By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Gonzalez had been in her new job only nine weeks. To describe her short tenure as rocky would, of course, be an understatement. Because from the moment Gonzalez took the reins of power in the Dallas Independent School District--on the January day that all three black school board members stormed out of the board room protesting her appointment--Gonzalez has been the target of distrust and disdain from a handful of black activists.
For her part, Gonzalez has responded with spears, not tears.
First she dismissed out of hand a demand by the New Black Panthers and NAACP president Lee Alcorn that she appoint an African-American to replace her as deputy superintendent--the position she had held under her predecessor, former DISD superintendent Chad Woolery.
Then Gonzalez eliminated a high-ranking administrative post held by a black woman named Shirley Ison-Newsome. The position had been created last spring by Woolery specifically to appease Alcorn and the Panthers, who were angry with him for hiring Gonzalez.
Most recently, Gonzalez spent $12,000 to build a formidable glass wall in her office suite at DISD headquarters to separate her and her staff from intruders. Gonzalez attributed the move to an unannounced visit from two Black Panthers, who came striding through her open office suite one February day, demanded a meeting with her, then sat and waited more than four hours for her answer. (Gonzalez finally emerged from her office--escorted by district security officers--to set an appointment.)
Gonzalez was indeed tough. But, she insisted, completely colorblind in her actions.
"I am going to do what is right for kids," she was quoted as saying when she demoted Ison-Newsome amid a flurry of personnel changes. "I did not look at race, gender, or ethnicity as the driving force."
But if Gonzalez's more private utterances are an indication, that may change.
Today, Gonzalez was meeting privately with a handful of Hispanic activists who were members of the district's Latino Advisory Council--a group formed to bring issues of concern regarding Hispanic students directly to top administrators.
In the past, the group had found it difficult to get on Superintendent Chad Woolery's schedule--and virtually impossible to get him to react to their concerns--but that had not been the case with Gonzalez.
In the three months Gonzalez has been superintendent, she has met twice with Latino Advisory Council members. On the agenda for this second meeting was an 11-point plan of action the group had given Gonzalez several weeks earlier. They wanted her commitment on a variety of issues, including Hispanic staffing levels, drop-out rates, and bilingual education.
But before the group's leaders could get down to business, two Hispanic mothers who had been included in the meeting steered it down a different path, seeking an audience for their personal stories of woe.
Pulling out photographs to document her allegations, 37-year-old Maria Gomez explained how her severely handicapped son Marco had been beaten on the thighs by a school aide at O.W. Holmes Middle School. Worse, Gomez claimed, the aide had covered up the abuse afterward--supposedly destroying a note of complaint Gomez had written to the school the next day.
The superintendent clearly was moved. Staring at the photos, then at the woman, Gonzalez hung on her every word. As the woman went on in great detail, Gonzalez's studied gaze never wavered. When Gomez finally finished, the superintendent reached across the polished tabletop to squeeze the woman's hand. "I'm not going to make excuses or defend the indefensible," Gonzalez said tenderly. "It hurts me to be in this position where an employee hurts a child."
Then it was 37-year-old Mary Cardona's turn to speak. Cardona, who lives in East Dallas, spoke earnestly of her frustration with schools that refused to send home materials written in Spanish to families where English was not spoken. Worse, there were many parent-teacher conferences, she said, where no translators were ever present.
Gonzalez nodded in sympathy. "In any category you choose, there's no doubt that Hispanics are underrepresented," Gonzalez said. "We do not have a sufficient pool of Hispanics anywhere, and that needs to be addressed. And when I bring that up with the board and the [administrative] cabinet, I draw fire."
At this point, two others at the table--Hispanic activists Alfred Carrizales and Jesse Diaz--seized the moment. Districtwide, they complained, Hispanic drop-out rates were appallingly high; the number of bilingual teachers was lamentably low; and on every rung of the DISD employment ladder, there was little Hispanic representation.
