Dallas ISD is hosting inaugural pre-K conference 

Hundreds of Dallas ISD pre-K teachers will be attending the district’s inaugural conference—“It’s a Pre-K World.” 

The day-long conference—”In the wonderful world of pre-K, anything is possible”—will be held from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 24, at Thomas Jefferson High School. The conference is designed to develop, celebrate and appreciate the hard work and dedication of the district’s pre-K teachers. 

The conference will offer high quality professional development sessions and recognize and honor the invaluable contributions of pre-K teachers.

“The conference aims to inspire our pre-K teachers and remind them that we set the foundation for inquiry, fostering curiosity and a love of learning in all students,” said Jessica Adam, pre-K instructional strategy coordinator of Early Learning. “Not only do we improve student achievement outcomes, we inspire the next generation of leaders to become who they were destined to be.” 

Professional development sessions at the conference include:

  • Understanding Basic Brain Functions and Social Emotional Connection
  • Estrategias para pasar del control a la conexión en el aula de clases
  • Utilizing Fine Motor Activities to Build the “Write” Foundation
  • Reimagining the Classroom: Transforming Waste into Educational Wonder with Upcycling

In addition to the opportunity to connect with fellow pre-K teachers and gain new knowledge and tools, attendees will have an opportunity to earn five hours of professional development credit for attending the full day. Ali Oliver, an early childhood education and conscious discipline expert, will be the keynote speaker.

Spots are limited. More information is located in Curriculum Central on the pre-K conference page. To register, visit Cornerstone at https://dallasisd.csod.com.

Get ready for a little extra cash

Eligible Dallas ISD team members are seeing a little extra in their December paychecks thanks to the $67 million in Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds that the district has allocated for retention incentives for the 2023-2024 school year. The incentive is to recognize service and encourage the retention of highly qualified Dallas ISD team members. 

Eligible team members who are part of an excellence initiative—teachers, assistant principals, principals, and school leadership executive directors—received differentiated amounts depending on their level.

Eligible team members who are not part of an excellence initiative—including but not limited to teacher assistants, bus drivers, Food and Child Nutrition Services employees, custodians, counselors, and those in central administration—received $1,000 as part of their second installment of the incentive. Employees who are paid biweekly saw the incentive reflected in their Dec. 8 paychecks. Exempt employees will see it in their Dec. 15 paycheck.  

Eligible employees who as of Sept. 1, 2023, had completed at least five years of service in the district will see an additional $1,000 in December. This amount will be listed separately from the incentive in their statements of earnings.

The final installment of the retention incentive will be paid out in May.

Music technology grant expands opportunities for students at Seagoville High School

Walking into Rodney Dittmar’s Modern Band classroom at Seagoville High School, you will find his students fully engaged in their work—discovering and honing their musical talents as composers, songwriters, sound engineers, musicians—and developing all types of skills that will prepare them to find their voices as artists.

In fact, they are the only school in the district, and only one of three in the nation to receive the Hometown to Hometown grant, which provided $45,000 worth of instruments and training through the Save the Music Foundation. Dittmar, who is the Fine Arts Department chair for the school, applied for the grant that has taken his music program to the next level. For example, where previously they had only one music production workstation, now, they have 16, thanks to this grant. Matt Edwards, director of choral, elementary, and general music for the district, brought Dittmar this opportunity.

According to its website, the Save the Music Foundation partners with schools across the country that show an immediate need for support and resources with a focus on increasing equity and access to music education for all students. One of the national advocates for this program is four-time Grammy-nominated Arlington native artist Mickey Guyton, who gave the class an autographed guitar and who made history as the first African-American female solo artist to earn a Grammy nomination in a country category. 

There are currently about 180 students in the modern band classes at Seagoville High School, including beginning sections taught by Major Goldman. Dittmar said when you think of a modern band, you think of instruments you would find in a rock band, such as guitar, bass, drums, keyboard, vocals, technology, and so on. He is also working on creating a soundbooth in his room in addition to the existing practice rooms. 

When Dittmar—who is also a district ambassador for Music Will, formerly known as Little Kids Rock—started the modern band over 24 years ago, he never imagined his program being where it is today.  

“Being able to record on a computer like this, didn’t exist,” he said. “The fact that 16 students can sit down in a workstation in a classroom and record, is amazing to me, beyond what I ever dreamed of.”

Although he and his students had been doing music production on what he describes as a  small scale, the grant has given them newer and better software and technology, including new iPads, headphones, and controllers that the students use on a daily basis. 

“That’s the ultimate end game right now, to have fun and to learn how to record and produce music,” Dittmar said. 

