Transforming student lives with high-quality meals

International Chefs Day is recognized annually on Oct. 20 to celebrate the highly trained culinary professionals who dedicate themselves to helping others eat well. Dallas ISD is proud to have three chefs and four dietitians in Food & Child Nutrition Services to deliver wholesome meals to students throughout the year. 

Chef Betsy Wooldridge, a menu planning supervisor, has spent the past six years doing just that, and she has enjoyed every day of it. 

“The best part of my job is seeing the students’ excitement when they get something new on their menu,” Wooldridge said. “I come from a big Italian family in the northeast. Our culture is very food driven, and that inspired me to go into culinary nutrition. I find it really interesting, and when I got to Dallas ISD, I thought, ‘This is right for me.’” 

Wooldridge works directly with the menu planning team to come up with new recipes, order food, organize taste testings and monitor data to determine student needs. But the process does not stop with them. Their decisions set off a “chain reaction that affects all these different departments,” Wooldridge said. They partner closely with Food & Child Nutrition Services’ campus-based staff and operations to ensure that students across the district are receiving the best possible meals. 

“In large districts like ours, we do everything,” Wooldridge said. “Some districts have food service companies, so they have chefs and recipes that they can pull from, as well as trainings that are already provided. We manage everything here, so having the expertise of trained chefs allows us to make recipes that staff can understand.” 

A recent menu planning success was last year’s “brunch for lunch” in honor of National School Breakfast Week. Wooldridge said they served students a cinnamon roll, eggs and turkey sausage and had no idea how it would be received. When the meal promotion rolled out across the district, it was a huge success. 

“We actually had a cafeteria supervisor email with a picture of his students, and they were all giving us a thumbs-up,” she said. “They just loved it. It was so cute.” 

While some recipes are more popular than others, the feedback Wooldridge’s team receives motivates her to continue refining her skills to pave the way for student success. 

“It’s really important to make sure we are feeding the students wholesome meals because, as we know, some of the students in our district only get our breakfast, lunch and after-school meals. We want to make sure that they do not pass up lunch because there is something they do not like.”

Dallas ISD appreciates all the outstanding culinary professionals in Food & Child Nutrition Services. Their hard work and determination is empowering students to be healthy, happy and successful in school each day. 

Don’t fall for it

October is National Cybersecurity Awareness Month, and Dallas ISD’s Information Technology is sharing tips to stay safe online. This week, learn how to spot the social engineering red flags:

  • Unsolicited help or request for information
  • Baiting—the offer feels too good to be true
  • Contact can’t prove their identity
  • Access Tailgating (Nonemployee following you into a building/restricted area)
  • Scareware (Someone outside of IT informing you your device has been infected)

National Cybersecurity Month has been celebrated since 2004 led by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and the National Cybersecurity Alliance (NCA) in a collaborative effort between government and industry to raise cybersecurity awareness nationally and internationally. 

This year’s theme—See Yourself in Cyber—shows that everyone is part of cyberspace and that it’s up to each person to make smart decisions to keep important information safe.

Become a School Choice Student Advisor

The Racial Equity Office, in partnership with the Office of Transformation and Innovation, is inviting professional campus staff to serve as School Choice Student Advisors. This initiative aims to increase magnet and choice school enrollment among African American and emergent bilingual students from historically underrepresented communities. 

Dallas ISD is seeking 100 School Choice Student Advisors districtwide to support eligible students and families during the School Choice application process, which begins in November. Eligible mentors include professional campus staff, as the advisors will guide students and their families through the application and assessment processes.

The Racial Equity Office asks for the following commitments from participants: 

Participate and complete the family check-in activity on the following dates: 

  • Tuesday, Nov. 8
  • Tuesday, Nov. 15
  • Tuesday, Dec. 5
  • Tuesday, Dec. 20
  • Tuesday, Jan. 10
  • Tuesday, Jan. 17
  • Wednesday, Jan. 25
  • Monday, Jan. 30

Other responsibilities include attending a virtual orientation, virtual student advisor check-ins and submitting documentation. 

School Choice Student Advisors will receive a $500 stipend when they meet the required criteria and submit the proper documentation. For consideration, please complete the School Choice Student Advisor interest form. All selected advisors will be given virtual orientation training. 

To get to know the program better, meet one of last year’s advisors: Winnetka Elementary School Counselor Yara Duran. 

Duran mentored five students, who went on to apply to W.E. Greiner Exploratory Arts Academy, Henry W. Longfellow Career Exploration Academy, Dallas Environmental Science Academy, Irma Lerma Rangel Young Women’s Leadership School, Rosemont Preparatory School and Jesús Moroles Expressive Arts Vanguard. 

