Renee A. Bottoms
HPISD resident for 18 months
Why are you running?
When my family decided to move closer to Dallas, we were worried about choosing a good school for our daughter. We were fortunate to have been part of a smaller school district where we knew everyone well. We were worried about how the move would change the quality of our lives. Today we are glad we decided to live in HP and have our daughter attend HPISD. HPISD is a great example of an excellent school district. The academic excellence that HPISD is known for comes with the shared commitment between dedicated teachers, motivated students, supportive parents, and a caring community that appreciates the value of a great education system. Our daughter has had great support from HPHS. We are very grateful for the warm welcome and support. I am running because I would like to do what I can to contribute to HPISD. I have been in the field of education for 25 years, from building schools in third world countries, to developing online programs, and teacher training. I love my job as a professor in a community college and would love to use my experience to help strengthen HPISD.
How would you grade the past board member? What would you do different?
The board members are doing fantastic in managing the new developments that are on-going. They have also done an excellent job at fundraising to meet budgetary deficits. I would bring other types of resources to HPISD by building relationships with the community around us like other higher learning institutions and local arts/design/cultural institutions. We have a lot of untapped resources in Dallas. For example, there are schools in North Texas that are developing early college and middle college programs, where students are able to earn college level credits while they are in high school. In fact, there are 151,000 students in Texas who are doing dual credit classes in public colleges. Some of these students are graduating with associate degrees before graduating high school. HPISD students may be able to benefit from such resources as public institutions of higher education are allowed to waive all, or part of the mandatory tuition and fees for dual credit courses in Texas (Texas Education Code, Section 54.216). From what I am aware of, HPISD students could take dual credit classes from Richland College but most of our students are unaware of this opportunity. I would like to create more such avenues for our children.
What is the district’s biggest challenge? How would you address it?
One of the challenges the district is facing today is providing our students a balanced educational experience. Our graduation rate in the district is fantastic. Having said that, we are faced with the dilemma of trying to raise well rounded children. Most of our children in this district are academically above average in the state mandated curriculum, but the question remains if they are equipped with the essential skills of facing the 21st century challenges. A school district that is forward thinking will work at providing every student ample opportunities to be involved in newer fields like Global Awareness, Design Thinking, Networking, Marketing Using Social Media, etc. A cutting edge educational program will be able to do this and much more through extra-curricular activities. With state wide cuts in educational funding, now more than ever, we’ll need extra-curricular activities that would provide our students value added skills. We should also leverage other resources to provide our students venues for community service and options to do college level classes. Parents should not have to deal with these issues on their own. The district should provide such opportunities and resources for all of our students. Our children are not able to optimize their potential because all additional funding and opportunities is being leveraged for the under-represented. Our district could do a better job at providing these opportunities so our children are better prepared.
What would you do to see that education in the district is adequately funded?
One of things we have done as a community is being fairly coordinated and creative in fund raising to meet our budget deficits. The strategic move of keeping property taxes low and using Mad for Plaid campaign to raise funds to meet budget deficits is a fantastic plan. We must certainly continue to oppose the state’s recapture and redistribution system or any other type of reform like the voucher program and educational savings account that would take away more of the much-needed funds from the HPISD. Since one of the most sustainable ways in ensuring funding is enrollment, we should certainly continue to persuade our community to send their children to HPISD. I would like for us to help organize parent groups to do some public events such as organizing a run or collaborating with events done by some our local arts/theater/fashion/culture/sports groups. We could also have some membership driven social groups for the parents and students of our community that may enhance our social and communal well-being, as well as raise the much-needed funds for the district. Our community is resourceful, and we should provide them additional venues for contribution.
How should the district approach the redistricting of the elementary schools?
This is an important topic for many of our parents and community members. The redistricting of the elementary schools is a sensitive issue for our students and parents. While it may seem a little cumbersome, it may be worth to have a larger parent group to provide input on their preferences. Having such conversations would bring the community together. HPISD must gain the support of its elementary school parents because the decision will impact their children. Our community’s support is crucial in continuing the educational mission of the Park Cities. I am sure the advisory committee will do its best to address the concerns parents have with redistricting, and not everyone is going to be completely happy with the results, but a good amount of transparency and inclusivity in the decision making will strengthen the district. There is always a middle ground that everyone can work towards agreeing on.
What is one thing you would change, or aim to improve, within the district?
The one thing that I would aim to improve is the communication between the board of trustees and the community. It feels like a lot of the issues that HPISD was facing in the past could have been addressed if the community had been engaged in the discussions and decision making in a timely fashion. Granted that we do have advisory committees looking into the decisions that were being made and also parent representatives in sub-committees working on important decisions like redistricting, but not all members of our community are aware of the outcome. We should have more open conversations with the community, and seek to open more traditional and non-traditional conversational spaces to address the concerns of the community. An informed community will be a supportive community. Transparency is an asset we can use for community outreach and also as a way to leverage more community support in funding contributions.
Grade the district on implementation of the bond program. What would you do different?
The district did a great job at implementing the bond program. It was extremely challenging for the district and the community who were facing the immediate changes. Most people fear what they do not know. I do think that the district was fairly divided on the bond program based on the number of votes in support of the program. Interestingly, as I talked to many of those who were dissatisfied with the decision, I realized that all those who were for or against it, were in agreement in many ways. Everyone wanted what’s best for the students and parents of HPISD, but not many were in agreement in how to go about doing what’s best for the community. I would have certainly had more communications with the community and built on their similarity rather than accentuate their differences. I would have also put together a parent champion group to talk to community members about the need for the redesign. If most people felt that they were listened to and their concerns were addressed, the process would have been less cumbersome and the decision would have brought much more support. Also, data driven decision making always helps garner community support. It allows for fairness and transparency. I would have certainly done a public survey deployed to a larger population in the district and gathered some data on their concerns to address the citizen groups who were dissatisfied.