Saturday, April 20, 2013

Conflict of Interest on Dallas ISD Board

Who benefits from failures in Dallas ISD high schools? Who would suffer if the progress in DISD, such as that at Sunset since 2006, continued another 6 years until almost all students graduated? One big answer to both questions is Dallas Can Academy!  (It is no accident that the principal from Sunset, Mr. Tony Tovar, who had doubled the graduation rate in 6 years was pushed out of DISD as this posting was being written.  Within another 6 years he would have had Sunset well above a graduation rate of 90%.  Dallas Can would have suffered were it not for the votes of Dr. Blackburn and his support of Mike Miles!)

North Oak Cliff, Dallas, Texas - A Conflict of Interest
(Right click and open link to enlarge and/or print)

As DISD succeeds in keeping and educating students in ever greater numbers, Dallas Can Academy has fewer students in their potential client pool. The Chairman of the Dallas ISD Board of Directors, Dr. Lew Blackburn, is also employed as the Chief Business Officer for Dallas Can Academy.  See

As documented in government codes, in chapter 171.001, the definition of "substantial interest" includes any company in which the public official receives over 10% of  their income. In another section of Texas Government Code, Chapter 572, Section 572.005.7 substantial interest is defined more directly as "an employee of the business entity."

If you read the conflict of interest statement filled out by Dr. Blackburn on 2-22-13 you will see that it indicates any entity from which you receive over 10% of your income should be included as one in which you have "substantial interest." Dr. Blackburn indicated on his form that there was no such entity in which he had substantial interest, but he is a full time employee of Dallas Can, a part of Texas Can. His votes on the board certainly help, or hinder, Texas Can.

As long as DISD succeeds in their goals to better serve an ever greater percentage of students, Dallas Can Academy will have to struggle more and more with an ever smaller pool of potential clients. Dr. Blackburn works for a company directly affected by many of the decisions he makes as a member of the DISD Board of Directors. 

This is a direct conflict of interest. 

With recent events at the high schools of Lincoln, Madison, and now at Sunset, hundreds of parents and residents believe that there is an overt effort to halt the progress happening at these, and possibly many other, DISD schools.  Filing a conflict of interest complaint against the DISD Board for allowing Dr. Blackburn to serve on the DISD Board, and as DISD Board Chairman, is being explored by several groups as one possible answer to such mistreatment of DISD school staff  by DISD Central Offices. 

How can Dr. Blackburn be involved in voting on issues regarding DISD high schools when Dallas Can Academy obviously has more potential clients if DISD high schools fail?

These conflict of interest concerns were shared with all members of the DISD Board of Directors on 4/20/13. 

To add your name to those concerned about such conflicts of interest, go to and sign the petition. 

All names will be sent to Dr. Blackburn, Mr. Adam Medrano, 1st Vice President of the Board, and Mr. Eric Cowan, 2nd Vice President of the Board and District 7 Trustee over Sunset High School.
No response was received from the DISD Board as of 1-12-15 to this complaint:

National Study Critical of Dallas ISD Reforms, published 4-18-13

On 4-18-13 a national study was published that is very critical of many of the educational reforms that have been inflicted on Dallas ISD over the past year, often with great cost and pain. See for a full copy of that study sponsored by the Economic Policy Institute.

Below are selected details from the study as time is available to study this report and double-check the statistics presented.

From page 39 in this report:

"Indeed, in Washington, D.C., teacher turnover was higher under Rhee and IMPACT than ever before, but apparently not due largely to the elimination of bad teachers, but rather to an increase in voluntary exits by experienced teachers as well as to their “excessing” and replacement by novices."

