Mita Havlick still doesn’t agree with her former political opponent, Dustin Marshall, on everything.
Dallas ISD schoolchildren continue to be over-tested, she says, and the district’s system for evaluating teachers needs work.
But what Havlick watched over the past year, after Marshall defeated her in a close runoff to become the DISD District 2 trustee representing parts of East Dallas and Preston Hollow, was enough to keep her from running against him this time around.
“It’s working,” Havlick says. “The dynamics of the school board had changed. It’s a more functional group. A portion of that is attributed to Dan Micciche‘s strong leadership as board president, but it’s a group effort.”
She says she also sees progress in things like the new, more equitable sibling preference policy, a minimizing of suspensions for the district’s youngest children, and six of seven Accelerating Campus Excellence (ACE) schools coming off the state’s “improvement required” list.
“What our district and our school board really need is stability,” Havlick says. “It’s working, and if you have progress plus stability, that’s a formula for things moving forward. I’m comfortable with that.”
And now, one week into early voting, not only is she comfortable, she also has decided to publicly endorse Marshall in his current race against challenger Lori Kirkpatrick.
Endorsing in the DISD District 2 race wasn’t part of her initial plan. “I wanted to see it play out,” she says. Plus, Havlick, despite being 42 votes shy of being in office this year, doesn’t puff up her role in the Dallas political scene. She’s like anyone else who cares, she says.
And what she learned running for office is that not only should she care, she should care more. Havlick and the band of Stonewall Jackson Elementary mothers who formed her core grassroots team didn’t exit the local political scene after her loss.
“What we realized is that we could generate excitement, effect change and make a positive difference,” Havlick says. “It would almost diminish what we had accomplished last year to say, oh well, that was a one-time thing, it’s done. The goal wasn’t to get a person elected; it was to systemically change our school system.”
“We all jumped into that pool fully clothed, and when we toweled off, we agreed we’re not done,” she continues. “We’re not doing it for the door prizes; we’re doing this because we love, love our community and love our schools, and we need to do what we can to continue to improve them.”
These Stonewall moms hosted a meet and greet this spring for Matt Wood, who is challenging District 14 City Councilman Philip Kingston. Unlike in the DISD race, Havlick, an M Streets neighbor, chose to make a formal endorsement of Wood in the City Council race. She knew she didn’t support the incumbent, she says, and actively was looking for a candidate to support.
Still, Havlick kept mum on the Marshall-Kirkpatrick race. She acted as a resource to both candidates as they sought her help but didn’t throw support behind either one.
Five days into early voting, however, she feels she needs to formalize her stance. Early voter turnout is low in Preston Hollow, an area of Marshall’s district that strongly backs him, because District 13 City Councilwoman Jennifer Staubach Gates doesn’t have a serious challenger. Activity is higher in East Dallas, where the race between Kingston and Wood is attracting voters to the polls already.
Kirkpatrick and her campaign to oust a private school graduate who sends his kids to private schools, and has donors who support charter schools and the privatization of public schools, has more traction in East Dallas with its typically more liberal sentiments. Havlick respects Kirkpatrick, her intelligence and her work at Parkland hospital with low-income children. She’s uncomfortable, however, with Marshall being portrayed as a private school voucher supporter who has a plan to privatize public schools.
“I think there were dots connected to create a narrative that I don’t buy into,” she says, “but my reason for supporting Dustin isn’t that — my reason for supporting Dustin is, it’s going well.”
Marshall, who lives a few blocks from Preston Hollow Elementary, still sends his children to the private school Greenhill, where he attended, and gives no indication of reversing that decision. Havlick jumped into the District 2 race last year as someone who had experience with DISD schools as a parent, a quality she shares with Kirkpatrick, whose daughter attends Lakewood Elementary. But that was “my motivation for running, not my qualification,” Havlick says.
“I wish he did send his kids to public school and I do think it’s important, but it shouldn’t be your sole or your primary qualification,” she says.
After Marshall won their race, he continued reaching out to Havlick and other parents who supported her to seek their input, and “that’s important to me, that trust, to have in someone who’s representing me.” She says she spoke with Marshall before she decided not to run to ask whether he would continue to reach out after this election cycle.
“He said, ‘Absolutely,’ and I believe him,” she says.
And at the end of the day, Havlick says she couldn’t continue to stay out of the race because when it comes to DISD, “I care too much.” She’s well aware that people may think differently or care about different things than she does, and is unsure, though hopeful, about whether her voice will make a dent in this race. She believes it’s important, however, not just for her but for everyone, to care and to use their voice, especially in local politics.
“We’re regular folk, but the people we’re electing are regular folk, too. Yet we sit back and say we can’t participate, we can’t get involved except to vote,” Havlick says. “This is where we live, the roads we drive on, the houses that we need to keep safe, the children riding their bikes to school. We cannot sit around and complain about things and not participate in the process.”
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