"Right or wrong, you are going to be held responsible for the neglect of not preparing for the influx of Latinos," Diaz said. "Because you are Latino, we expect you to take care of these problems pronto."
Instead of recoiling at the harsh words--similar to the fighting words offered by black activists on the other side of this battle--Gonzalez did just the opposite. The litany of problems expressed by her visitors seemed to overwhelm the 44-year-old superintendent, who spent the next 30 minutes describing--in surprisingly frank detail, considering that a reporter was among those present--just what she plans to do to satisfy the group's demands.
"My greatest fear is the expectations of the Hispanic community," she said. "But the problems are deep, fundamental, and pervasive. The system is deeply entrenched. There are attitudes and subcultures at work. I ask for you to work with me...You are beginning to see you have a voice. But I cannot do it alone."
To the contrary, she said, she needed even greater help to effect change. "How many of our Hispanics are registered to vote?" she implored them. "Are involved in the governance of their schools? In school board elections? I go to school board meetings, and we are invisible...We have so many numbers, but we haven't yet transformed that into power."
As she spoke and spoke--at one point embarking upon a deeply felt, tearful monologue about Hispanic dropout rates--the implications became rather clear. "I'm Latina. I'm superintendent of schools," she declared at one point. "Forty-five percent of my children are Hispanic. And I will represent them."
This prompted Jesse Diaz to interrupt the new superintendent in an attempt to fully explore her commitment to her people.
"We don't expect you to divert resources from the African-American community to the Hispanic community," he said.
Gonzalez looked straight at Diaz. She was unhesitant, unflinching in her response. "There is no way that can't happen."
With no fanfare, Latino children have become the majority of the school district's population. And that growth shows no signs of slowing down.
Right now, 45.5 percent of the district's students are Latinos. By contrast, the black student population has declined to 41.5 percent.
In just three years, Hispanic enrollment is expected to jump to 57 percent. And by the year 2010, Hispanic children will constitute 70 percent of DISD's students. If current trends prevail, more than half of these children will not be fluent in English when they walk through the doors of Dallas' public schools.
These numbers ultimately will transform the district--forcing changes administrators have only begun to understand. Past and present school board members admit the district has been slow in coming to grips with this enormous demographic shift. "The Dallas district was clearly late in recognizing the real needs of Hispanic youngsters," former school board president Sandy Kress says.
But Gonzalez says the district couldn't possibly have failed to notice this tidal change. "It wasn't all of a sudden, we're here," she told the Latino Advisory Council during their private meeting. "If you track the statistics in the district beginning in 1971-'72, [the Hispanic student population] was growing at a rate of 1 to 2 percent a year. The numbers doubled in the last decade."
No one doubts that DISD principals, teachers, and administrators will have to struggle mightily to keep pace with these historic changes. But there's another potential upheaval: The Latino population wave is set to crash right up against the district's African-American leaders. For decades, they've fought--and gained, through extraordinary effort--educational rights for their children, as well as a major share of the power and jobs the huge district provides.
Yet this year's volatile demonstrations at school board meetings show that despite winning a desegregation order and key positions within the DISD administration, black activists are not satisfied with the progress they've made. Now, Dallas' Latinos, usually an ally in the fight for equal rights, are sweeping past them in sheer numbers.
Until recently, there's been no concerted effort among Hispanics to force DISD to attend to their needs--and even now, there's no political muscle to back them up. It wasn't until the 1990 redistricting that any district in the city had a clear Hispanic majority. Today, there are two--District 7 in Oak Cliff, represented by trustee Jose Plata, and District 8, an area that encompasses downtown and Love Field, which is represented by Kathleen Leos, an Anglo who is married to a Latino.
Hispanic activists claim that even when they've tried to express their concerns, their voices were drowned out by black Dallas' vociferous demands. They complain that the needs and rights of Hispanic schoolchildren have been overshadowed in the power struggle between blacks and Anglos. "There has only been one racial agenda in this town--a black agenda," says Adelfa Callejo, a lawyer and longtime Dallas Hispanic leader. "But that's about to change."
