Mother-son team up to bring international exchange program to their schools 

Students at Lakewood Elementary School and Henry B. Gonzalez Personalized Learning Academy have expanded their communication skills in Spanish as well as their cultural knowledge, thanks to a collaboration between the schools through an international exchange program through the University of Barcelona. 

Gloria Prieto Puentes, a bilingual teacher at Lakewood Elementary, and her son, Sergi Calavia, an art teacher at Henry B Gonzalez, have brought this international exchange program into their classrooms the last two years. 

Prieto Puentes, who is originally from Barcelona and graduated from the university, first heard about the program from one of her colleagues, who shared that the director of elementary schools in Barcelona had started an international exchange program.

After she expressed interest, the university contacted her, and they connected her with the school her students would be collaborating with—the Escola Serraparera, located in Cerdanyola del Vallès. 

“The main idea of the program is for students to have communication with students from around the world, as well as do something artistic together,” Prieto Puentes said.  

The international exchange between the schools is a year-long program that allows students to work together from October to May. They research and discuss material, as well as create their own art projects together. 

The year before last, Prieto Puentes’ students learned about surrealism. This past school year, the students learned about women sculptors because Prieto Puentes and the teacher from Escola Serraparera wanted to highlight women in this art form who don’t always get recognition. 

Calavia’s classroom collaborated with Institut Escola Pepa Colomer, which is in a small town outside of Barcelona, as well as Pla De L’Avellà, which is in Cabrera de Mar. 

Calavia’s students also worked on projects centered around art. During the first year of the program, his students took surrealist photos and created a collage. This past school year, students assigned character archetypes to planets in the solar system and created dialogue between them.

According to Prieto Puentes, the interaction is mainly written, using platforms such as Google Jamboard and Google Docs, however, the classrooms get to see each other at least six times during the school year. 

“My favorite part was seeing how the other schools approached their project parallel to ours,” Calavia said.  “My students were very keen to find out what part of the project they were on, and how they got there. They were proud to show off their creations virtually.” 

“It’s a very nice way for the students to increase their Spanish as well as expand their artistic perspectives,” said Prieto Puentes. She feels both classrooms, here and in Spain, benefit from this cultural exchange in numerous ways, and the program has been well received by the parents at Lakewood and Gonzalez.

Last month, she traveled to Barcelona and met the students and the teacher who participated in the program. Both Prieto Puentes and Calavia plan to continue with this program this upcoming school year, as they see the value and importance of this work. 

“I think the biggest takeaway for my students was them seeing that there are kids in another part of the world that aren’t so different from them,” said Calavia.

“In their pen pal exchange, the misconceptions they had about Spain resulted in some humorous and eye-opening moments. I look forward to exploring more ways to bridge ideas between our school, Henry B. Gonzalez, and other international schools,” he added.

For more information on the international exchange program, or if you’re interested in bringing this program to your school, contact Prieto Puentes at

Get ready to get texts

Sending text alerts for emergencies, important events, and information is a critical part of the district’s communications strategy to keep Dallas ISD team members informed and up to date on weather closures, districtwide deadlines, news and more. For this to happen, team members’ main contact cell phone numbers must be in the correct field in Oracle, and they must opt-in using the number they provided to receive text messages from the district.  

There are two steps to follow to receive text messages:

  1. Go to Oracle and enter your  main contact cell phone number in the Home field in Oracle where they update their contact information.
  2. Using the cell phone whose number you provided, opt-in by texting Yes to the 67587 short code number.

Flyers with instructions have been distributed to all departments and campuses. If you have any questions about text messaging or need additional information, please, send an email to

Special Services puts students first

Courtney Cummings and Brenda Chatmon always strive to put students first in their work with Special Services. 

Chatmon, a campus support supervisor, oversees a small team that serves as the main point of contact for Region 4 campuses, administrators, and executive directors. Their focus is providing advocacy, equitable accommodations, and individualized learning support to students. 

Cummings, a project manager for critical cases, steps in when a concern requires legal intervention, serving as a liaison and encouraging conflict resolution. 

