If You Want to Run For Dallas ISD Board, And Want a PAC's Backing, Fill Out This Essay Test

On May 12 of next year three Dallas Independent School District trustee spots will come up for grabs -- those presently held by Bernadette Nutall, Bruce Parrott and Edwin Flores. (And, depending on which rumors you choose to believe about possible doings on the Dallas County Commissioners Court and the Dallas City Council, there could be a fourth.) You may recall that there was no school board election in 2011, as Adam Medrano, Carla Ranger and Mike Morath ran unopposed. Do not expect a repeat of that sad scenario in 2012. Educate Dallas, a political action committee with ties to the Dallas Regional Chamber, will see to that.

As a matter of fact, for the last few months members of its advisory board have been recruiting candidates for the school board, asking around to see who might be interested in running for those three (or four) seats. Just days ago it posted to its website this candidate questionnaire, a sort of essay test that poses such questions as, "Dallas ISD's mission statement is 'Educating students for success.' In your view, how should success be defined?" and "In your opinion, what are the top three issues facing Dallas ISD, and how would you address each?"

All of this is tied to something we've written about before: The so-called Commit! initiative, presented to the school board in September by Clint McDonnough, a managing partner at Ernst & Young and chair of education for the chamber. McDonnough is also EducateDallas's chair, a position he will share come January with tax attorney Mark Melton, who has a daughter at Woodrow and whose bio makes you feel like you'll never be able do enough good deeds to catch up.

Melton told me today that there's a "soft deadline of January 17" for those so interested to fill out the questionnaire. After that the board will read through the answers and call in folks for in-person interviews -- "to see if they're the kind of person we want to support," Melton says. "Early on, we'll pick some candidates to get behind." And, yes, that means financially: According to EducateDallas's year-end wrap-up, it has $50,000 and counting to throw behind candidates it believes will improve the state of the DISD.

I asked Melton: What are you looking for in a candidate? Because the trustees can't even figure out what they want in a superintendent without asking anyone with access to a computer. Are we talking, you know, a reformer candidate? What does "high-quality" mean, exactly?

"It's a good idea to define what you're looking for," he says. "It's not a good idea to use 'reformer' because in certain parts of the community it has a negative connotation for some reason. It needs to be someone who believes in accountability at all levels, who doesn't believe lower test scores should result in lowering the bar, who believes that when it comes to teacher evaluations you shouldn't beat up teachers but come up with an actual metric where you can measure real performance. And we're looking for trustees who are interested in holding the administration accountable. Accountability -- that's the one word that defines this. And people who won't be divisive, who won't be one-issue, who have a well-rounded look at the whole community and not just one school in their neighborhood."

After I got off the phone with Melton, I had a long talk with Jim Oberwetter -- president of the Dallas Regional Chamber, former U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia and EducateDallas's treasurer. More from him tomorrow. But long story short: If you don't know what EducateDallas is today, you will by early 2012.

"Absolutely," Melton says. "We've tried to be very careful to position ourselves in such a way that we have credibility with the comm. We don't want to go out on a limb and make a misstep. We want to have a long, lasting impact. We don't want to make knee-jerk decisions. There is no silver bullet when it comes to fixing" the DISD. "This is just one piece. It'll take parent involvement and a cultural shift in the district and a whole bunch of other stuff."

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky