Transforming lives through mentorship

National Mentoring Day is being celebrated on Oct. 27 to recognize the extraordinary leaders who are sharing their skills and experiences with those around them. Dallas ISD’s Mentor Teacher program was developed to create those transformative connections, and this year, 746 mentors were paired with 967 mentees to impart the confidence and skills they need to thrive. 

“Ensuring that every student in Dallas ISD has access to an effective teacher is a top priority,” said Charissa Govan, executive director of Professional & Digital Learning. “Additionally, we believe that nurturing and retaining teachers is critically important. Dallas ISD mentor teachers are champions who support and coach new teachers on their journey as professional educators. Our mentors have shown a passion for the profession and serve as a model for lifelong learning and leading to promote excellence in the classroom.”

Heaven Odanga, a pre-K/kindergarten montessori guide at Harry Stone Montessori Academy, is one of those new teachers. The proud Skyline High School graduate was inspired to join Dallas ISD as a teacher when she learned about the national teacher shortage. 

“I saw the vacancies, and I thought, ‘That’s my district. Those students may not have anyone to teach them, or they are going to have a different substitute every day,’” Odanga said. “It was my push to go ahead and apply.”

But starting off as a first-year teacher and a first-year Montessori guide is no easy feat. Luckily, Odanga was matched with Janet Washington, a lower elementary Montessori guide who has been teaching in Dallas ISD for the past 15 years. 

The two of them were working together to support the school’s cheerleading team before the mentorship program was even announced, so Washington said their mentor/mentee relationship was a natural transition. 

Harry Stone’s mentorship program kicked off with a comparison reading about marigold plants and walnut trees. Odanga explained that marigolds are scientifically proven to help other plants grow and flourish, while walnut trees have been shown to release a chemical that keeps plants around them from growing. Each mentor pair was given a marigold plant to symbolize their teaching goals, which Odanga keeps in her classroom. 

“We are responsible for making sure that this community flourishes, and I take pride in having that responsibility. Ms. Washington will even say, ‘How is my marigold doing?’” Odanga said. “At the same time, sometimes we may have a walnut tree moment or we might have a hard day, and that’s when we can go back to our mentors and talk to them.”

Washington is passionate about giving Odanga whatever support she needs to succeed. That passion began when she received her own mentor, Charlotte Govan, as a first-year teacher in 2007. 

“When I first met her, I modeled everything—the way she walked, the way she talked, the way she delivered lessons,” Washington said. “She was definitely the guiding force that made me and helped me, and I wanted to give back and do that for someone else.” 

Her advice for other mentor teachers is to remember what it felt like to be new to the profession. As for mentees, she said, “Don’t forget to ask.” The concept may be simple, but Washington said she has seen time and time again that mentorship can be “life changing.” 

“It’s so important for new teachers to have a mentor in their life,” Washington said. “I wanted to be a marigold for a teacher in this building because I wouldn’t have made it without my mentor. She’s retired now, but we still talk to this day, and now Ms. Odanga is mentoring our cheerleaders. That cycle of giving back is awesome to see, and by the end of this year, she’s going to be a great teacher.” 

Attendance matters all year long

Students, staff and families play a vital role in making sure students are in class every day, and Dallas ISD is sharing ways to promote and celebrate attendance all year long through the Strive For No More Than Five campaign. 

The initiative engages and challenges students and parents to commit to limiting absences to no more than five days for the entire school year. Having five or fewer absences annually is considered great attendance, and Dallas ISD’s Parent Services department believes all students can do it. 

“We want to aim for perfect attendance, but we understand that absences are sometimes unavoidable,” said Sally Salinas, a specialist with Parent Services. “Instead, we are challenging students and parents to commit to limiting absences to no more than five for the entire school year.” 

Salinas said best attendance practices for families include scheduling doctor, dentist and other appointments outside of school hours and planning vacations when school is not in session, if possible, and submitting excuse notes to their school’s attendance office. They can also keep track of their student’s absences by using the Parent Services attendance tracker

Dallas ISD teachers and staff can support the Strive For No More Than Five campaign by displaying attendance yard signs and posters—which can be found on the Parent Services’ website—around campus and by encouraging families to take advantage of the attendance tracker. 

Students who finish the year with five or fewer absences will be eligible to receive a prize. In past years, Dallas ISD has partnered with Six Flags Over Texas to provide a free admissions ticket for each student with the purchase of an adult ticket. This year’s prize is still being determined, so stay tuned for the final announcement of the Strive For No More Than Five prize.  

