Dallas ISD alums often proudly describe themselves as “products of Dallas ISD.” Most mean they attended school in the district, often from K-12. When South Dallas native and New Tech High School Principal Jameile Choice calls himself a product of Dallas ISD, he means he was all but reared by district educators. Thanks to teachers and administrators who provided him safe haven, inspiration and resources, Choice is working to pay it forward to a new generation.
“I grew up in a home filled with a lot of trauma,” Choice said. “My mom was addicted to drugs, and I lived with my grandparents. School was a safe place for me. Back then, educators were more than just teachers. They cared about the whole child. I can remember having a circle of support around me at H.S. Thompson, from the principal to the community liaison to the teachers. They truly took a vested interest in me, so much so that today, I feel I am here to pay it forward for what so many educators did for me coming up as a kid in South Dallas.”
One teacher in particular stands out in Choice’s memory and in his life today. His fifth-grade teacher at Thompson, Linda Collins-Graham, was especially kind, dispensing equal measures of care and discipline, keeping tabs on him and transporting him to and from school and on occasion to the Salvation Army, where he stayed for a time to avoid a threatening home situation. She says although Choice had a lot going on in his life back then, she always knew he was special.
Today, Collins-Graham, who called her former student “boss” for a while when she worked as a substitute teacher at New Tech, is retired after four decades in the classroom; however, she’s still keeping an eye on her former charge. “He’s just like my son,” she said. Maintaining the relationship is clearly a source of joy for Choice as well, who says he has never forgotten how Collins-Graham and Thompson Elementary served as a safe haven when he needed one.
“Most students loved and looked forward to summer break. I hated summer break because it took me away from the structure and the loving environment of school.
“I’ll never forget those summers [in South Dallas]walking up Bethurum to Thompson, looking to see if the teachers’ cars were in the parking lot. I didn’t know when teachers reported to work. I just knew when I saw an influx of cars, I was going to go up to the school to ask if they needed some kind of help.”
After Thompson, Choice attended middle school at W.E. Greiner Exploratory Arts Academy, graduated from the Law Magnet at Townview and earned his bachelor’s degree at UNT. Since 2014, he’s served as principal New Tech. He calls Dallas ISD home because “without those educators in sunny South Dallas, I don’t know where I would be today. I’ve never been more sure about my purpose in life since I began doing this work.”
He says he’s all in to use his life experiences to help students from difficult family backgrounds understand that they have the power to shape their future.
“I speak openly and honestly about my background. As a kid, I was ashamed of having a mother on drugs and not knowing who my father was. I lived in Section 8 housing and my late mom spent time in jail, but I didn’t let that deny what God had for me.
“As an adult, I’ve learned to embrace my past. I use my life as an example of coming from nothing. I’ve lived in the Salvation Army. I’ve been to juvenile. I tell the students ‘I am you. Don’t look at this suit and tie and think it’s been all good.’ As a child, I never imagined my life being what it is now. I tell them ‘Don’t become a victim of your circumstances. You can become a victor.’ I’ve been able to overcome through hard work, tenacity, not making excuses and getting an education.”
Choice says the project-based curriculum at New Tech includes biology, U.S. History and math, but also teaches students agency, resilience, collaboration, cooperation and how to come back from adversity.
Using his own life experiences as a teaching tool, Choice is an unabashed product of a caring school environment, and he’s working to create the next generation of Dallas ISD products.