This is now happening in Dallas ISD under Mike Miles.
From page 70 in this report:
"Again, the highest-risk students have suffered the most from the upheavals reforms have produced. It is the students in under-resourced schools, who have lost literature and poetry to vocabulary drills and seen their curricula stripped of art, music, and physical education to make room for increased test preparation, who are most likely to see their schools shuttered when their test scores do not rise quickly enough. These children face longer and potentially more dangerous commutes to school, the loss of a neighborhood hub, and, sometimes, repeated disruptions of friendships and relationships with teachers" 
This process started years ago in Dallas ISD with the closing of 11 schools, mostly in poverty stricken areas of Dallas, without paying attention to national research on K-8 achievement patterns.  Transitions to K-8 schools could have saved some of those schools by more fully utilizing the buildings.  Changing K-5 schools into K-8 schools is shown by research to accelerate achievement, making them even more attractive competition for the expanding charter schools.  But no such efforts to avoid closing schools were considered in DISD.  Instead efforts were continued for the opening of charter schools in this target area. It appears such destructive transitions may be about to continue under Mike Miles.

This is a very painful report, especially for anyone who tries to keep up with what is happening within DISD, and notices how many methods documented as failures are now being used in DISD.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Parental Involvement Not Needed: Dallas ISD 2013-14 Action Plan

Missing from the “2013/14 District Action Plan” are any goals that would adequately build toward and reflect the primacy of parental involvement in the education of DISD children.

Goal #4 on page 2 of this Plan states: “PARENTAL INVOLVEMENT: Develop shared responsibility between parents/guardians and schools that foster academic success and self management of learning.”

While some may consider this goal “adequate,” the key action listed (page 3, copied below) so as to achieve this goal has almost no relationship to the goal: “Expand early intervention programs and programs to support early childhood education and support.” with an allocated cost of $5,000,000.

Page 3 of 2013/14 District Action Plan
(Right click and open link to enlarge and/or print.)

How is this listed “key action” any more related to parental involvement that any other educational program improvement? Parental involvement must be much more central, with direct attention given to it! It must have constant attention throughout all the years that a student attends DISD, especially during the middle and high school years, and not just the early childhood education years!

The goals listed do not mention either student or parental goals, or helping DISD parents or their children to better understand the potential in education so as to develop such personal goals. Without such goal development how will DISD generate parental involvement and student motivation?

Even if parental and student goals and concerns are ignored by DISD Central Office, they remain central to any successful education. The DISD Board must change the 2013/14 District Action Plan to include such goals by name.  The official copy of the 2013/14 District Action Plan presented on 4-11-13 is at

The relative apathy displayed toward parental and student goals in this plan from DISD Central Office reflects a management culture that's generating decisions with no more than a token acknowledgment of public or parental concerns.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Letter to DISD Teachers

Dear Teacher,

Unmotivated students with no focus on their own futures, and no plans, are a major agony for all teachers, especially in middle schools and high schools. Many methods have been used over the years to attack this common secondary school problem. The School Archive Project is a modification of one of those methods, students writing letter to themselves about their goals and dreams for reading again sometime in the future.
The difference is that instead of a shoe box or similar storage for letters, we use a centrally located 530-pound vault, similar to the one on the right. This photo is of the Quintanilla Middle School vault, now almost filled with letters.

With the addition of letters from parents, a golden connection with families is created. More conversations at home about goals and the future are certainly happening. While it has not been verified by formal research as to what has caused what, Quintanilla and Sunset have certainly improved.
The benefits seen to date, and anticipated, include the following:
  1. Quintanilla now has among the lowest frequency of documented discipline problems in District 1.
  2. The graduation rate at Sunset High School has doubled since 2006, and it is now ready to go up another 20% over the next 3 years!
  3. The student pregnancy rate at Quintanilla has been cut in half.  Plus a new record has been set at Quintanilla, a 1,200 student, 95.7% poverty rate inner-city middle school.  This year there was only one student pregnancy!  Last year there had been only 2. 
  4. With the increased family interactions from these letters, and the focus on the future, gangs are less attractive.
  5. Quintanilla is the highest rated DISD south side non-magnet middle school in the 2013 Children at Risk school rating report: .
  6. As students leave school for the last time, staff begin to say “See you in 10 Years!” - The message is different. School culture is changing.
It's certain teachers do not have extra time for additional work. This letter writing project should replace other Language Arts lesson plans. It should not require extra teacher time. Volunteers help teachers with the few mechanics involved to help the Archive Project work best. Would you be interested in helping this project thrive in your school?
The School Archive Project is an “open source” project.  Change it as you want to best meet the needs at your school.