Leading that change is a group of impassioned, politically unschooled Hispanic activists who are trying to parlay increasing student numbers into real power. The Latino Advisory Council, heavily represented by members of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC)--a nonpartisan civil rights organization started in Corpus Christi 68 years ago--has been meeting regularly to pinpoint just where the school district has short-changed them. They are devising strategies, issuing position papers, and educating Latinos in an attempt to right the balance--and if their momentous meeting with Gonzalez last month is any indicator, they've got a rapt audience for their complaints.
No one disputes that inequities exist. "If it had been Hispanics protesting at our board meetings, I could understand it," says school board president Bill Keever. "There is no question that when you look at the numbers--of contracts, teachers, principals, administrators--Hispanics historically have been underrepresented in every respect. The district needs to spend a great deal of time focusing on the historical wrongs."
Michael Gonzalez couldn't agree more. The former head of the Dallas Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Gonzalez says he and others have tried for years to turn some of the district's attention to their community. "Our concerns fell on deaf ears," he says. "Now it's our turn to be heard."
The Hispanics' muscle-flexing comes at a pivotal time for DISD. This summer, the district's lawyers will try to convince federal Judge Barefoot Sanders to dismiss the 26-year-old desegregation case against DISD and allow it to manage its own affairs. Black school board members and their supporters will fight to keep the court order in place. The possibility that the order might be dismissed has given a desperate edge to the racial clashes at recent school board meetings.
DISD activists on all sides are waking up to the reality that Hispanic activists could tip the scales against the desegregation order. They believe it has done little to address their concerns--and may have even hurt them. And now the district's Latino Advisory Council appears to be siding with Anglos in their efforts to get out from under federal court control.
DISD's battle lines have always been drawn in black and white. But now Hispanics and blacks find themselves competing for the district's resources. While Hispanic activists say they appreciate the fight African-Americans waged for equal rights in the schools, they believe recent black gains have come at Latinos' expense. "The oppressed have become the oppressor," Jesse Diaz says repeatedly--to anyone who will listen.
African-American activists see Hispanics as Johnny-come-latelys who let blacks do all the fighting and now want to share in the spoils. "I call them vultures," Dallas NAACP president Lee Alcorn said in an interview with the Washington Post earlier this year. (Alcorn would not respond to requests for an interview with the Dallas Observer.)
"This is about people fighting for the polluted pie--for a piece of it," trustee Yvonne Ewell says. "The district didn't provide what black people needed when we were the majority. I doubt it is going to do it now for Hispanics. I think each group should get what it deserves. But I'll be very disappointed if the African-American community starts losing resources."
Then--revealing some of the scrapping-for-crumbs mentality she'd just identified--Ewell adds that Hispanics "have had more money for bilingual education than we ever had. We didn't have anything for us until we started the Ebonics debate."
Some say that a squabble among minority groups is exactly what the district's Anglo power structure wants. "People in the administration building have always been good at playing African-Americans off of Hispanics," says Ed Cloutman, the Anglo lawyer who brought the class-action suit against the district that resulted in the desegregation order. "Historically, there has been a divide-and-conquer mentality. It is a way for the district to duck its responsibilities. Keep everyone fighting, and they'll ignore what you do."
In the summer of 1990, Jesse and Gloria Diaz were sitting in the kitchen of their Pleasant Grove house when they heard gunshots. Seconds later, a bullet shattered their kitchen window and grazed Gloria's shoulder.
Then and there, Jesse Diaz vowed to do something about the Latino gang problem plaguing his part of town.
