Monday, February 26, 2018

The Dallas Cultural Plan - is it inclusive enough?

A response to a planned community meeting 6 pm on 2-27-18 at UNT-Dallas: 

Little is more important in our city than creating, and connecting with, and reflecting in our artistic expression, the culture we identify with. 
Too many of our DISD students do not know their own cultural heritage, their history! Now 18 schools in West Dallas and on the South Side of Dallas are actively changing that with the School Time Capsule Project. 11 have been doing it for 4 years or longer. Now the majority of these 11 schools are among the best schools in DISD using the School Effectiveness Index (SEI) scores and/or graduation rates! Seven more south side schools are just starting School Time Capsule Projects this year. The first thing the School Time Capsule Project does is to begin helping each student document their own heritage, their own culture. Students write letters to parents annually requesting letters back about parental dreams for them, and another story from their family history. Now as many as 85% of parents are writing annual letters to their children with that additional story from their family history. Priceless family and cultural history is collecting. The Time Capsule Project will be in a minimum of 18 DISD schools by the end of the 2017/18 school year. Those schools are listed here in order by the year their Time Capsule Project started, but this does not mean the letter writing happened every year, or that every school improved. There is a pattern of schools remaining low performing during years they did not have letters written by students. All the schools consistently writing letters saw achievement improve. This is only a list of the years the projects were started: • Quintanilla MS - 2005 • Sunset HS, Pinkston HS, Greiner MS, Edison MS and Browne MS - 2010, • South Oak Cliff HS, Boude Storey MS, Zumwalt MS, Attwell MS, Rosemont MS - 2013, • Macon Elementary 2017, • Carter HS, O.W. Holmes MS, Dade MS, John Neely Bryant Elementary, Carr Elementary and DeZavala Elementary, all new for 2018. Notice that these schools surround UNT-Dallas, and places north to I-30, or the Trinity River west of Downtown. DISD art teachers and the arts community must know that this priceless information from 80% of parents is now being collected annually by almost every student in these 18 schools. The potential for additional artistic and cultural expression evolving from this history being collected is only limited by our imaginations. Our students must know and embrace their roots. Cultural focus does that. (The Dallas Cultural Plan should be reinforcing that!) Achievement soars! Negative behaviors almost disappear. A more clear view of their own futures is possible and can be more clearly planned for. While the Time Capsule Project is not an official part of the Dallas Cultural Plan, it should be. How else are as many parents and students going to be focusing on their own history and culture? It is already changing Dallas! That will only increase as more students discover and embrace their roots, and more parents and grandparents are proud in sharing that priceless history, and more of that history is reflected in the arts in Dallas. In 2016 two major changes were pioneered for the School Time Capsule Project due to ideas from Niki Lincoln, the Language Arts Coach at Quintanilla. She suggested that students write a personal letter to their parents and other important relatives asking for a letter back about their dreams for them and with that story from family history. She also suggested all 3 grades of students in Quintanilla write these letters and be active in the Time Capsule Project. The results were wonderful! The percentage of parents writing letters to their child more than doubled to 80% or more! The positive benefits seen in the 8th grade spread to all grades!

Each year the students will receive back the letter they wrote the year before so they can prepare their next letters each year.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Costco sale on 43-cubic ft vault continued till 12-31-17!

I found out yesterday that the $775 sale saving $125 on the 43-cubic ft vault has been extended until 12-31-17!  For those of us working as volunteers on the Time Capsule Project, this is news to spread!

This is the new vault delivered to C. F. Carr Elementary School:

This is the new vault at Carter High School.  Both vaults remain on the pallet so they can be easily moved if another location is decided on for them in the school.  Due to planned remodeling at Carter such moves are certain. Then they will be taken off the pallet in the permanent location.

Monday, December 18, 2017

What are your dreams for me? Tell me a story from your history. Students letter to parents.

Suggestions to students:

Write a letter to your parents, and/or other adults, asking them to write a letter back to you about their dreams for you, and a story from their history.

(Term “parent” below includes important adults you would like a letter from: aunts, uncles, grandparents, any adult who is special in your life.)

First, select the people to whom you would like to write a letter.  They should be the most important adults in your life, each of your parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, pastor, teachers, anyone to which you would like to write a letter asking them to write back to you answering your question: “What are your dreams for me?” The number of letters is your decision, but at least one. You can send letters to relatives who do not live with you or who even live in other countries.  It is certain they would love to get your letters.