Not only do students get to learn to play instruments, they also learn songwriting, producing, mixing and other things in the music production class. In addition to the grant, Dittmar and his students will receive 90 hours of master class training from Mike Bogle, a Grammy-award winning artist who is a professor of commercial music at Cedar Valley College.  

Dittmar first started building the modern band program in 2000 as a guitar class at Seagoville Middle School. His program grew, and in 2008, he took the modern band program—the first in the district—to Seagoville High School. He describes the program as student-centered as students go beyond rock band genres. Dr. Linda Buckner now teaches the Seagoville Middle School classes.

In fact, Dittmar credits his students for introducing him to norteño music. He says that not everything has to be rock and roll and blues and likes it when his students bring new things to the table, which he is happy to learn about.  Some of his students are more focused on piano–and he’s able to work that in as well. 

You might recognize Dittmar’s students’ music, as it was his students who recorded “GTT,” a song that welcomed students back to school at the beginning of the year. “GTT” fused the genres of norteño, banda, and hip hop and featured Young Men’s Leadership Academy Principal Tito Salas, along with other Dallas ISD principals—including Seagoville High School Principal Janie Carballo—and students. You can catch Dittmar and his students playing guitar at the beginning of the music video. To watch the video click here

Through the grant and the collaboration with Cedar Valley College, Dittmar hopes that this will give his students more options should they decide to continue studying music. “I want my students to know that there are real degrees that will get them in the workplace and ensure that they can have a successful career,” Dittmar said.

Seeing his students become professionals in the music industry is not something new to Dittmar. He has seen former students record albums and some of his current students are in working bands. 

“The biggest takeaway from this is that I want them to enjoy music–if nothing else– and take what they learn with them,” he said. “I want them to be proud of their work and say ‘I recorded this or I can put this on Spotify or another platform’– and take pride knowing that this is their work. That is one of my favorite things about doing this.”

Art teacher builds community through mosaic mural

Walking through the hallways at Sylvia Mendez CREW Leadership Academy, you will find a colorful student-made mural mosaic with the message of “Four Houses, one CREW,” which students in Mary Vongvivitpatana’s art classes take pride in.

Inspired by the Ron Clark System, Sylvia Mendez is one of the Dallas ISD schools that has the house system in place. 

Vongvivitpatana says the mosaic mural project, which took several weeks, inspired unity and built a sense of community for the students. The mosaic, composed of tiny squares that were shrunk to about an inch, is what the students worked on to create the 60-inch by 30-inch mural.

“Students learned that they had a little part in something that made a big difference,” said Vongvivitpatana.“ 

While it was Vonvivitpatana that constructed the mural because of the use of  hot glue, the students saw each house in the mural come to life little by little and also observed how each one of the squares they created became a part of the big scheme of things.

Students in grades second through fifth worked on the mural. 

American artist and animator Mary Blair, who worked extensively for Disney in the 1940s and 1950s inspired the mural. Blair, considered one of the pioneers of women working in animation, worked in films like Alice in Wonderland. The artist is known for using lots of patterns and geometric shapes in her art.  

Drawing on her artwork as inspiration behind their mosaic tiles, every student made a square on plastic Shrinky Dink paper and chose one of Blair’s designs for the mosaic square they created.

A discovery that came about during the process is the realization that Vongvivitpatana needed something to fill in some space in the mural. She had found some mirror sticky tiles, the kind you would find on a disco ball, and she started putting them in the mosaic. She realized that once she started putting them in, the students started connecting with the art. 

“So I thought the kids needed to see themselves in the art. It was a happy accident,” Vongvivitpatana said. “It wasn’t intentional at first and it had even deeper meaning that the kids could see themselves in the houses.”

Vongvivitpatana also says that these kinds of projects not only instill pride and self-esteem in her students, but also contribute to student success. She says that some students might be struggling in the classroom, but discover their talents in art or may try something that they didn’t know they could be successful in–and it’s that sense of accomplishment that makes them so happy. 

One of the biggest takeaways from this process, according to Vongvivitpatana, is that students are extremely motivated by the work they created.

 “One student said he was going to ask his dad to visit the school so he could take a picture in front of his house,” Vongvivitpatana said. “The fact that the students were able to connect with the art and learn that art can be a way of communicating among themselves and their community was absolutely wonderful.”  

Creating a sense of community through cheer

The Student Activities Department has been bringing vertical teams together by providing Dallas ISD cheer teams with buses so that they can participate in Feeder Pattern Nights, first during football season and now for basketball games. So far this semester, more than 50 elementary and 13 middle school cheer teams and nearly all high school cheer squads have participated in the districtwide initiative.

The Feeder Pattern Night initiative gives elementary and middle school cheer squads a chance to cheer alongside their feeder pattern high school cheer teams right at the center of an action-packed football and basketball games, which creates a sense of community for Dallas ISD students and their families.

