This Is Home: Friends find their home in Dallas ISD

 First-grade teacher Katie Holt and instructional coordinator Natalie Cruz-Garcia of the Biomedical Preparatory at UT Southwestern had no idea that they would become such close friends and co-workers nine years ago when they were 2014 corps members in Teach for America and were placed in Dallas ISD.

“I have a core memory of setting up our classrooms at the same time our very first year,” Holt said. “We were constantly going in and out of each other’s rooms, planning how we were going to make our first bulletin boards and organize seating arrangements. Details that now we don’t think twice about. We built those skills together.” 

They were both initially placed at George Washington Carver Creative Arts Learning Center as third grade teachers. When the campus closed, they moved to Stevens Park Elementary School thanks to a mutual connection, and now they are working to make a difference at the new Biomedical Preparatory. 

“It was chance that we’ve been together for the past nine years, and it’s been really special,” Cruz-Garcia said. “We’ve been able to share students and develop strong relationships with them, especially because we have worked so well together.” 

Holt moved to Dallas from Arizona, while Cruz-Garcia came from Ohio, and they have loved getting to know the best parts of Dallas by developing friendships with former students, families, co-workers and each other. 

Some of their favorite memories include conducting home visits, helping their fifth-grade students go from a 40 percent passing rate on their State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) tests in fourth grade to a 90 percent passing rate, and receiving invitations to former students’ quinceaneras. 

“I really can’t imagine teaching anywhere else,” Holt said. “Dallas is our home geographically but also emotionally because there’s so much tied to where we live—so much love for our students and their families and the teachers around us. I can’t imagine ever leaving that because even on the hardest days, I have people around me to help me through it.” 

In fact, the two friends are so committed to showing up for each other that when they got married this past summer just six days apart, Cruz-Garcia flew to Arizona to be one of Holt’s bridesmaids, while Holt cut her honeymoon short to be one of Cruz-Garcia’s bridesmaids in Texas. 

“I know I wouldn’t have made it through my first year without Katie, and still nine years later, I would not make it through without her support,” Cruz-Garcia said. “Katie has helped me as a teacher and just as a person all around.” 

“A couple of years ago, I was a finalist for Teacher of the Year in the district, and I was asked, ‘Who is someone that has had the most impact on you as a teacher?’ And it’s Natalie,” Holt agreed. “She has grown me as an educator, being my co-teacher and a coach, and I know I wouldn’t have a lot of the accomplishments that I have under my belt if it wasn’t for her.”

Dallas ISD wins TAEA District of Distinction Award

Dallas ISD is one of 59 districts across Texas to receive the Texas Art Education Association’s 2022 District of Distinction Award. The district received the honor for providing a well-rounded education that advocates and integrates visual arts curriculum to inspire creativity and build social emotional learning that connects learners to their community and beyond, and only the top 5 percent of districts in the state earned the honor this year.

TAEA is the leading advocate for the visual arts in the state. The organization has previously honored outstanding TAEA members for work in their classrooms and districts. This is the fourth year that TAEA is honoring districts that meet rigorous criteria as evidenced from data. 

For the 2022 award, over 1,200 districts were eligible to apply. Each district submitted documentation they met from the 14-point rubric over the 2021-2022 school year. Only 59 districts met the high standard and will receive the outstanding honor indicating they are in the top 5 percent in art education of districts in the state.

“Dallas ISD has set a high standard for visual arts advocacy, integrated visual arts curriculum, encouraged creativity, community participation and student growth,” said Sandra Newton, chair of the Administration and Supervision Division of TAEA. “It is a true testament to your visual art educators’ skill, dedication and flexibility that the quality of their programs continued to provide strong and comprehensive visual art educational experiences to students.”

Dallas ISD will be honored along with the other award recipients at the TAEA Administration & Supervision Division meeting and General Session during the TAEA Fall Conference General Assembly on Friday, November 10, 2022. 

Congratulations to all the district professionals and educators who helped make this achievement possible! 

Supporting new teachers through professional development

Dallas ISD is committed to supporting new teachers by providing professional development that will help them in their day-to-day work. As part of the district’s yearlong new teacher induction program, these educators came together recently to learn best practices in literacy, gain pedagogical support in their assigned content areas and receive support in fostering a positive relationship with students and the community. 

