Surprise thank you from HEP

Some Dallas ISD students recently got a big surprise of new shoes and socks thanks to a donation from Nashville-based Soles4Souls, and several district team members who have been heroes to the Homeless Education Program got a big surprise thank you also thanks to the organization. 

Soles4Souls donated 1,500 pairs of shoes and 3,000 pairs of socks for homeless students. Thanks to their partnership with the Coach brand, the organization also brought a donation of hundreds of new Coach purses, wallets, backpacks, passport holders and other items for an appreciation event to which 500 team members were invited. 

“We were able to invite up to 500 staff members to come and “shop” at a pop-up Coach store at Frazier House for free,” Homeless Education Program Director Ashley Marshall said of the Recognizing Dallas ISD Heroes event.  “The event was to show appreciation to central and campus staff that go above and beyond to help our homeless students.”

Team members were able to choose a large item (purse, backpack, etc.) and a small item (wallet, passport holder, etc.) from tables set up for the event. Those invited to participate went the extra mile for the district’s homeless students and the program by organizing supply and clothing drives, providing services and resources and more. 

“We were super excited to be able to give back to district employees with this partnership,” Marshall said. 

The Homeless Education Program helps students who are considered homeless enroll immediately, receive transportation as appropriate, and refers them to services as needed. If you or someone you know is experiencing a homeless crisis, please call 1-888-411-6802 (Homeless Crisis Hot Line). In the event of an emergency, please call 911.

To learn more about HEP and how you can help, visit the program’s page.

Chinese language and culture enriches students’ lives at Walnut Hill 

Students at Walnut Hill International Leadership Academy are learning Mandarin Chinese, the most spoken language in the world, thanks to their teacher, Ping Song. Approximately 1.4 billion of the population speak Chinese, and Song says that learning Chinese, along with English and Spanish, will allow her students to connect and collaborate with over half the global population. 

Many of the students taking Chinese, who range in age from 4 to 14, already speak English and Spanish, and are now working on acquiring their third language. Walnut Hill Academy is also the only school in the district that offers Chinese language instruction at the elementary grades. 

Song, who began her teaching journey in the United States in 2019, after pursuing a second master’s degree in teaching a foreign language, describes her work as a calling and a mission to bring people from different cultures together. 

In China, she had worked as an English teacher at a comprehensive medical school, where she had previously volunteered as an English language interpreter for foreign doctors from Israel. 

Through her work and experience, she is not only expanding her students’ horizons, but also making an impact on parents. 

“To teach Chinese to non-Chinese speakers is such an enriching experience,” said Song. “I am very passionate about teaching and about making these connections with my students and their families.”

With students and parents calling her “maestra,” which means teacher in Spanish, Song is also learning words in Spanish through her students. 

Every day, Song’s students take turns being the morning greeter, as their classmates are walking in. They have to say “hello, please come in” in Chinese. Some of the parents have picked up on this and greet her in Chinese, as well, which pleasantly surprises Song. 

“As a teacher, I just feel so motivated, seeing my students with their smiling faces and their genuine curiosity to learn,” Song said. “They might be the first one in their family or even community to have this opportunity to learn Chinese, and they, in turn, could share this knowledge with others.”

“It’s not only about teaching and learning a language, but it’s about building and understanding culture,” said Song. 

Song also shares with her students traditions, such as Chinese New Year or the use of chopsticks and the culture behind them. For example, Song takes out one chopstick and asks the students if it’s easy to bend it, and the students reply “yes.” 

She keeps adding two and then three, demonstrating to the students that it’s getting harder. After she has several chopsticks, she once again asks the students if she can break them easily and they reply “no.” 

“The Chinese use this to teach that unity is strength, and together we are stronger,” she said. Song also believes that this metaphor of unity represents the community at  Walnut Hill that persevered after a tornado destroyed the original school in 2019. 

Earlier this year, a ribbon cutting was held to unveil the new 118,00 square foot campus, which replaced Walnut Hill Elementary and Cary Middle Schools. 