Second, write separate letters to each adult in the above list, i.e. one for your dad and one for you mom. Your letter to them, and their letters back to you, can be in any language that you understand, or that you can have translated for you. 

Third, ask them to also write one story from their family or community history into their letter to you. That is why you write separate letters to each adult.  They all have different histories to share with you. It should be a story from their history that is also your history, stories they would like you to someday tell your children. These can include stories from your community history and events. This is also why you want to include older members of your family, people with more history from your family.

Find the street addresses of the people you want to write to you and bring that information back to class for the envelopes if they do not live with you.

Such letters will be written each year to request another letter from parents and/or others. You change a lot in one year.  The goal is for parents and the other adults to observe your changes and write about how their own dreams for you as they also are changing.  They are probably gaining more detail each year as you grow.

The stories written about can be about the person writing the letter, or grandparents, or aunts or uncles, a valuable family story that they want passed on to your children someday. These letters will help you gather a collection of valuable family stories by the time you graduate.

When any parents, or other letter writer, is finished with their letter and gives it back to you, immediately read it. Ask the person who wrote the letter any questions you may have about the letter. You must clearly understand it.  The goal is clear communication. Priceless conversations can happen at this time. You are encouraged to ask questions. Be certain to say thank you.

After these letters are collected and brought to school, the next step in this process will be when you write a letter to yourself about your goals for life.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Suggestions for Christmas letter writing, encouraging priceless family talks!

Time Capsule Project schools are encouraged to have the following writing assignment before Christmas break, but any school can do this without a time capsule as well.  See the wonderful gains by Time Capsule Project schools, due partly to such letters, described below in the posting dated 11-6-2017.  Browne Middle School went from the danger of a 5th year as IR in 2016/17, to meeting standards with 4 distinctions instead! All students wrote such letters home for the first time! Letters like this help to change school climate toward being more goal-focused and grounded in personal family history.

Students will bring home these letters that they write in class to deliver to the people they are intended for.  Such letters by students have led to as many as 80% of recipients writing potentially priceless letters back to the student. As students read these letters and ask questions it could lead to some priceless family conversations, especially over Christmas break, conversations about dreams, goals, and family history. It will help fill the gap with their own culture too many of our students suffer from. It will help ease the multi-cultural blending we are all part of.

A more sound foundation for academic achievement is built.


Suggestions - Time Capsule Project First Letter(s),
to each parent and/or other important relatives
(Term “parent” includes all important relatives student would like a letter from.)

This is a description of the letter writing process that is the first step in each year’s Time Capsule Project letter writing. 

First, any older letters students may have written in previous years that are in the school’s time capsule are returned to students.  They must be read and studied again by students who wrote them, and by each of the parents who wrote letters last year.  This is in preparation for the current year’s letter writing process.

Have students write a persuasive letter to each parent. Students will be asking for each parent to give their response to the question: “What are your dreams for me?”.  Students will ask for as many details as the person writing is comfortable with. Students also ask for each parent to write one story from their family history, or community history, that parents want the student to remember.  They consider it valuable enough that they want the student to pass it on to their own children someday.

As students consider to whom they will send such letters, they should think of older family members who have a longer history and possibly more stories of interest that they may write about. All letters can be written in any language both student and writer understand, or that the student can have translated.

Such letters will be written each year to request another letter from parents and/or others.  Every student changes a lot in one year.  The goal is for parents and the other adults to observe those changes and write about how their own dreams for the student are changing and gaining more detail each year as the student grows.

The stories written about can be about the letter writer, or about grandparents, or aunts or uncles, a valuable family story that they want passed on to the students’ children someday. These letters will help students gather a collection of valuable family history stories by the time they graduate.
When parents are finished with their letter and give them to the student, the student should immediately read them. The student should ask the person who wrote the letter any questions they may have about the letter.  They must clearly understand it.  The goal is clear communication. Potentially priceless conversations happen in the process during such conversations.

This letter will go into the self-addressed envelopes along with all the letters received from parents and other adults. This will be repeated each year.

In the 8th and 12th grade all letters written will be focused 10-years into the future.  What do students hope they will be doing and how will they get there? These are goals 10-years into the future.  The final 8th grade and 12th grade letters, and letters parents and others have written about their dreams for students 10 years into the future, will all remain inside the student’s self-addressed envelope and inside the vault for 10 years.