“Attendance has an impact on students’ academic performance and success in the long run, so from the minute that a student is actually enrolled in school, we want to help them create good attendance habits,” Salinas said. “If our students can Strive For No More Than Five, then it is going to show that these students have limited their absences and have prepared themselves to be successful in school and begin good attendance habits that will last a lifetime.”

To learn more about the district’s annual attendance campaign or to find additional resources, visit Parent Services at

Focus the day on reducing your stress

When anxiety and stress set in, they can make it difficult to manage many aspects of everyday life, including work and relationships. Dallas ISD is bringing awareness to and prioritizing the health and well-being of all students, staff and families, so join the district in recognizing National Stress Awareness Day—celebrated annually on the first Wednesday in November—and learn to recognize the signs of stress and ways to manage it. 

Many people experience anxiety and stress when they are facing a difficult situation, but anxiety can also appear unexpectedly and last for hours or days at a time. Common symptoms include irritability, headaches, excessive worrying, sweating, shortness of breath, shaking, restlessness, disrupted sleep, panic attacks, muscle aches and digestive problems. 

Fortunately, there are many ways to cope with and ease stress and anxiety. Review the following self-care practices, and consider what other routines might help you feel better when you are struggling. 

  • Deep breathing
  • Journaling
  • Reading a book or poem
  • Sharing your concerns with a trusted friend or relative
  • Reminding yourself that you are safe
  • Exercising regularly 
  • Expressing gratitude 
  • Meditating 
  • Practicing spirituality
  • Changing your physical position (i.e. going from standing to sitting)
  • Adopting a calming mantra 
  • Taking a mental break
  • Socializing with friends, family members and co-workers
  • Reframing negative thoughts 
  • Speaking with your primary care physician and/or mental health provider 

In the words of an anonymous proverb, “Just when the caterpillar thought the world was ending, it turned into a butterfly.” Take some time to assess how you are feeling and ask for help if you need it. No one has to go through their struggles alone, and Dallas ISD is here to support you. 

The district’s confidential, secure Employee Assistance Program by LifeWorks has countless resources available online for free. From on-call counselors to practical mental health tips, employees can find what they need, when they need it. Contact LifeWorks at (972) 925-4000 or visit and click on Benefits Resources to access online EAP information.

Source: Mayo Clinic Health System 

Doing good together

It’s time for Dallas ISD’s two-decade-old employee giving fall tradition in support of United Way Metropolitan of Dallas. To date, the district has raised over $5 million to support many organizations that support district students and families, and this year is expected to raise $100,000 through Dec. 16.

One of the first steps in the campaign, which kicks off Monday, Oct. 24, is for departments and campuses to identify an individual who will serve as United Way Champion for the campaign. UWMD Champions are the core of the employee-giving campaign. Selecting the right individual who embodies the district’s cultural tenets is key to each department/campus reaching its fundraising goal. This individual should be someone who understands the importance of collaboration, is goal-oriented, has a philanthropic spirit, and has a go-getter attitude. Champions will receive bi-weekly calendar invitations to attend virtual check-ins with the campaign coordinator to cover questions and receive fundraising tips and best practices.

Departments/campuses are encouraged to create an individual fundraising goal based on the number of employees on the team with a suggested minimum donation of $10 per employee. As a bonus, participants will have the opportunity to participate in jean days throughout the campaign. Stay tuned for additional information.

Register your department or campus United Way Champion using the following form:

Participating in this campaign sends a strong that employees not only work for the district but also support the community. Dallas ISD has selected the Dallas Education Foundation (DEF) as the charity of choice. DEF serves as the district philanthropic arm and has supported grants for teachers, campus needs, programming, technology, and much more. 

Employees can set up a donation in Oracle for payroll deduction or make a credit or debit card donation through GiveUnited. Payroll deductions would start in January 2023.

Avoid the rush by voting early

Early voting begins Oct. 24 and ends Nov. 4. Staff who are registered to vote and do so early can show their “I Voted” sticker to their supervisor to be able to wear jeans every Tuesday of early voting through Election Day. Those who wait to vote on Nov. 8 will be able to wear jeans that day or on Friday, Nov. 11 (for those who wait until after the work day to vote). They, too, must show their voter sticker to their supervisor.

To find early voting locations in Dallas County, click here. Times during which the early voting locations are open vary by day, but weekday hours are 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., except for Nov. 3-4 when hours are extended to 9 p.m. Visit to learn more. 

Be a role model

Voting is one of the rights and privileges afforded to U.S. citizens, and it is the way that every citizen is given a voice in choosing a representative government at the local, state and national levels. Show students the importance of voting by sharing your photo with your “I Voted” sticker on social media and using the hashtag #DallasISDVotes. If you are sharing on Twitter, tag us @TeamDallasISD.

