For the Willis family, Dallas ISD is home, as a total of five of their immediate family members work for the district and all share a long history with the district.
Carla and Christopher Willis Sr. met in 1977 when they were both students at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. Carla was a freshman and Christopher Sr. was a sophomore. Christopher was a fulltime student, studying music, and Carla was in the dance cluster, while also attending South Oak Cliff High School.
They have been married 38 years.
Their daughter, ChrisSharrah Yancy, is an investigator in the Professional Standards Office; their son, Christopher Willis II, is a coordinator in the Reset Center at H.W. Lang Middle School; and Darryl Yancy, ChrisSharrah’s husband, is a supervisor in Custodial Services in the Operation Services Division.
While all work in the district in different positions, departments and schools, there’s one common thread that unites their work—they all have a commitment to serving others. They are also all passionate about serving in their local communities and church.
“One thing that’s unique about our story is that my parents also met while they were students at Booker T. Washington, before it was a performing arts high school. Who would think I would meet my wife Carla at Booker T. Washington as well?” said Christopher Sr.
Carla, who has been working for the district for 24 years, is a coordinator in the Reset Center at David W. Carter High School. Prior to that position, she worked as an office manager in the Office of Family and Community Engagement, Construction Services and a Redirection Special Education teacher.
Christopher Sr., who has been working for the district for 38 years, wears many hats at Thomas L. Marsalis Elementary STEAM Academy, where he is the music teacher, safety coordinator, bus coordinator and textbook coordinator.
“I enjoy teaching and sharing music,” he said. “It’s not really a job per se. My career is part of my life. I love music and I get to share that.”
For ChrisSharrah, seeing her parents work in education and the roles they play in their community motivated her to also join public education.
“My parents have always worked in education and as leaders in ministry. Having that discipline and structure has always been there with my dad being a pastor,” she said. “I didn’t see myself in education initially because I originally wanted to do law, but when I saw I could use my areas of expertise at Dallas ISD, that allowed me to see there’s a place for me here in the district as well.”
“For the Willis family, faith, family, education and giving back to others serve as a foundation to build on for this generation and others to come. This is Home for the Willis family,” said Carla.
What do you like most about working in the district?
Carla: It’s a great opportunity to invest and pour into the lives of our young people. It’s imperative for me to be a part of helping our students find their purpose and passion in life. Some of our students come from hard lifestyles.In my role, I want to show them love and compassion through my work while building great and meaningful relationships, teaching them to accept responsibility for their actions, and finding the right outcome.
My role can be very challenging at times. Dealing with the anger, childhood adversities, and the complicated households of our students causes me to keep my WHY at the forefront. My WHY is our students need that someone one and WHY not me! To stay effective, I must continue to have a heart for the students.
Christopher Sr.: I’ve always been able to help students tap into their creative sides, whether they are the A Honor Roll students or the students that are struggling academically. Not all the time, but many times, students who are struggling academically excel creatively in other areas like music.
It’s always given me the opportunity to help students who might not be doing as well in the classroom. Many times, once you get a music instrument in their hand, you can see how things begin to change for them, for those who have an interest. I love being able to do that. I’ve even had the unique opportunity to teach three generations from a family– a grandparent, the mother and the grandchild.
What impact have you seen your role play in the lives of your students?
Carla: Since I’ve worked in the district schools, teachers would say the students that have a hard time behaving are the ones that gravitate to me for help. This has always been an opportunity for me to help redirect their challenging behaviors. I sometimes can have a positive talk or lead them through some type of social emotional program or do a mindfulness activity that helps to apply them to those behaviors. But the most impactful thing is seeing the student walk away better than they came.
Christopher Sr.: I taught high school for a year and a half, but I’ve been working in elementary for most of my career as an educator. There’s something unique when they’re young and so impressionable that you can make an impact on them at such a young age.
No matter what background they come from, many are just accustomed to just one style of music. We introduce them to many styles and music genres. I’ve seen students go from all Ds and Fs, and they tap into their creative music side, and it opened them up like a rose to blossom in so many other areas. To understand and write the music, you must learn how to spell the words, and music is math. You can’t have music without math. Music impacts all areas of life.