Ready, Set, Endorse! A Look Inside the DKF Endorsement Process

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Dallas Kids First was driven to work in support of our Dallas ISD school board races when it became noticeably clear that voter turnout was painfully low and when elections were regularly uncontested: on average only 5% of registered voters consistently go to the polls and often the incumbent takes on this meaningful role with no one to challenge their impact.

Dismayed by the lack of engagement, Dallas Kids First began supporting key community members who were interested in running for school board by endorsing its first candidates in 2012 - current board president Dan Micciche (District 3) and current board member Bernadette Nutall (District 9). Staying true to its core beliefs, DKF has developed an endorsement process that is centered on what is best for students, what works for educators, and what holds our trustees accountable.

Step 1: Candidate Questionnaire

Once a candidate has officially filed to run for office, whether for the first time or as an incumbent, DKF sends the candidate a questionnaire. Since the candidate has one month to officially file to run for school board, it proves to be advantageous to file early as it means  more time to thoughtfully respond to the questions.

The questionnaire consists of about eighteen questions - with input from the community on what to probe - that allow our Dallas voters to read and learn about the person’s experiences, ambitions, and plans. Once submitted, DKF shares the responses with the interview panelists so they can begin to build familiarity with the candidate. DKF also takes the step of publishing the questionnaire on the website for the benefit of all voters.

Step 2: Endorsement Interview Panel

It is important to get face-time with candidates who seek to be on the school board, especially by community members who may otherwise have less access. This is why DKF invites people across the Dallas ISD space - parents, students, residents, educators, etc. - to sign-up and interview candidates. In any given interview, a range of about 10-20 people will attend for 30-45 minutes with the candidate. The interview panelists have a chance to read the candidate’s questionnaire responses to prepare follow up questions.

Finally, the interview panel debriefs and discusses each candidate’s areas of strength and weakness, resulting in a rubric rating for each. The rubric, developed from multiple iterations of community feedback, is a way to define the high expectations a trustee should meet in leading our school district.

Step 3: Scorecard Development

The interview candidate’s rubric ratings and comments are then consolidated from the interview panelists by DKF staff to generate a scorecard. The scorecard gives each candidate a grade for the items on the rubric and an overall grade for the candidate’s potential as trustee.

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Step 4: Community Survey + Public Endorsement

Once the scorecards for each candidate have been finalized, DKF sends a survey link to its network to ask for an additional round of input. This allows DKF to ask community members (who were not in the interview room) who they would recommend for final endorsement. With this additional feedback, DKF is then ready to put a stamp of approval on one candidate for each district and publicly announce its endorsement for Dallas voters.

Step 5: Let the CAMPaigning begin!

The time following the public endorsement is crucial - this is where DKF shares its time, fundraising, and messaging to support the endorsed candidates. Uniquely critical to the process is our partner fellowship program, CAMP (Campaign Activity and Management Program), which engages with key parts of the city to encourage voters to support our candidates.

The CAMP Fellowship’s eight-month investment in learning about our school board, diverse communities, best practices for winning campaigns, and DISD-specific issues authentically prepares the fellows to engage with voters around elevating our school board by taking the step of casting a vote for the endorsed candidates.

To Close, to Consolidate, or to Improve - DISD Trustees Discuss Appropriate Policy

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Our Dallas ISD trustees have to make an endless amount of decisions. Some involve cumbersome research and discussion, while others seem fleeting and undemanding. Whether it’s how to measure teacher effectiveness or approving gifts from Donors Choose - the items that make it to the Board table cover a wide spectrum.

In 2011, one of the toughest proposals that made it to the nine decision-makers for approval was a decision to close 11 campuses. In response to state budget cuts, trustees and Dallas ISD administration pointed to the notable financial savings if campuses were consolidated. With extensive discussion around what response to take, the debate begged the question: Should there be defined criteria before trustees discuss closing a campus? Ultimately, the vote to close 11 campuses in January 2012 is still debated today because criteria was unclear.