  1. Each one of the two times letters are written at either a middle school or in a high school (beginning of 6th or 9th grade and the end of 8th or 12th grade) parents should be invited to write the first letters. They write a letter to their child about their dreams for them. They are encouraged to also document stories from family history that they would like their children to remember. Yes, it is hard to get letters from every parent. That does not always happen.  But when a child may begin to fail these letters become a much higher priority. The letter writing process can be used, as needed, to help engage parents, and their child to avoid failures.
  2. Place the vault in a central location of the school to maximize the number of students who pass by it each day. They know their mother's letter is in the vault and what she wrote! That quiet presence may help many students study harder.
  3. The first letters students and parents wrote upon a student entering your school should be returned as they prepare to write their final letter. That final letter is looking 10 years into the future and is written the final month a student is in your school. When the final letters are written before a child leaves your school, that letter should remains in the vault for 10 years.
  4. The placement of the final letters into the vault should involve photos. Each Language Arts Class can pose in front of the vault holding their letters. Then they place the letters on the shelf for their class where they remain for a decade. They receive two copies of that photo, one for them and one for their parents. On the back of both photos are the dates for the 10-year class reunion with phone numbers to call for volunteer to help plan the reunion, or to update addresses.
  5. Students are told the final letters will be returned to them at the 10-year class reunion when they also will be asked to speak with the then current students. They are told that at their reunion they will be requested to speak with current students about their recommendations for success. They are warned to be prepared for questions like:
    What would you do differently if you were 13 again?”
  6. Constantly learn from and modify this project. (Please also share what you learn with us.) The first reunions will start for Quintanilla Middle School in November of 2014. We will learn many things from these former students. We will continue to learn every year as students continue to return every November for the annual reunions. What better way to constantly improve our schools than to listen, along with our current students, to these former students who have lived a decade in the real world with the education we provided them?
Donors, including Lowe’s Home Improvement and A-1 Locksmith, have provided the first 7 vaults now installed in 7 DISD schools, as well as the funding for the next 6 vaults which will be installed in 6 more DISD schools, including South Oak Cliff High School and Atwell Middle School.

For more details please study the web pages at or contact Bill Betzen at or 214-957-9739. This is a volunteer project supported by the LULAC National Education Service Centers Inc., 345 S. Edgefield, Dallas, 75208, 214-943-2528.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Sunset Evidence of DISD Chaos

Monday evening, 4-8-13, I attended one of the most painful meetings I have attended in years.  It verified tragic rumors that were circulating Sunset High School. 

Mr. Tony Tovar, the Sunset Principal since July 2006 announced he had submitted his resignation out of frustration for the way DISD administration was micromanaging Sunset.  Frustrations from cancelled skating parties to delayed prom approvals were just the tip of the iceberg as to the specialized mistreatment Sunset was being selected out for.

Were there performance problems at Sunset?  Absolutely not!  There were no such issues, especially compared to the other 22 comprehensive high schools in DISD. The progress of the past 6 years has continued, and is projected into the future, placing Sunset in the wonderful place of being one of the most improved comprehensive high schools in all of DISD!  Then what is happening?

Here is one chart documenting the monumental progress at Sunset:

Tony Tovar Graduation Rate Miracle at Sunset High School, Dallas
Click on above image to enlarge.

The reasons for the mistreatment of Sunset by DISD central office cannot be identified.
After the meeting staff started an online petition to support Mr. Tovar and ask he reconsider his decision: . Please join us and sign the petition to push the numbers well beyond the over 500 signatures now present.

Please clear your calendar for a rally planned for Thursday, 4-18-13, at 6:00 PM at Sunset for alumni, students, staff, and families to show support for Sunset and Mr. Tovar.