Dallas ISD Aims to Make an Impact Near and (Just a Little Bit) Far

Dallas ISD’s magnet schools have long been popular choices for families – but over the past few years, the district has also worked to create other choices designed to attract parents and students in a very crowded field of options.

Take, for instance, your neighborhood school, which just might be making some changes this year.

Foster Elementary in Midway Hollow, Pershing Elementary in Preston Hollow, and 19 additional schools received $50,000 Innovation Engine grants in November to pursue innovation with an aim at increasing interest in the neighborhoods they serve.

Foster Elementary will pursue a personalized learning curriculum, while Pershing is exploring a STEAM college and career exploration track. Nearby DeGolyer Elementary is also pursing a STEAM track, but in design thinking.

Last year, the Dallas ISD Office of Transformation and Innovation began its Innovation Engine Grant Program, hoping to help neighborhood schools better position themselves as a first option for families as they weigh their options between charter schools, private schools, and even public magnet schools.

“We are planting seeds of innovation throughout Dallas ISD,” said Shakeatha Butler, director of the Office of Transformation and Innovation. “Sometimes it takes money to innovate. A school team might have the passion and might have the ideas, but they need the funds to make those ideas a reality.”

The selected schools can use the funding in a variety of ways to support innovation on their campus.

But OTI is also working to increase its pool of what the district calls “choice” schools. A relatively new program allows communities to “pitch” schools – and even lobby for what type of school.

The process starts with an idea. Educational professionals and community groups form a plan and then begin exploratory meetings with the district’s Office of Transformation and Innovation. If they decide to apply, they submit a letter of intent, and then a final proposal.

Last year, the district received 53 letters of intent in its Public School Choice 6.0 program, and 26 proposal applications for review, district spokesperson Nina Lakhiani said.

The hope, she said, is that the district will get a better idea of what the community wants and needs.

“We’re creating additional best-fit schools in quadrants of the city where we have lost market share,” she said.

One of the schools that made the cut? The Midtown STEAM Academy, which will be the district’s first pre-K through 12th-grade school and is co-designed in partnership with the North Dallas Chamber of Commerce and Texas A&M University-Commerce.

“The keys to the success of the Midtown STEAM Academy application was the wealth of experience and community connections that TAMUC and NDCC brought to the project,” said chamber events and membership director Megan McQuery, who enthusiastically recommended the district’s process.

“I would encourage an organization that sees an educational need to apply – the Innovation Schools and Choice programs are great tools to create learning opportunities for students that are their best fit,” she added.

Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson, deputy editor at People Newspapers, cut her teeth on community journalism, starting in Arkansas. Recently, she's taken home a few awards for her writing, including first place for her tornado coverage from the National Newspapers Association's 2020 Better Newspaper Contest, a Gold award for Best Series at the 2018 National Association of Real Estate Editors journalism awards, a 2018 Hugh Aynesworth Award for Editorial Opinion from the Dallas Press Club, and a 2019 award from NAREE for a piece linking Medicaid expansion with housing insecurity. She doesn't like lima beans, black licorice or the word synergy. You can reach her at [email protected].

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