Fast-forward to the 2017 November Board Briefing, trustees discussed a proposal to the original policy titled CT Local, which presents the idea of using defined metrics when considering a school for closure or consolidation. The sponsor of the policy proposal was Trustee Edwin Flores (District 1), who recaps the draft of the policy for his peers to review in the following video clip:

 Prior to reviewing the draft of Trustee Flores's proposal at the briefing, Policy Chair Trustee Lew Blackburn (District 5) and Dallas ISD administrator Scott Layne, (Deputy Superintendent of Operations and Chief Operating Officer) worked on possible language for the revisions. After reviewing and approving the policy, Trustee Flores brought his presentation to the rest of the board as a means of discussing possible modifications prior to taking any further action. Below, President Dan Micciche confirms with Mr. Layne and Dr. Blackburn that they are ready to present the draft and gather thoughts from other trustees.

 

As can be seen in the clip, the policy would entail that Dallas ISD administration present a report each year to the board depicting how each school is doing in relation to the metrics described - school performance, school enrollment, and building condition. However, the phrasing in the policy indicated that if a school does not meet the criteria, it would be up for closure or consolidation. Trustees found consensus that those two options should not be central to the intent of the policy.

Trustee Dustin Marshall (District 2) contributes his idea that the policy could help the administration and the board identify under-resourced schools to help the campus improve, rather than just consider for closing or consolidating:

Trustee Audrey Pinkerton (District 7) agreed with Trustee Marshall and suggested adding alternative language to the policy that could help schools meet the minimum standard:

Dallas ISD administrator Stephanie Elizalde, Chief of School Leadership, and board president, Trustee Micciche (District 3), also agree on changing the language to highlight the needed priority of developing schools, as opposed to just closing or consolidating:

In addition, Trustee Bernadette Nutall (District 9), Trustee Joyce Foreman (District  6), and Trustee Miguel Solis (District 8) request that the policy chair Dr. Blackburn and the policy sponsor Dr. Flores take a moment to shelve the policy until the language is further developed:

While there is no pressing timeline to bring the policy back to the board table, seeing the consensus between our Dallas ISD Board of Trustees was uplifting in the midst of one of the more complex decisions our elected officials must make.

To reach out to Trustees, view the entire meeting online, or to look up documents from the meeting agendas, please visit the Dallas ISD School Board webpage

 

 

Are our Dallas kids at the center of the TEI debate?

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Dallas kids should have a quality teacher in front of them every day. Although that is still not the case for every student, the progress that TEI (Teacher Excellence Initiative) has achieved is catapulting Dallas ISD towards achieving that end and gives us confidence that the district is heading in the right direction.


At the school board briefing on November 2nd, 2017, Superintendent Hinojosa shared updates for the teacher evaluation system used across Dallas ISD schools. For this controversial initiative, he determined that “the debate is over.” But are our Dallas kids at the center of its controversy? Fortunately, the data-sets shared with Trustees highlighted overwhelmingly positive outcomes for them.

One of the highlights demonstrated that there was a correlation between student achievement results from standardized testing (common assessments, end-of-course exams, etc.) and a teacher’s classroom observation score, otherwise known as summative points. The correlation emphasized that the cumulative points a teacher earns from classroom visits done by their principal or assistant principal matches the rate of student achievement for the classroom.

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Beyond the correlation between student achievement and a teacher’s classroom observation points, there is also a correlation between a student’s experience in the classroom and their student achievement. In these surveys, students in grades 3-12 are asked to share their perception on the teacher’s support, expectations, and instructional strategies during class.

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Although there have been doubts on the efficacy of using student surveys to identify effective teaching, the graph shows that the surveys are in fact a useful metric for gauging teacher effectiveness - an idea that opponents of TEI can no longer revert to as a drawback of the evaluation system. A Dallas ISD middle school teacher who also serves as an instructional coach shares, “The data definitely speaks for itself and the charts are a great visual to see the correlation.”

One of the major arguments against using TEI is that it goes against using a teacher’s years of experience in the classroom as a measure of excellence for kids, however, the results from the data gave prominence to the weak correlation between the number of years a teacher has taught and student achievement results from standardized testing. This is not to say that our lifelong educators are not valuable to the fabric of our schools, but to also give credit to teachers of all experience levels making a difference each day for our kids.