More than 1,500 new teachers have been hired this year to serve students across the district, and teachers like Cinthya Longoria are looking forward to applying these innovative approaches in their classrooms. 

“Creating relationships with students and their families is one of the big reasons why I came back to Dallas ISD,” said Longoria, who graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School and now works at José “Joe” May Elementary School as a bilingual kindergarten teacher. “I’m in the same feeder pattern I went through, and I want to create a space where students feel like they are heard and can relate to the content.” 

E.B. Comstock Middle School assistant band director Wendell Harris has been a teacher for four years and is starting his first year at Dallas ISD, and he is just as passionate about student engagement. 

“I’ve seen some really positive impacts from these professional development sessions, and I am grateful for the opportunity to bring new perspectives to my class and enhance my students’ learning,” he said. “COVID-19 has been challenging, so I am excited to get them caught up and then see where they go.” 

The Professional & Digital Learning team designed this session for the fall and another session for the spring to give teachers who are new to the district additional time to learn and grow while they are on their campuses. 

“Whether these teachers are in their first or third year, we want to ensure they get what they need to succeed,” said Stephanie Ford, a project manager with the department. “These sessions focus on literacy and equity across all grade levels, and we are proud of the applications we are already seeing in the classroom.”  

Visit the Professional & Digital Learning page at to learn more about future professional development opportunities. 

After-school programs reach new heights

Dallas ISD has invested federal funds in accelerating learning to compensate for disruptions caused by COVID-19. It has also invested in after-school programs that give students a safe place to explore their interests, as participation in visual and performing arts, service and leadership, athletics, academics and other activities can accelerate their overall success and social and emotional well-being. 

Last year, the district used $3.3 million from Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds to offer district-run programs—which operate five days a week from 3-6 p.m.—across 55 campuses. More than 3,100 students participated in these programs. The allocation continues this year, and initial feedback from school administrators indicates that these programs have been a “tremendous help in supporting campus goals,” said Merrill Devenshire, Extended Learning director. 

The ESSER funds support supplemental staffing costs, transportation, vendor contracts and curriculum and supplies for the district-run after-school activities. Historically, Dallas ISD has relied on outside partnerships and vendors to provide after-school opportunities. 

ABC, the Adventures and Beyond Club, is designed for elementary school students, while ETC, the Elite Teen Club, is focused on middle school students. During the three-hour blocks, students get a snack break, and then they engage in up to two different 45-minute lessons based on their chosen activity, whether that be fine arts, athletics or something else. When they finish, they eat dinner, clean up and head home. 

“Everybody is focused on creating fun, memorable experiences for students, and all of those are learning experiences, whether it’s an extracurricular activity, an after-school program or lessons in the classroom,” said Sharla Hudspeth, executive director of Extracurricular and Extended Learning Opportunities. “These are all ways that we hope to get them engaged and loving coming back to school.”

Ultimately, the Extended Learning Opportunities Department is working to ensure that all Dallas ISD campuses have access to after-school programs by 2025, most of which will be completely free to families. The initial wave of campuses for the 2021-2022 school year was selected either according to a high priority campus designation or according to the equity index. This school year, the ELO Department will expand after-school programming by having campuses opt in, with a goal of incorporating after-school activities into 20-30 schools annually. 

Hudspeth hopes the after-school programs will create natural downtime for students to receive tutoring sessions as part of the district’s overall pandemic recovery efforts. One of the biggest issues in tutoring is getting students to attend supplemental learning opportunities, but since they will already be on campus with transportation and food provided for their after-school programs, the transition will be more seamless. 

“We are hoping we spark an interest to get students involved in extracurricular activities because we know those change the school experience,” Hudspeth said. “It’s really a multi-pronged approach: a safe place to be, support to our parents, but more importantly, a big support to our students, allowing them time to reconnect with their peers and to engage in different enrichment activities.”

To learn more about Dallas ISD’s district- and partner-run after-school programs, visit To find out more about the district’s pandemic recovery efforts, visit  

Hispanic Heritage Month Profile: Mathematics director celebrates lifelong learning  

Dallas ISD STEM Mathematics director Stej Sanchez has been transforming student lives through education for the past 17 years, but his passion for math started early. 