A 45-year-old real estate agent, Diaz first set out to organize groups of concerned parents. He enlisted the help of his childhood friend, Alfred Carrizales, a 44-year-old building-supply company employee who grew up with him in the Little Mexico area of Dallas near Harry Hines Boulevard. Soon Latino neighbors were turning to Diaz and Carrizales with other community problems. The two men decided they needed the clout that a formal organization provides, so in 1992 they created a Pleasant Grove LULAC council--one of 28 in LULAC's North Texas District III. Today, Diaz serves as president and Carrizales as vice president. Armed with statistics, parent reports, bits of information gleaned from school board meetings, and a fax machine, Diaz and Carrizales' LULAC chapter has taken the lead on Hispanic education issues in Dallas.
The duo both have children in DISD: Carrizales' daughter is a junior at the Arts Magnet, and Diaz's son is a sophomore at Skyline High School. They say it was a natural progression to go from dealing with gang problems to asking whether the schools were failing their kids. No one else seemed to be leading the way for the community, so Diaz and Carrizales stepped into the breach.
"We're just a couple of blue-collar guys who for many years looked to the Latino leadership to do something about our needs," Carrizales says. "There would be a press conference, then the issue would die out. So we decided to do something ourselves. Now we're in over our heads."
The men seem to be unlikely firebrands. Diaz is a nattily dressed onetime youth-gang member who says he's been the top real estate salesman in southeast Dallas for the last five years. Neither is particularly flashy, but Carrizales, a hefty, bespectacled man who suffers from a bad heart, stands out even less than Diaz.
What these reluctant activists lack in charisma they make up for in rancor. They're particularly incensed at how blacks seem to control the district through the desegregation order. Carrizales points to a speech given last year at a school board meeting by Johnnie Jackson, a Kathlyn Gilliam protege who chairs the Black Coalition to Maximize Education, an intervenor in the desegregation lawsuit.
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.
"We were lucky," Martinez adds. "At least I had a supportive principal and knew people in the Multilingual department. I used my influence and pushed and pushed."
At Roger Q. Mills elementary school near the Dallas Zoo, Hispanic students had another problem. Once an overwhelmingly African-American school, Mills found itself with 20 non-English-speaking students spread out over six grades. A first-grade girl was put in an all-English-speaking class, which was traumatic for her, Carrizales says. The other 19 students--ranging from second to 6th graders--spent all morning together in one class with an ESOL teacher. In the afternoon, the older students went to regular classes.
Carrizales says the children's parents were upset about the arrangement, but were afraid to confront the school's black principal, irrationally fearing she might retaliate against their children. So instead they turned to Carrizales for help. It took two months for the principal to set up a meeting, Carrizales says. Shortly thereafter, the school got a bilingual aide to assist the teacher. Had the district known about the situation earlier, says one official, it may have been able to provide the school with another part-time ESOL teacher.
In the 1960s and early 1970s, when no special programs existed for Spanish-speaking students, kids were tossed into regular classes to sink or swim. When their numbers started spiraling upward and too many were sinking, schools started offering them bilingual classes for a year or two, just enough for them to pick up some conversational English.
Things have changed. "The idea now is that being bilingual is a gift, not a handicap," says Evangelina Cortez, assistant superintendent for DISD's Multilingual/Multicultural department. "Eventually we would like to see each student learn two languages, but we're not there yet."
State law mandates that students in kindergarten through 6th grade with limited English be taught by certified bilingual teachers, who must be fluent in Spanish and English. Limited English Proficient (LEP) students in upper grades are taught by English-speaking teachers trained in special techniques to help strengthen students' command of the English language. There's a critical shortage of bilingual teachers in DISD. At last count, the district needed 517 bilingual teachers, as well as 10 ESOL teachers. Though current research shows it takes about five to seven years for a child to learn another language, the shortage of bilingual teachers is making the process stretch out even longer in DISD.
In the early '90s, the district began offering bilingual teachers $3,000 yearly bonuses. But this didn't go far in beefing up the ranks of bilingual teachers.
Trustee Kathleen Leos says the shortage of bilingual teachers extends nationwide, but for DISD to use that as an excuse is "hogwash." "Have we done everything possible to get aggressive about recruitment and retention?" she asks. "No."