 

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From an educator’s standpoint, TEI has also made it easy to tease apart retention rates based on teacher performance. On the whole, Dallas ISD’s retention rate exceeds the state measure. More significantly, TEI visualizes the fact that DISD is retaining higher performing teachers at a higher rate than lower performing teachers. The graph below shows this correlation between performance and retention. As a parent, community member, staff member, or student - we can celebrate that the best educators are the ones sticking around for our kids.

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Just as much as TEI is helping the district identify high performers, it is also opening up the opportunity to support those who are struggling and/or want to grow. Ongoing support and development of all our educators is critical to ensure we continue to meet the diverse and evolving needs of our students. This is an expectation we set in our classroom for students from day one. Our teachers and school system are leading by example with TEI, which is something to be celebrated.

At the briefing, DKF-endorsed Trustee Dustin Marshall (District 2) shared that even with the positive outcomes up to date, there is of course room for improvement. A task force brought together by the district, Next Generation Teacher Evaluation Project, will dive into issues relating to sustainability, re-branding, and overall upgrades.

Among these improvements, Trustee Marshall shared the need to have a competitive starting salary to recruit teachers. This was something around which many Trustees found consensus. In addition, because TEI allows the district to identify high-performing teachers, DKF-endorsed Trustee Miguel Solis (District 8) recommended partnering them with their peers to develop instruction beyond their classrooms. Solis shared, “As you get better, as you get more money, you also gain more responsibility in helping your colleagues.”

This is something others have found agreement in, as a Dallas Morning News editorial shared, TEI “helps identify teachers who can be groomed for more campus responsibility, such as becoming an instructional coach or acting as a critical mentor for newly hired educators.”

With the help of the Next Generation Teacher Evaluation Project, it is critical that Dallas ISD stays focused on a key ingredient to increasing student outcomes: supporting the educators who are in our classrooms every day. In the meantime, our DKF community will stay alert and engaged on the impact it has on our kids.

 

For more information, follow this link to a second Dallas Morning News piece.

Expanding and Building the Impact of Dallas Kids First

Local elections have seemingly never mattered more than they do in today’s political atmosphere. This compels DKF even more to facilitate discussion and engagement in education policy decisions that impact our kids, families, and communities every day. As a result, Dallas Kids First has expanded as an organization and is introducing our newly hired Executive Director - Camila Correa Bourdeau. Below is Camila’s introductory letter for our Dallas Kids First supporters. Welcome aboard, Camila!

To our Dallas Kids First supporters and partners,

Thank you first and foremost for continuing to engage in discussions that push for excellence across our district. Without the diversity of experiences, ideas, and advocacy you bring to the table, Dallas ISD would not be making the heightened progress we have seen over the past few years. Whether the item under debate brings controversy or consensus, having your voice is valuable for the many decisions our School Board Trustees make on a daily basis.

You’ve inspired the continued development of opportunities we provide for our students - both during school hours and beyond. For that, we thank you.

For me, stepping into this role was a choice that made sense. I have always been passionate about education and definitely fall into the belief and cliche that knowledge is power. My parents, siblings, and I immigrated from Chile to New Orleans, and ultimately to Dallas in search of an education that would give us precisely that - the power to choose the future we desired. This is the same role Dallas Kids First plays for our students across Dallas Independent School District.

As public school teachers, my parents prioritized school and although our journey to the US began with the challenges of an extremely under-resourced school and community in New Orleans, we ultimately found our beacon of hope in the city of Dallas. Growing up, I realized I wanted to play a part in creating this hope for others.

After graduating from the University of Texas at Austin, I started my career as a teacher through the New York City Teaching Fellows where I earned my master’s in Education at Hunter College. I taught in Washington Heights for one year and in the South Bronx for five.

As a result of my experience in the two different schools, I became hyper-aware of the differences a campus leader could have on the outcomes of the students under their leadership. I joined Educators 4 Excellence where I advocated for teacher voice in education policy decisions and quickly learned that the campus leaders were not the only ones capable of influencing major change for student achievement. This led me to become the union delegate for my campus under the United Federation of Teachers which gave me a wider perspective on the various levels of engagement a community member could play in advocating for policies that had our kids at the center.

Subsequently, I moved back to Dallas where I worked for Teaching Trust as an instructional coach for teachers across approximately 40 campuses in Dallas/Ft.Worth. I also developed adult leadership skills in educators looking to refine or grow in their influence. This allowed me to reconnect with the Dallas education community on a campus level, but I was still seeking a connection to the policy world that I knew was so important.

