Master Teachers: A series

The Beat has interviewed Master Teachers across the district to share their stories and introspections about their careers, including tips for teaching. Meet Master Teacher Brent Voorhees.

Brent Voorhees, a Master Teacher at Skyline High School, first came to Dallas ISD for the 2013-2014 school year. Originally from Abilene, Texas, he said he has a “competitive nature,” and wanted to take on a challenge. With the belief that “kids are kids” and “each will rise to the expectation you set,” he decided to test those theories in the classroom. 

Voorhees, who has 26 years in education, said he is glad he followed his personal challenge and has been “thrilled” to work in Dallas the last 11 years and be a part of the upturn in the district. 

“The students have risen to every expectation,” as have his colleagues with their passion for creating student opportunities, he said.

What drew you to education? 

While playing college athletics, I was injured heading into the summer between my freshman and sophomore years. Instead of competing during the summer, I had surgery to repair my knee. A local high school reached out and asked if I would be interested in coaching their team. This seemed like a neat opportunity to compete in a different form. Once coaching, I realized I really enjoyed working with kids. So whenever I returned to college, I changed my major from business to education (and later directly to mathematics) in hopes of educating children. 

How are you creating opportunities for students?

This is a question I reflect on frequently. Often we can simplify “creating opportunities” by making sure our classrooms are accepting of all students, having a project-based learning style, etc. We may also oversimplify “creating opportunities” to say, “If I teach my students my curriculum well, they will be better prepared to go to college and major in my field related to my subject.”

While all those things are good and proper, I try to consider how I am helping the student find greater success 5-10 years from now—regardless of their future goals. Are they leaving my math class understanding how interest works in finances? Do they understand how assets may grow in value over time due to demand and production? 

I often doubt the students will remember a formula 10 years from now, but if I can instill the principle that most assets grow in value over time, liabilities never cost what the price tag shows, and drill in how algebra operates, my hope is that students will be better equipped and prepared to make wise decisions and enjoy as much financial freedom as possible.

What is your best teaching tip? 

  1. Focus on the things that matter and don’t sweat the small stuff. 
  2. Have realistic expectations. Students will have bad days and sometimes say things that are unfair. Let it go, and follow up the next day (assuming this is something that will not directly affect your classroom management with the entire class). Usually it’s not you; usually it’s something else going on in their life. Give them a day to process, and oftentimes they will open up and you’ll truly be able to help.
  3. Have a long-term view. Consider the farmer: I would assume they do not consider their value or abilities day by day by measuring the growth of their wheat or corn. Nor do they feel the need to quit because of a rainstorm or a delay to their plan. The farmer plows, they plant, they water, and they let nature develop. The farmer considers what they can control and makes the most of their opportunities. Then they trust that the seed and nature will do its part. So with teaching. There are good days, there are bad days. But view the entire season. Don’t get lost in the “rainstorms.” Keep focused on the long-term goal. 

What would your students be surprised to find out about you?

That I played baseball in college! They always think I’m just a “math geek” (it doesn’t help that I wear Skyline math cluster’s “mathlete” T-shirt on spirit days), but whenever I hear a student may be considering playing athletics at my school, I mention it, and the classroom always responds by being totally surprised and thrown off. 

What inspires you the most about being an educator?  

The letters from students at the end of the school year! I really appreciate the letters that say something about “never enjoying math before” or “not being able to see the purpose for algebra in today’s world” but now having a different perspective and having really enjoyed the class. Precalculus is difficult. If students come out of the class feeling like they now enjoy math and see its purpose, I know I accomplished my job.

Everyone is going pink at Dallas ISD

Dallas ISD is giving breast cancer the boot by bringing awareness to prevention and treatment. Be part of the effort by wearing pink and jeans on Friday, Oct. 20, during the district’s Pink Out day. If you do wear pink either on Thursday, Oct. 19, or Friday, Oct. 20, share a picture on social media using the hashtag #DallasISDPinkOut and tagging @TeamDallasISD. 

Your stories

Kailyn Ford
ELA/Dual Credit Instructor at H. Grady Spruce High School

Jan. 20, 2022, was the day my life forever changed. I was in class teaching when the call from my doctor came. I excused myself from class and stepped into the hall to speak with her. I felt like my world had just blown up after she told me that I had stage I cancer in my left breast. Even though she explained to me that the tumor was small and could likely be removed through a lumpectomy, I was still numb and in shock. A few weeks after my diagnosis, I began having endless rounds of biopsies, MRI’s, sonograms and ultrasounds.

These procedures discovered and confirmed more tumors in my left breast and suspicious findings in my right breast. The option to have a lumpectomy was no longer available, and instead, I would have to have a mastectomy because one of the tumors was unreachable. With this information that I had been given, I made the gut-wrenching decision to have a double mastectomy because I didn’t want to have to face this situation again down the road.