Growing up in Laredo, Texas, he was inspired by a “series of math teachers who were just phenomenal,” he said. He carried their enthusiasm and wisdom with him as he earned his undergraduate and master’s degrees. This carried through in his work first as a graduate teaching assistant and then as an educator with TRIO’s Upward Bound Math and Science program. 

“I had the opportunity to teach high school students from low-income families and high school students from families in which neither parent holds a bachelor’s degree in San Antonio, and that’s where I got hooked,” Sanchez said. “I thought, ‘I want to do this forever, for as long as they’ll have me.’” 

He then served as a high school math teacher, teaching algebra and geometry, until his math coach at the time, Oswaldo Alvarenga, encouraged him to move to Dallas and work for the district in 2007. In Dallas, Sanchez continued honing his skills as a math coach, adjunct faculty member, SAT prep instructor and TI Mathforward instructor, up until his current position as the district’s STEM mathematics director. Alvarenga and Sanchez have been working together in one way or another ever since.

“Every single person I’ve worked with since I started has wanted to make sure students have what they need,” he said. “There is a shared passion for equity and access to a viable, rigorous curriculum. That’s one of the things we strive for—ensuring the best for students.” 

One of Sanchez’s responsibilities as mathematics director is rolling out innovative curricula across Dallas ISD’s 230 schools to reach more than 141,000 students, a task that is especially important now as the district works to close the learning gaps created by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Sanchez believes that math is an extremely social subject—one learned best with verbal and written interactions—and that the limited social interaction students experienced during the worst of the pandemic disrupted their learning. To counteract this, Sanchez and his team have put several initiatives in place this year, including the implementation of high quality instructional materials (HQIM) and various digital tools, which focus on literacy, curriculum instruction and equity. 

“Being fluent in math is a game changer,” Sanchez said. “Algebra I specifically is the gateway to all sorts of different careers, so one of my goals is to ensure that all students do well in Algebra I and have access to it in middle school. Ultimately, Algebra I is the key to finance, science and a lot of different topics. It allows students to open doors and try different things.” 

Sanchez credits his family with shaping him into the person he is today and with keeping him motivated. His grandparents moved from Monterrey, Mexico, to Laredo to pave the way for Sanchez’s future, and his parents pushed him to get a good education and stay in school. He is following in their footsteps by setting a great example for his two daughters and teaching them how to believe in themselves and how to overcome stereotypes.

While his grandparents and his mother are no longer with him, Sanchez celebrates his family’s culture and heritage every day with his first name. The “s” and “t” in Stej represent his grandparents’ initials on his father’s side, while the “e” and “j” represent his grandparents’ initials on his mother’s side. 

“I don’t forget my grandparents, and I don’t forget where they are coming from,” he said. “Even though they are not with me physically, they are with me for the rest of my life. That’s how I celebrate my culture and my family.”

On a broader scale, Sanchez celebrates culture and heritage by building opportunities in the curriculum to recognize the diversity built into mathematics.

“Different cultures have played various roles in advancing mathematics throughout history,” he said. “The foundation of mathematics that we learn in elementary and middle school originated in Africa, Asia, Central and South America.” 

Mes de la Herencia Hispana: El director de Matemáticas celebra el aprender durante toda la vida 

El director de Matemáticas y STEM de Dallas ISD, Stej Sánchez, ha estado transformando la vida de los estudiantes a través de la educación durante los últimos 17 años, pero su pasión por las matemáticas comenzó mucho antes. 

Se inspiró acudiendo a la escuela en Laredo, Texas, gracias a una “serie de profesores de matemáticas que eran simplemente fenomenales”, dijo. Llevó consigo el entusiasmo y sabiduría de estos mientras obtenía su licenciatura y su maestría. Y también lo llevó consigo en su primer trabajo como asistente de maestro y luego como educador en el programa Upward Bound Math and Science de TRIO. 

“En San Antonio, tuve la oportunidad de enseñar a estudiantes de secundaria de familias de bajos ingresos y estudiantes de secundaria de familias en las que ninguno de los padres tiene una licenciatura, y ahí es donde me enganché”, dijo Sánchez. “Pensé: ‘Quiero hacer esto para siempre, mientras quieran que me quede’.” 