I was lucky to find CAMP, a partner program of DKF that teaches its diverse group of fellows all about campaign and management activity through the lens of the Dallas ISD School Board Trustees. I was thrown into the thick of the controversial issues the Dallas community and our kids are very familiar with and my urgency in contributing to greater outcomes for our students grew exponentially.

Whether in Chile, New Orleans, NYC, or Dallas, my experience has told me the same thing over and over: Our public schools, which share the same purpose, offer wildly different outcomes for our students. Without quality leaders, there is a limit to the quality of our kids’ futures. The leaders of our district have great potential - and we as supporters of Dallas Kids First have the knowledge to influence that potential.

Putting the power in the hands of our kids, via our collective knowledge and advocacy, Dallas ISD can empower its Trustees to push for high expectations for the future of our Dallas kids. But only when we put Dallas Kids First.

Camila

DKF Recommends an "Against" Vote on the November 7 Dallas County Schools Proposition

On November 7th, DallasKidsFirst Recommends Voting “AGAINST” on the Dallas County Schools Resolution – Our Students Deserve Better

November 8, 2017 update: 58% of 81,114 Dallas County voters voted to shut down Dallas County Schools. Transportation for the remainder of this school year will remain unchanged. A dissolution committee will be appointed and begin their work over the next few days.

The mission statement of Dallas County Schools (DCS - not to be confused with Dallas Independent School District) states, “we strive to be a trusted, solutions-oriented partner that not only serves the learning community, but also municipalities throughout the state with innovative solutions.” However, the reality is that Dallas Kids First is unable to reconcile the responsibility to serve Dallas County as described above with the current level of service and financial condition of DCS.

Dallas Kids First (DKF) supports policies and practices that put the interests of student first and that are budget responsible, and it is through that lens, that we cannot support the continuation of Dallas County Schools for Dallas ISD and the other districts they serve.

The research that led us to this conclusion started with examining the level of service that Dallas ISD students and campuses are receiving, and the results are shocking to say the least. Examples of a negative impact on our students, include:

  • Valuable classroom instruction missed due to late arrival. In 2015-2016 school year, DCS buses had a 64% on time arrival rate. Just think about that, four out of every ten students that rode the bus arrived to school late and missed classroom instructional time. This statistic is even more troubling when you consider that 88% of Dallas ISD’s student population is economically disadvantaged and rely on Breakfast in the Classroom to be physically prepared for the day of learning; a breakfast that is served during first period which a student would miss if late to school. 
  • An appalling safety record. Since 2011-2012, there has been an average of 419 accidents/incidents per year involving DCS buses. Said another way, that is one accident/incident per every 69 students that ride the bus. Each of these accidents/incidents put our children’s safety and security at risk, and although we understand accidents happen, 419 per year is a mindboggling number. To put that in perspective, a number of other transportation providers were researched, including the provider for Hillsborough County Schools in Florida, the 8th largest school district in the Country, never once had more than 50 accidents/incidents in a single year transporting more students across larger districts.

  • Missed extracurricular opportunities for an already underserved student population. There is no better way to express this point than to use the words of a Dallas ISD teacher. In the past year alone I can think of several instances where my students were denied the opportunity to compete in sporting events and other extracurricular activities because DCS couldn't be bothered to provide reliable service. I've waited at stadiums and ball fields for countless hours, only to find out that the bus never showed up at the school to pick up the kids. Our baseball team has had to forfeit JV games so Varsity had enough time to play on at least two occasions. Our entire swim team missed a meet last month because of DCS error. Our soccer team had buses break down and students had to walk the remaining mile to a district game or forfeit. My kids don't deserve that.”