I am truly thankful that I was strong enough to make the decision that I made because two days after my surgery on June 14, 2022, my surgeon called to confirm that the suspicious findings in my right breast were biopsied and confirmed to be cancerous. Though it doesn’t feel like it, it’s been a long journey from Jan. 20, 2022. I feel like I am truly blessed because my UT Southwestern family was with me the whole time and are still with me for the long haul. I’m even more grateful for my Spruce family and administrators who wrapped their arms around me during my journey and are still supportive to this very day!

What advice would you give others?

I have had to learn that this journey is a process, and you must allow yourself to have grace. On those days that were challenging for me, I had to learn to not see them as a setback, but as an opportunity to love and accept the “me” that I had become. My struggles are not gone, but I realize daily, that I’m much stronger than what I thought I could ever be. 

Liliana Valadez
Resource Centers

In 2007, I heard the words, “You have breast cancer.” What a shock! After the initial cry, I made up my mind to be positive and get into “fight mode.” I met with my family that evening to share the news and explain their role as my “army” of supporters. After the series of testing and advice from friends/colleagues, I chose to undergo a bilateral mastectomy even though only one breast was affected. I knew that my journey would include being caregiver for my parents, so I wanted to minimize a recurrence. On Oct. 15, a day I celebrate as another birthday—a new beginning—I had my initial surgery. After seven weeks, I had implant surgery. I was blessed since I did not need radiation or chemotherapy treatment. Over the years, I have had several other surgeries, two sets of implants, to address various issues, culminating in a Diep-Flap reconstruction. Although physically challenging, the last 16 years have given me the opportunity to coach others through the process and be the cheerleader, advocate, and fighter for others.

Together with a team of friends, I have participated in three Susan G. Komen “3-Day” walks to raise awareness and funds for breast cancer research. For me, breast cancer is an opportunity to help others and that has become one goal of my life’s mission.

What advice would you give others?

Stay positive! Have the attitude that you will “beat it!” Surround yourself with people who will keep sending the positive thoughts, prayers and words of encouragement. Create a text group to provide everyone updates, but that can also be used for them to send you daily inspiration and motivation to keep the positive energy going. And lastly, when you can, support others who are going through the “fight” as well. Share your “lessons learned” to ease their journey. 

Gwen Montero
Stevens Park Elementary School

I am writing about a friend/co-worker. She works here at the same school as I do. Unfortunately, her mom passed away several years ago due to breast cancer. She has been the most courageous, spunky, loving survivor that I have ever known. She has been a powerful advocate in school as much as out of school showing her ongoing support of the cause. Every year without fault she wears these crazy ALL PINK outfits and wig to “Pink out” and to talk to the kids and teach about breast cancer. She doesn’t talk much about her mother; however, I know that she is who and what motivated her to keep moving forward to be an advocate and a voice in our little school.

What advice would you give others?

I am a cancer survivor; however, mine was the thyroid and all I can say, is never give up hope!

Anjanette Wallace-Sela
Zan Wesley Holmes Jr Middle School

My close friend and former principal is a thriving breast cancer survivor, diagnosed with a rare form of breast cancer two years ago. My cousin, who underwent the BRCA test and discovered her susceptibility to breast cancer, chose a double mastectomy due to her family history. In my own life, October signifies not only Breast Cancer Awareness Month but also Cancer Awareness Month. My son, Andre, diagnosed with Stage 4 Metastatic Colon Cancer in November 2022, is progressing positively after nearly a year of treatment, with declining CAE numbers and effective chemo and radiation therapy.

What advice would you give others?

Refuse to accept “no” as the final answer; insist on getting tested. In my son’s situation, they claimed he was too young for a colonoscopy. Don’t allow anyone to dictate your health decisions and what’s appropriate for your body.

Christine Martinez
Early Learning

I was 48 and had never had a mammogram in my life. That year was different—my doctor would not refill any of my prescriptions unless I went to get one this time. After my mammogram, I was informed that I had three “spots” of concern. A week later, I was diagnosed with Stage 1 Ductal Carcinoma. I had no symptoms whatsoever. Never thought in a million years this would happen to me. Unfortunately, the type of cancer I had was aggressive and underwent a series of surgeries. I also had to complete 12 rounds chemotherapy all while working. As of July this year, I am cancer free. Thank you to my doctor for standing her ground and making me get a mammogram.

What advice would you give others?

Stay strong, stay positive, and never give up.