Why did you become a School Choice Student Advisor? 

I became an advisor because I wanted to help our students reach their potential at a school that would challenge them. Many of the students and families are not aware that their child qualifies for a magnet middle school, so it was a great feeling to deliver that news to them. As a product of Dallas ISD, I had no idea what a magnet school was. Once I did find out, it was too late for me. I wanted to be a part of a program that spread the news to families, like mine, who were unaware of these opportunities.

What are the main responsibilities involved? 

Our main responsibility was first to congratulate and inform the families that their child qualified to apply to a magnet school—with some of our schools being ranked best in the nation. We then provided the parents with important dates for applications, open houses and information on schools that might fit the student’s interests, and we offered to be a mentor to help guide them through the process. If they agreed to us as a mentor, we set up a date to meet to go into more detail about the process. Some families filled out the application themselves, but for most of my families, I did the application alongside them.

What was your favorite part about being an advisor? 

My favorite part was being a mentor. Seeing the excitement from the scholars and congratulating them on their accomplishments and hard work was just the beginning. In our profession, this is part of our job, but spreading the awareness of these programs to historically underrepresented students was that much more rewarding.

Do you have any favorite student success stories from last year?

My favorite success story was from one of my mentees whose family was unaware she qualified. She was never a part of any clubs, but she enjoyed acting. I remember getting a text from her mom with a picture of a quiz she was doing on her own, practicing theater terms to prepare for her interview. A couple months later, I received another text from her mom telling me that she had been accepted into the magnet theater program at Greiner and thanking me for my help.

Why should other staff consider becoming a School Choice Student Advisory Program mentor? 

As educators, we want the best for our students, and their success is what makes our hard work worth it. You should consider becoming a mentor because you can be that factor to reach all of our students and help them discover and reach their maximum potential.

If you have any additional questions about the program, contact Jonica Crowder-Lockwood at or Jacinto Valdespino at

Thank your leader

Managers and supervisors provide the vision and leadership that makes work successful, and their efforts are recognized during National Boss’ Day celebrated annually in October. Dallas ISD is joining in to celebrate the leaders who are transforming student lives and making memorable moments every day by providing guidance and support to those around them.

Nursing supervisor Chyl Helms has called Dallas ISD home since 2004, so she understands the importance of what she calls “leading from the front.” Not only does she oversee 50 campus nurses, but she also facilitates all new nurse orientations and the two-year School Nurse Clinical Development program for approximately 75 nurses annually. 

“My team is my true passion,” Helms said. “I see myself as their advocate and do everything I can to make my staff feel valued and respected—and to feel like they are part of a bigger picture. Being the only healthcare provider on a campus can be challenging, so I also serve as a sounding board and a safe space if they have a bad day and need to process it.” 

Helms sees being a leader as an opportunity to continuously improve. Whether she is communicating more efficiently, finding meaningful ways to recognize individuals or encouraging her team to learn from their mistakes and build new and improved systems, she is devoted to helping others—a value that inspired her to become a nurse in the first place. 

She started out as a travel nurse, exploring countries like Jamaica and India, before finding her way to Dallas ISD as a nurse at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. She soon became a preceptor and moved to William Lipscomb Elementary School, the former James Fannin Elementary School and Ben Milam Elementary School before becoming a nurse supervisor. 

In the years since then, she has left a profound impact on countless staff, setting the tone for all new nurses and helping them find their homes in the district. Her team’s positive feedback speaks for itself. 

Arlington Park Early Childhood Center campus nurse Debra Rodgers said, “Chyl is a role model, an encourager and a supporter for Dallas ISD nurses. She is warm, caring and friendly; and she sends handwritten notes and little gifts throughout the year to encourage us.” 

 Meanwhile, Dawn Wilcox, the campus nurse at Lipscomb, said, “Chyl educates and trains all of our new nurses in addition to managing her own massive workload, and I rarely see her without a smile. She is incredibly intelligent and an indispensable resource to fellow nurses. She models using humor and self-care as a way to manage stress, and her approach centers the needs of students. She is amazing at balancing compassion with non-negotiable expectations of excellence. We need to recognize more of the innovative and grueling work performed by support staff—especially our district nurses.” 

Thank you to all the leaders and managers across the district who have stepped up during the pandemic and beyond to provide support and contribute to educating all students for success. Dallas ISD appreciates everything that you do.

“It’s not always about the big tasks,” Helms said. “Sometimes those small things can mean so much to people, and that’s the part of nursing that I really love—seeing the joy on people’s faces with the small things. When anyone has a rough day, I encourage them to stop and look each student in the eye and have that moment of ‘why.’ It’s always about the students.”