As if above issues directly impacting students wasn’t enough, DKF also focuses a great deal on quality governance, and if we were completing one of our scorecards for the DCS Administration and Board of Trustees, they would most certainly receive an “F.” There is evidence of extreme issues of financial mismanagement involving taxpayer dollars and administrators and elected board members are named in numerous news reports and investigations for serious infractions that have led to Texas legislators’ taking bipartisan action to consider dissolution of Dallas County Schools.  Specific examples that bring us to the conclusion that voters should seriously consider an “AGAINST” vote include: 

  • A per student cost to the Dallas ISD that has doubled (~$800 to $1,600) since 2011-12 with 22,000 less riders and historically low fuel costs, with no explanation on why this is the case.
  • DCS borrowed funds to the tune of $52M to enter into a revenue-producing stop arm camera program with districts outside Dallas County which ultimately led to millions in lost revenue.
  • Dallas County Schools has turned over records to the Texas Rangers who are charged with investigating public corruption.
  • Questions around campaign contributions of more than $200K from a vendor (who was ultimately awarded a multi-million-dollar contract) to the board president and general transparency of campaign finance reports of all board members.
  • DCS sold a number of properties for $25M, then turned around and leased the same properties back for $47M, passing on the increased lease amount to its district partners. Dallas ISD paid (unbeknownst to them due to poor transparency from DCS) $2M towards this questionable land deal, money that should have been in the classroom.
  • DCS has a financial rating that is considered to be “junk status”, has defaulted on debt payments, and over the past year, DCS has had two Superintendents, two Chief Financial Officers, and the Board President all resign which points to the incredible dysfunction and uncertainty around the current DCS operations.

The safety of our students comes first and foremost, and parents should have the confidence that their children will arrive to school in a safe and on time manner, while being prepared for the academic day and able to enjoy their extracurricular activities. Furthermore, taxpayers (which pay a $.01 property tax to DCS) deserve transparency from their elected officials, which the DCS Board of Trustees is, free from corruption or back-room deals, and who stay true to the mission of their organization and do so with fidelity. Even with recent leadership changes at DCS, DKF has zero confidence that the product will improve and believe strongly that there must be a better alternative.

At the bottom of the ballot, make sure to vote “AGAINST” on the Dallas County Schools proposition.

Dallas Morning News Editorial Board recommends an ‘Against’ vote on Dallas County Schools Bus System

NBC5: DCS investigation stories dating back to November 2016

DMN: Credit agency warns of bankruptcy risk

Early Voting Dates:

 Monday, October 23 – Saturday, October 28  8:00am to 5:00pm

Sunday, October 29 –1:00pm to 6:00pm

Monday, October 30 – Wednesday, November 1  8:00am to 5:00pm

Thursday, November 2 – Friday, November 3  7:00am to 7:00pm

Early Voting Location Finder (vote anywhere in Dallas County)

 Election Day

Tuesday, November7  7:00am to 7:00pm (vote in your precinct)

Critical Needs for Continued Progress

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In 2013, Dallas led the country in the growth of millionaires, with these families controlling over $450 BILLION in personal wealth.
 
At the same time, the city of Dallas has the highest child poverty rate in America. 4 in 10 Dallas children live below the poverty line, which is the equivalent of a family of 4 earning less than $24,000 per year.
 
A staggering 50,000 children in Dallas live in extreme poverty, in a household making less than $12,000 per year. And nearly 4,500 students enrolled in Dallas ISD qualify as homeless.
 
How has Texas and in particular, Dallas, become such an example of massive inequality?
 
The root causes of this inequality run deep, but our failure to provide every child access to a quality education has been a primary driver.
 
Currently only half enter the school system prepared to succeed in Kindergarten. 89% of the students in Dallas ISD are considered to be economically disadvantaged (the highest percentage in North Texas), 43% of student are English Language Learners and 65% of students are considered at-risk by the State.
 
Yet, even considering these immense challenges, Dallas ISD has the 3rd lowest tax rate in North Texas (only Highland Park with zero poverty and Azle ISD have lower rates) and has had the same tax rate for a decade.
 
However, Dallas ISD has not blinked in the face of these challenges, and over the past four years, has made tremendous academic progress that deserves to the celebrated. Accomplishments include:

  • Kindergarten Readiness has grown by 12% since 2012
  • Pre-K enrollment has grown by 43% since 2012, to over 11,000 students annually
  • 40% of students now accessing IB/AP classes, up from 33% since 2012
  • 14,209 fewer students attending an Improvement Required campus, a 47% reduction, in 2 years
  • Career certificate attainment rates have increased by 4X over the last 2 years
  • Early College High School programs on track at all 22 comprehensive high schools by 2018
  • Piloting the first two schools where student enrollment is intentionally balanced based on family incomes
  • Board policy to eliminate discretionary suspensions for students in grades PK-2 by 2022-23 

To their credit, Dallas ISD has not complained about being the highest poverty school district in a city with one of the lowest tax rates, but simply focused on providing the very best for their students on less and less – but they can only do that for so long until the resources run out.
 
