It’s that time of year again … resolutions, cleanses and decisions to be made on where your child will go to school in eight months. But hurry! The application window for Dallas ISD magnet, specialized programs and choice schools closes Jan. 31.
My 16-year-old periodically expresses annoyance that the basic tenets of primary and secondary education have not changed since I was a student many moons ago — you wake up early, go to class, sit at a desk, listen to teachers, do homework, take tests and “learn a bunch of (expletive) you’ll never, ever need.”
I patiently tell him that while the stuff he’s learning seems useless now, it will become instrumental when he helps his children with their homework as they learn that same bunch of stuff. Then I remind him that while some of it is the same, much has changed since I was a kid.
For me, the path was straightforward: I went to my neighborhood elementary school, followed by my neighborhood middle school and then my neighborhood high school. Where I attended was not dictated by my interests, academic aptitude or “best fit.” I wasn’t given any choices. A couple families did elect to home school, and a handful enrolled in private school, but that was purely for the parochial-based education. When I speak to my parental peers today, wherever in the United States they grew up, they tell me their roadmap was similar.
These days, the route for our Dallas students is anything but linear.
I’ve heard many a parent moan, myself included, while in the midst of wading through the various possibilities, “When did it all get so complicated?”
The first magnet school in the United States opened in 1970 when Dallas’ Skyline High School accepted its initial students. The clusters within Skyline subsequently moved to Yvonne A. Ewell Townview Magnet Center in 1978, and schools on that campus, originally created as a way to assist federal court-ordered desegregation, are now regarded as some of the best public high schools in the country.
Public school choice was born in Dallas ISD courtesy of former M Streets resident Mike Koprowski, hired in 2014 by previous Superintendent Mike Miles to head the newly formed Office of Transformation and Innovation. The district marketed public school choice as, “A mechanism for growing the range of options so that all Dallas ISD students can attend a best-fit school … by tapping into their specific interests, aspirations, preferred learning styles, personal circumstances and values.”
Public school choice also was a mechanism to retain and attract families in and to the district, compete with area charter schools and give neighborhood schools an overhaul with specialized programming. In the case of Mata Montessori, the district’s first transformation school, the open-based enrollment concept of choice schools helped alleviate some of the overcrowding at popular Lakewood and Mockingbird Elementary schools. Koprowski, who chose to send his children to his family’s neighborhood school, then Robert E. Lee and now Geneva Heights Elementary, has since left Dallas ISD and is the National Director at the non-profit National Low Income Housing Coalition in Washington, D.C.
Many families in East Dallas will tell you that they specifically signed their leases or bought their homes to be zoned to schools in the Woodrow Wilson High School feeder pattern or to be able to attend Hexter Elementary or Bryan Adams High School. Some would argue, and rightly so, that these neighborhood schools are choice schools. Woodrow and BA are two of the top comprehensive high schools in Dallas ISD. The former became one of the first schools in Texas to be accredited as an International Baccalaureate World School in 2011, and the latter launched a Leadership Academy in 2015. Woodrow and its neighboring middle school, J.L. Long, are in such high demand that district officials suspended any new transfers to these schools until the 2020-21 school year.
Long story short, we are spoiled with choices in Dallas ISD, and deciding which school is a “best-fit” is often an anxiety-filled exercise. Lest you think you’re off the hook if you opt to stick to your Dallas ISD neighborhood schools, know that there are still decisions to be made.
From pre-K to high school, how many of us have had conversations ad nauseum about what we should do: Mata Montessori, SOLAR Prep for Girls and Boys or stay at our neighborhood school? Go magnet, personalized learning or dual language? Which one: IB, STEM, arts, business, hospitality, collegiate academy or P-TECH? Wait, what about private?
The choices are many, and the decision is not easy. As parents, we have repetitive conversations and sleepless nights over the questions of should we or shouldn’t we apply and which one of these great options do we choose. And then trying to decode differing application requirements if we do decide to move forward.
Having gone through this process multiple times with my own two children, I know well the feeling of constant questioning and the angst that accompanies giving the final rose to the chosen school.
It seems that decisions are a lot harder when multiple great options are available.
I occasionally long for the olden days when educational paths were straight and straightforward, but then I remind myself of something really important: Great options are a good problem to have.
And in retrospect, I wish I could get back some of that time and energy I expended constantly questioning. Great options also mean it’s hard to go wrong.
Mita Havlick is a neighborhood activist. Find her commentary regularly in the back pages of our print edition and online at lakewood.advocatemag.com.
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