Last year, shortly before he resigned as DISD superintendent, Chad Woolery had started paying some attention to the needs of the growing Hispanic student population. He ordered a report on Hispanics in the Dallas public schools, which ostensibly mapped out a plan for the future.
Instead, the report downplayed almost every problem, particularly the drop-out rate. "The district is making great strides in reducing the dropout rates," the report boasts. "In 1987-'88, about one out of every five Hispanics dropped out. The dropout rate has been reduced to 5 percent."
But behind the scenes, many district officials knew those numbers were meaningless. "You can't believe the district's drop-out figures," says a former trustee. "The numbers essentially have been cooked."
Not exactly; there's no evidence that the district intentionally deceived the public. But the way the state requires school districts to calculate the drop-out rate--only counting the number of students dropping out in their senior year--gives DISD a convenient way to hide reality. Most drop-outs, in fact, leave school well before their senior year--so the district's figures don't detect them. Most drop-outs, in fact, quit school after ninth grade, according to statistics compiled by trustee Jose Plata, who surveyed the high schools in his District 7.
It wasn't until Yvonne Gonzalez came along that the district began figuring the drop-out rate in a more realistic way, by looking at the number of students who enter ninth grade versus those who graduate four years later. Considered this way, the drop-out rate for Hispanics is a shocking 27.8 percent. The way the district traditionally calculated the numbers, the rate was only 2 percent.
For blacks, the corresponding drop-out rate is 18.4 percent, and for Anglos it is 15.9 percent. This "longitudinal" drop-out rate is probably even higher if you take into consideration the number of students who drop out in 7th and 8th grade. Gonzalez admits the district hasn't even begun to get a handle on those numbers.
At a "State of the District" speech Gonzalez gave in February at the Anatole Hotel, she told the audience the truth about DISD's drop-out rate. These bleak statistics galvanized Hispanic leaders. The Latino Advisory Council, in conjunction with several other Hispanic groups, including Dallas' LULAC councils, put together an 11-point plan calling for early intervention for children thought to be drop-out risks, and more efforts to assess the language needs of Hispanic students and to hire more bilingual and ESOL teachers.
Carrizales says the group had submitted an earlier version of their plan to Woolery, and got an "anemic" response.
Gonzalez's attitude is entirely different.
"I think she's the best thing to ever happen to the district," Jesse Diaz says. "We've never had a voice before. We are so far behind, and she knows it."
While Gonzalez may be viewed as savior for Dallas' Latinos, she has already clashed with black leaders. Instead of seeking common ground, the city's blacks and Hispanics have been drifting farther apart.
The conflicts rose to the surface a year ago when Woolery hired Yvonne Gonzalez away from her job as superintendent of the Santa Fe, New Mexico, school system to be his deputy superintendent. Hispanics hailed it as the most constructive move Woolery had made to accommodate the district's growing Latino population. They saw Gonzalez as more than a voice in the administration; she was a symbol of Hispanic power.
Black activists immediately demanded that Woolery elevate a black person to the same level as Gonzalez--something that perplexed Hispanics, because there were still twice as many black top-level administrators. Woolery caved in to the demand, but ended up irritating black activists anyway when he promoted assistant superintendent Shirley Ison-Newsome to a newly created position as chief of staff. NAACP president Lee Alcorn and Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price likened Ison-Newsome's position to a "glorified gopher." Then, ironically, when Gonzalez eliminated Ison-Newsome's "gopher" position, Alcorn and Price were offended all over again.
Tensions mounted last May when the school board voted Anglos--Bill Keever and Kathleen Leos--into the board's two leadership positions. The three black board members, who have long complained that their concerns are ignored by the white-controlled board, successfully lobbied for the creation of a second vice president post to be held by an African-American. Hispanics then demanded that a third vice president position be created for them. Black board members refused to back this proposal on the grounds that Hispanic interests were already being served by Leos, who represents a mostly Hispanic district.