Read to the Final Four

The NCAA, Women’s Final Four and Dallas Local Organizing Committee have teamed up to provide a reading program aimed at creating a lifelong love and interest in reading for third graders in Dallas. 

Registration for the Read to the Final Four literacy challenge opens on Oct. 17, and Dallas ISD reading specialists, literacy coordinators, third grade teachers and staff should encourage third-grade students and classrooms to participate. 

Pre-registered classrooms will participate in an eight-week incentivized program that will give them the ability to win a variety of prizes. The eight-week competition tips off on Jan. 23, 2023, and concludes on March 17, when the top four schools will be awarded with a field trip to recognize the winning school in a special ceremony that coincides with the week of the Women’s Final Four.

For more information about the Read to the Final Four or the Women’s Final Four weekend of festivities, visit For questions about the program, contact Caroline Robinson at

A passion for transforming lives

Kaya Vessel, an instructional specialist in Early Learning, grew up dreaming of transforming student lives through education.

“Teaching was always my dream job,” she said. “I was the kid who always wanted to play school. During the last week of classes, I would ask my teachers for their teacher’s editions so I could go home and play school with my sisters. I’ve always had a love for kids.”

She started teaching in the day care at her high school, the School of Education and Social Services at Townview, which confirmed her career path. After graduating from Dallas ISD, she attended Dillard University in New Orleans to study early childhood education. Hurricane Katrina delayed her student teaching by a year, but as soon as she completed her program, she headed home to Dallas, where she taught for 13 years.

Vessel considered herself to be a “stern” teacher because she always pushed her students to reach their full potential, and her efforts paid off this past school year. Not only did her students perform well on their STAAR tests, but she was also named Nancy J. Cochran Elementary School’s campus teacher of the year. Her team celebrated her accomplishment by playing Vessel’s favorite song as she walked into her classroom.

“My students were there singing along because they knew it was my song,” she said. “They were saying, ‘We have the best teacher of the year!’ That right there, that was one of my favorite memories from this past school year.”

Another passion of Vessel’s is pouring into teachers. She worked as a mentor teacher for years, which inspired her to shift her career trajectory to supporting and retaining teachers. She joined the Early Learning team this summer and considers it her “goal in life right now” to help teachers be successful so they can help their students in turn.

“I remember my first couple of years in the classroom, I had teachers come in from down the hall. If I was struggling, we would do practices after school, and we would run through the next day so I would be ready. It meant so much to me,” Vessel said. “At this point where there’s a mass exodus from this profession, I want to be someone who can help at least one teacher decide, ‘I want to stick it out and give education a chance.’” 

But first, she took a short detour back to the classroom. Due to the national teacher shortage, the district’s Teaching and Learning department identified certified central staff members who could fill in the gaps and ensure that students in almost 100 classrooms could have a certified instructor at the beginning of the year while the district worked to fill those vacancies. 

Vessel was briefly dispatched to two schools at the beginning of the 2022-2023 school year before receiving a third dispatch to serve as a kindergarten teacher at Ebby Halliday Elementary School. She worked with students there for about a month and is currently transitioning back into her role as an instructional specialist in Early Learning. 

“It was beneficial for me to be in that teaching position temporarily, because when they did hire that teacher, I was able to coach them so the students didn’t miss a step,” Vessel said. “I was aware of how their classroom was set up and how their routines operated, and I helped their teacher jump right in.” 

Vessel is looking forward to embracing her new responsibilities as an instructional specialist, as well as completing her master’s degree in the spring. She plans to incorporate those skills into her Early Learning position to continue making a difference in the district. After all, she understands how difficult teaching can be, but she believes in each and every one of Dallas ISD’s phenomenal teachers. 

“Teaching during this season has been hard. However, we can do hard things,” Vessel said. “We can do it—we’ve done it. The pandemic started two years ago, and we’re still rocking and rolling. The most important thing is, don’t forget about self-care. You can’t show up for students if you can’t show up.”  

Nominate a deserving teacher

The Dallas Cowboys and Reliant are excited to kick off the third year of the Cowboys Class Acts Program, which honors teachers who constantly encourage, lead and strive for excellence in the classroom. 

This year, the Dallas Cowboys and Reliant will recognize a teacher in the DFW area each month through February to highlight their phenomenal work empowering students. 

The teachers recognized as Class Acts teachers of the month will each receive a $4,000 grant. The Dallas Cowboys and Reliant hope that these funds will allow teachers to continue to impact their students and further their mission of education. 

All Dallas ISD staff are encouraged to nominate a deserving teacher by clicking here. The application period is open and will close on Jan. 31, 2023.

