DISD can’t afford to wait on bond program

The 2008 Dallas ISD bond program is more than just new buildings. It’s about innovative, proven approaches to education that would help all students graduate ready to succeed in college or enter the workforce equipped to handle the technology-driven, sophisticated positions of today’s (and tomorrow’s) job market.

The student-focused $1.35 billion bond package, which goes to voters May 10, would fund the building of schools in new areas and provide replacement schools and campus renovations. It would also fund science labs, kitchen and dining refurbishments, athletic facilities, computer labs and other nuts-and-bolt improvements.

Beyond bricks and mortar, the bond program targets best practices within the school system and expands them. One such successful approach is the single-sex-school concept. Studies show that gender-separate formats can boost grades and test scores for girls and boys and help break down gender stereotypes.

In 2004, DISD’s Irma Rangel Young Women’s Leadership School gained recognition as the first public all-girl school in Texas – and has since served as a model for other Texas cities. Built to accommodate grades six through 12, the school’s mission is to “to nurture the intellectual curiosity and creativity of young women.” The students’ astounding success – from academics to extracurriculars – has led to many awards for Irma Rangel, including being named a TEA exemplary school.

Building on that success, B.F. Darrell, an Oak Cliff elementary school, would be reconfigured into a Young Men’s Leadership School. Parents and students across Dallas are eager to see the girls’ success repeated.

Another victory for DISD is the Early College High School concept, introduced in fall 2006 at Mountain View College. Beginning in ninth grade, this rigorous academic program prepares students for college by immersing them in college-level classes and college culture. Graduates leave high school with a diploma and an associate’s degree or up to 60 hours of college credit to be used at a four-year university. In its second year, Mountain View ECHS is seeing early indicators of success, including a 97 percent average daily attendance rate among its 210 students, who earned from three to 22 hours of college credit in their freshman year alone.

Expanding upon this success, the 2008 bond program would fund an additional venture with the University of North Texas by constructing a second ECHS adjoining UNT’s Dallas campus. It would give high school graduates, from both ECHS programs, the option to transition into UNT’s program with virtually no disruption. This results in students completing their bachelor degrees as young as 19 or 20 and being ready to pursue well-paying jobs or higher-level education.

Also on tap for downtown Dallas is a state-of-the-art business and technology magnet, designed to draw upon the energy and resources of the business community (much as Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts does in the Arts District). Students would benefit from specialized curriculum and participate in internships, summer jobs, field trips and mentoring relationships with downtown firms.

A campaign mailer sums it up – “Our next generation of doctors, accountants and astronauts need your help on May 10.” And we can’t forget our future teachers, architects, journalists and entrepreneurs.

Some say the district should wait on the bond program, but we cannot afford to do that. Today’s investment in our students will pay dividends by creating a strong, educated workforce that will keep Dallas competitive and our economy strong.

Join me and hundreds of Dallas community groups, business organizations, concerned parents and community leaders to support our kids with a “yes” vote.

Dr. Alfonso Pino is a Dallas businessman, physician and chair-elect of the Greater Dallas Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. His e-mail address is apino@rapimed.com. For more information about the DISD bond program, visit www.ourstudentsourfuture.com.