Dallas County

'What About Our Young Black Boys?': DISD Eyes Changes to South Dallas Schools

Community members in Oak Cliff feel they've been left out of the loop on potential changes for two area schools.
Community members in Oak Cliff feel they've been left out of the loop on potential changes for two area schools. Kritchanut / iStock
Every morning, kids from several Oak Cliff apartment complexes walk to their neighborhood school on Overton Road. J. P. Starks Math, Science and Technology Vanguard serves kindergarten through eighth grade, but the Dallas Independent School District is considering turning it into an application-based all-girls institution for pre-K through third-grade students.

Plans are still up in the air, but a spokesperson said the district wants to consolidate students at J.P. Starks and William Brown Miller Elementary because of low enrollment and send them to John Neely Bryan Elementary School.

The spokesperson said DISD plans to hold community meetings to get comments from people who live in the area, but they’re considering repurposing J.P. Starks into something similar to Solar Preparatory School for Girls in Dallas.

Residents worry about the effect such a change would have on families and students.

“When they use the word ‘repurpose,’ they’re actually talking about closing the school,” Toni Johnson, a resident and community leader in the area, said. “When you repurpose [a school], it does not include the neighborhood in which it is serving.”

Johnson grew up just around the corner from J.P. Starks. She does community service, feeding the homeless and families in the area working with the faith-based group Young Life which has partnered with DISD. Johnson said there are many underserved and underprivileged children in the apartment complexes around the J.P. Starks.

“These children take care of their siblings,” Johnson said. “Mom either goes to work early in the morning and the siblings get the other babies up, take them and drop them off at school or go to school with them. Or you have students who have parents who just don’t get up and take care of them.”

“They had no answers.” – Toni Johnson, community advocate

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She said the community initially wasn’t told about any of the changes coming to the neighborhood school. Someone called her saying they’d heard talk of J.P. Starks being turned into an all-girls school. So, she did some digging and requested a community meeting with the district.

“We wanted to know, how did they come about this?” Johnson asked.

They also wanted to know why these schools were chosen and why the communities hadn’t been consulted. “They had no answers,” Johnson said.

They were eventually told it was partly due to low enrollment and that the district was also considering turning William Brown Miller into a facility where students could go to on field trips. Johnson said some of these changes would be welcomed if the communities thought they would serve their children. But they're skeptical.

Although the district told them they’d set up community meetings about the potential changes, Johnson and others said they felt it was all a done deal and that if they hadn’t inquired about it, the community would’ve been left out of the loop completely.

Elena Jackson, another community advocate, said this change would throw a wrench in how families in the area operate. Usually, when Jackson calls people in the community to ask their thoughts, it’s the first they’re hearing about the potential changes.

“I’m calling down the list and letting [parents] know and they’re shocked. They tell me ‘Well, I’ve got two first-graders in school and I’ve got a fourth-grader. What are we going to do?’” Jackson said. “DISD doesn’t care because they’re going to do what they want to do anyway. They didn’t care enough to inform the parents that have children that go to this school. They were just going to do it.”

If the plans are enacted, the advocates also worry about overcrowding at John Neely Bryan. “You’re going to overcrowd John Neely Bryan with all of these babies in there that’s not going to get the adequate teaching they deserve,” Johnson said.

Johnson suspects the district didn’t want to hear from the community because they knew there would be resistance. “Since this is an all-girls school, what about our young Black boys?” Johnson asked. “We know for a fact that there’s not a lot of people in that community that’s going to support an all-girls school and leave out these little boys. You’re breaking up a family unit.”

Since hearing about it, Johnson and others have tried to lock down some dates for a few meetings in the affected communities. But, they feel like they’re getting the runaround. “They’ve been constantly ignoring our emails,” Johnson said. They finally got some meetings scheduled, but they were postponed.

She feels the wants and needs of South Dallas communities are often ignored by the district. They feel like they’re being left behind, she said. The district is preparing a future for South Dallas “while demising and dismantling the people that are already there right now,” she said. “The way we’re looking at it, gentrification is coming all the way down Bonnie View.”
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Jacob Vaughn, a former Brookhaven College journalism student, has written for the Observer since 2018, first as clubs editor. More recently, he's been in the news section as a staff writer covering City Hall, the Dallas Police Department and whatever else editors throw his way.
Contact: Jacob Vaughn