Brown-out

The problems at Silberstein Elementary--too few bilingual teachers, a PTA divided, tensions between black administrators and Hispanic parents--are a microcosm of the issues DISD faces districtwide

Still, he acknowledges that angry parents have a point: More bilingual teachers are needed, but today's colleges aren't graduating enough of them. "Every district in the Southwest is trying to find bilingual teachers," he says, "but we're all fighting for the same little group." Price sees an irony in the dilemma. "It sort of reminds you of the '30s, '40s, and '50s, when it was whites teaching," he says. "History is repeating itself."

The meeting finally gets under way about half an hour late. PTA President Dionne Rodriguez, promoted after Hoskins' impeachment, speaks first. She's incensed about a recent story on Fox 4 News (KDFW-TV) that reported on racist graffiti at the school. Parents disliked the report because it focused on racial tension and not on their beefs with Daniels or school conditions. "This is not a race issue," she declares. "It's about responsibility and accountability."

Rodriguez, who is Anglo but married to a Hispanic, accuses Daniels of running the school "under country-club reign." She claims that Hispanics were methodically denied voice on the PTA, although former president Hoskins claims she was never able to stir up interest among parents in the group.

Veronica Mugartegui is still incensed that her 10-year-old daughter, MariaCruz Mugartegui, broke both her arms after the swing set she was playing on collapsed--especially since Silberstein school officials had been warned about the problem.
Veronica Mugartegui is still incensed that her 10-year-old daughter, MariaCruz Mugartegui, broke both her arms after the swing set she was playing on collapsed--especially since Silberstein school officials had been warned about the problem.
Maria Castro, left, is a parent of two children at the school and a former teacher's aide who says she's had run-ins with the Silberstein principal. Anita Contrares, center, whose son, Angel, has cerebral palsy, is upset that some areas of the school lack ramps.
Maria Castro, left, is a parent of two children at the school and a former teacher's aide who says she's had run-ins with the Silberstein principal. Anita Contrares, center, whose son, Angel, has cerebral palsy, is upset that some areas of the school lack ramps.

Yet many of her complaints address indisputable problems at Silberstein, and for that matter, across the city. She decries sliding test scores and too many uncertified teachers at the school. She bitterly lambastes reporters for coming out to the Grove only to do a story on racial friction while ignoring small problems that make up a larger whole. "Where was the media," she asks, "when the blinking school-zone light was not working for a year and a half? Where was the media when our vacuum cleaners didn't work for months? Where was the media when we only had one bathroom for 920 students?"


After Rodriguez finishes her speech, parents begin voting on PTA officers for next year. Dora Cruz, a second-grade bilingual teacher, is elected president. Outside, a group of black teachers is talking with Ron Price. They express genuine hurt at the flare-up.

"It started out as an effort to improve the conditions at the school, but then it became a race issue," says one teacher (none of the teachers would give his or her name). "Up until February, we were treated like everybody else, but now we are invisible." The instructors blame moms and dads for sowing division. "The children were OK until parents got all of this started," another teacher says. "They publish negative comments knowing that they are negative."

Reached by phone a few weeks later, ex-PTA president Mary Hoskins, who attended Silberstein as a child, also perceives the chain of events in racial terms. "The reason I was impeached was because they don't want to see a black PTA president at the school," she says, blaming Ford and his fliers for her ouster. "They get the Hispanic parents all riled up by misleading them. It's a conspiracy against the school."

She expresses shock at the upsurge in PTA attendance. This year, she says, interest was so low in the PTA that there weren't enough people to hold an election--so she kept the post for a second year. Only meetings where students sang or danced lured parents to attend. Informal meetings of teachers and parents at the school where only Spanish was spoken bewildered her. "Could you all start talking some English, because I don't understand," she recalls telling one gathering.

Several teachers, however, say Hoskins has been less than agreeable after her impeachment. On February 27, five of them sent a letter to area superintendent Larry Smith alleging that on February 26, Hoskins was "stalking the halls and classrooms taking unauthorized photos and threatening many staff members...target[ing] Hispanic teachers, PTA members, and specific staff." Hoskins says she was at school taking pictures for the school yearbook. Teachers say the school doesn't have a yearbook and hasn't had one for years.


Post-accident furor among parents quickly swelled to encompass a host of other long-stewing grievances. Stepping in to organize the Hispanic parents was Ford, an eccentric entrepreneur well liked in the community who plies trades ranging from vintage motorcycle collector to author and New Age healer.

Ford--who is white; his wife is Hispanic--sought to marshal their discontent by handing out numerous fliers critical of Daniels, eventually demanding his ouster. "Throughout his seven years, he never has kept anybody who can speak Spanish," says Ford, who accuses Daniels of numerous managerial and even criminal misdeeds. "It's the wrong guy for the wrong place. There's no communication from the principal to 91 percent of the school." Ford also threatened to file complaints for federal investigations of the school for various alleged wrongdoings, including alleged "reverse discrimination" toward Hispanics.

Ex-PTA president Hoskins thinks Ford and other parents are getting off easily after taking such actions. "DISD is just sweeping things under the rug," she says. "You can't pass out literature on the property."

Fred Daniels strongly denies Ford's many charges and says he strives to make all parents feel welcome. "I've got an open-door policy," he told the Observer before declining further comment on the advice of DISD communications officials. "Many of the parents are not aware of what happened," he says, "and other parents are remaining positive."

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