Tamara Teresa Thomas
D.A. Hulcy STEAM Middle School

I was diagnosed in February 2009 with breast cancer at the age of 35. I found the lump myself by doing at home breast exams. I endured six rounds of chemotherapy and radiation. Texas Oncology Plano introduced us to culinary classes, free wigs, exercise classes, and new life-long friends.

What advice would you give others?

The fight may be hard but remember WHY you are fighting. Live life to the fullest!

Headshots are now offered quarterly: Sign up today

Are you new to the district, haven’t had your headshot taken before, or simply in need of an updated headshot? Now is your opportunity. Signups for the fourth-quarter headshot session are now open. 

In an effort to meet the growing photography needs of the district, our district photographer will offer a professional headshot week with two dates available once per calendar quarter. The quarterly sessions will be the only times available for headshots, so don’t miss your chance.

Dallas ISD team members are invited to sign up for the next professional headshot session on Monday, Dec. 4, or Wednesday, Dec. 6. Hurry, as spots are limited and are filling up fast. 

The photo sessions will take place at the Linus D. Wright Dallas ISD Administration Building, 9400 N. Central Expressway, on the 12th floor in studio suite 1200. Each photo will only take a few minutes.

Who can sign up:

  • Central team members
  • Campus principals 
  • Executive directors
  • Associate superintendents
  • Chiefs and deputy chiefs
  • Board of Trustees 

The district photographer is unable to photograph team members in group photos or accommodate any on-location requests of headshots outside of the central administration building.

Having a photo taken can be stressful for some. The district photographer will take great care to help you look your best by helping you pose, selecting your best headshot, and providing basic retouching on the finished image. 

Reserve your spot for the quarter three session by 5 p.m., Friday, Dec. 1. Additional instructions will be emailed to those who sign up a few days ahead of their session. 

Heroic actions by teacher save the life of a stranger

Teachers are often thought of as heroes in the classroom, but sometimes, they get to be heroes outside of school. That was the case for Israel Alfaro, an English I teacher at W.H. Adamson High School, who recently found himself in a dangerous situation, playing a crucial role in saving the life of a hot air balloon pilot.

Alfaro—a Skyline High School graduate and three-year veteran of  Dallas ISD—was driving in Crandall to his sister’s house when he noticed a hot air balloon in the sky. He said he called his wife, who is fascinated by hot air balloons, to tell her about it. While on the phone, he realized the balloon was about to crash. 

Alfaro drove toward the crash site, and by the time he got there, the hot air balloon was already on fire—it had landed on power lines.  Alfaro knew he had to act quickly so he jumped out of his vehicle and raced toward the balloon to check on whoever had been in the basket. 

Two men, who were in the car in front of him, also stopped and were already helping one pilot, whose injuries did not prevent walking, get out of the hot air balloon. Alfaro asked if there was someone else in there and jumped into action when they said yes. 

The first rescuers were wearing shorts, which prevented them from safely getting closer to the burning balloon. However, Alfaro was wearing pants and approached the basket to help the second man out of danger. 

The rescue proved to be challenging beyond the extreme and growing heat from the fire because of the man’s injuries. He seemed to have broken his legs and was unable to move on his own. 

Alfaro carefully and quickly pulled him out and moved him to a safe distance just in the nick of time. As he was asking about any other passengers—trying to communicate with the Polish man past the language barrier—one of the tanks on the hot air balloon exploded. 

Alfaro said it was a scary moment, but it didn’t sink in until later that had he not moved quickly, the outcome would have been very different for the pilot and for him.

“I wasn’t thinking about the possibility of a tank exploding, because I figured that was all already done,” Alfaro said. “If I would have taken seconds longer, that tank was going to explode on both the pilot and myself. At the moment you’re not thinking about any of that. But I just feel like God was there, and I was just the tool.”

Police arrived at the scene and pulled the injured pilot farther away from the burning balloon. Alfaro had been unable to move him again because the pain caused by the injuries was too extreme. The injured man was transported to the hospital by helicopter while the other pilot was taken by ambulance.

Alfaro reached out from the scene to let certain people know what had happened and that he was uninjured. Among the first messages he sent was to his principal, Stephanie Amaya, who quickly reached out to check in on him.

“That shows how much I trust my school principal and how comfortable I feel with my school and with my coworkers,” Alfaro said. “I didn’t know how I was gonna feel the next day, and I reached out because I knew that if I did need that support, I was going to have it at my school. I think that says a lot about my principal and the culture that she’s building here at Adamson.” 

Alfaro returned to school the next day and shared his experience with his students because the week before, the class had been discussing a poem titled “Shoe Store,” which talks about not taking moments for granted. 

“Part of my lesson with my students is that you have to appreciate today, because we don’t know about tomorrow,” Alfaro said. “That lesson could not have been proven to be more true.”


