Too Smart For Their Own Good

"Jones' Geniuses" can calculate difficult math problems in their heads. But DISD hasn't always liked the answers.

Victoria has actually learned the techniques Jones has taught her daughter and frequently sits in on math drills at Jones' apartment. "He teaches us how to do the process. We do it together," she says.

Although all of the children targeted in the demotion were Hispanic, mostly Mexican, Victoria Martinez gives DISD the benefit of the doubt. "I do feel that this was a case of discrimination," she says, "but not racial." Martinez thinks perhaps the children were demoted because their teachers simply didn't know how to handle their precociousness.

While she questions some teachers' abilities, she doesn't question Jones'. "He did everything for us, and he did it all for free," she says. She isn't just talking about math sessions and cheese sandwiches. She's talking about Veronica Martinez, et al., Complaint No. 06971152, which Jones helped the parents file last October with the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights.

In the complaint, Jones and the families allege "educational discrimination against Hispanic schoolchildren by the state of Texas, Dallas Public Schools, and Sam Houston Elementary School in particular" stemming from the demotion of the children from third to second grade, "despite the fact that they are academically more advanced in reading and math than their third-grade classmates."

Last week, the district settled the complaint, making two major concessions to Jones and his Geniuses. The first allows all the children who were previously demoted to pass on to the fourth grade if their parents so choose (normally, they'd be starting third grade this year). The second provision of the settlement allows DISD principals the option of setting up accelerated learning programs on their campuses.

Juanita Madrigal, employee relations specialist for DISD, refused to comment on the settlement. The Observer obtained a copy of the agreement from one of the children's parents.

These days, it's easy to find educators who laud Miles Jones' accelerated learning efforts. Indeed, some describe him in almost messianic terms.

Dolores Chavez is a 37-year-old administrative site coordinator for Mi Escuelita Preschools, a nonprofit entity that prepares Spanish-speaking preschoolers to attend regular district schools. Earlier this year, Chavez was a pupil of Jones', along with several other Mi Escuelita teachers and staff. Studying to get her associate's degree from El Centro College, Chavez found she was having trouble with the math requirements. She took a three-month tutoring course that Jones regularly offers to teachers at Mi Escuelita.

"I think he's wonderful," Chavez says. She thinks the classes, which Jones teaches for two hours a week, will help her get her degree within a year.

Shirley Yarbrough, the principal at Jones' current school, Rogers Elementary, says teachers have embraced Jones. "He appears to be a truly dedicated teacher who is child-centered, child-focused," she says.

Currently, Jones is conducting staff development sessions at Rogers in which he acquaints teachers with accelerated learning techniques. Yarbrough is considering implementing an accelerated learning program at Rogers once she learns more about it. "Whatever works for the kids is what we'll do," she says.

Yarbrough, however, does know firsthand about the mixed bag of double-promotion. As a child, she skipped second grade and, although she did fine academically, there were days she wished she hadn't been double-promoted. Developmentally, she says, it wasn't always easy for her. "We would certainly have to look at each individual case," she adds.

The DISD settlement has allowed Veronica to enroll in fourth grade at Rogers this year. (Sam Houston only goes up to third grade.) The Martinez family could have chosen to place Veronica in Travis--the neighborhood elementary school. But, her mother contends, without offering specifics, "Travis has a bad reputation; the kids are rude there." She is confident that Rogers will provide a better atmosphere for her star student.

Although Veronica's experience with accelerated learning has been fraught with rules-and-regulation overkill, her mother says it's been positive overall. "I would like to have more teachers like him," she says of Jones. But sometimes it takes more than a willing teacher and an eager pupil to make programs like this work.

Arturo Sanchez, another one of Jones' original Geniuses, will not be attending Rogers Elementary with Veronica this year. He and his parents have decided that staying in third grade at Sam Houston is the best thing for him. Although he's been accepted into fourth grade at Rogers, he won't be going. His parents aren't able to drive him that far.

Also from Michoacan, the Sanchezes have lived in Dallas for more than eight years. Arturo Sr., 33, works in a factory in Carrollton, earning about $1,000 a month. Little Arturo's mother, 26-year-old Argelia, describes herself as "just a housewife." A sparsely furnished wood-frame house with a sagging roof and rotting stairs is home to the family of five--soon to be six.

Argelia, possessing only an elementary-school education and meager English, doesn't seem quite sure what to make of her son's involvement with accelerated learning. "They're learning so much," she says, somewhat suspicious, somewhat in awe.

Either way, Arturo's father goes in to work each morning at 5 a.m. in the sole family car and doesn't return home until late. For now, Arturo will remain in the third grade at Sam Houston, which is within walking distance from his home.

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