"It's our turn to be heard"

With Hispanics the majority among Dallas schoolchildren and a Latino superintendent in their corner, Jesse Diaz and other activists say

While protesting last year's closing of a downtown school for pregnant students, Jackson stood at the microphone and told the trustees: "The Black Coalition to Maximize Education is the only entity into the court. Everything that happens in this district, including charter schools, will have to come through me and my group. We will carry whatever we feel as a group, concerning anything pertaining to the Dallas public schools."

Jackson overstated her group's power, but Carrizales and Diaz believe the desegregation order has given blacks unfair advantages. They point to the learning centers, 14 schools benefiting from special funding and resources that were created in South and West Dallas at the court's direction a decade ago. The learning centers--75 percent black in 1996--receive one-and-a-half to two times as much funding as other schools in the district, but recent test scores show they're not getting any better results than traditional schools.

One of those schools--Brown Learning Center, in the heart of South Dallas--is funded at an extraordinarily high rate. The district spends an average of $13,000 to educate each of Brown's 100 pupils, compared to about $5,400 for the average poor child in the district, according to a district study conducted last year. With $13,000, those pupils could afford to attend one of the area's most exclusive private schools--including Hockaday, Greenhill, or St. Mark's.

"What the district is essentially saying to our kids is that you are all poor, but only some of you are covered by the court order," Carrizales says. "We can't afford to keep doing this."

Over the years, Carrizales has become a sort of case manager for Hispanic parents who are having problems with particular schools. He got in even deeper when Yvonne Gonzalez's predecessor as superintendent, Chad Woolery, appointed him to the Latino Advisory Council. Carrizales immediately set about learning how Hispanics were faring throughout the district. He repeatedly asked the district to furnish him with statistics and information--the number of Hispanic employees at every level in the district; the drop-out rate; positions for bilingual teachers. He says it took far too long to get his questions answered, but when the information arrived, it blew him away.

Carrizales was astounded at how much the increasing Hispanic student enrollment has outpaced Hispanic representation among district employees. He finds it shocking today that only 10 percent of teachers in the district are Latino, while 38 percent are black and 51 percent Anglo, according to DISD records.

The same troubling pattern is found in just about every employee category. At the administrative level, in jobs ranging from principal to associate superintendent, Hispanics hold 21 percent of the positions. Blacks, meanwhile, hold 45 percent, and whites 31.5 percent. Official data shows that Hispanics fare no better among the lowest ranks of employees; only 20 percent of the district's custodians and food-service workers are Latinos.

"I think Chad Woolery and [former school superintendent] Marvin Edwards kept the doors closed to us," Diaz says. "I'm not saying we should hold the majority of jobs. We just want our fair share. Marvin Edwards saw our numbers going up and ignored us. Chad always prostituted himself to the African-Americans. Every time they wanted something, he gave it to them."

The Latino Advisory Council also found that their students were underrepresented in honors classes and in more than half of the eight magnet schools, where the enrollment is supposed to be split evenly among blacks, Latinos, and Anglos. The arts magnet, for example, has never had more than 20 percent Hispanics. And the Lincoln High School Humanities magnet, with its state-of-the-art communications program, is entirely African-American.

Hispanic activists are also disturbed by an achievement gap between Latino and Anglo children, which has closed only slightly in the last 20 years. Even so, Hispanics' scores on such tests as the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills in reading, math, and writing and the Iowa Test of Basic Skills show they've made greater gains than black students in closing the achievement gap with Anglos. Take, for instance, last year's TAAS results for DISD eighth graders. In reading, nearly 88 percent of Anglos passed, while 58 percent of blacks and 66 percent of Hispanics passed. In math, 80 percent of Anglos received a passing grade, while only 46 percent of blacks and 56 percent of Hispanics passed.

The gains both ethnic groups have made are inadequate--a point on which Hispanic and black activists agree.

"I don't think there is a great plot to make failures of black and brown children," Carrizales says. "I just think we need more focus on how to bring up results of all kids."

Through the fall semester at Samuell High School in Pleasant Grove, 45 teenagers with little or no English proficiency were crowded into one classroom taught by the school's only ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) teacher.

A boundary change had brought in a flood of new Latino students, and language assessments hadn't been completed the previous spring, leaving Samuell administrators guessing how many ESOL teachers they would need. (Lower-level Spanish-speaking students are kept in self-contained classes taught by ESOL teachers, while higher-level students are "mainstreamed.")

"It was a nightmare," says Rene Martinez, Samuell High's assistant principal. "Do you think the kids were progressing in a situation like that?" Martinez managed to get staff from the district's Multilingual/Multicultural department to do student assessments, but it took another four months before the district could scare up another ESOL teacher to send to Samuell.

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