The Dallas Bar Association's eighth annual Community Symposium for Justice in Education is ongoing today at the Belo Mansion, but a break for lunch offered a chance for Dallas Independent School District Superintendent Michael Hinojosa to share his thoughts on the state of things.
The reason the district was in such dire financial straits is simple, Hinojosa said: "We just hired too many teachers." Since then, of course, and thanks in part to gone-in-December CFO Larry Throm, the district's back in the black with a $54 million surplus last year. "If you woulda told me what we'd accomplish in two years, I'd have said, 'Get out,'" Hinojosa said, adding that the district's in better shape today than, ahem, "a lot of other governmental entities in the area."
"We have righted the ship," he said, "and things are headed back in the right direction."
Hinojosa said that students' academic performance continues to improve "in every significant way that you want to talk about." While he offered there's still plenty more work to do, he pointed out that in six years, DISD's gone from six "exemplary" schools to 66.
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On the graduation rate Hinojosa was likewise upbeat: "When someone tells you that 50 percent of the African-American and Hispianic kids are dropping out of school, don't believe them," he said. "It's not true in Dallas ISD, not even by the most rigorous measure."
He said all those accomplishments were "not by accident, but by design" -- specifically, the old Dallas Achieves plan that ran out this year. Early next year the board of trustees -- two of whom, Jack Lowe and Carla Ranger, were in attendance -- will have its say on what comes next in the Dallas 2020 Plan, and Hinojosa said they'll have to confront a different reality in education. "We know that these students are digital," he said.
Hinojosa ran down a list of new schools and facilities opening around the district next year -- "almost all of which are in the southern sector," he said. "We've put a lot of people back to work in our community thanks to our bond programs."
He closed by recalling all the time he spent solving problems in DISD classrooms, first as a student, and then as a teacher, and all the time he spent sweating it out in rooms with broken air conditioners. "I think that's one thing we've proven we don't know how to do," he said, "is control the climate in our schools."