Emphasize that life plans almost always change.  The goal is to develop the ability to change, with education providing many more choices to be available during any change.       
12-10-17 Bill Betzen,

Monday, November 6, 2017

School Time Capsule Project Update 11-10-17

School achievement is driven by motivated students who know where they came from, their roots, and where they are going, their plans. Students and parents must discuss as much as possible the history they share. With that foundation students focus more completely on their own goals by constantly updating them. Such grounded student motivation is the mission of the School Time Capsule Project.

After 14 years of improvements due to constant input, one of the 6 active Time Capsule Project middle schools have had the highest annual School Effectiveness Indices (SEI) score of all 33 Dallas ISD middle schools for three of the past 4 years!  

On 10-19-17, when the most recent SEI data was released, it was also discovered that four of the five DISD middle schools with the highest SEI's this past year were Time Capsule Project Schools!  (The School Effectiveness Indices (SEI) is a DISD measurement of school performance that has been used 20+ years to measure performance in each DISD school every year.) 

It must be emphasized that there are only 6 active Time Capsule Project middle schools among the 33 DISD middle schools, and four of them are among the highest 5 middle school SEI scores in all of DISD.  There are two additional inactive Time Capsule Project schools which have no letters written in recent years.  They are not counted as "active" and all have SEI scores below the 6 schools counted as active. 

See page 2 of the 2016-17 Summary List at for the middle school listings which are repeated in the chart below. Notice below that the 'worst' SEI for an active Time Capsule Project school still places them better-than-average as 13th best among 33 middle schools. 
Dallas ISD Middle Schools in order by 2017 School Effectiveness Indices Scores

The Time Capsule Project is expanding this year to 14 more schools, including elementary schools for the first time. From third grade through 12th grade there will be two annual lessons:

1.   Students write a persuasive letter to their parents, and/or other relatives, asking for them to write a letter back. Students ask for two things in these letters: "What are your dreams for me?" and "Please write one story from your personal family history that you want me to pass on to my children someday." Over 80% of families respond and write potentially priceless letters.  Students then talk with anyone they asked to write a letter about what they have written. Students must be certain they understand the letter. Such conversations can be priceless, reinforcing family relationships.

2.   The resulting letters from lesson 1, or copies if the family wants to keep the originals, are brought back to Language Arts Class where each student prepares one self-addressed envelope to hold them. Then the student writes their second letter, this time to themselves about their own goals and dreams. All letters then go into that self-addressed envelope for each student. These envelopes go inside a 500-pound, or larger, School Time Capsule Vault in the school lobby. (Vaults can come from COSTCO for $500 to $800. For less than $100 the needed 10 shelves can be purchased and installed by volunteers.)

The previous year’s letters are always studied by students before the next letter-writing actions. In 8th and 12th grades all letters are written focusing on goals 10 years into the future. Students know they will be invited back for a 10-year reunion to pick up their envelopes, usually scheduled just before Career Day. At that reunion they will be asked to return and speak on Career Day with then current students about their recommendations for success, their profession, and life after 8th or 12th grade.

The fourth such 10-year reunion will happen this year at Quintanilla, the first Time Capsule Project School. It is still a 95% high-poverty school, but Dr. Hinojosa, DISD Superintendent, last summer named Quintanilla as the best middle school, the model middle school inside DISD.

The newest recommendation is, when possible, that a school secure the large 43-cubic-foot vault below, now on sale at Costco for $775. With such a large vault every student can be given a large 9"x11" envelope to use in storing their envelopes every year in the vault.  Each year students can read what they have written before as they plan that years letter.  Ultimately the school can leave all letters in the vault for the 10 years.  Fewer letters will be lost. The 10-year reunion will become more significant, especially with letters from parents and other relatives each year.

Quintanilla has had SEI scores among the top 20% of DISD middle schools every year for the past 4 years. Such progress will now happen much more rapidly in new Time Capsule Project Schools due to improvements outlined above. It will not take a decade!

One or more volunteers are needed to function as Time Capsule Masters at each school to help manage the Time Capsule Project.  They sort and help teachers return each year the letters from the previous year by each student.  Once the 10-year reunions begin, these volunteers help manage the reunions. This is exceptionally rewarding volunteer work. I have done it for over a decade, one of many volunteers with many wonderful stories to tell from the Project. We need more volunteers, at least one at each school.