Israel Alfaro has the knack for being in the right place at the right time. After graduating from Skyline High School, he moved back to his native Puerto Rico to care for his ailing grandfather. He attended university there and also taught for 10 years. 

Back in Dallas for a visit in 2020, he heard about a Dallas ISD job fair at Skyline High School. He attended and met Principal Stephanie Amaya, who hired him  to teach at W.H. Adamson High School.

A look at the first year: Meet the new teachers

The Beat will be following four Dallas ISD teachers in their first year with the district throughout the 2023-2024 school year. Get to know who they are and such details as what inspired them to become teachers, why they chose Dallas ISD, and what their favorite cafeteria food was growing up. We will be checking in on them every few months to chat about their experiences on the job during their first year. As part of its supports for new teachers, Dallas ISD will hold the New Teacher & Mentor Teacher Social at 5 p.m. on Nov. 9 at Dave & Buster’s, 9450 N. Central Expressway.

Rodrigo Lopez
W.W. Samuell High School

What is your professional background?

Currently I am a 11th grade U.S history teacher at W.W Samuell High School. I have a double major in political science and integrated studies with an emphasis in history, psychology and anthropology. With these skills, I have had several jobs as head of a catering department, marketing manager for the Dallas Cowboys and court clerk for a Justice of the Peace. I am extremely excited with my new career choice as part of the Dallas Independent School District, and with helping change the lives of my students.

What inspired you to become a teacher?

I have always taken leadership roles throughout my career, but it wasn’t until I had to make a difficult choice that would end up changing my life. During the pandemic, I decided that I wanted to take a leap towards two things: law school or becoming a teacher. I know that becoming an attorney has its own privileges, but as I was assisting my godson with his homeschooling, during the pandemic, I realized that I had the aptitude that fits perfectly with being a teacher. As a first-generation immigrant student, with immigrant parents, an emerging bilingual, Mexican American from Mexico City, I am ecstatic to know that I made the right choice. I carry within me the wherewithal to empathize with my students to help them succeed.

Why did you choose Dallas ISD? Are you a Dallas ISD alum (or is anyone in your family)? 

The program that I was hired into was the Latino and African American Adjunct Teacher Program, and I chose this program because of what it stands for. The program allowed for us to be assistant teachers for district schools in dire need of minority representation as we complete our Alternative Certification Program requirements. I really do feel as if Samuell really chose me because I felt right at home from the first day I stepped into the school grounds in early 2023. I graduated from North Dallas High School in 2006, so it feels amazing to be part of Dallas ISD

What are you most excited for during the new school year? 

Just the memories that you begin to be part of as you go on through your year. I have amazing students and team members that I am creating a considerable number of memories with already.

What was your favorite cafeteria food when you were in school?

Definitely Frito pies and tacos during taco Tuesday. 

What book that you read in school made the biggest impact on you?

“To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Friday Night Lights”

Which teacher you had made a lasting impression on you?

Mr. Bible was the best teacher that I ever had. He was my AP English III and IV teacher, and he helped me pass my assessment test and got me interested in reading. I appreciate all of his fervor.

What are some of your hobbies? 

Watching anime, reading books, martial arts, going out on walks with my wife and dogs, and eating out at new places throughout the metroplex


Wade Streeter
Boude Storey Middle School

What is your professional background?

I got my bachelor of science degree from Miles College in Birmingham, Ala. I got my master’s in urban education from Langston University in Langston, Okla.

What inspired you to become a teacher?

My parents inspired me to become a teacher. They were both teachers and coaches.

Why did you choose Dallas ISD? Are you a Dallas ISD alum (or is anyone in your family)? 

I chose Dallas ISD to help and give back to the youth of the community that I live in. I’m originally from Birmingham, Ala.

What are you most excited for during the new school year? 

The opportunity to see the growth in my students and athletes. 

What was your favorite cafeteria food when you were in school?

Spaghetti was my favorite food when I was in school. 

What book that you read in school made the biggest impact on you?

I would have to say my school textbooks because they were always a good resource for me and gave me great practice and knowledge for my core classes.

Which teacher you had made a lasting impression on you?

My high school science teacher and baseball coach, Mr. Steinardt. He always motivated me to do better and keep growing in school.

What are some of your hobbies?

Outside of work, I enjoy fitness, watching movies, sports and great food.


Christie Cummings
Mark Twain School for the Talented and Gifted 

What is your professional background?

I have a bachelor of science in biology with a minor in chemistry from Prairie View A&M University in 2005. Six years as an educator—four years high school science, two years middle school science. Completing a second bachelor of science degree in nursing at The University of Texas at Arlington. I have 20 years as a salon small business owner in Houston.

What inspired you to become a teacher?