The work can be challenging, as every student may have different needs that span across several departments, including Early Learning and the Homeless Education Program, but Cummings and Chatmon said it is always worthwhile. 

“The beauty of our system is that it’s built for collaboration,” Cummings said. “It’s built for interaction. It’s built for the review of data. It’s built for truly understanding the whole child and creating a plan that supports the whole child. The best compliment is when parents give our department feedback, saying, ‘I really trust working with you. I want to be a part of Dallas ISD.’”

Being focused, fast, flexible, and friendly is crucial in both their positions as they collaborate with stakeholders, team members, and families to put students first in every interaction. 

“Equity is at the core of our customer service and providing good customer service is not an anomaly,” Chatmon said. “Giving our best efforts to ensure we meet the needs of each individual student who crosses our path is essential. Sometimes that means extending ourselves or reaching out to collaborate with others to provide the stakeholder with the support needed. Providing this level of customer service comes naturally for us.”

“It’s really about creating an experience that is human centered,” Cummings agreed. “We’re leading with empathy and listening to understand, because that gives us the opportunity to tap into the true concern and more effectively resolve the issue.” 

Their commitment to striving for the yes and transforming student lives during a recent case impressed Shanieka Christmas-McDonald, the principal at H.I. Holland Elementary School at Lisbon. 

“Ms. Cummings and Ms. Chatmon both provide exemplary Core 4 customer service with SPED concerns,” Christmas-McDonald said. “Both are always positive, willing to help, and follow up on each individual situation.”

Both Chatmon and Cummings said their work with Special Services is a “pleasure.” 

“It’s a labor of love,” Cummings said. “Students under the umbrella of special education simply need additional support and services as outlined in their individualized education plan, and that’s what makes the work we do such a joy. There is nothing like being able to ensure that a student can succeed.”

“As a person who attended Dallas ISD schools from kindergarten to 12th grade, it is heartwarming to have this opportunity to support and serve our students,” Chatmon added. “Knowing the impact of our work on students and their families gives a sense of gratification and is very humbling.”

Penalty-free resignation deadline

As previously communicated in the May 11, 2023 WAIP and in the May 25, 2023, issue of The Beat, chapter 21 contract employees, including teachers, were required to resign from their contract no later than 45 days before the first day of instruction for the following school year. The penalty-free resignation date for teachers was June 30, 2023.   

The penalty free resignation deadline will be enforced for 2023-2024 school year for Dallas ISD employees and the district will not release contract employees/teachers from their contract who resign after the penalty free deadline has passed and shall seek a written complaint with SBEC to impose sanctions against teachers/employees that fail to timely resign. 

To avoid SBEC sanctions, teachers and other chapter 21 contract employees will need to remain employed with the district until the district fills their position with a suitable replacement.   

Any impacted employee will need to notify their principal that they are requesting to be released from their contract pending Dallas ISD finding a suitable replacement. Teachers will need to provide the reason for the request to be released in writing to their principal for consideration. This request should include any extenuating circumstances. Resignations received after the deadline must be approved by the principal and executive director. Only once a suitable replacement is found by the principal will the teacher be released to another district.  

If you have any questions about this information, please contact the HCM Contracts team at 

Meet Teacher of the Year finalist Nancy Salas

Nancy Salas, a Dallas ISD alumna, is a seventh- and eighth-grade Career and Technology teacher and yearbook advisor at Henry W. Longfellow Career Exploration Academy. 

After graduating from The University of Texas at Arlington with a bachelor’s degree in mass communications, Salas began her education career as a substitute teacher. It was during that experience that she found her true calling and decided to devote her life to teaching. 

Six years later, Salas continues to pursue her mission of helping students succeed in the classroom. She is dedicated to building strong partnerships to help her students and their families achieve their dreams, just as her teachers did for her.

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

Some advice that I wish I would have known starting off as a new teacher would be to enjoy your weekends. I know a lot of teachers out there are passionate about what we do, and want to enhance their lessons, or grade all assignments in one day, and respond to every email in our inbox… but take time to relax and enjoy your personal time with your loved ones. The classroom and the workload will always be waiting for you. And it’s possible. I know it’s taken me six years, but I’ve learned to manage.  