Beyond culture and communication, Song also teaches her students important skills in Chinese. For example, she asks her students what number they would call if there was an emergency, and the students say “911” in Chinese. They learn all the numbers in Chinese and Song applies these lessons to real world experiences. 

Philip Meaker, principal at Walnut Hill, describes Song as a teacher who is passionate about teaching students Chinese and who also makes learning fun for them.

“We put international in our school’s name to show how vital we feel it is for our students to be well rounded and prepared for the next level culturally and linguistically. Ms. Song is critical in making this a reality,” Meaker said. 

Bridging hearing gaps across the district

For Sandy Peatrowsky, a deaf/hard of hearing itinerant teacher, no day looks the same. She visits up to five schools per day to work with an average of 16 students per week across most grade levels, catering lesson plans and activities to each individual’s needs. 

During her visits, communication is a regular theme, whether it be related to vocabulary, auditory memory, or self-advocacy. 

“For a student who does not have hearing aids or hearing loss, they will hear a word 100 times, but my student might only hear it 50 times,” Peatrowsky said. “We do a lot of work so that when they hear something, they’ll be able to remember it more easily and keep up with their peers.”

In her 10 years of teaching at Dallas ISD, Peatrowsky said she has enjoyed building relationships with her students and their families. Those connections are so positive that she will get calls from them even after they graduate from her roster because they recognize her expertise. 

“I had one student who went to high school and had no schedule,” Peatrowsky said. “He didn’t know what to do, so he contacted me because he knew that I could put him in touch with the people that could fix that.”

She said she also enjoys seeing the daily transformations that her students experience. For example, one student who has multiple disabilities recently received a donated iPad, which gave her access to activities she was not physically able to do otherwise. Peatrowsky watched the student take charge and begin making requests overnight.

“She is amazing and just so bright,” Peatrowsky said. “The iPads given by a school cannot go home with students, but this one was donated, so it goes home with her and comes back. They can use it on the bus, and it has been so much fun to see her engaging more. Being able to do that for her has been awesome.”

While finding individual solutions can be difficult, Peatrowsky said she appreciates the endless opportunities to solve problems that her job brings. Over the years, her students and peers have come to know her not only for her commitment to student success, but also for her positivity and creativity. 

“Since my work is mostly one on one, I get to really focus on what that child’s gaps are because of their hearing loss and figure out how we are going to close those gaps while still having fun,” Peatrowsky said. “I work with the best people, and I love my students, so that makes it really easy to be positive and look forward to my job.” 

Mental Health Matters: Prioritize financial health

Financial stress can have a huge effect on people’s overall health and well-being. Especially during uncertain times, it is important to assess your finances and determine the areas where you have control to ease your overall anxiety. 

Check out the following tips to get started today. 

  1. Don’t panic. Take a deep breath and remind yourself that you are capable and resilient. Instead of making impulsive decisions, meet with a trusted financial advisor or planner before making big decisions to sell assets or transfer money to different accounts. If you do not have a financial advisor, make sure to do your research or find an advisor who is a certified financial planner. 
  2. Track your spending. If you do not already have a budget, set one up so you can track your spending and cut back as needed. Keep an eye on how much you spend on things like takeout, media subscriptions, or entertainment. Any money you have leftover can go toward building an emergency fund or paying off debt. 
  3. Communicate with creditors. If you are struggling to pay bills, do not avoid contacting your creditors to let them know your situation. Ask if they offer alternate payment plans, lowered interest rates, and/or payment deferrals. Most creditors will do their best to work with you. 
  4. Rely on your network. Simply expressing your concerns to a friend or family member can help ease your mind. They may even have suggestions or tips to help you manage your financial situation moving forward. If your stress is affecting your focus and productivity, you can also talk with your manager to brainstorm potential solutions and take back more control. 
  5. Use all your resources. Government agencies, food pantries, and local community organizations can provide support if you are struggling with housing, food, utility, medical, or other bills. 

Do not hesitate to ask for help. You are not alone, and there are countless resources available to you. Dallas ISD’s Employee Assistance Program by LifeWorks is one of them. The confidential, secure online platform has on-call counselors available 24 hours a day, as well as practical tips on subjects like avoiding family conflict, managing your finances, and more. 

