By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
If I tell you something weird is going on at Dallas public school headquarters, that's not exactly a news bulletin, is it? But what if I'm talking about something deeply weird?
Last week the school district headquarters staff tried to launch a major search and destroy mission to bring down their own magnet school program. How do I express this?
Imagine the administrative staff at Baylor Hospital sneaking into the emergency room when nobody is there, letting the oxygen out of the emergency breathing tanks and dropping banana peels all over the floor.
Try to picture the front office of the Texas Rangers sneaking into Cliff Lee's hotel room before a big game to short-sheet his bed and putting itching powder on his sheets so he won't get any sleep.
Why would they do that?
Stop me if you've heard this 100 times already, but this year when Newsweek magazine ranked America's top 1,600 high schools, Dallas' Talented and Gifted Magnet High School was number one. One. And Dallas' Science and Engineering Magnet was number four. Four. In the nation.
Look. The magnet schools are not merely the best thing the Dallas public school system has going. They're the best thing Dallas has going.
The magnet school program in Dallas right now is the biggest and best thing this city has to brag about, not counting the Calatrava miniature make-believe suspension bridge over troubled waters.
But what does DISD headquarters staff want to do to their own magnet system? Gut it. Kill it. Chop it up in little pieces and feed it down the In-Sink-Erator of life.
Early last week, a number of totally reliable sources told us that Donna Micheaux, the district's "chief administrative officer" (no idea what that means), had addressed a meeting of magnet school principals in which she informed them she was going to sell the school board on doing away with competitive admissions to the magnets.
Micheaux told them she had a new plan for choosing who gets to go to a magnet school. A lottery.
No, I'm not kidding. A lottery. Tell the kids to forget about taking entrance exams. The Dallas Independent School System is goin' Vegas! What happens in DISD stays in DISD!
I assume that schools have to fill out some kind of questionnaire for the Newsweek survey. Under "Admissions Criteria," I wonder if they even have a box you can check for "Game of Chance."
After the people in the Micheaux meeting leaked word of her roulette wheel plan for Dallas magnet schools, she cut the lottery right out of a briefing she had prepared for school board trustees last Thursday. But she still had another poisoned apple in her basket—"students of promise."
Micheaux wants to force the magnets to stop giving all of their very limited seats to qualified students. Instead they should reserve some places for unqualified kids who are "students of promise," a concept she was utterly unable to define for the trustees in any way.
I was at that meeting, sitting in the back row. I thought to myself, "As a person who was once the parent of a teenager, I'm sure most parents know what 'student of promise' means. Promises, promises."
Let me cut back to my original question. Why? Why even bring this up?
It's not just me. Parents speaking at the school board meeting asked it. Even school board trustees asked it.
Addressing the board during the public comment portion of the meeting, Dr. Kyle Renard, a pediatrician who is a TAG magnet parent, asked them, "What is the compelling reason to alter a system which has produced these top-rated schools?"
She had started off on a friendly note. "I am thankful that any discussion concerning the lottery method has been rethought and rejected," she said.
But she pointed out that the basic poison—the so-called "students of promise" deal—was still in the Micheaux briefing to the board.
"Currently under discussion is a proposal to set aside 10 percent of seats for what has been termed 'children of promise.'
"Who are these children?" she asked. "Who will identify them, and how will they be identified?"
Now right here at this point is where I think we get into the really deep, dark, dangerous stuff in all of this. I live-blogged some of this on Unfair Park as it was going on, and I noticed that some of the people who wrote comments on the blog went straight to race.
One commenter asked, "Is this an attempt to tweak hidden-agenda racial quotas without the appearance of illegality?"
Another said, "When did this libtard phrasing become popular? No longer are they 'promising students,' now they are 'students of promise,' just like how 'colored people' is considered totally offensive, and yet libtards love the term 'people of color.'"
That was absolutely inevitable. There's no way you can touch this issue and not inflame those kinds of feelings. We all know that.
But the toughest questioning aimed at Micheaux came from black board members, especially Lew Blackburn. He posited a future situation in which his three-year-old granddaughter, Zoe, might qualify for admission to a Dallas magnet school on every criterion but still lose her place to a "student of promise" who did not qualify.