This sense of community is deeply impactful to the student body, said Sydney Lee, cheer coach for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Arts Academy.

“Starting with camp and now Feeder Pattern Night, this is the most fun my cheerleaders have had in the past six years,” Lee said. “The cheerleaders are learning a lot and having experiences that will last a lifetime. As for myself, I have gained a lot from this experience so far. I have built relationships with different individuals that will help not only my cheerleaders but my entire campus as well.”

Lee’s cheerleaders, along with those from Dade Middle School, Solar Prep for Girls, and Dunbar Elementary School participated in the Madison High School Feeder Pattern Night.

Sharla Hudspeth, executive director for Extracurricular and Extended Learning Opportunities said that sporting events have been an avenue for the community to show support for Dallas ISD school children, and Feeder Pattern Nights adds to that tradition.

“Feeder Pattern Nights are wonderful opportunities to bring our community of schools together which creates a fun and exciting experience not only for the cheerleaders and athletes but for their families and friends too,” she said.

Moisés E. Molina High School’s cheer coach, Damien Robichaux, is happy to have elementary and middle school cheerleaders on the sidelines with his team. He said “exposure and authentic experiences” are important to build a solid foundation for high school cheer programs.

“Participation in Feeder Pattern Night is not only positive for young cheerleaders, but it also increases the crowd capacity and adds to the level of excitement in the stadium,” Robichaux said. “It gives those who would never go to a football game a chance to see their daughter or son in a new light, and it helps bring that positive community feeling back to the stands.”

The same is true for cheerleaders who participated in Feeder Pattern Night. The Martin Luther King Jr Academy cheerleaders were extremely grateful for the opportunity.

“This was my first time being inside a stadium, and I cannot believe I was able to cheer in front of so many people!” said Heaven Minnieweather, a sixth grader at MLK.

The experience even motivated cheerleader Robyn Guster to think about her performance in her classes. 

“I am going to work really hard in class to keep my grades up so I can cheer next time too,”said the MLK sixth grader. 


Get the discounts

The Human Capital Management Benefits Department is excited to announce the launch of the Dallas ISD Employee Discount Program. This program will provide Dallas ISD employees access to a wide variety of products and services from local and national retailers at a discounted rate. 

Currently, there are 360 discounts available to district team members. The HCM Benefits Department will continually update and add new discounts. Discount categories include the following: 

  • Auto
  • Beauty
  • Dining
  • Cultural arts
  • MWBE
  • Entertainment
  • Pet
  • Health & Wellness
  • Technology Services
  • Educational Resources
  • Home
  • Retail
  • Travel
  • Additional discounts gifts

The discount inventory is available on the HCM Benefits Department’s website at www.dallasisd.org/benefits by clicking on Employee Discount Program. The webpage is user-friendly and interactive for Dallas ISD employees. For additional questions, contact the HCM Benefits Department at 972-925-4300 or email EmployeeDiscounts@dallasisd.org.

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 Bob Adams.

Adams, a Master Teacher at Rufus C. Burleson Elementary School first came to Dallas ISD in 2007 after spending six years teaching at an international school in China. Originally from Marlin, Texas, a small town near Waco, Adams said his plan was always to teach at Dallas ISD. 

Out of the 28 years in education,17 of those have been at Dallas ISD, not counting the three years in the U.S. Peace Corps working with school groups in Honduras and Chile.

What drew you to education?

I have a degree in Accounting from The University of Texas in Austin. After working as an accountant several years, I found it to be an unsatisfying career. To make a change, I joined the U.S. Peace Corps. During my service, I learned Spanish and worked with school groups, which led me naturally to a career in education. Upon returning to the United States, I completed Alternative Certification with Region 10 and completed a Masters of Bilingual Education at Southern Methodist University

How are you creating opportunities for students?

I create opportunities for my students by showing up 100% for them every day. I want them to see me as a role model as to how a person should approach their career. I hope to inspire them to realize all the opportunities that are available and make the right choices to reach their potential and their dreams.

What is your best teaching tip?

Give your best effort and be proud of yourself. Teachers tend to be hard on themselves!

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

That I was originally an accountant and worked in a bank.

What inspires you the most about being an educator?

The idea that as educators we are doing something to benefit the world and society. We have a great responsibility and privilege to teach our students to be kind and ethical towards others and towards nature.

District scores highest rating in independent audit for the fourth straight year

For the fourth consecutive year, Dallas ISD has received a clean audit on its annual comprehensive financial report, meaning that the district’s independent auditor issued an “unmodified” or clean opinion and found no material weaknesses, no significant deficiencies and no compliance shortcomings in financial statements and federal programs.

