I attended one of tonight’s three town-hall meetings regarding the home-rule initiative in DISD, specifically the most-publicized meeting, hosted by state Rep. Jason Villalba and City Councilwoman Jennifer Staubach Gates at the Preston Royal Library. Since this discussion is about education, I’m going to grade Support Our Public Schools’ performance tonight. All subjects will be graded on a pass-fail basis.
VOCABULARY: They cleared up the confusion about how this relates to charter schools: It doesn’t. People keep saying the home-rule effort is about turning DISD into one big charter school; that’s because the 1995 state law that makes home rule a possibility says a commission can “frame a charter for the district.” But “charter” has more than one meaning. In this case, it’s a synonym for “constitution.” Regarding charter schools, the word means “authorization from a central or parent organization to establish a new branch, chapter, etc.”
CITIZENSHIP: Louisa Meyer — whose two sons are both W.T. White graduates and, by next fall, will both be DISD teachers — was the only one of Support Our Public Schools’ five tight-lipped founders in attendance. To illustrate broader support, she introduced four members of the organization’s advisory council: Jeanne Culver, Mark Melton, and Randy Mulry are DISD parents, and Josh Womack will be one as soon as his kids are old enough to enroll at DeGolyer Elementary. The foursome helped field questions from the audience, along with Meyer and Villalba.
MATH: They stressed that the 15-member commission that would draft the new constitution (assuming enough people sign the petition) would be made up of 8 parents of current DISD students, 4 DISD teachers, and 3 “at large” members who must be DISD residents. If that numerical breakdown has been publicized before, I missed it. If I were a DISD parent, those numbers would make me feel better about the commission.
PHYSICS: Whoever decided on the Preston Royal Library as a venue for this meeting sorely underestimated the interest in this topic. The meeting room there could comfortably hold about 50 people, but we were packed in like sardines, with people lining the walls and filling the adjacent foyer. A teenage book lover who stopped by the library just to check out a Twilight or Hunger Games novel would have been out of luck.
TIME MANAGEMENT: The library’s meeting room — and, by extension, its foyer — was booked for only one hour. By the time Gates, Villalba, and Meyer finished their introductions and presentations, 35 minutes had passed, leaving only 25 minutes for questions from the audience. (The organizers promised that all questions they didn’t have time for would be answered on SOPS’ Facebook page.) When things got a little testy during the Q&A, Villalba said, “There’s going to be time for debate.” That prompted several people to ask, in unison, “When?” And when Meyer wrapped things up by saying, “Support Our Public Schools is about having a conversation,” more than a few people laughed.
COMMUNICATION: I learned of tonight’s meeting via The Dallas Morning News’ education blog, where Matthew Haag posted the details at 10:50 a.m. on Tuesday. That’s the same day all three meetings — the one I attended, another at True Lee Missionary Baptist Church near Fair Park, and a third at Eastfield College’s Pleasant Grove campus — were posted on Support Our Public Schools’ Facebook page. But none of the meetings is mentioned on the SOPS website. A commenter listed all three of them under Haag’s post, but a Morning News reporter didn’t write about the other two on its education blog until Dianne Solis posted something at 3:25 this afternoon, giving people less than four hours’ notice.
SPANISH: The folks running the meeting wanted to answer questions only if they were passed to the front of the room on notecards. Nonetheless, they had to endure plenty of shouted questions, including several from Oak Cliff rabble-rouser Carlos Quintanilla. But the very first interruption came early on from a Hispanic woman on the front row, who’d brought two small children to the meeting as well as another woman who doesn’t speak English. The English-speaking woman wanted to know if the organizers would provide translation services, and that’s a valid question in a district where nearly 70 percent of the students are Hispanic. Meyer said no, but former DISD Trustee Edwin Flores will be organizing Spanish-language town-hall meetings in the future. Nothing about those meetings is mentioned on Support Our Public Schools’ website or Facebook page.