Recognized for cultural transformation

Dallas ISD’s iDesign Central Fellowship was recently recognized as a finalist for the Cultural Transformation Award at the 2022 Design & Innovation Global Awards hosted by Design Thinking USA. The awards celebrate and recognize innovation and human-centered design accomplishments across communities and organizations. 

“We’re honored to have been recognized in our first year for the launch of the iDesign Central Fellowship,” said Kristen Watkins, executive director of Personalized Learning and Innovation Sustainability. “Starting something new can be intimidating and it’s really affirming to feel we are on the right track as we launch our 2nd cohort this fall.” 

The iDesign Central Fellowship is an six-month experience rooted in design thinking to help central staff fellows build creative confidence for using a human-centered approach to solving challenges at the district, division and team level.  Design thinking is an intentional process to construct fresh, relevant, and creative solutions to old problems.

“We are very proud of the district’s commitment to innovation and innovative thinking – this design thinking fellowship allows staff from every division to come together to rethink district wide systems and initiatives,” said Angie Gaylord, deputy chief of Transformation and Innovation. 

This fall, iDesign central fellows are working on division-level challenges, and in the spring, they will lead design challenges with their teams. Fellows will share their prototypes and what they learned from the fellowship at the district’s annual Innovation Showcase on Feb. 28. 

Take learning outdoors at the Environmental Education Center

All Dallas ISD staff and their families are invited to learn more about the programs and resources available at the Environmental Education Center, Science Resource Center and Living Materials Center during the center’s open house on Saturday, Oct. 29. 

From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., staff can head out to 1600 Bowers Road in Seagoville to walk the nature trails at Post Oak Preserve, pet animals in the center’s barn and tour the 26,000-square-foot museum that models a forest habitat, a grassland habitat and a freshwater pond habitat. Visitors can also enjoy the nature play area or take a stroll through the garden to check out the developing watermelon tunnel.

“A lot of our students and staff live in Dallas, which is an urban setting, so many of them have never been on a hike in a forest or visited a farm,” STEM Director Mark Broughton said. “This is a chance for them to experience something they’ve never experienced before. I’ve also had teachers visit, and say, ‘I’ve come out here every year for five years, and I never knew this was out here,’ so there is always something new to explore.” 

Other highlights of the open house include a fish fry, hay rides, additional walking trails and opportunities to learn about the field investigations students experience when they visit and how to access free science equipment and living specimens. 

Broughton is encouraging all staff and their family members to take advantage of the free open house and get to know all of the incredible resources available to educate and inspire the approximately 25,000 students who visit the center each year. Just remember to wear comfortable shoes and bring sunscreen and bug repellent if you are planning on hiking. 

To RSVP for the event, visit For more information, call 972-749-6900 or email

Skyline teacher wins big at State Fair

The State Fair of Texas is home to fried foods, auto shows, farm exhibitions, and, this year, to the artwork of a Dallas ISD teacher. 

Linda Cross, a visual arts teacher at Skyline High School, has been entering ceramic pieces into the State Fair’s Creative Arts competitions for 15-20 years. She has earned several ribbons for her ingenuity and unique artistic vision, but this year brought her a new achievement: “Best of Show.” 

Cross entered three pieces in various “teachers and professionals” categories, and two of them earned awards. Her second-place piece, which she named “Trinity,” features three feathers coming up together to look like a flame, while her first-place piece—which also won the “Best of Show” ribbon—includes five individual ceramic boxes with feathers burnt onto them. 

The majority of Cross’ art uses an alternative firing technique called raku, a process she discovered while she was earning her master’s of art education. Her studies culminated in a master’s exhibition thesis that featured only alternative firing techniques. Cross said she decided to center her master’s project on eagles because they are “a symbol of guidance and friendship,” and she has been inspired by them ever since.

“Everything that I do is with burning feathers in mind,” Cross said. “My canvas is a ceramic piece, which may be very simple when I make it. You look at it, and there’s nothing to it, but then after I burn the feathers on it, it becomes an elaborate piece of art.” 

Cross is calling this State Fair “the highlight of all the years” competing. Once she gets the pieces back from the fair, she will display them first outside of her classroom and then in Skyline’s library. She said she is proud of the work she has done, and she hopes her success will encourage her students and her fellow teachers to enter their own work into the State Fair’s Creative Arts competitions. 

“Anybody can enter,” Cross said. “I do ceramics, but they have all different categories, including drawing and painting. I just encourage my students, if they want to enter work, to let me know early, because it’s a process that you have to complete over the summer.” 

