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DISD Super Sees Opportunities Amid Challenges

DISD Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde
Superintendent Stephanie S. Elizalde, Ed.D. | Image by Dallas ISD/Facebook

The Dallas Independent School District faces several challenges, from funding to teacher retention, yet Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde sees various positive opportunities.

Elizalde was recently interviewed by Fox 4 KDFW’s Shaun Rabb and discussed ways the district was preparing for the new school year, especially on the heels of a student-involved shooting at Wilmer-Hutchins High School that revealed several shortcomings in school security.

“I’m most concerned about safety, and I would certainly be remiss if I didn’t say that,” said Elizalde. “Everything that happens outside of the school has an effect on what happens inside of our schools. So until we’re able to really wrap our heads around what’s happening out there in society, it’s going to continue to be a challenge for us.”

As previously covered in The Dallas Express, last month, two Dallas ISD students were shot while being driven home by their coach after football practice at Roosevelt High School in Oak Cliff. The suspects had pulled up alongside the coach’s vehicle and opened fire, striking one student in the neck and another in the back of the arm and shoulder. Both high schoolers survived.

“Every summer, I get very worried because we lose so many teenagers who aren’t in school during the summer and find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time,” added Elizalde. “And that’s going to continue to be something that keeps me up at night.”

However, Elizalde stressed how the district’s resource centers, which offer parents and caregivers various social services, such as legal advice, cooking classes, and childcare, have been “game changers.”

“They’re creating more trust and engagement and involvement with our communities,” said Elizalde.

She also encouraged community members to consider lending a hand in such initiatives.

“We need to continue to work together with everyone in our community. If there is ever a time that people think, ‘What can I do to help?’ I would always say, ‘Please reach out to your nearest school.’ We always need mentors. We always need readers,” explained Elizalde.

Like many public school systems, DISD has faced challenges with a lack of funding and declining student enrollment, as covered in The Dallas Express. Some North Texas districts, such as neighboring Fort Worth ISD, have had to make staff cuts and school closures.

Elizalde pointed out that population growth hasn’t necessarily led to more students in the Dallas ISD attendance zone. Not all newcomers have school-aged children, and the birth rate is trending downward nationwide.

Competition from education alternatives — especially given Dallas ISD’s struggles with academics and other areas — has also contributed to falling student enrollments these past few years. The latest accountability report from the Texas Education Agency shows that just 41% of Dallas ISD students scored at grade level on their STAAR tests in 2021-2022, and nearly 20% of the graduating class failed to obtain a diploma within four years.

If school choice passes the Texas Legislature, enrollment may decline even further. As Elizalde explained, she hopes officials like herself will have an opportunity to weigh in on any education savings account policies.

Nevertheless, Elizalde told Fox 4 that she has actually noticed some enrollment increases, especially in three- and four-year-old pre-K, which has sparked new partnerships with neighborhood centers to expand the program.

New teacher hires are also on the horizon in the district since teacher retention is a pervasive challenge in public school systems. However, Elizalde explained that due to internal hires and restructuring, fewer new teachers would need to be hired next school year — between 600 and 700 compared to 1,000 to 1,100.

“That’s a big win for kids because we have a lot of consistency, and we have a lot of individuals who understand the children and the communities that they serve,” said Elizalde.

In terms of why district educators would choose to stick around, she attributed it to “the Dallas ISD culture” and the performance-based pay structure.

“People like being in Dallas ISD, we like being family here together, and we like supporting each other. We like serving the students that we serve. And so I think being able to both meet as many of their own personal needs and certainly compensation is an important part of your team members feeling valued,” said Elizalde.

Teacher pay increases, totaling around $34 million, were included in the provisional budget of $1.9 billion for the next term.

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