DISD Gives College Try at Hillcrest High

Newly accepted Richland College students attending a welcome event with their parents on campus last May didn’t look the part.

“They looked like little kids,” observed Becky Jones, Richland’s executive dean of educational partnerships.

Students finishing eighth grade often do.

But for Dallas ISD officials, those students also look like the future, a future in which more families choose the district, more students graduate and more graduates are college ready.

A few months after the Richland welcome event, the new freshmen at Emmett J. Conrad High School began their first college coursework as part of a partnership that provides selected Dallas ISD students opportunities to graduate high school with about 60 hours of college credit and possibly an associate’s degree.

The collegiate academy/early college program began in 2016 with about 1,000 students at eight campuses and will add 10 more campuses for 2017, including Hillcrest High School.

“A new program like this gives us opportunities to talk to parents about all the programs we have here,” said Hillcrest principal Christopher Bayer.

He has been promoting the opportunities to students at Benjamin Franklin Middle School and elsewhere.

While the early college program, which aims to create first-generation college students, may not be right for everyone, Hillcrest also offers such other rigorous options as advanced placement courses, biomedical research and an engineering academy. An international baccalaureate program is in the works.

“There are so many great things happening inside the walls of our campus,” Bayer said.

DISD leaders hope all their comprehensive high schools will have early college programs within a few years and that the district will become increasingly attractive to families and new industries.

“The scale of this thing is so large, and it’s reaching all of Dallas,” Jones said. “That’s why I think it will be successful.”

Israel Cordero, chief of strategic initiatives and external relations, said the program is drawing community attention and support.

More than 2,000 students applied the first year, including 300 from outside the district, he said.

Applications this year totaled 4,824, including 136 for the program at Hillcrest High. Most of the Hillcrest applicants are from Benjamin Franklin Middle School, which draws students from Preston Hollow and other North Dallas neighborhoods, said Robyn Harris of DISD Communication Services.

And 43 industry partners have signed up to provide mentoring, site visits, and potentially job-interviewing opportunities, Cordero said.

“We know it’s a game changer for students and their families, and we know this improves the hand-off of
students going from high school to college to industry,” he said.

The collegiate academies, which will be called early college campuses going forward, launch with 100 to 125 freshmen and then add an additional class each year. The first graduates will don their caps and gowns in 2020.

During freshman and sophomore years, students take courses on their high school campuses. Juniors and seniors will ride buses to partner colleges, but still participate in extracurricular activities on their high school campuses, Jones said.

Costs are shared between DISD and the colleges, most of which are part of the Dallas County Community College District.

DISD provides classroom space for the first two years, teachers for non-college courses, and all textbooks, while colleges provide teachers for college courses and space for the junior and senior years, Jones said.

Tuition is covered in the form of scholarships to the students, she said.

“It’s roughly a $6,000 opportunity for most families,” Cordero said.

Graduates could also gain such opportunities as starting at four-year colleges as juniors or going straight from high school into high paying jobs in industry, he said.

Educators at Hillcrest High are learning from industrial partners JLL and Cummings Electrical about the variety of opportunities in engineering as well as what employers want to see from students, Bayer said.

“They know what local colleges are sending them as qualified applicants, and they know what they would like as qualified applicants,” he said.

Hillcrest High, like Conrad, will partner with Richland College, where Bayer expects students to benefit from the quality laboratories.

Admission to the program is not strictly about grades, the principal said. Bayer is looking for students who are excited about the subject matter and the opportunities.

“We really need a student who is willing to take some risks and work through the hurdles they are going
to face,” he said, adding that parental support also is key.

Beginning in the fall, selected students at Hillcrest will begin a math and science-intensive program in engineering, starting with their first college course, an introduction to computers.

“They are all starting with a course they ought to have success at,” Jones said.

Student success is a top priority of the program, she said. “This is serious. They are starting their college transcript.”

DISD and DCCCD officials want students not only to get their college credits, but also to do well enough in their courses to be able to compete for spots in programs at area universities, Jones said.

Over the summer, incoming students will participate in time management and study skills programs aimed
at making them more college ready. Many of them will look it, too.

Jones remembers how different the students she met in May appeared as they got started in the fall.

“Some of them had to have grown 6 inches,” Jones said, adding the uniforms they wear three days a week also made a difference. “They put on that blazer, and you could see the transformation.”


– Dallas ISD schools become primary choice for families in the district.

– 95 percent of students graduate

– 90 percent of graduates qualify for community college, college, military, or an industry certification.

William Taylor

William Taylor, editor of Park Cities People and Preston Hollow People, shares a name and a birthday with his dad and a love for community journalism with his colleagues at People Newspapers. He joined the staff in 2016 after more than 25 years working for daily newspapers in such places as Alexandria, Louisiana; Baton Rouge; McKinney; San Angelo; and Sherman, though not in anywhere near that order. A city manager once told him that “city government is the best government” because of its potential to improve the lives of its residents. William still enjoys covering municipal government and many other topics. Follow him on Twitter @Seminarydropout. He apologizes in advance to the Joneses for any angry Tweets that might slip out about the Dallas Cowboys during the NFL season. You also can reach him at [email protected]. For the latest news, click here to sign up for our newsletter.

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