If you are interested in entering a piece next year, visit the State Fair of Texas website and check the Creative Arts page for more information. In the meantime, do not miss the opportunity to see all the award-winning artwork on display in the Creative Arts Building at the State Fair through Sunday, Oct. 23. 

Helping every student across the finish line

National Dropout Prevention Month is celebrated annually during October, and Dallas ISD is spreading awareness about the six credit recovery and acceleration programs in place across secondary campuses to help all students succeed. 

“Dallas ISD is with students every step of the way,” said Marcus Scott, manager of Dallas ISD’s Graduation, Recovery, Attendance/Advocacy and Dropout Intervention (GRA2D) Department. “It doesn’t matter where they are on their journey to obtain their high school diploma. We are taking the negative stigmatization off of on-time graduation and celebrating spring, fall and summer graduations. That speaks volumes because if they don’t make it for this one, they can still make it for the next one.” 

All of the district’s credit recovery and acceleration programs are self-paced, as students can access the curriculum anywhere they have an internet connection. They include: 

  • Reconnection Centers: Each comprehensive high school has a Reconnection Center, where students who are no more than four credits behind can come for a class period to work on recovering or accelerating credits.
  • Freshman On-Track Initiative: This program targets second-year ninth grade students and helps put them back on track with their classification and on-time graduation by utilizing the Reconnection Centers for one or two class periods. 
  • Reconnection Plus Program: High school students who are significantly deficient with credit—for example, a student who has been in high school for three years and is still classified as a ninth grader—may qualify for a full day or half day schedule in the Reconnection Center to get the support they need. 
  • Evening Academy: High school students who do not have room in their schedule or who do not want to disrupt their schedule can supplement their learning by coming to the Evening Academy three days a week. 
  • Phoenix 2.0: This accelerated graduation plan allows high school-aged middle school students to progress in their eighth-grade core classes while simultaneously earning industry certifications and high school credits. The goal is to empower these students to graduate from high school in three years.
  • Grad Lab: While the approval process for this program is ongoing, it will enable students who are not in school for whatever reason, but who still want to earn their high school diploma, to attend night classes from 5-9 p.m. There, they will work on the courses that are required for them to earn their high school diploma, as identified by their counselors.

These programs are making a tangible difference in transforming student lives. Between the Reconnection Centers and the Reconnection Plus Program alone, Scott said they saw more than 6,000 students complete over 16,000 courses last year. Meanwhile the Freshman On-Track Initiative had 700 participants at five high schools with over 1,000 course completions and is expanding districtwide this year. 

“We are here for our students, come what may,” Scott said. “We are encouraging staff and families across the district to champion our students, even for one success. Celebrate every step forward, and help us take all negative stigmas off our students. If they need additional support, refer them to their school counselor, and we will take care of the rest.” 

Leslie Swann, director of the GRA2D Department, said another one of their goals is to spread awareness about these “second chance” credit recovery and acceleration programs in Dallas ISD. 

“We are not asking families or staff to know the intricacies of each program; we just want them to be ambassadors for this work,” Swann said. “The district’s mission is to educate all students for success, and we can all help advance that mission by knowing what’s available.” 

To learn more about Dallas ISD’s GRA2D Department and all the programs it has to offer, visit To determine the best program fit for a student you know who needs support, contact their campus counselor. 

Celebrating teachers at Molina High School

Dallas ISD teachers go above and beyond to educate all students for success, and the district appreciates their hard work—along with the broader Dallas community. Equitable, a financial services company, recently sponsored the Back to School Activation at Molina High School to honor and thank teachers for their unyielding dedication to students.

The luncheon took place at Molina High School’s cafeteria, as the company is sponsoring teacher-focused appreciation events for schools across the nation and selected Molina as the inaugural recipient in Texas.

“It’s personal because almost 18 years ago I was a teacher here,” Molina High School Principal Jacob Nunez said. “Teachers need to know that they’re supported. I need teachers to know that we care about them, and that’s why we’re here celebrating them today.”

Mark Ramirez, Dallas ISD’s deputy chief of school leadership and former Molina High School principal, attended the event and spoke about his experience as the school’s administrator from 2010 through 2015.

“As I go back and walk in this building and walk through these hallways, I remember that all the training ground for my current position learned it here,” Ramirez said.

The celebration featured a live mariachi, cheerleaders, a catered lunch for all teachers, giveaways, financial planning materials and more. Guest speaker Judge Hector Garza and motivational speaker Will Murphy also attended the event.

“We work day-in and day-out, always thinking about the students and making sure that we provide them everything they need,” said Maritza Abonza, a Spanish teacher at Molina. “It’s a tiring job and for them to take the time and spoil us like this is beautiful. The mariachis represent the culture that is within our walls at Molina.”