In tomorrow’s paper, you will see a story by Tawnell Hobbs about a DISD Office of Professional Responsibility investigation into how my daughter got into pre-K at Hexter Elementary — or, as Hobbs calls it, “the Rogers situation.” Read Hobbs’ account for a fuller explanation of what went down. I think she did a pretty fair job of laying it all out. But here’s the gist: DISD’s pre-K is run with federal and state funds. The program is designed to serve low-income and at-risk kids. But state law allows tuition-paying parents to enroll their children if spots remain open after those first two groups of children have been accommodated. My daughter got one of those open spots at Hexter this year. An investigation into how that came to pass revealed that no rules were broken. The investigation also revealed that the admissions process for pre-K in DISD is more complicated and abstruse than I ever knew.
Want to know the best part? FrontBurner started the investigation. In the comments to this post about a new charter school downtown, I mentioned that my daughter was enrolled in pre-K at Hexter. That prompted longtime FrontBurnervian Louisa Meyer, a noted DISD supporter, to send an e-mail asking some folks on the School Board for clarification on how the pre-K program works. The board members forwarded Meyer’s request to DISD’s chief of staff. From there it went to the Office of Professional Responsibility. The chain of events is chronicled in the OPR’s report, which you can find attached to Hobbs’ story.
The central question is: did I pull strings to get my daughter a spot at Hexter? The short answer is no. In fact, the OPR says that not only was there no violation of state or local policies, but in September, there were still two open spots in pre-K at Hexter. In other words, my daughter didn’t take a needy kid’s spot.
But there’s a longer answer, too. The OPR report goes on for 90 pages. The report includes e-mail correspondence between me, my wife, and the spokesman for DISD, Jon Dahlander. In working with Dahlander over the years on DISD stories, I’ve come to know him as more than a bureaucrat. Like, I know he’s a gifted pianist, for instance. We’ve had long discussions about public education and about how this magazine and other media outlets cover the district. So when the district incorrectly told us there was not an open spot at Hexter, contradicting what we’d been told earlier, I expressed my frustration to Dahlander in an e-mail. And I asked for some more information about the pre-K program. Was it possible, for instance, that no-shows at the start of the school year might yield open spots at a later date? But I never asked for any favors.
In fact, my wife wrote to Dahlander: “[We] certainly do not expect any favors to slide us in. … Before we jump to another school (where [our daughter] will likely end up staying through elementary school), we just want to make sure there is absolutely no other way or possibility that she might get in.”
You ever see anyone work so hard to get their 4-year-old into a public elementary school — just so they could then pay tuition for the privilege? I know. It’s nuts. But our son graduated from Hexter. It’s our neighborhood school. It’s our home. We love it.
Moving on. None of this, I suspect, would have yielded a story in the paper (and I hear there’s a CBS Channel 11 truck parked up at the school right now). Except the woman in charge of the entire district’s pre-K program, Beth Steerman, told the OPR investigators that Hexter’s principal, Jolee Healey, told her that I “threatened to do an exposÃ© about Hexter and the pre-K program” and that Healey “seemed very concerned and upset about the possibility of an unflattering article forthcoming.” That sounds like a story, doesn’t it?
Except it’s not true. Healey’s son and my son used to play on the same soccer team. I’ve spent a lot of time with that woman on soccer field sidelines talking about school and our kids and all the rest. That I’d threaten her with an exposÃ© is laughable. Healey did not tell the OPR investigators that I threatened her, and she told me that she never said that to Steerman. I’m not sure how Steerman became that profoundly confused.
This whole “Rogers situation” would be nothing but a gas for me except for the fact that Jolee Healey now has to fend off Jack Fink and his TV cameraman. This woman is beyond reproach and, as the OPR report shows, repeatedly asked Beth Steerman for guidance because she wanted to do everything aboveboard. My heart goes out to her.
And one last thing: Go, Hexter Hawks!
Update: Go here to read about how Tawnell Hobbs withheld important information from her story.