What is your best tip for classroom management?  

One of my best tips for classroom management is to have a seating chart. It’s a simple and easy way to help maintain an orderly/organized class structure. And after you build your relationships with your students/classes maybe you can reward them with special seating arrangements towards the end of the school year. Try it. Students feel like they have a voice, as they should. 

How do you build strong connections with students?  

The way I build strong connections with my students is by treating them with respect and making them feel valued. Each student has a different way of thinking and a unique personality. I try to build my relationships by making a connection with them, whether that be talking about sports, fashion, or music. I truly strive to support them and their families in any way that I can, and also just have empathy for them. 

What are your hopes for your students in the future?  

My hope for my students is that they are able to follow their dreams and accomplish their future goals and that they are strong willed to overcome any negativity that their path may bring. I hope they know that Ms. Salas will always wish the best for them. 

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

If I were not a teacher, I would be a host for an entertainment television program. I always dreamed of being a TV host; in fact, I was pursuing this career, and had already landed a few positions out of Dallas, but my calling for teaching was stronger. 

Since we’re on this topic, a random fact about me is that in my senior year at Skyline High School, I was a host for Dallas ISD’s Zona Escolar de Dallas. This program was hosted by other 11th to 12th graders in the district, and we were able to highlight the many great things that were going on in Dallas ISD.  

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

I believe that my teaching superpower is building healthy and supportive relationships with my students. Sometimes, they just need a space to sit in before class begins, or especially during lunch. I just hope that all of my students and even their friends/family whom I have not taught before know that I am here to help however I can. 

Substitute teaching is a rewarding experience

Last school year, I had the honor of being called to work in the classroom on two occasions. It was part of the program that asked central team members to offer support to campuses.

I don’t have the honor to call myself a teacher. I’m a central staff team member who works in the Communications Department, and one thing of which I am certain now is that teachers are superheroes. After substituting in Debora Castro Torres’ kindergarten classroom at Stevens Park Elementary School, I realized that she and her students are superstars. 

In fact, I told Israel, one of her students, that he was a superstar after he was the first to finish his work, which he did without errors. 

He carried those words with him all day. 

“Miss Arroz, I’m a superstar,” he said, to which I replied, “Yes, you are,” trying to hold back tears of joy. It only goes to show that words are meaningful, and if used wisely, can make a significant impact.

By the way, I gave the students permission to call me Ms. Arroz, the Spanish translation for Rice, my surname.

When I first heard that I was going to substitute for a kindergarten teacher, my heart sank a little because I was scared. I have a first grader at home who is full of energy. I imagined a classroom full of children like him. Was I ready?

I went through a range of emotions—from happiness to fear and anxiety—but mainly I felt hope that it would be a day of learning and discovery; mostly for me.

I was right. I needed to have this experience in the classroom, probably more than the students needed me to be there.

When I arrived at the school, I sat in my car and prayed I would do a good job because I was determined to succeed in this assignment. I took a deep breath and walked in. 

That day, I got a firsthand look at how much of the emotional, physical and intellectual labor it takes to run a classroom. I think everyone in Dallas ISD is important and plays a vital role, but teachers and paraprofessionals—you all are special. What would society do without you? Crumble and fall, surely. What a gift you are to the world. What do you give someone who has changed your life forever by giving you the gift of reading, math, science and art?

I’m a Dallas ISD team member, but I’m also a parent who has a child who attends a school in the district. Educators give parents and families peace of mind knowing that there’s a person out there who cares deeply about your child and is going to do everything possible to ensure that your child learns, eats a healthy meal, plays and is safe. They take care of the social and emotional needs of children throughout the day. For that, and more, I’m deeply grateful. 

I might not have known just how much teachers should be appreciated every day had it not been for this experience as a substitute. Here was a classroom full of smart young minds who clearly adored their teacher and loved to learn because this is the culture that Castro Torres has cultivated. 

The kids were brilliant. They knew what to do by heart. They pulled out their tablets, pencils, got up to recite sounds and vocabulary, danced to songs about learning, and everything that the lessons called for. I simply had to follow the lessons she graciously left on the smart board, with links and detailed instructions.