I absolutely love it! It has filled a void in my life and been not only therapeutic, but also rewarding. There is something unique about pouring into the life of a student. Not only do you educate them academically, but as an educator, I also help cultivate and shape the individual they will become for future generations. As educators we not only teach them, but students also teach us. At times, they help us see hidden things within ourselves and learn new things, especially when it comes to the latest in technology. Teaching has been second nature for me. Having a mother who has been in education over 20 years on all grade levels, and is now a middle school counselor, contributed to my desire to teach, as well. My grandmother being a retired chemistry professor, father being a mechanical engineer, aunt who is an elementary teacher, and sister who is a robotics engineer, still only to name a few, have also helped me realize that science and education are fused into the fabric of my being.

Why did you choose Dallas ISD? Are you a Dallas ISD alum (or is anyone in your family)? 

Being that I was born in Dallas and ready to make the transition from Houston back to my roots, Dallas ISD is where I wanted to be. I am also a Dallas alum, having graduated from the School for Health Professions at Yvonne A. Ewell Townview Center. My younger sister is also a Dallas ISD alum having graduated from the School of Business at Townview. My mother was also an educator in Dallas ISD for several years. 

What are you most excited for during the new school year? 

Meeting, learning, and developing rapport with students and my colleagues. I’m also excited to teach science and social studies content that students don’t know yet and see how amazed they are at what they learn. I’m even more excited to take them on field trips to the Perot Museum and the Environmental Education Center! 

What was your favorite cafeteria food when you were in school?

I would have to say pizza. LOL.

What book that you read in school made the biggest impact on you?

“Beauty Fades, Dumb is Forever” by Judge Judy Sheindlin

Which teacher you had made a lasting impression on you?

My band teacher at Welch Middle School, Mrs. Steigler. She was so passionate about teaching us how to play music, but at the same time she was very quirky and a hippie at heart. I liked how she wasn’t afraid to be her authentic self. I feel like I studied her as a person even more so than the music she taught me. I admired her tenacity and confidence. It was from her that I learned how to play the alto saxophone.

What are some of your hobbies? 

Practicing my faith, spending time with family, gardening, being a dog-mom, and keeping up with world news and ALL things Science.


Ella Spratt-Szarzynski
Nancy J. Cochran Elementary School

What is your professional background?

I just graduated with my bachelor’s in communication from Central Michigan University in 2022. From there, I moved to Texas to begin my master’s in teaching as well as teaching full-time in the classroom with City Teaching Alliance. Before this, I held odd jobs, all having to do with kids, such as babysitting, camp counselor, teacher’s assistant, bilingual teacher’s assistant, and many more. I also worked for United Way for two summers as their community engagement coordinator, where I organized volunteer activities like creating beautiful interactive school art installations and a back-to-school drive.

What inspired you to become a teacher?

I was inspired to become a teacher from the lack of support I have seen for black and brown students across America. I want to be one of the change makers in making sure that they feel seen and valued no matter the space they are in. I also want to make learning as fun as possible so that students can enjoy learning while also understanding its importance for the rest of their lives. My goal is to combine learning and play to create an environment for students to see their progress and appreciate their success.

Why did you choose Dallas ISD? Are you a Dallas ISD alum (or is anyone in your family)? 

I chose Dallas ISD through my program, City Teaching Alliance. But since being in Dallas ISD, I have realized just how important ACE Campuses are and the structures put in place to make sure every school in Dallas ISD succeeds and not just those with the proper resources put in place. I love how Dallas ISD takes chances on new teachers like me and gives us the opportunity to grow and learn as we go throughout our first years in teaching.

What are you most excited for during the new school year? 

I am most excited to build relationships within my classroom. I am excited to create an environment that is fun, creative, and loving for my students so that we can get the most out of our learning every day.

What was your favorite cafeteria food when you were in school?

When I was in school, my favorite day in the cafeteria was always pizza day! I still crave it now.

What book that you read in school made the biggest impact on you?

I read a book called “Ella the Elegant Elephant” in school that has always stuck with me. Of course, my name is in the title, so I loved it right away. But what has stuck with me since is the kindness and compassion she showed throughout the story even when it wasn’t always granted to her. I have also always loved the message of caring for others because you never know what they are going through and kindness can always bring so much more happiness than harm.

Which teacher you had made a lasting impression on you?

My first- and second-grade teacher, Mrs. Gordon, inspired me at such a young age to take charge of my learning and never settle for less. She showed me the importance of vouching for myself and ensuring I was always pushed to my limits no matter the circumstances. She is truly my inspiration for becoming a teacher.

What are some of your hobbies? 

Some of my hobbies include walking my dog, listening to music, exercising, driving my car, hanging out with friends, enjoying nature, sleeping, and eating.