Luego se desempeñó como maestro de matemáticas en la escuela secundaria, impartiendo clases de álgebra y geometría hasta que su asesor de matemáticas en ese momento, Oswaldo Alvarenga, lo alentó a mudarse a Dallas y trabajar para el distrito en 2007. Una vez en Dallas, Sánchez continuó perfeccionando sus habilidades como asesor de matemáticas, miembro adjunto de la facultad, instructor de preparación para el SAT e instructor del programa TI Mathforward, hasta su puesto actual como director de matemáticas STEM del distrito. Alvarenga y Sánchez han estado trabajando juntos de una forma u otra desde entonces.

“Todas las personas con las que he trabajado desde que comencé han querido asegurarse de que los estudiantes tengan lo que necesitan”, dijo Sánchez. “Existe una pasión compartida por la equidad y el acceso a un currículo viable y riguroso. Esa es una de las cosas por las que nos esforzamos: garantizar lo mejor para los estudiantes”. 

Una de las responsabilidades de Sánchez como director de matemáticas es implementar currículos innovadores en las más de 230 escuelas de Dallas ISD para instruir a más de 141,000 estudiantes, una tarea que es especialmente importante ahora que el distrito trabaja para cerrar las brechas de aprendizaje creadas por la pandemia de COVID-19. 

Sánchez cree que las matemáticas son una materia extremadamente social, que se aprende mejor con interacciones verbales y escritas, y que la interacción social limitada que experimentaron los estudiantes durante lo peor de la pandemia interrumpió su aprendizaje. Para contrarrestar esto, Sánchez y su equipo han puesto en marcha varias iniciativas este año, incluyendo utilizar materiales didácticos de alta calidad y varias herramientas digitales, que se centran en la alfabetización en matemáticas, la instrucción en los temas básicos y la equidad. 

“Tener fluidez en matemáticas cambia las reglas del juego”, dijo Sánchez. “Álgebra I específicamente es la puerta de entrada a todo tipo de carreras diferentes, por lo que uno de mis objetivos es asegurar que a todos los estudiantes les vaya bien en Álgebra I y tengan acceso a esta materia en la secundaria. En última instancia, Álgebra I es esencial para entrar en carreras de finanzas, ciencias y muchas más. Le proporciona una entrada a muchas oportunidades a los estudiantes para que puedan probar cosas diferentes”. 

Sánchez dice que su familia es quien lo ha formado para ser la persona que es hoy y lo mantiene motivado. Sus abuelos se mudaron de Monterrey, México, a Laredo para darles un mejor a Sánchez y al resto de la familia, y sus padres lo empujaron a obtener una buena educación y permanecer en la escuela. Ahora, él está emulando su ejemplo al enseñarle a sus dos hijas cómo creer en sí mismas y cómo superar los estereotipos.

Si bien sus abuelos y su madre ya no están con él, Sánchez celebra la cultura y el patrimonio de su familia todos los días con su nombre de pila. La “s” y la “t” en Stej representan las iniciales de sus abuelos por parte de su padre, mientras que la “e” y la “j” representan las iniciales de sus abuelos por parte de su madre. 

“No me olvido de mis abuelos, y no me olvido de dónde provienen”, dijo. “Aunque no están conmigo físicamente, estarán conmigo por el resto de mi vida. Así es como celebro mi cultura y mi familia”.

De manera más general, Sánchez celebra la cultura y el legado Latina creando oportunidades en el plan de estudios para reconocer la diversidad que existe ya en las matemáticas.

“Diferentes culturas han desempeñado varios papeles en el avance de las matemáticas a lo largo de la historia”, dijo. “La base de las matemáticas que aprendemos en la escuela primaria y secundaria se originó en África, Asia, América Central y del Sur”. 

Calling on new nurses

The safety and well-being of students is a top priority for the district, and school nurses play a big role in student health and wellness.

Because of the events of the past few years, the nation is experiencing a shortage of nurses, and this has also impacted school nurse recruitment. To address potential nurse vacancies in the upcoming school year, Human Capital Management is offering a $3,000 hiring incentive to recruit new nurses to Dallas ISD.