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

*Source: LifeWorks 

Meet Master Principal Arnoldo Zuñiga

Arnoldo Zuñiga, the principal at the School for the Talented and Gifted at Yvonne A. Ewell Townview Center, has worked in education for 19 years. Originally from El Paso, Texas, he decided to apply for Dallas ISD’s Alternative Certification Program in 2004 to fill the need for bilingual teachers and has been in the district ever since. 

Zuñiga has gone above and beyond to transform student lives ever since and recently joined more than 20 Dallas ISD principals in being awarded the Master Principal designation for the 2022-2023 school year. 

The awards are part of the Theory of Action, which governs how Dallas ISD makes decisions that ultimately impact student achievement. The criteria used are the School Effectiveness Index, State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness/EOC Domain 1, and campus climate data. Zuñiga said he was honored to be recognized and appreciates the opportunities he has received to help students graduate college and career ready.

What drew you to education? 

I always had the desire to teach, so when I saw the ad for the Dallas ISD Alternative Certification Program, I knew it was time for me to start my career as a teacher to give back and help students that came from the same backgrounds as myself.

What qualities make a great principal? 

Developing relationships with students, parents, team members, and the entire school community is crucial to success. Principals also need a commitment to achieving performance outcomes for all students regardless of background and advocating for student equity.

What is your educational philosophy or a motto by which you work? 

A good leader takes a little more of his share of the blame and a little less of his share of the credit.

What inspires you about your position? 

I have always been inspired by watching students graduate, not only from high school, but from college as well, and knowing I had a small part in their success.

UNT provides free virtual music lessons for students

When the University of North Texas began offering free virtual music classes to Dallas ISD, schools like James Madison High School, was one of the schools who saw immediate results.

“I saw leaps and bound with the students,” said Andrea Diggs, choral director at Madison. 

The Virtual Private Music Lessons program began last fall, offering a one-on-one 30-minute session per week to each participating student. The  lessons, taught by UNT graduate students and faculty members, are offered via an online platform and an iPad supplied by the district. 

In Madison High School’s case, the school hadn’t had a choral program in 10 years, and most of the students were new to choir, with the exception of those who had some choir experience in middle school. During the virtual lessons, students either worked on a song assigned by their teacher or on their repertoire. 

Being able to have the private lessons added to the foundation Diggs was laying—having a good singing technique, and teaching the students how to read music, and how to blend within a choir. 

Diggs attributes part of their successful year to the lessons, as they  received superior and excellent ratings in both concert and sight reading during UIL competitions. Four of the nine students who competed advanced to the state level. 

“The voice lessons played an important role in making that happen,” said Diggs. 

According to Casey Goldman, associate director for Community Outreach and Collaboration at the College of Music at UNT, over 10,000 free lessons have been collaboratively provided through the Virtual Private Music Lessons program with Dallas ISD.

“It aligns with the clarion call of educating all students for success while helping to fulfill the UNT College of Music’s mission by serving our diverse musical culture with excellence, integrity, and imagination,” said Goldman. 

Goldman also says that it’s fitting the program supports the ongoing successes of Dallas ISD music students as the district realizes its vision of becoming the best school district in the United States.

In April, UNT hosted a high school showcase, where they invited teachers, parents and students to get a firsthand look about how the program worked. Attendees had the opportunity to ask questions and see performances. 

Marc Cervantes, band director for L.G. Pinkston High School, said students must have the foundation to be able to play an instrument to fully benefit from the program. Whether you’re an experienced musician or just starting out, private lessons can help you become a better musician, he said.

“This program helps our students get the opportunities they wouldn’t have otherwise to receive private lessons at no cost to the school,” said Cervantes. 

Cervantes, who has approximately 30 students in the band program at Pinkston, said that he has seen great improvements in his students due to the lessons.

For example, there was a clarinet player that one could barely hear when she played her instrument, but after some lessons, she was able to project more.

He also said that one of the benefits is that students are able to receive lessons from a specialist in their instrument. For example, trumpet players are taking lessons from a trumpet player. 

