With improving test scores, successful teacher recruitment and few signs of trustee squabbles, city residents are watching the Dallas ISD with cautious optimism. Could the district finally be headed toward long-term improvement?
Many think so, for two reasons: One, better pay and more support for teachers, thanks to Supt. Mike Moses’ efforts. Two, the $1.37 billion bond program to finance school repairs, expansions and new facilities.
Much of the thanks for the bond issue goes to Lakewood resident Craig Reynolds.
Unlike Moses, Reynolds isn’t a DISD administrator. In fact, he’s not even a DISD employee. He’s a founding partner of Brown Reynolds Watford Architects and is a product of the district, having gone to DISD schools himself.
He’s also one of the many parents in our neighborhood who feel strongly about having their kids attend public school (his daughters attend Lakewood Elementary J.L. Long Middle School). Reynolds not only believes his children receive an education that rivals that of a private school; in some ways, he believes it’s better.
“There’s more to education than just classrooms,” he says. “In a multicultural environment, kids learn how to work with people who are different from them. In a homogeneous environment, kids don’t get those opportunities.”
That said, Reynolds has high expectations for the learning environment DISD offers, and he believes well-functioning facilities are a vital part of that environment.
“What sort of message are we sending to our kids trying to gain an education in a facility that’s practically falling down around them and so crowded they don’t have enough restrooms, cafeterias or classrooms?” he says. “Especially when we’re building all sorts of other facilities, and theirs is in the worst condition, the last thing touched.”
That kind of thinking has had Reynolds volunteering with DISD schools for years. It’s also why he agreed to serve on the Future Facilities Task Force, setting the stage for last year’s bond election.
The 35-member task force was formed in late 1996 to accomplish something never before attempted: Review the district as a whole, gain an understanding of the capital needs of every school, then make specific recommendations about how to meet them. The task force was to fulfill these duties without regard for race, districts or politics, something that was proving impossible for the school board at the time.
The job was daunting. With more than 200 schools, half of them at least 50 years old, the capital improvement needs of DISD’s campuses were enormous. Additionally, the task force found that most schools in the district exceeded the student count for which they were designed. Some campuses were so overcrowded, more classrooms were housed in portable buildings than in permanent ones.
And if that weren’t enough challenge, the task force began its work at a time when the district’s scandals and infighting routinely made front-page news.
Despite the problems at the district level, Reynolds says the group worked remarkably well together.
“We all knew we had a huge, important task, and we had to stick to the high road and be completely objective,” he says. “And it worked. We got a pretty strong consensus of what the needs were across the board, from a very diverse group of people.”
Within a few months of the group’s formation, Reynolds was named its chair. Ed Oakley, Dallas city council member and former task force member, says Reynolds was the right man for the job.
“He was a good leader,” Oakley says. “He brought his previous experience with bond elections to the board (Reynolds was involved in a previous, much smaller DISD bond), but he was careful not to push the committee in any one direction. He was always open to different ideas.”
His willingness to put in the hours didn’t hurt, either.
Besides the regular task force meetings, there were ad hoc committees, PTA meetings, Saturday campus tours, public meetings and board meetings to attend. Reynolds says he has no idea how many hours he spent working to make the bond proposal a reality.
“I probably don’t want to know that number,” he says.
Once the task force developed its recommendations, superintendent turnover delayed the group from being acted upon for a number of years. But finally, in 2001, the recommendations were shaped into a bond proposal, and in January 2002, five years after the task force met for the first time, it was approved.
Reynolds’ motive in backing the bond was once questioned at a public presentation, when someone asked if his firm would benefit from it. He says he wasn’t surprised the question came up, though there was no guarantee he would get any work from the bond.
Ultimately as part of the bidding process, his firm was awarded a contract that should total approximately $500,000, but he says his company got the job because of the quality of its work.
“We were one of 19 firms that applied, and we had to go through the same application process as everyone else.”
Additionally, about 40 percent of the money earned will pass through to other companies, he says, with the final profit amounting to less than what the firm usually earns. And, given the number of hours Reynolds has put into this and other DISD school programs, it does seem there’d have to be an easier way to drum up business.
Cecilia Anzaldua, Lakewood Elementary School principal, says she has no doubt why Reynolds does what he does, and it has nothing to do with his business.
“It’s all about giving back,” she says. “Craig’s just a real leader in our school community. On top of his work with the bond program, he chairs Lakewood’s Site-Based Decision Management Group, overseeing eight different subcommittees, which means he’s often at five to six meetings a week up here. He’s practically here almost as much as I am. I feel so fortunate to have him as part of our community.”
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