The students had mercy on me and helped me along saying, “That’s not how we do that Miss Arroz. We have to do this first” and so on. They showed me where things were kept and were patient. If this is any indication of what future leaders will be like, I’m incredibly hopeful.

There were times when they got a little excited. I remember being in school and totally taking advantage when my teachers were absent and a substitute teacher was present. I was always chatty—and on days like that, I chatted even more. 

But these kids, Castro Perez’s students, were kind, thoughtful, compassionate and showed me that their teacher was not only an incredible educator, but an incredible human being. I saw the teacher through her students. They are a reflection of the care, love, commitment and perseverance of their teacher. They are her mirror.

One of the many things that impressed me was that each table had a leader, but truly, all the kids showed leadership skills.

Even as it was time for dismissal and the families came to pick up the students at the end of the day, I felt a deep sadness. I was going to miss the students. By that time, I had learned their names and was getting to know their personalities. 

This is what teachers go through every day. What an honor to have been in this space even if only for a moment.

One of the students, Eliani, drew me a picture as a parting gift. We were talking about the weather and she drew a picture of flowers and trees in bloom. How fitting, I thought. This is what Castro Perez has created—a garden, her classroom, that is in full bloom. 

We published a story about Ms. Castro in The Beat this year. You can find it here.

This story was written by Communication Services team member Priscilla Rice.

Focusing on excellence at Sunset High School

For Edwin DuBois, assistant principal at Sunset High School, community is key when it comes to developing a thriving campus. 

When he first began his role as assistant principal in February 2022, he sent out a student survey to ask them about their attendance and what would encourage them to come to school more. After reviewing the data, DuBois started doing engaging activities like karaoke in the cafeteria to enrich the student and team member experience.

“We want students to come to school not just because they have to, but because they enjoy it,” DuBois said. “It’s not just about the books and the pens and the papers—it’s also about the social side of life.”

DuBois said the influence of these engagement efforts has been positive, helping boost Sunset’s average attendance to 88 percent during the 2022-2023 school year, with a goal of breaking 90 percent moving forward. They have also seen above average Assessment of Course Performance (ACP) and State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) scores, as well as a strong focus on advanced placement classes through the Sunset Prep program.

“We want students to know that they can really make a difference, and it starts here,” DuBois said. “We want them to get their high school diploma and to go above and beyond and think bigger. We could have the next doctor, the next lawyer, the next judge, the people who are major decision-makers. That’s my motto. We want them to come from Sunset.”

But creating that environment would not be possible without being focused, fast, flexible, and friendly every day, DuBois said. 

He makes an effort to be the first to welcome students, family members, and other stakeholders to Sunset and listens carefully to find efficient solutions to any problems that may arise while transforming student lives in the process. 

While managing the school’s English and United States history departments as well as overseeing campus safety often keeps DuBois focused at his desk, he sets regular reminders to get up and walk through the halls to greet students and team members alike with a smile.

“Corny as it may sound, the Core 4 tenets really make me who I am,” DuBois said. “Those culture tenets sum up who I am in my servanthood and who I am every day. They have really been a blessing to not only myself, but to students, to team members, and to stakeholders, and I would encourage other colleagues to be intentional about implementing them. You will see a positive change.”

Moving into the new school year, DuBois said he is honing in on professional development opportunities to strengthen his conflict management skills while always working toward “being better than I was the day before.” 

“My wife was the one who encouraged me to apply to become an educator,” DuBois said. “Other than my children and my wife, it was probably the best decision and opportunity that I’ve ever had in my life. I love going to school every day. I love our teachers, I love our administrators, and I love our students. We are a premier team.” 

Mental Health Matters: Build happy habits

When life gets tough, people can sometimes struggle to focus on the happiness and joy available around them. This is because mental health concerns, including anxiety and depression, can create a kind of tunnel vision and encourage individuals to make quick decisions based on self-preservation. 