Last year Browne had all students in all grades write letters as described above. Parents responded wonderfully! The photo below shows today’s Browne Time Capsule with the results:

Notice that the shelf for this year’s 8th grade class, 2018, as well as next year’s 8th grade class, 2019, are already filled with letters. These are the letters written last year by then 6th and 7th graders.  They will be returned to those students, and read, before this year’s letter writing. By the end of this year new letters will fill these shelves. The only difference will be that shelf “2018” will hold letters about dreams and plans for 2028. Those letters stay on that shelf until 2028.  

It is recommended 6th and 7th grade classes write letters at the beginning of the year to have the greatest effect on achievement that year. It is best 8th graders wait until the end of their 8th grade year to be able to reflect on more of their middle school experience as they write their letters planning 10-years into the future. Such future-focus by all students was one of many factors that helped Browne achieve the highest SEI scores of any of the 33 middle schools in DISD for 2016/17.  

The year these letters were written by all Brown students the SEI for Browne went up 14.2 points in just one year to being the highest SEI score for any DISD middle school!  Browne went from 5th year IR to not only meeting standards but also achieving 4 distinctions!  See 

A School Time Capsule Project only works in a school that is already a high functioning school under solid leadership. Once you have that, and add to it the grounding in family history and planning for the future reinforced by the Time Capsule Project, you have even greater achievement due to stronger student motivation. Positive student behaviors increase!  

School Time Capsule Vaults should be located in the highest student traffic area of a school, usually the lobby, to remind students daily of their parents’ letters, and their own plans.
For more details on this open-sourced, low budget, volunteer-based project, see, and the attached blog. Please share.

If you want to help another Dallas ISD school purchase a vault to start their Time Capsule Project, please send donations to: Time Capsule Project, c/o Lulac National Education Service Center, 345 S. Edgefield Ave., Dallas, Texas 75208. If you want to help a specific school, talk with that principal to see if they are willing to start a Time Capsule Project, and then specify which school you want your money used for.

You also may just buy a vault and bring it to the school, and help install the needed 10 shelves inside the vault.  This is a very flexible system!  Help your local schools!  Below is one large vault on sale until 12-31-17 for $775 from Costco, a large 770-pound 43 cu. ft. vault.

Any school can start a Time Capsule Project on their own with any modifications they may want.  We only ask that if you come up with what is considered a very successful improvement, that you share the details with us so more students can benefit.  The students are the only reason for this project.

Finally, this is year old data that is still correct if you looks at the DISD Data Portal enrollment for today: Sunset High School has the largest senior class relative to freshman class size of any of the 22 non-magnet high schools in DISD.  This chart was made a year ago, October of 2016, but shows how Sunset is the best at keeping student to graduation.
Sunset stands out for many reasons due to Mr. Tony Tovar who turned it around during his 7 years as principal, and due to the wonderful staff who remain at Sunset.  It also stands out due to the future-focus, one grounded in family history, that these students begin in the middle schools feeding into Sunset: Rosemont, Quintanilla and Greiner who all have active Time Capsule Projects.  Then the same focus continues with the Time Capsule Project at Sunset.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

What are your dreams for me?

A parent’s dreams for their child drive school achievement.
(This was also written up in the Dallas Morning News in October 2016 at
Due to ongoing improvements in student achievement in schools with active Time Capsule Projects, Dallas ISD is preparing to place the two letter writing lessons from the Time Capsule Project into the DISD Language Arts curriculum.  Beginning in the 3rd grade, and then annually through the 12th grade, all students will have these two connected letter writing lessons each year. A 10-year Time Capsule component may be seen as an additional alternative.

With these two lessons added to the writing curriculum, hopefully a core of volunteers will form at each school to help in the writing and collection of letters from students, and then the storing and returning of them to students a year later.  This will happen for all students except, of course, the students no longer at the school, the students who went on to middle school or high school the previous year. Those final year letters are not returned for a decade.  They must be stored for the reunions that volunteers help plan and coordinate in 10 years.  

This is exceptionally rewarding volunteer work! Observing students begin to become serious about planning their futures, and then the reunions, are all powerfully positive events. Volunteers see progress happen, and students who are proud of achievements.