ESSER update: Special Services closes gaps

Dallas ISD’s Special Services Department receives thousands of referrals annually, and each one needs to be evaluated to determine how to best support the student. When the COVID-19 pandemic began and prevented in-person evaluations from taking place, a referral backlog built up, leaving 2,100 referrals to be assessed in 2021. 

Fortunately, the Special Services team was able to bridge those gaps with the help of federal dollars from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) fund. Deputy Chief of Teaching and Learning Derek Little and the executive directors of Special Services, Michelle Brown and Anabel Meyer, said $500,000 went to clearing up the backlog during the 2021-2022 school year, a task that has since been completed. 

In addition to working through the backlogged referrals, Special Services assessed referrals from the 2021-2022 school year to prevent a new backlog. Their efforts paid off, both in terms of numbers and setting themselves up for success this school year. Their team completed close to 6,000 evaluations—including the entire backlog—in just 14 months. 

“We are seeing much better systems in place within the team now,” Little said. “We are better able to know how many referrals we have at any given point in time and where they are in the process. Our tracking systems and our follow-up systems are much more sophisticated and robust.” 

This efficiency was made possible by the ESSER funds. The federal dollars provided more staff time and contractor support, as there are now 55 contracted LSSPs and diagnosticians across the district, and everyone in Special Services is working together to stay on track. 

“Previously, people felt like they were on islands, and they didn’t have that support,” Meyer said. “Now, because we are looking at each referral every step of the way, we are able to proactively provide support when an evaluator gets in a bind or they are overwhelmed.” 

ESSER funding for this particular task has been completed as the backlog has been cleared, but Special Services will continue to receive funding in other ESSER categories to mitigate the learning disruptions caused by the pandemic.

“We want to first and foremost ensure that our students are being provided with timely services, and that means getting them the evaluations in a timely manner,” Meyer said. “In order for that to happen, we need staff and evaluators, so we will continue to use the ESSER funding as long as we can to prevent any future backlog.”

To learn more about how Dallas ISD is investing ESSER funds to bolster learning recovery and acceleration, equitable access and healthy students, visit  

Coming together to prevent bullying

Dallas ISD wants everyone to know what bullying is and how students, parents, teachers and staff can create positive change and emphasize respect and inclusion across the district. During October—National Bullying Prevention Month—learn how to help prevent and respond to acts of bullying, intimidation, violence and other disruptive behavior to keep our communities safe.   

 Though it can take many forms, bullying is usually: 

  • Verbal: Hurtful name-calling, teasing, gossiping, making threats, making rude noises or spreading hurtful rumors.
  • Nonverbal: Posturing, making gang signs, leering, staring, stalking, destroying property, using graffiti or graphic images or exhibiting inappropriate and/or threatening gestures or actions.
  • Physical: Hitting, punching, pushing, shoving, poking, kicking, tripping, strangling, hair pulling, fighting, beating, biting, spitting or destroying property.
  • Emotional (psychological): Rejecting, terrorizing, extorting, defaming, intimidating, humiliating, blackmailing, manipulating friendships, isolating, ostracizing, using peer pressure or rating or ranking personal characteristics.

Reports of bullying should be made as soon as possible after the alleged act or knowledge of the alleged act. 

Encourage any student who believes that he or she has experienced bullying or believes that another student has experienced bullying to immediately report the alleged acts to a teacher, counselor, principal or other district employee. A report may be made orally or in writing. 

To report after hours, staff, parents and students can contact the Office of Professional Responsibility Hotline at 1-800-530-1608, which is staffed 24 hours a day. Any district employee who receives notice that a student has or may have experienced bullying shall immediately make a report on the district’s Student Discipline System.

We all play a role in keeping our communities safe, and together, we can improve the well-being of students, staff and families across the district. 

To learn more about the district’s bullying policy, visit

Tell us your choice

Dallas ISD is working on preparing the calendars for the next two school years and would like input from staff on how the winter break for December 2023 and January 2024 should be structured. Two options are available for review. Staff, parents and students have through midnight on Oct. 16 to provide input on their preferred option.

While developing the calendars for the following two school years, Dallas ISD is working to ensure that students and staff get:

  • The required number of instruction and professional development days
  • A full week for the Thanksgiving holiday
  • A week at spring break
  • Elementary and secondary fair days
  • Labor Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Memorial Day, Juneteenth
  • Inclement weather make-up days

While a decision has not yet been made about having Intersession and School Day Redesign calendars for 2023-2024 and 2024-2025 school years, holidays and breaks would not be affected.

You can access the 2023-2024 winter break options survey at