One of the keys to counteracting these negative thoughts and feelings is to practice positive habits that promote well-being. Explore several ways to form healthy mental habits below, and make a plan to improve your well-being today.

Recognize your strengths. It is important to identify what brings you the most happiness and life satisfaction while optimizing your performance at work and in your personal goals. Ask yourself these questions: “When do I feel most engaged? What energizes me? When do I get so involved that I lose track of time?” Once you determine those areas or activities, consider how you can incorporate them into your life more often.

Prioritize laughter. Laughter has been shown to release endorphins, known as the “feel-good hormones,” that improve mood. If you are experiencing a hard season, make time for laughter. Watch your favorite comedy, find cute animal videos on YouTube, or plan a fun night with friends. 

Be present. Savoring life’s sweet moments can add great memories and rich experiences to your days. Practice staying in the moment and enjoying the small things. Close your eyes when you listen to a favorite song, eat your meals slowly, or soak in some sunshine. 

Make gratitude a daily practice. Reflecting on the things you are thankful for is a great way to boost happiness and optimism during good and challenging times alike. Schedule a few minutes each day to write down three things you are grateful for or start journaling about what brings you joy. 

Plan for success. Don’t wait to prioritize your mental health and well-being. Choose one or more of the habits above and start incorporating them into your daily routine. As you do so, practice self-reflection to identify what helps you most in increasing your happiness and decreasing your stress.

If you need additional support, Dallas ISD team members can take advantage of the Employee Assistance Program by LifeWorks. The confidential, secure platform has countless resources available online for free, including on-call counselors who are available seven days a week, 24 hours a day. 

Reach out to LifeWorks at (972) 925-4000, or visit and click on Benefits Resources to access online EAP information. 

Source: LifeWorks

Giving students more opportunities to succeed

For Alyssa Kuykendall, a math teacher at Woodrow Wilson High School, one of the highlights of the 2022-2023 school year was overseeing Saturday schools as the campus’ Attendance For Credit Program coordinator. 

“I know that sounds silly, but I just find that the students are so much more open and willing to talk and hang out there,” she said. “It allowed me to get to know who they really are as people. I am always very impressed by the things they do outside of school that I don’t always get to see, whether it’s band, soccer, or whatever else.”

Kuykendall first came to Woodrow Wilson in 2021 and quickly stepped up as the AFC coordinator. She transitioned the program to a digital system, working closely with the attendance office to create QR codes and make it easier to get information to students. 

In addition to orchestrating Saturday schools, she expanded the program’s availability by showing up before and after school to give AFC students the opportunity to catch up on any learning they might have missed and to gain a better understanding of why attendance is so important to their future success. 

Anne Marie Light, a teacher cluster lead at Woodrow Wilson, said Kuykendall’s commitment and organization have transformed their AFC program for the better. 

“This is no easy task; however, she makes it seem effortless,” Light said. “She makes sure that students know the process of petitioning absences, that students know how many hours they owe, that teachers are providing enough work, and that students are showing up and gaining their credit back. This work is essential to making sure our students graduate. We are beyond grateful to have a teacher and AFC coordinator who goes above and beyond for not only her students but all of our students.”

And Kuykendall’s wins do not stop there. She has seen several students blossom over the years, which she said has been especially meaningful as many of them do not enjoy math when they first enter her classroom. 

One student in particular has dyslexia and struggled with math, so Kuykendall worked closely with her on breaking each success criteria down into simple steps and taking every opportunity to grow. By the end of the year, the student earned “meets” on her State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) test and visited Kuykendall when school started again with a special message.

“She told me that I was really the person who changed things around for her and made her believe she could learn,” Kuykendall said. “Of course, I broke down in tears because I was so happy for her. She expressed that she now feels like she has the ability to persevere when things are hard and to know that it’s OK to not know the answer.”

Moving into a new school year, Kuykendall said she is excited to get to know a new group of students and continue making memorable moments every day. 

“I really feel like I learn more from my students than they ever learn from me,” she said. “They are so resilient and kind and thoughtful. I am in awe of them all the time for the way they carry themselves in the world and the situations they live in.”

Principal goes above and beyond to take students on more excursions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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