The unmodified opinion, issued by independent auditor Weaver and Tidwell, L.L.P., is the highest that an independent auditor can issue regarding a set of financial statements or federal programs. The district has achieved this result annually from Fiscal Year 2019 through Fiscal Year 2023.

“This is an excellent result for the district,” said Chief Financial Officer Tamika Alford-Stephens. “It indicates to stakeholders that they can rely on the district’s financial reporting and be assured that the district has strong internal controls and is a good steward of public funds.”

The audit is done each year to comply with state law. Dallas ISD prepares a comprehensive annual financial report and has its fiscal accounts, the report, and its federal programs audited by the independent auditor. The auditor issues opinions on the report and the district’s federal programs for the benefit of stakeholders such as the Board of Trustees, the public, bondholders, and state and federal agencies that need assurance that the district’s financial reporting is accurate and reliable and that it has complied with federal program requirements.

Board Update

During its regularly scheduled monthly briefing starting at 11:30 a.m. on Thursday, Dec. 7, the Board of Trustees will hear a report of the district’s Environmental Education Center, which is  a 500-acre academic facility located in Seagoville.

The center provides professional development for teachers as well as field trips for students and events for families through its nature trails, 26,000-sq. ft. facility with interactive exhibits, 70-seat ecology theater, four science laboratories, live animals laboratory, working barn with a variety of livestock, and astronomical observatory. More than 30,000 students and families were served in through EEC programs and services during the 2022-2023 school year. 

The board will also consider the renaming of Kennedy-Curry Middle School as well as taking possible action on authorizing, negotiating and entering into agreements with a recommended pool of vendors for psychiatric services for students districtwide. 

The demand for mental health services has risen over the years, which has created a need for additional psychiatry services. The addition of the 13th Youth & Family Center in the Southern sector of Dallas will generate an increase in psychiatric care. The need for mental health services more than doubled in the 2022-2023 school year leading to an increase in psychiatry services for Dallas ISD students.

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 Chantrelle Lovett-Andrews.

Chantrelle Lovett-Andrews, a designated Master Teacher at Umphrey Lee Elementary, was born and raised in Fort Worth. She ended up working for Dallas ISD after attending a job fair in July 2002 where she was hired on the spot by Principal Rachel George at Julia C. Frazier Elementary School.

She is now in her 22nd year at Dallas ISD with a total of 27 years in education and said she credits her educational journey to her mother.  

What drew you to education? 

My mother will tell you that I have been a teacher since I was a toddler. During childhood, my pretend play was teaching my two younger brothers everything I knew even if it wasn’t right. She and my dad still give me a daily “I told you so” reminder that they knew I was going to be a teacher when I grew up. I never thought of being an educator. My mind was set on becoming a juvenile probation officer so I could be a changemaker. While pursuing my bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, my mother always suggested that I take education courses as my electives, but I didn’t listen. Everyone deserves a second chance, and I wanted to be an avenue to help guide children back on the right path so they could have a brighter future. 

But, of course, what you plan for your life is not always God’s plan. Due to a hiring freeze after graduation, I was unable to begin my journey. My mom suggested that I apply to become a substitute teacher. I took her advice and became a substitute teacher. That was 29 years ago. I worked as a permanent substitute in Fort Worth ISD for two years before starting my lifelong career as an educator. I guess the saying is true: mother always knows best!

How are you creating opportunities for students?

I believe all children can learn no matter what label has been placed upon them by physicians, parents, evaluations, or assessments. What good is it for you to believe children can learn if you don’t teach them like they can? If you teach every child everything and expect them to learn it, then they will achieve it. I am a professional educator who believes that we need to further our children’s educational abilities to be successful, opportunities for academic excellence exist, and student achievement is based on accomplishment and productivity.

What is your best teaching tip? 

Don’t talk, act. Don’t say, show. Don’t promise, prove. Every move you make, do it from the heart and for the kids with passion! While at the district’s CILT training this summer, our illustrious associate superintendent for Region IV, Tanya Shelton, told us, “Your path is harder because your calling is higher!” That statement will forever be etched in my brain.

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

I was a troop leader for the Boy Scouts of America.

What inspires you the most about being an educator?  

Being an Early Childhood Special Education (ECSE) teacher motivates me to go the extra mile to ensure our students with disabilities receive as rigorous an educational experience as their peers. Children appreciate you more when they know you genuinely care about them and want to see them be successful. It makes me proud when a parent of a previous student contacts me to thank me for everything I did for their child and gives me credit for the extraordinary gains he/she is continuing to make years after leaving my classroom. It confirms that I am impacting lives and making a difference. My calling is to instill a positive change in the lives of our children so that they will become productive citizens.