Those willing to put pencil to paper, especially when their written words are available for public ‘consumption,’ critique, and backlash, is a feat I have always admired – thus I tread lightly in offering ‘my critique’ below of a recent opinion article appearing in the Dallas Morning News (DMN):
For a professional journalist, I expected more from DMN writer Sharon Grigsby as it relates to the highlighted article where she offers great praise to Dallas ISD in its efforts to ‘fill teaching vacancies’ by the first day of school – a feat other districts across the country have notably struggled with this year (and in recent years).
Her opinion piece not only offers conflicting numbers as has been pointed out by several others, including DMN’s own Tawnell Hobbs, but more so, represents irresponsible journalism and simply reflects how very out-of-touch Ms. Grigsby is as it relates to the challenges and realities that Dallas ISD students face each day.
If ‘filling teaching vacancies’ is our end goal (and primary strategy) in ensuring that all Dallas ISD students are provided with a high quality education – then there is much left to be desired … and the upward climb to providing these students with a great education just got much steeper.
Hiring teachers is without a doubt important. In fact, most school principals will articulate that identifying and finding great talent is the single most important aspect of their job. With that said, ‘hiring talent’ and ‘filling vacancies’ are two remarkably different tasks – and ‘filling vacancies’ at a district level serves as only a small piece of the human capital equation.
Without diving into specific numbers, recent trends within Dallas ISD over the course of the past few years have demonstrated that teachers are leaving the district at a rate far greater than in years past. With this in mind is there any merit in being able to boast that on day 1 of school there are a small number of vacancies – when the numbers reflect that a number of teachers are turning around and leaving the district soon there after? Given this trend, why are questions directly related to these hires not being asked/highlighted by key stakeholders, and more so, by responsible journalists (a few examples):
- Why the need to fill so many vacancies in the first place?
- How many of these hires are first year/veteran teachers?
- How many of these hires have previous experience teaching in urban school districts?
- Do these new hires have a track record of success?
- What preparation programs are these teachers being hired from?
- What types of ongoing support are these teachers receiving to ensure their success?
The above questions are not meant to isolate any single group or result in any sweeping conclusions – however they do begin to create transparency around a human capital issue that must begin focusing on quality of product over quantity.
Running a large school district is a monstrous task. Change and transformation does not occur overnight and takes time (those that seem to think otherwise, freely and willingly place their ignorance on display). The point of this is not to degrade Dallas ISD – rather they should be commended in their efforts for meeting a goal set by ‘the powers that be’ of eliminating vacancies by day 1.
The bigger issue I have with this piece resonates in its casual tone and blatant lack of regard for the larger issue at hand.
I challenge Ms. Grigsby (and others who believe that ‘filling vacancies’ should be viewed as a big win) to walk the shoes of a Dallas ISD student for an entire day in some of our city’s most challenging schools in West and Southern Dallas (note that this exercise should not occur on a district-wide volunteer day such as ‘principal for a day’ – where the focus tends to be geared towards the adult experience as opposed to the normal every-day experience of students). During your time with the student(s), have authentic conversations and listen to them (as I have) speak candidly about issues such as constant teacher turnover in their building and the lack of teaching and learning that actually occurs in individual classrooms – I promise you, it is a powerful message to hear.
Granted I am making a huge assumption that Ms. Grigsby has never spent an entire day in a Dallas ISD school through the lens of a student – and if I have erred in making this assumption I apologize. I do not apologize however for demanding more from a professional regarding the news coverage of the school district. I believe the general public deserves more, and I hope we believe that our students deserve more – especially as it pertains to ensuring they have an effective classroom teacher on day 1, not simply a warm body.