilities.”

The technology systems that will provide a safe environment for students, employees, and the community, includes critical safety tools such as cameras, card readers, metal detectors, shatterproof window film, intercoms, and the Raptor system. The new department will also be in charge of clear backpacks, door alarms, door blocks and other tools that help enhance safety. Leading these efforts is Vince Reyes, who most recently was an assistant superintendent in School Leadership. 

“One of the new areas we will be handling is a silent alarm system for teachers,” Bates said. “There will be an app that teachers and school administrators will be able to use to lock down a building in case of a threat. For example, if a teacher sees something suspicious or threatening in the school parking lot, they can send out an alert through the app.”

The alerts will be school specific, but the department will also have the ability to send out notifications when a threat is reported to an area or a feeder pattern, Bates said. 

The new department will work closely with Student Engagement—which supports school monitors, the Sandy Hook Promise initiative, campus crisis teams, restorative practices, etc. It will also work hand in hand with Maintenance and Facility Services to ensure that all the safety tools are working properly. 

One of the activities already underway in the new department is making 3D maps of the schools to better coordinate with the Dallas ISD Police Department in case of an event at a campus. Emergency Management, which will continue under DPD, will also partner closely with the School Safety, Monitoring and Resources Department on security measures. 

Campus leaders come together for excellence

Dallas ISD principals and other campus leaders were welcomed back for the 2023-2024 school year as they came together for the 2023 Summer Summit. The summit is a five-day event, which also includes team gatherings at regional sites. 

Aaron Aguirre-Castillo, Director for the Leadership Excellence, Advancement and Development (LEAD) Department, said the summit will empower campus leaders to start the 2023-2024 school year off on the right foot.

The principals began the summit with a welcome from Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde, Chief Academic Officer Shannon Trejo, Chief of Strategic Initiatives Brian Lusk, and Chief of School Leadership Tiffany Huitt. With a theme of “Leading in Rhythm with Equity and Excellence,” principals will explore the district’s goals, targets, and plan to bolster instructional design and delivery, personnel management, special services, and more. 

Each professional development session presented during the summit is aligned with Dallas ISD’s mission of educating all students for success and School Leadership’s goal of cultivating leadership that inspires an unwavering commitment to equity and excellence. 

“Summer Summit is an opportunity to bring together our campus leaders for learning, collaboration, and inspiration,” Aguirre-Castillo said. “By unpacking and engaging with Dallas ISD’s plan through aligned content, intentional planning, and each other, campus leaders prepare to launch their school year in a targeted fashion.”

The Summer Summit is one of several opportunities in place to help educators prepare for the new school year, with classes starting on August 14. To learn more about the upcoming New Teacher Academy, visit https://www.dallasisd.org/domain/27979

For more information on the back to school season, visit https://www.dallasisd.org/backtoschool.

This Is Home: Dallas ISD grad finds her calling in the classroom

Jaedan Freeman couldn’t wait to be in the classroom teaching. The proud graduate of Dallas ISD is an upcoming college junior who has spent recent months making memorable moments with students in various classrooms as a substitute teacher. 

Freeman plans to continue working as a substitute in Dallas ISD as she pursues a degree in physical education with a goal of becoming a PE coach and a health teacher.

“It would be pretty cool to go back to my roots where I graduated,” Freeman said. “I would love to work at my old high school or middle school because I think those environments are where I’m meant to be. So I definitely want to stay in Dallas ISD.”

Freeman said her drive to become an educator started with her own family. Her mother is a teacher at W.H. Adamson High School, which Freeman attended, while her grandfather was a teacher at Seagoville Middle School. Both her mother and her grandfather supported her journey through school academically and athletically as her softball and volleyball coaches. 

“I wanted their legacy,” Freeman said. “I really think I was meant to be a teacher and a coach just like them, so that’s what is driving me to get my degree in teaching so I can follow in their footsteps.”

Her Dallas ISD connections do not stop there. Freeman recently crossed paths with her former principal at Adamson, now Executive Director Diana Nuñez, while Freeman was subbing at Seagoville Middle School. 

“She was always very focused on everybody’s success at Adamson,” Freeman said. “So when I ran into her after these couple of years, it was really nice to see how excited she was that this is the direction I’m taking, especially being a student. That was great because we have a really good, connected relationship thanks to how much she wants me to be successful in life.”

Freeman said being a substitute teacher has given her a new perspective on education. She has experienced the importance of building strong connections with students and has had ups and downs, but at the end of the day, each one has motivated her to continue on her path.

“I know it’s not always going to be good days,” Freeman said. “I’m going to have bad days sometimes, but that just drives me to stay strong and be here to help the kids who need help and to fill the positions that need to be filled.”

Meet Teacher of the Year finalist Kayleigh Overman-Fassel

Kayleigh Overman-Fassel teaches English 1 for emergent bilinguals at Emmett J. Conrad High School. After receiving her bachelor of arts from Trinity University, she realized her dream of working with language learners as a writing consultant for Lone Star College-Montgomery, first as a substitute English 1301 instructor and then as an intermediate developmental English instructor. 

She has also worked as an instructional coach, curriculum writer, test developer, and, in her favorite role, an English I teacher. Her passion for working with emergent bilinguals led her to Conrad High School.

In addition to her classroom duties, she has served as the emergent bilingual/newcomer mentor, a mentor teacher, and a facilitator for professional development to help other teachers improve their proficiency in working with Dallas ISD’s emergent bilingual population.

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

I wish someone had emphasized to me that what makes a successful teacher is the ability to be flexible and apply your unique skill sets to the classroom. 

What is your best tip for classroom management?  

My best classroom management tip is always work to build strong relationships with your students. This alone heads off so many classroom management issues. 

How do you build strong connections with students?  

I build strong connections with my students by helping them celebrate their cultures, and by creating an atmosphere of warmth, positivity, and humor. 

What are your hopes for your students in the future?  

I hope all my students come to see themselves as talented, capable, and curious. Whatever road they take in life, if they can embrace an openhearted love of learning, they will be successful. 

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

I can’t imagine—this has been my dream for so long. The classroom is where I’m happiest. 

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

My teaching superpower is patience. Without patience, it’s impossible to form connections, take the time to get to know your students, or invest time in all the intangibles that make a positive, happy classroom environment.