Some of Cervantes’ students who were graduating this year, were also able to take what they learned in their lessons and apply it to their audition music for college. 

One of the biggest takeaways, Cervantes said, is that it’s helping the students overcome their fear of asking for help. 

“Not only does the program help them become better musicians, but they also are learning to advocate for themselves—a life skill that will help them in the future,” he said.

The free virtual music lessons will continue next school year. To learn more about the program, email 

Dallas ISD teacher named Special Services Educator of the Year

John Fore, a functional living skills teacher at Young Women’s STEAM Academy at Balch Springs Middle School, can boast of many accomplishments, from being named a master teacher to being a two-time finalist for Dallas ISD’s Teacher of the Year. Now, he has added another accolade to the list: receiving the Association of Texas Professional Educators’ Special Services Educator of the Year award. 

The ATPE is the largest teacher association in the state. Each year, the organization recognizes educators in several categories for going above and beyond for student success. 

Fore’s award, which falls under the Charles Pickitt Educator of the Year Award category, recognizes ATPE members who demonstrate exceptional or innovative capabilities in their respective educational fields, and Fore said he is proud to be among this year’s recipients.

He has spent the past 20 years teaching in Dallas ISD and has another decade of teaching experience in other school communities. As a functional living skills teacher, he wears many hats, instructing his students in adaptive robotics, gardening, operating a campus cafe, connecting with international pen pals, cleaning, and more. 

“We give them all the skills that are needed for them to be successful,” Fore said. “The goal is to teach them independence. We try to think outside the box because our kids sometimes feel low social value and self-worth, so we also work hard to empower them and value them for who they are.”

The result is a classroom environment that Fore said feels like a “big family.” They even have an annual Thanksgiving dinner where they sit down and enjoy each other’s company, and Fore helps bake his students cakes to celebrate their birthdays. 

“It’s amazing to see my students come out of their shells each year and for them to feel successful in themselves,” Fore said. “When I do lessons, it’s all about how I can engage them and how I can build scaffolding to bridge to new learning.”

Fore and the other ATPE award recipients will be recognized at the 2023 ATPE Summit in Round Rock in July. To learn more about the awards or the ATPE, visit

Meet Master Principal Stephanie Amaya

W.H. Adamson High School Principal Stephanie Amaya has called Dallas ISD home for many years. Not only is she from Dallas and a proud product of Dallas ISD, but she has also been working in education since 2009 and has spent her entire career with the district, with the exception of one year.

She began her career at Stevens Park Elementary School as a bilingual kindergarten teacher and soon moved into leadership positions to continue transforming student lives. Prior to serving the community at W.H. Adamson High School, she served as principal at John Neely Bryan Elementary and the renamed Sylvia Mendez CREW Leadership Academy due to her track record with turnaround schools and increasing academic achievement.

Her deep commitment and dedication to the people and communities she is a part of contributed to her being awarded the Master Principal designation for the 2022-2023 school year. These designations are awarded annually to the top 10 percent of Dallas ISD principals, and Amaya said it is an honor to be among them.

What drew you to education? 

I grew up in poverty as an emergent bilingual, and through teachers who believed in me, I knew education was a way to live bigger dreams than I ever thought possible. 

What qualities make a great principal? 

Compassion, empathy, and support are crucial to a principal’s effectiveness and success. 

What is your educational philosophy or a motto by which you work? 

I believe in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character—that is the goal of true education.” 

What inspires you about your position? 

Our teachers inspire me. They take so much on to help support our students. Seeing them give it all they have makes the rest of us work harder! 

Meet Teacher of the Year winner Iván Medina 

Iván Medina is a fifth-grade math and science dual language teacher at Marcus Leadership Academy. A second-generation American whose parents emigrated from the small, rural town of Arroyo Seco, Queretaro, Mexico, Medina was born and reared in the Dallas area. He is the first member of his family to graduate from both high school and college. 

Medina holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration and a master of public affairs in education policy from The University of Texas at Austin. Medina is a highly effective, sixth-year veteran who has earned both the TEI Distinguished Teacher and Teacher Incentive Allotment Exemplary Teacher designations. 

