Raising the roof

Dallas' PTAs send a message to school administrators -- listen to us

A prayer has been answered, but Dangerfield and other PTA parents aren't by any means satisfied. Rather, while commending Rojas for budgeting much-needed funds for Roosevelt, they're upset that regular communication with the San Francisco transplant has broken down. Unlike past superintendents, PTA leaders say, Rojas doesn't attend monthly meetings of the Dallas Council of PTAs and often neglects to send emissaries in his place, despite repeated invitations.

Likewise, Rojas -- and four trustees -- left the school board meeting last month before citizen "open mike" time. As unpaid volunteers devoting much time to improve schools, PTA leaders say they feel district leaders show them little respect. By not attending meetings, administrators "give us the message they don't care," says Molina High's Vargas.

Another PTA president cites a cultural gap between Dallas and the new superintendent, who apparently lacks the manners of a Southerner. "He is not gracious," says Kathy Glenn, president of Woodrow Wilson High's PTA. "He doesn't come across as 'I'm glad you're here.' It would be nice for him to recognize we're dealing with this every day, and for him to acknowledge, 'I hear you.'"

Roosevelt High PTA members Phyllis Williams, Deborah Dangerfield, Creola Allen, and Veronica Turner banded together to demand much-needed repairs at their school.
Mark Graham
Roosevelt High PTA members Phyllis Williams, Deborah Dangerfield, Creola Allen, and Veronica Turner banded together to demand much-needed repairs at their school.

Loretta Simon, a spokeswoman for the district, responds that Rojas keeps a busy schedule and cannot attend every meeting. She says DISD personnel attend each district-wide PTA meeting, a claim parents dispute. "I know parents are important to him," Simon says of Rojas, who did not respond to a request for comment.

Detachment in DISD officialdom, however, occurs as the Dallas Council of PTAs evolves into a louder voice for change -- even though many parents, PTA leaders admit, still remain uninvolved in school affairs. "We have accomplished quite a lot," Glenn says, "because we have established this network of people fighting the same fights all over town."

At the same time, PTA leaders don't paint an entirely negative picture, and say that despite DISD's lackluster reputation, triumphs occur every day. For instance, Dangerfield points out that students can take several advanced placement classes, such as physics, English, and history, at Roosevelt, even if the building is dilapidated. And all of them say they want to give Rojas, who assumed his post last August, more time to prove himself.

"I want to give him a fair shake," says Earl Johnson, a Texas PTA officer and former PTA head at the science and engineering magnet school at Yvonne Ewell Townview Center. "He's still getting his feet on the ground."

PTA leaders also credit district maintenance staff with being helpful and responsive, but say they are understaffed and unable to handle the backlog. Leadership from Rojas, PTA officials say, is needed to make school repairs a higher priority within the budget. They want it now, rather than waiting for a billion-dollar bond referendum for school construction, which Rojas vows he will push for soon.

"We're not going away," Dangerfield says. "He needs to hear our concerns. They should always be at the top of his list, not only with maintenance but with academics."

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