What’s good at the State Fair? Food photos and stories

The State Fair of Texas is a fall tradition, and each year team members receive a ticket each to attend the fair for free. We asked Dallas ISD team members to share photos and stories about their favorite foods at The State Fair of Texas this year. 


Teri Kirkley, special education teacher, James Bowie Elementary School: I grew up in Dallas, and have gone to the State Fair on the first day almost every year. My husband and I tried to get the very first corny dogs from the main Fletcher’s stand. This year we did it!

Darrell Shaw, lead custodian, J. P. Starks Math, Science, and Technology Vanguard: Fletcher’s foot-long corn dogs are his favorite food at the fair. 

Maria Hoffman, data controller, Ann Richards STEAM Academy: Her favorite food at the fair was vanilla ice cream dipped in chocolate and nuts. 

Brittany Henderson, science teacher, Emmett J. Conrad High School: I did not understand why a state fair was such a big deal until I moved to Dallas. One of my best friends is a food blogger and she knew all the best spots to grab food at the fair and how winners get chosen. She made me try all of the winning items of the year! Now each year, I look forward to seeing what the creative chefs come up with. My favorite so far is the Dilly Dog from 2022.

Veronica Arispe, bilingual teacher, Kleberg Elementary School: Tried the chicharron explosion nachos. I wasn’t sure if I was going to like it, but it is really good.

Maria Melian, bilingual teacher, Edwin J. Kiest Elementary School: My favorite food from the State Fair is the strawberry shortcake and the strawberry lemonade. After being on a diet for one year and losing 70 pounds, I just want to eat everything from the Fair!

Heidi Zeko, special education teacher, Victor H. Hexter Elementary School: The fried pho is the best state fair food I have ever eaten!  It’s delicious and fried.  It’s what Texas State Fair Food is all about! 

Natalie Apellaniz, teacher, C.F. Carr Elementary School: Three years ago was my first time trying the mac and cheese bowl at Mac Loaded. My first year, I tried the brisket loaded mac bowl and wow,  it blew our mind. Last year, their signature bowl was the bayou bowl loaded with shrimp and freshly peeled crab topped with one sausage slice and a breadstick. This year,  the new addition was the butcher block mac topped with crispy fried chicken, brisket, candied bacon, a piece of sausage and jalapeños with extra bbq sauce on top. I’m not a huge fan of so much meat, so I ended up getting the bayou bowl again this year and it did not disappoint. My fiancé did get the butcher block mac and he said it was the best he had. I highly recommend stopping by the Mac Loaded. There is always a line, but it’s worth the wait and the money—100%!

Margaret McGaughey, fine arts teacher, Hillcrest High School: The drizzle’s chocolate dipped strawberry cheesecake was so good, I could not hold back from devouring that sweetness on a stick!

Margaret McGaughey, fine arts teacher, Hillcrest High School: The drizzle’s chocolate dipped strawberry cheesecake was so good, I could not hold back from devouring that sweetness on a stick!


Vanessa Balderrama Chavira, pre-k bilingual teacher, Julius Dorsey Leadership Academy: The Fried Pho was the best. We were looking for this featured food item almost exclusively. We kept coming across it on reviews and videos. It even won an award, and it did not disappoint. It was the best fried food combination. It preserved the essence of the original dish and got so much better with the batter and crunchy addition. Even my 2-year-old enjoyed it and took big bites of it without hesitation. A score of 10/10 on the flavor, the texture—all of it. We had a great time looking for it and it was gone so fast, but I truly enjoyed it.

Maggie Garza, lead supervisor, Food and Nutrition Services: It is a family tradition to go with my parents, brother, sister-in-law and nieces and nephews. I loved trying a couple of new things this year including the biscoff delight and stuffed chicken wing. One of the foods that we make sure to get every year (besides Fletcher’s corn dogs) is the Belgian waffle. Norman Zable was the founder of the Belgian Waffles at the State Fair in 1964. He passed away in 2020 and practiced law in Dallas for over 60 years. It was beautiful weather and great memories made with the family.


Thank you to everyone for their great stories and photo submissions!

Clinician transforms student lives at Sunset High School

Hector Soto, an alcohol and drug clinician with Mental Health Services, has always been passionate about getting to the root cause of student behaviors and helping them build resilience and take advantage of opportunities from there. 

He joined the MHS team in 2016 and has jumped into a variety of roles ever since. He started out working in elementary, middle and high schools before moving to the Youth and Family Center side and working in clinics. Now, he has taken on a new project with a mission to increase awareness and prevention around substance abuse at Sunset High School. 

“We were asked if anybody would like to volunteer for this position, and I didn’t ask any questions other than, ‘Where am I needed and when would I start?’” Soto said. “If they’re asking, it’s because that’s what the school needs. And now here I am at Sunset.”