This incentive applies to new hires for a full-time school nurse position (Job Code 6750) for the 2022-2023 school year as well as any candidate or employee who is hired, transfers, or is promoted into this critical shortage area.

The incentive would be 50% paid in November 2022 paycheck while the remaining 50% would be included in their January 2024 paycheck. The incentive would be funded with Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds due to the impact the COVID pandemic has had on the number of available nurses to fill positions.

School nurses who worked in the district before May 1, 2022, will receive the $2,500 retention incentive and are not eligible for this new hiring incentive.

Celebrating IT professionals in Dallas ISD

National IT Professionals Day on Sept. 20 recognizes the technical experts around the country who ensure computer systems run smoothly. Dallas ISD wants to celebrate the 261 members of the Information Technology Department who make sure student and teacher devices are working, data is kept safe and students and staff have the connections they need to succeed. 

Antonio Ervin, an area support supervisor in IT, has been in the district for 23 years, and it did not take him long after he started to fall in love with the work and Dallas ISD’s mission.

“Early on, I visited a campus where they had a problem, and I remember it so vividly,” he said. “Computers were still a rare commodity at the time, and the teacher was a little frustrated because this was the only computer the students could use. It took me less than five minutes to fix the problem, and as I was getting ready to walk out the door, the students started singing to me, thanking me. And I thought, ‘OK, that’s it. Y’all got me.’” 

Ervin loves nothing more than setting others up for success. Whether he makes a student’s day by getting them online again, keeps a board meeting running or helps a department meet a deadline, he is passionate about being “the go-to person to solve a problem.” 

But he could not do it without his incredible team in Information Technology.  

“You can’t be a successful leader unless you have a great team you can lead,” Ervin said. “It’s not about me, it’s about them. If I can make them more successful, that would make me successful.” 

His team attitude is part of why Assistant Superintendent of Technology Marlon Harrison described Ervin as the “epitome of IT excellence.” 

Ervin has thrived in Dallas ISD personally and professionally. He has seamlessly incorporated the Core 4 culture tenets into everything he does, and he encourages his technicians to do the same. 

“I always ask my people, ‘How do you want to be treated when you are out and about?’ Being fast, flexible, focused and friendly—once you start with one, the rest fall into place,” Ervin said. “In other words, I just go by the one thing I’ve always been taught: Follow the golden rule and treat people how you want to be treated.” 

Information Technology teams work hard every day to support parents, students, teachers, campus leaders and staff, and the work they do in the background to make sure students are set up for success is appreciated. Take some time to thank an Information Technology staff member and acknowledge the vital assistance they provide. 

“To us, a problem may seem simple, but to a teacher or a principal, it feels like everything,” Ervin said. “I love my team. They are free thinkers, and they know how to solve problems, and then their clients get so excited.” 

DonorsChoose is doubling donations to teachers

DonorsChoose is encouraging all Dallas ISD teachers who teach at an Equity Focus School to post a project. On Sept. 20 starting at 6 a.m., DonorsChoose is doubling donations to all Equity Focus Schools, so now is the time to get started!

To find out if your school is a DonorsChoose Equity Focus School and qualifies for the match, head to the Tools & Resources section of your DonorsChoose dashboard and you will see a link to your school page.

If your school isn’t an Equity Focus School, please join us in spreading the word and supporting district teachers as they educate all students for success! 

PowerSchool Learning ends Sept. 26

PowerSchool Learning is no longer an available product from PowerSchool. Dallas ISD’s access to PowerSchool Learning will end on September 26, 2022. Be sure to download any resources that you have in PowerSchool Learning so that you do not experience a loss in data or resources. Alternatively, upload newly added PowerSchool Learning content to Schoology, Dallas ISD’s new learning management system that is replacing PowerSchool Learning. 

Moving newly added PowerSchool Learning content to Schoology 

Click here to view directions on how to migrate your PowerSchool content into Schoology. Your PowerSchool Learning content was already moved to Schoology before June 7, so this would only need to be completed for content added after June 6.

Upcoming notifications

Note that upcoming notices regarding PowerSchool and Schoology will be updated on the Dallas ISD Curriculum Connection Webpage and the Schoology PDL Homepage.