District invites parents, students to explore school-choice options

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In her search for just the right school, parent Leah Williams wanted something different for her sons Kole, Kade and Kace, each of whom currently attends one of Dallas ISD’s non-traditional schools. Kole attends Harry Stone Montessori Academy and Kade and Kace both attend the Barack Obama Male Leadership Academy.

Though pleased with the Montessori environment, as her students moved forward Williams sought an environment that would prepare them for the next level. “I was looking for something that would prepare them for the rigor and work ethic necessary for college,” she said.

To better inform her decision, Williams attended the district’s annual magnet fair to get information.  She says she left with a wealth of knowledge that led her to the Obama Leadership Academy. Today, she says, “I’m very pleased with the initiatives, the recognition, the programs, and the vision in that building.”

Dallas ISD hopes to provide many more parents an opportunity to find a best-fit school for their children at the 2014 Magnet Fair, set for 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 6, at Ellis Davis Field House, 9191 S. Polk St.

Magnet schools are just one avenue the district is using to improve student access to impactful learning opportunities. Another is expanding school options, a primary element of Dallas ISD’s goal to increase quality instruction and graduate 90 percent of students ready for college and careers by 2020.

“Each child is unique. Each has different ways of learning, different interests and different ideas for what they would like to achieve when they grow up,” wrote District 7 Board Trustee Eric Cowan in a NeighborsGo Op-ed published Nov. 21. “Our goal in Dallas ISD is to design schools that support those desires and learning needs.”

Getting Dallas communities educated and involved in deciding what these schools will look like and where they are established gives constituents a voice in what they want for the students in their neighborhoods.  An online survey created by the Office of Transformation and Innovation is asking parents and community members for input on the types of schools they want the district to create. The bilingual survey, which is still open, has received more than 3,500 responses.  Preliminary results offer insight about the level of public interest in additional educational options and will be considered as the district moves forward with plans to establish 35 new schools of choice by 2020.

“The survey results are convincing. There is clearly a demand for more public school choice options in Dallas ISD,” said Mike Koprowski, executive director of the Office of Transformation and Innovation.

The Dec. 6 magnet fair will feature exhibits and staff from a variety of special programs available to students who are academically gifted, have an interest in specialized studies, or possess unique talents.  Additionally, the College- and Career-Readiness Department has scheduled a series of magnet open house opportunities for parents and students to visit district magnet schools for a close-up look at what those programs offer.

Justin F. Kimball Principal Earl Jones understands the impact of special programs on traditional learning environments. Jones says his school’s career pathways such as the Academy of Hospitality and Tourism and the Academy of Engineering, offer priceless opportunities for students to interact with various businesses, have access to internships and networking opportunities.

Dallas ISD trustees have joined the effort to engage and inform communities about choice, hosting community meetings in their respective districts where constituents can express their interests and concerns about the evolution and implementation of school choice in their areas. Two key elements of choice are personalized learning opportunities and career pathways.

Trustee Joyce Foreman will meet with constituents of District 6, which includes the Kimball and David W. Carter feeder patterns, at 9 a.m., Saturday, Dec. 6, at Carter High School to discuss how school choice might look like in the communities served by those schools.

District 5 Trustee Lew Blackburn said parents and community members in his district have asked for a variety of career programs at their schools. He said constituents in his district want school options with higher acceptance requirements.

“Parent and community leaders have asked to be involved in developing the various choices available for our students,” said Blackburn. “Public school choice, as proposed, would bring educational variety to our students.”

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