Soto has been focusing on transforming student lives at the high school ever since. The mission is to increase awareness, expand prevention, facilitate intervention, and promote mental health awareness and recovery from substance use/abuse in teens and youths at Sunset High School, and across Dallas ISD.

“My philosophy is to get to the heart of the students,” he said. “There’s a reason why they behave that way, so it’s a matter of figuring out what type of coping skills they need. We can’t use a cookie cutter approach for every student. And even then, what worked in Tuesday’s session will not work in the next Tuesday’s session because they adapt and change.”

Soto’s role requires him to maintain focus and respond to needs quickly to keep students safe. But he said another key facet of successfully supporting students is being friendly and building strong connections. Not only does this allow him to build trust, but it also enables him to de-escalate stressful situations. 

“Let’s say a student walks in and they are angry, and I walk in and I say, ‘What did you do?’ It’s a missed opportunity,” Soto said. “But if a student walks in and they are angry, and I walk in smiling, they want to know what I am smiling at. And then I ask, ‘You wanna hear a joke?’ They are bad jokes, but they help.” 

All of Soto’s work revolves around supporting students and giving them what they need to succeed. He said the transition into his new role at Sunset has been a “walk in the park” thanks to the MHS and Sunset leadership team.

“We’ve been all in on this,” Soto said. “I can say that from the top all the way to where we are, whatever anxieties I had stepping into this role have been alleviated because of our leadership. We love these students, and we want to support them in every way we can.”

Get ready to Discover 

Join Dallas ISD for the largest opportunity fair in the city—Discover Dallas ISD—from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 4, at W.H. Adamson High School. Families will have an opportunity to explore school offerings, preview all choice and application-based schools, and receive support submitting applications on-site. 

The district is committed to offering students a program that best fits their unique interests, needs and aspirations. The academic options offered are as diverse as the learners themselves and often equal or surpass what is offered at top private schools in the area. 

The Communication Services Department has created a digital toolkit to help schools promote the event within their communities. The toolkit includes graphics and video to be shared on social media, along with traditional collateral that can be printed and shared. The toolkit also includes messaging that can be used for campus-wide newsletters, social media, school messenger, and other school communications. Please access the Discover Dallas ISD Toolkit here: Discover Dallas ISD Toolkit

From innovation at its best to exceptional academics, engaging extracurricular and after-school opportunities, and safe learning environments, the district has a school or program for every child. Options include such programs as Montessori, International Baccalaureate, Talented and Gifted, Single Gender, Dual Language, STEM/STEAM, Visual and Performing Arts, P-TECH/Early College High Schools, Career Institutes, Collegiate Academies and much more.

Families interested in learning more about the application-based schools and how these choice programs can advance their students’ education can participate in informative presentations during the Discover Dallas ISD event. After exploring options and selecting their preferred school, families can complete applications and receive assistance on-site during the event. For more information visit

Sharing your stories

Dallas ISD is giving the boot to breast cancer during October—Breast Cancer Awareness Month— by sharing information and stories of survivors and caregivers. Team members from across the district shared their stories and advice about survival and caring for loved ones with breast cancer. 

If you are a breast cancer survivor or someone who has supported a survivor, we want to hear your story and share it with others throughout the month of October. If you want to share, please, fill out this form. Download the flier with tips and information about breast cancer.

Show your support for giving breast cancer the boot by participating in the district’s Pink Out Days—Thursday, Oct. 19, and Friday, Oct. 20—to bring additional awareness to the need for regular check ups, mammograms and other prevention tips. Employees who wear pink on these days will be able to wear jeans on one of the days. 

Dallas ISD team members share their stories
(We will continue to share stories in the coming weeks as they are received.)

Jamesia Dykes
J.L. Long Middle School

I was diagnosed with breast cancer in March 2022. Through a year-long battle of chemo, radiation, and surgery, I continued to teach and attend grad school. I am now CANCER FREE by the grace of God but the fight continues. 

What advice would you give others? Stay positive, have hope, and keep fighting.

Sheryl Thompson

Prior to the November 2019 break, my younger sister called our mother to say, “My cancer is back.” My mother and I drove to Houston to find that my sister had been in the hospital eight days, and her cancer stage was advanced to the point that it would eventually shut down all of her organs. I spent 58 days in Houston caring for my sister and my 16-year-old niece. Every day was interesting, as she was a character, finding bits of humor in common things and reminiscing about past events in our childhood. She told me she loved me every day that she could, and I told her that I loved her, too. My only sibling began to fade away on Dec. 29, and she took her final peaceful breath on Dec. 30 with our mother.