Shortly after their elections as board president and vice president, Keever and Leos sat down to parley with Price, Alcorn, and other black leaders. The meeting got off to a bad start when Leos began talking about the needs of Hispanic students.
Alcorn interrupted her. "I don't give a damn about Hispanic children," he said. He was there, he added, to talk about African-American children.
Leos, stung, got up to leave but was persuaded to stay. Alcorn later explained that he felt justified in making the remark, because Leos was getting off the subject. "Hispanics don't talk about African-American concerns when they meet," Alcorn said in his interview with the Washington Post this fall. "They are very selfish about their interests."
In December, Alcorn further alienated Latinos by demanding that the district furnish a count of Hispanic children who were not legal U.S. residents or citizens--information the district is prevented by law from obtaining. Says Diaz: "He was so stupid, because you're supposed to educate all children. That's the law. That was the second time he insulted our children. I want an apology."
Hispanic activists have not exactly ingratiated themselves with blacks, however. Frustrated with black protesters shutting down board meetings, Diaz and Carrizales called on Keever last May to arrest anyone who caused disruptions. When Keever had three members of the New Black Panther party arrested after they refused to sit down, some Hispanics, including Diaz and Carrizales, cheered.
Then at a particularly riotous board meeting in January, Carrizales yelled at one black protester, "To hell with your black ass!"
Clearly, this fight is about color.
Says Carrizales: "We don't have a problem with Anglos on the board. They are the majority of residents in the county. They pay the most taxes. Shouldn't they have someone there representing how their money is spent? We're for the education of all our children.
"I'm sure the African-American community has legitimate issues on education," he adds. "I just wish they could be more exact about what they are. Maybe we're on the same page. We're not saying give us equity based on color, but on needs."
Michael Gonzalez, former head of the Hispanic Citizens Council, says he was close to Alcorn in the late '80s, when Alcorn headed Grand Prairie's NAACP. But lately, he and Alcorn have been at odds. "It's what's ours is ours, what's yours is negotiable," Gonzalez says. "We can't negotiate with people on that basis. Everything they've wanted, they've gotten. They had a black superintendent, who we supported. They got a second vice president on the board, and they got a promotion for Shirley Ison-Newsome. They have three votes on the board.
"I submit to you that they are overrepresented. When they deal with us, it's apples and orchards. They want us to have the apples, and they want the orchards."
When the Observer caught up with Yvonne Gonzalez last Monday, she was dashing off to a secret location to meet individually with trustees, as she does every week. Gonzalez, speaking from her cel phone, didn't back down an inch from the promises she'd made to the Hispanic community during her private meeting with the Latino Advisory Council.
"The most important thing to me is not the color of one's skin or one's ethnicity, but what's in their heart--their commitment to children," she said. "But in looking at the pool of people from whom to pick to serve children, the numbers of Hispanics are just not there. I want to make sure they have every opportunity to be part of that pool."
For years, Gonzalez said, it has seemed as if the district's Hispanic population were invisible. Now, "With the appointment of a Hispanic superintendent, the psyche of the system has shifted," she said. "My appointment was startling. It was an affirmation of the growing population. My appointment was symbolic--and it made a lot of people uncomfortable."
For good reason, it turns out, considering the candid comments she's made about the inevitability of having to shift district resources from blacks to Hispanics. "Equity is an issue for all communities," she said. "But I'm not going to deny resources to Hispanic children whose needs have been overlooked for years. The truth is, we're speeding up what we should have been doing all along."
Gonzalez said she's accelerating recruitment efforts for bilingual teachers and Hispanic administrators, and may eventually push for more early education programs for Hispanic children.
The superintendent realizes that her actions have set her on a collision course with black Dallas. "No doubt, I will become a lightning rod again, but the majority of our children need to get what they deserve," she said, referring to Hispanic students. "When I become a lightning rod, I don't enjoy it. But it is the right thing to do.