Furthermore, Dallas ISD has roughly 33% LESS money to spend per student than the national average for school districts. As a result, hard choices are made each year during the budgeting process, choices that kids shouldn’t have to suffer from and that elected Boards’ shouldn’t be forced into making. We shouldn’t have to choose between expanding pre-K or keeping librarians, paying teachers well or providing college counselors for primarily underserved, first generation students.
 
Our kids are being short changed by a state that has failed to make education a priority, particularly for those growing up without wealth and privilege.
 
Don’t be fooled by rising property values and assume that Dallas ISD is receiving more money to put towards are students. As local valuations increase, the State simply contributes less, pushing the burden away from them. Case and point is the current Dallas ISD budget which saw an increase in local revenue of $87M and a decrease in State revenue of $97M – a net LOSS of $10M.
 
Despite a Texas Supreme Court ruling that the State Legislature should overhaul public school funding, the legislature once again failed to act, leaving taxpayers in Dallas with a choice. Do we choose to invest wisely to break the cycle of poverty? Do we believe our kids are worth it?
 
We at DallasKidsFirst are advocating for a Tax Ratification Election to be brought to the voters – a small increase between 6-13 cents (depending on the Board decision) on our property taxes which has the power to make a big difference in our public schools and in the lives of more than 158,000 Dallas ISD students.
 
Our kids are worth it, our educators are worth it, and the District has earned it with the great progress over the past four years. Let’s all come together and support the district, giving them the ability to continue this progress for our students – the future depends on it.

The Board will vote on August 5 to decided whether they place a TRE on the ballot in a special election. We hope you will encourage your Dallas ISD Trustee to support the measure. Contact information for each trustee can be found here. If you need help knowing who your trustee is, send us a note at info@dallaskidsfirst.org. 

2017 Dallas ISD Elections | Districts 2, 6, 8

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Congratulations to Trustees Marshall, Foreman, and Solis on their re-election to the Dallas ISD Board of Trustees in May and June 2017

District 2: DKF-endorsed candidate Trustee Dustin Marshall was elected to fill a vacancy on the board in 2016 and filed to run for a full term in 2017. With 4 candidates on the ballot in 2016 and 3 candidates in 2017, both elections required a runoff. He earned a rare “A” on his DKF candidate scorecards both years. Marshall ranked high in knowledge of local, state, and national education policy, understanding of board governance, urgency, independence and he has spent a year working to bridge the gap between his own private school experience and the District 2 community’s loyalty to their neighborhood campuses through providing “office hours” in local coffee shops and an advisory council to provide feedback on how policy votes will impact their campus. We believe in his solid commitment to Dallas ISD and are very pleased to see him re-elected by over 66% of District 2 voters in a hard-fought runoff to serve through 2020.

District 6: Students in District 6 schools have a strong advocate in Trustee Joyce Foreman who was re-elected by her community in 2017 to serve a second term on the board. While we don’t always agree with Foreman’s approach to policy solutions, we do recognize her commitment to her role and clarity of opinion. We never doubt where Trustee Foreman stands on an issue.

District 8: Trustee Miguel Solis filed to run for re-election and did not draw a challenger for the seat. He was sworn in to serve a second full term on May 25, 2017 without an election. Solis, elected in 2013 to fill a vacancy on the board then re-elected in 2014 for a full term has been instrumental in supporting the current teacher evaluation system, expansion of Early Childhood Education, and the reduction of out of school suspension of our youngest students. Solis was endorsed by DKF in 2013 and 2014.

DallasKidsFirst exists to increase citizen engagement by providing voters with actionable information about public school governance. DKF believes that district-wide transformation requires Trustees who will honestly assess Dallas ISD’s challenges. Following years of low voter turnout and cancelled elections, DKF wants to engage every Dallas ISD stakeholder by shining an intense light on school board decisions. Our Dallas ISD Vote Tracker is released each month and easily accessible on our website and social media.