What advice would you give others? As a former caregiver to a breast cancer patient, surround yourself with pictures, words and memories that are encouraging for both caregiver and patient.

Priscilla Jimenez
Edward Titche Elementary School

I am a Breast Cancer Survivor since 2016

What advice would you give others? To always get your mammogram check-up.

Katie Moser
J.L. Long Middle School

My Mom, Martha Moser, has had breast cancer since the beginning of 2020. She is an art teacher at Maria Moreno STEAM Academy and is fighting the good fight. She is a strong and determined woman who has continued to teach through COVID and while going through chemo. We pray that one day she can say she is cancer free, but until then, we are just thankful she is still with us. We love her and are so proud of her.

What advice would you give others? Never give up and lean on the support of your family and friends. We are here to support you. We are a family!

Jami Utrera
Dual Language/ ESL Department

I had pain and a tiny lump and thought it was nothing. Most research says that breast cancer lumps are not painful. I put off going to the doctor until I broke a toe in October of 2020 during COVID. By this time, the cancer had spread to surrounding tissue, which meant more treatments, surgery, chemo, radiation and various treatments for another 10 years.

What advice would you give others? Get your mammograms on time, do self-checks and follow up with your doctor immediately if you notice any changes in your body.

Gema de Jesus Ramirez Gonzalez
Adelfa Botello Callejo Elementary School

 My mother is a breast cancer survivor. She was diagnosed with cancer the year my only son was born. She was supposed to travel to take care of me after the delivery, but instead, she needed to go through chemo and the surgery that saved her life. She is still with us 27 years later,.

What advice would you give others? The importance of having a breast cancer screening at least once a year, especially if there’s a history of cancer in the family. Time is of the essence.



Bus driver acts fast to save student’s life

During the 17 years that Raquel Radford Baker has worked for Dallas ISD’s Transportation Services, student safety has been her first priority, but she never imagined she would be in a position to actively save a student’s life while on a route.

At about 7:30 a.m. on Friday, Sept. 29, at Seagoville North Elementary School, she noticed a 7-year-old student staggering toward her in the bus. She first thought he might be sick because he appeared to be trying to throw up, Radford Baker said. As he got closer, she heard him mention something about a penny, and she immediately knew something was keeping him from breathing. She picked him up and stepped off the bus.

“I said God help me, because I have to save this baby’s life,” Radford Baker said. As she was running with the student toward the school, she was performing the Heimlich maneuver, a first-aid measure commonly used to dislodge an object that may be obstructing a person’s windpipe. 

To Radford Baker, the mission was to try to get whatever was stuck in the student’s throat out. When she made it to the sidewalk at the school, she asked a parent who was sitting on a bench to call 911. 

As the parent was on the phone with the 911 operator, Radford Baker continued performing the Heimlich maneuver. She remembers telling the child “Breathe, baby, breathe. Miss Rocky got you,” as she pushed. During this process, a quarter that had been lodged in the student’s throat landed on the floor. 

Radford Baker said the student then stepped to the side and said “Miss Rocky, I’m okay.” 

It was a powerful moment of relief for her, to realize she had just saved a student’s life. 

“I asked him if he was okay and he said, ‘Yes, I can breathe.’ And I immediately just hugged him tight,” Radford Baker said. 

Radford Baker asked the student to please never play by putting money in his mouth again. 

“At that moment, I told God, thank you for giving me the courage and the wisdom and the knowledge to save this baby’s life,” she said.

After the student was breathing again, Radford Baker spoke to the school nurse who made a report of what had happened. The child’s grandparents even met up with Radford Baker that day to thank her personally for saving their grandchild’s life. While she assured them that she was just there to do their job, she is aware of the impact her actions had on the child and his family. 

Radford Baker said when faced with the situation, two of the district’s culture tenets— Focused and Fast—kicked in, allowing her to react quickly and effectively.

Another skill she got through Dallas ISD that helped her save the 7-year-old student was CPR and first aid training she has received, she said. She was thankful that she still remembered it and was able to use those skills to help save the student. 

Because the skills were critical to saving the child, Radford Baker thinks CPR training would be useful for other bus drivers to have and would love to see it be part of the professional development they receive during the year.  

The events of that day remain fresh on her mind and she is thankful to have made a difference and to be able to see the students’ smiling faces every day, she said. “I always say ‘good morning, how is your day going?’ I just love to see these kids smile and make sure they get to school safely and get picked up from school and transported home in a safe manner to their parents,” said Radford Baker. “One thing I love about transporting students is that I am transporting future  NFL players, NBA players, future doctors, nurses, attorneys, lawyers, law enforcement etc. They are the most precious gift ever to me, and I am grateful and feel privileged to transport such precious cargo.”