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Parents, Community Leaders Hope For A Turnaround At Dade Middle School

Stella M. Chávez
Ana Lucia Almanza stands with her children near the corner where a school bus stop was added after parents complained it wasn't safe for their children to walk to school.

Dade Middle School in Dallas ISD has historically faced many problems -- from student discipline issues to high staff turnover. Parents and community leaders are organizing a summit this weekend to try to boost neighborhood involvement and turn Dade into what’s called a “community school.”

Ana Lucia Almanza shudders when she thinks about the dangers her children were facing on their daily walk to Dade Middle school – drug deals, traffic, strangers approaching them.

“This is something that was affecting my friend’s kids and my neighbor’s kids, too” Almanza said.

She says it was unacceptable there wasn’t a school bus stop nearby. So parents got together, knocked on doors and collected more than 100 signatures in one weekend.

At the beginning of this school year, the neighborhood got a school bus stop. It wouldn’t have happened, she says, if parents like her hadn’t spoken up and organized.

On Monday, Almanza and other parents stood on the corner of Hickory Street and Park Avenue in across the street from the new stop.

These parents hope that’s just the beginning of Dade’s turn around.

On Saturday, they’re attending a parent/student summit at Dade Middle School, and they want parents to show up to talk about how they can improve the campus.

Monica Lindsey lives in the neighborhood.

Credit Stella M. Chávez / KERA News
Monica Lindsey is a parent and board member of the Texas Organizing Project, the group leading the effort to turn Dade into a community school.

“Not too long ago, before this school year started, things were looking not so good for Billy E. Dade,” Lindsey said. “Fights were erupting regularly across the campus, teachers’ morale was low and little quality instruction was actually taking place.”

Lindsey is the parent of a teacher in the Dallas school district. She’s also on the board of the Texas Organizing Project, which is trying to turn Dade into what some call a “community school.”

The group isn’t trying to take over the southeast Dallas school. Instead, supporters say it’s an effort to create a community around the school by getting a variety of groups involved – nonprofits, businesses and parents. They also want to provide extra social services for students and boost student performance. The group has already hosted several meetings with Dade parents and community members.

“Dade is a low socio-economic area because of the residents who live there,” Lindsey said. “And so often times, people who are low socioeconomic status are disenfranchised for one reason or another. There are several reasons why.”

Numerous schools around the country and some in Texas have implemented the community school concept. Dallas school district officials say they’ve been in touch with Texas Organizing Project but that nothing’s been formalized. They wouldn’t comment further.

Credit Stella M. Chávez / KERA News
Proponents of turning Dade Middle School into a community school say it must have these five components.

The district has, however, already made some changes at the school in an effort to turn things around. It’s added higher-paid and more experience teachers and required parents and students to sign pledges. The parents promise their kids will get to school on time, while students promise to get their homework done.

Allison Brim, organizing director of the Texas Organizing Project, says parental commitment is a key part of what a community school is all about.

“Understanding that they can be part of making that solution a reality was motivational for them to take part,” Brim said. “I mean I think the parents that are engaged in this effort are just regular parents. Some of them have never been involved in their kids school before …”

Across the country, some community schools had been on the verge of shutting down, but now, Brim said, they thriving. She hopes to add Dade to that list.

Credit Stella M. Chávez / KERA News
Organizer Ed Turner (left) and Rev. Joe Clifford (right), senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Dallas talk about their efforts to help turn Dade Middle School around.

This story is part of KERA’s American Graduate initiative.

Stella M. Chávez is KERA’s immigration/demographics reporter/blogger. Her journalism roots run deep: She spent a decade and a half in newspapers – including seven years at The Dallas Morning News, where she covered education and won the Livingston Award for National Reporting, which is given annually to the best journalists across the country under age 35.