“Learning is a very dynamic process,” says Vivian Johnson, School-Centered Education (SCE) project director for DISD. “It comes from the struggle with change.

“Struggle and change and anxiety are necessary aspects of the adjustment to a different way of doing things. One of my roles is reminding folks that it is natural to feel anxious and ill-equipped.”

Johnson is dedicated to improving the lives of children – she took this job after leaving the work force for five years to raise her youngest child. And that’s what attracted her to SCE, a site-based management program.

“I like it because it is child-centered. It focuses on individuals. Collaboration is a key element. It brings adults together on behalf of the children,” she says.

DISD Superintendent Dr. Marvin Edwards first encountered SCE when he worked in the Topeka, Kan., school system. DISD evaluated several programs and selected SCE because it met Edwards’ criteria for a research-based program emphasizing academic and social development and had been tested on a school population similar to that in Dallas, Johnson says.

Johnson has her own agenda, as well.

First, she says: “I believe genuinely that all children can learn and the system should be held accountable for making that happen.”

Second: “Every parent wants to be actively involved in his child’s education. It’s a matter of coming up with a wide enough menu so the parent says: ‘Yes, I can do that.’”

Johnson is trying to find money to pay for parent centers at each school that will offer topical, bi-lingual reading material. Also, she expects DISD to eventually add a phone messaging system that will provide a mailbox for each teacher. Parents may call for schedules, assignments, grades or other information.

Johnson’s greatest hopes are to improve communication between administrators, parents, teachers and students.

“Staff morale must be addressed first,” she says. “Once we create a school environment that is psychologically healthy, then you set the stage for learning.

“Historically, schools have focused on the nuts and bolts first. In the process, teachers have been devalued,” Johnson says.

“After a while, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. They begin to act as if they don’t care. The students don’t feel the teachers value their capacity for learning. And then, why would anyone teach somebody they feel is not capable of learning?

“Parents would be stronger advocates for schools if they saw some connection between school and the real world. Teachers would get turned on again. Students would get turned on for the first time if they saw some immediate application for what they’re taught.”

If parents, students and teachers display anger and frustration over existing conditions, that’s not such a bad thing, Johnson says.

“Sometimes rebellion is a very healthy response, especially if it’s rebellion against expectations that are unrealistic.

“Maybe if we did something about the stampede from class to class and offered college scheduling so students could attend a class on Monday, Wednesday and Friday instead of every day…If we integrated fine arts and physical education into reading, writing and arithmetic…If social activities and community service were part of the school day, we’d see a change,” Johnson says.


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