Medina’s personal mission is to leave the world a better place and to empower others to dream the unimaginable.

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

Do not let work consume you because if you are running on empty, you will not be at your best to serve your students. Cherish your time outside of work, and seek out passions that provide you personal nourishment.

What is your best tip for classroom management?  

During the first week of school—or on the very first day, if you are feeling bold—develop a respect agreement in conjunction with your students in order to outline the expectations of all parties in relation to the learning environment. Not only does this process empower students, but it lays the foundation for a culture of accountability that will govern your classroom throughout the rest of the year. 

How do you build strong connections with students?  

I build strong connections with my students by learning all of their names on the first day of school, greeting them at the door, developing “secret” handshakes, attending their extracurricular events, and sharing my family’s backstory. I want my students to feel special, but I also want them to know that I have high behavioral and academic expectations of them. I’ve found that students really appreciate both. I also want them to be aware that I was once in their shoes and that my family experienced many of the struggles that their families go through on a daily basis. This transparency has always served to create a genuine connection not only with my students but also with the families that I have served in Dallas ISD.

What are your hopes for your students in the future?  

I hope my students have learned the importance of advocating for themselves and for those whose voices are suppressed in our society. Whether my students decide to continue their education at an institution of higher learning or enter the workforce immediately upon high school graduation, I hope that they do not settle and that they ultimately decide to pursue a path which fulfills them.

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

If I were not a teacher, I would be a small forward specializing in defense and three-point shooting for the Dallas Mavericks. I hear they could use one of those!

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

My superpower has to be my willingness to run through walls for my students. There isn’t a task that I am unwilling to tackle in order to ensure that my students receive the best service possible at my campus. Our schools and the systems that govern them are not perfect and they often present roadblocks that strain the relationship between our families and our education system. Our families deserve a school system that serves its diverse constituents with an equity-based mindset. But, when our systems fail our families, I have no problem exhausting all of my options in order to rectify the circumstances.

Accelerating student success through Dyslexia Services

When Veronica Allen, director of Section 504 and Dyslexia Services, first became a dyslexia bilingual evaluator in Dallas ISD 15 years ago, the district did not have any dyslexia interventionists. Now, Allen is proud to say the department includes over 200 dyslexia interventionists and dyslexia evaluators thanks to their drive to develop leaders in the district. 

The entire team recently came together to celebrate the department’s growth and team members’ many accomplishments, including 149 currently employed certified Wilson dyslexia practitioners and 49 currently employed certified Wilson dyslexia therapists who have earned their certifications over the past few years due to the dyslexia interventionist expansion.

Allen said their impact on student success is clear, with about 6,300 students served by a dyslexia interventionist during the 2022-2023 school year.

“It’s very hard to find certified practitioners—therapists—when it comes to dyslexia,” Allen said. “That’s why we decided we were going to have to grow our own.”

Dallas ISD has also supported Dyslexia Services by the continuous partnership with SMU with the Learning Therapy Cohort to encourage team members to pursue their academic language practitioner certification. Due to the success of this partnership, Certified Academic Language Practitioners (CALPs) and Certified Academic Language Therapists (CALTs) were also individually recognized.

At the same time, Dyslexia Services has been creating a pipeline of in-house Wilson dyslexia trainers who are trained by Wilson Reading System, which Allen said is significant because they are experiencing less program turnover and more consistent outcomes. The team has also grown several educational diagnosticians on the dyslexia evaluation side to support Single Pathway dyslexia evaluations. 

“The growth all around has just been unbelievable,” Allen said. “Our students receive intense intervention for 180 minutes a week, and it’s because of that intervention and teaching students an Orton-Gillingham approach that we are seeing improvement.”

The department’s push to develop individual skill sets and pursue team member certifications has resulted in more employees being able to step into supervisory roles and earn promotions, which has contributed to the improved student support and outcomes. 

“We went all out to celebrate these years of progress,” Allen said. “It’s hard work, especially at the practitioner level and the therapist level. We wanted them to be recognized and to know that their hard work is visible and appreciated.”