The letter writing instructions change for students in their final year in their school before leaving for the next school in their educational process.  The letters written the last year in a school are written with plans and dreams focused 10 years into the future.  These final envelopes remain in the school time capsule vault, or are otherwise stored, for a decade, until the class 10-year reunion.  It is recommended the final letters be written during the last month in the school year. These letters will be documenting plans as they existed at the end of this time in the child's education in that elementary school, or middle school, or high school. 

Needless to say the complexity and quality of the letters will grow from year to year.

The first letter writing assignments are recommended for the start of each school year in all grades except the final grade in each school.  That final 10-year letter should be written toward the end of the school year.

The letter writing process starts with students writing one or more letters to their parents, and/or other important people in their lives. They write this letter to ask for a letter back about that person's dreams for them.  This "What are your dreams for me?" letter also requests one story from their family or cultural history to be included in the letter. It is a story that the person writing the letter considers so valuable they would like that story to be passed on someday to the student's children.

Such a story would strengthen a child's awareness of their own heritage, their roots, and their community history.  These letters will provide priceless connections, priceless records of family stories.  A different story should be told each year.

A note from the school is attached to each student’s letter written.  The note will reinforce details about the letter writing assignment. It recommends everyone writing a letter go over it with the student before the student brings the letter back to school. Priceless conversations will happen.
Back at school with the letter(s), the first thing students do is prepare a self-addressed envelope for all these letters.  The return address on the envelope should include their teacher's name, the date, and the school's return address. It will be addressed to them at their home address with email address and cell phone number also recorded on the envelope.

Students then write a letter to themselves about their goals and how they will achieve them.  This student letter may include other stories students want to remember. When finished, each student places their letter, and all their other letters from parents, relatives and others, into the self-addressed envelope they prepared. This completed envelope is then placed into the school’s time capsule, on the shelf dedicated to each student's class, or it is otherwise stored by the school.
Each year the previous year’s envelope is returned to each student before the next letter writing process. In their next request letter to each relative students include the letter written by that relative the year before. The year-old letters are read before new ones are written to update dreams and plans, and to see what was being thought about a year earlier. How has the writer of the letter seen the student change?  

Students may want to reclaim these older letters to have a file of them at home that will grow over the years.  It is a growing process. 

Students are reminded of it often if they are in a school with a 500-pound Time Capsule Vault bolted to the floor in the school lobby that they pass daily. They see the vault and maybe they are reminded of the letters that are in it from their family. Hopefully the vault is even under spotlights to increase visibility and reinforce the value of planning for the future.
This year will be the third 10-year reunion at Quintanilla Middle School. It will be in April or May of 2017 for the 8th grade class of 2007. It’s scheduled before Career Day to secure volunteers for Career Day from the students coming to the reunion to pick up their decade old letters. 

On Career Day 2017, these volunteers from the Class of 2007 will talk to current students about life after middle school, their employment and preparation for it, and what they would do differently if they were 12 again.
Such annual goal-focused letter writing is now moving into the elementary grades in several DISD elementary schools. Writing this letter to parents and other adults prepares a student to be more open to what they will receive back in the letters they will receive.  
It is never too early for a child to discuss their life plans with parents and others. 

As the years pass, with this letter writing between parent and child happening, the potential for parental involvement in school will grow.  Parents will improve in their understanding of what is happening in school. Their understanding of goals possible with education will improve. They will be more comfortable asking questions.

The School Effectiveness Indices for the involved schools will continue to rise, especially above schools with a less active Time Capsule Projects.   See some of the data and history of this project as it improved over the years. See

1-22-17 Bill Betzen,

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Ten largest Texas ISD's & letter grades given in 2016

The people of Dallas can be very proud of recent progress in Dallas ISD! While the letter grading system has multiple issues, it also reflects some of the progress in DISD, the highest poverty large urban district in all of Texas! In spite of that poverty, DISD did well, including having the highest post secondary (college) readiness grade of all 10 districts!
Ten Largest Texas ISD's and letter grades given in 2016 by the Texas Education Agency 
Due to the significant poverty handicap that Dallas ISD endures it can be strongly argued that it is the highest achieving large urban school district in Texas.  Only 2 districts with a fraction of the DISD poverty rate are receiving higher ratings.