About the “Rogers Situation” at DISD, Ctd.

On Friday, we began a lively discussion about a story that ran on the front page of Saturday’s Dallas Morning News concerning how my daughter was admitted to a DISD pre-K program designed for at-risk and low-income kids. Over the weekend, I learned some information that leads me to believe Tawnell Hobbs, the woman who wrote story, deliberately omitted a very important detail from her report, a detail that didn’t fit her agenda.

The online version of the story is headlined “D Magazine Editor’s Child Given a Pre-K Slot in Dallas ISD School While Needy Children Wait.” The print version had a more accurate (to my mind) headline — “Flaws in Pre-K Program Studied” — but the subhead introduced the same concept: “Magazine editor’s child got in class ahead of at-risk kids it’s meant for.” And the lead drove it home: “A local magazine editor’s daughter is enrolled in a Dallas ISD pre-kindergarten program intended for low-income and at-risk kids, while latest counts show more than 300 students who qualify for the program remain on a waiting list.”

The clear implication is that my daughter got to the head of a line populated with 300 poor and at-risk children and that somewhere there is an unfortunate child whom I have deprived of a shot at a better life. I took a lot of heat for that in the lively discussion that followed Friday’s post.

But, as I learned over the weekend, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the current wait list for DISD’s pre-K program stands at 272 names. And the open spots? Noted DISD activist Louisa Meyer did some figuring and believes the number could be as high as 539. The district itself, choosing to err on the side of being conservative, estimates that the current number of openings is in the 350 to 400 range. In other words, there are far more openings than there are kids on the wait list. The vast majority of those families have been contacted by the district and told this. My daughter didn’t take a poor kid’s spot.

Now, what really gets me steamed is that I believe Tawnell Hobbs knew all this when she wrote her story. Yet she didn’t include the detail about the huge number of openings. And why do I think Hobbs deliberately overlooked that crucial information that would have put her story in a different context? Read the e-mail exchange I had with her over the weekend:

Tawnell:

I’ve had some time to digest your story and get my hands on some more data.

Were you aware when you wrote your story that DISD has a lot of extra capacity in its pre-K program? It’s hard for me to believe that you didn’t know that. Page six of the OPR report says that the district had 1,021 spots of unused capacity. Now, because demand was not high enough, they did not staff up to create all those spots. But there are still a lot of actual open spots — far more spots than there are kids on the waiting list. Louisa Meyer has done some math that shows the district currently has in the range of 431 to 539 open spots that are staffed up and ready to roll.

Your lede strongly implied that my daughter got into Hexter AHEAD of some 300 students on a waiting list — that she took a needy child’s spot. If you made that implication accidentally, you’ll want to clear it up. If you did it intentionally, and if you deliberately omitted the detail that the district has more openings than it does people on the wait list — well, surely you didn’t do that. Right, Tawnell?

Tim Rogers
Editor
D Magazine

The district was also still enrolling kids from the waiting list as of Sept. 17, according to Steerman. (The number you quoted is from Sept. 10).  Bottom line is your child got a slot before the district could even enroll students from the districtwide waiting list — before schools even had a chance to submit names to the list. As to why 300 students remain on the waiting list — without a waiver from the state (as required) — is for DISD to answer.

Tawnell D. Hobbs
Staff Writer
The Dallas Morning News

Your point about the waiver is valid. I wish all that had been spelled out to us by the district when the process began. It wasn’t.

But from your response, with which you sidestepped my question, I take it that you were fully aware when you wrote your story that the district still has far more openings today than it has people on the wait list — and that you CHOSE not to include that information.

That’s the only problem I have with your reporting, Tawnell. But it’s a big problem. You withheld information that would have brought important context to the story.

Tim Rogers
Editor
D Magazine

With that, our correspondence ended.

43 comments on “About the “Rogers Situation” at DISD, Ctd.

  1. Do you really think you ought to be writing about this? Shouldn’t there be some objectivity in the reporting?

  2. @Kirk: It does not appear that there is any objectivity in Ms. Hobbs’ “reporting;” why hold Mr. Rogers (a very interested party in the imbroglio) to a standard which the allegedly independent and unbiased local daily will not meet?

  3. @Kirk,

    Objectivity? He was targeted in a public forum (newspaper), and defended himself.

    Should he just remain quiet when wronged? And hope for someone to take up his cause? I certainly wouldn’t.

  4. Whatever the objectivity/what-D-has-done/etc., the fact that there are OPENINGS for all of the kids on the waiting list certainly changes things.

    The article seems quite clear that Mr. Rogers’ kid bumped one of these waiting-list kids out of a spot, when the actual truth is that there are more spots than kids.

    Another thing that has been bugging me is that everyone is gets all over parents who are trying to take an active role in their children’s education. So the Rogers family and others who are doing their best for their kids (and DISD!) should just sit on their hands and do nothing while (sadly) so many other parents in DISD don’t even know where their kids’ school is?

    Just because you are “at-risk”, doesn’t give you the right to be lazy, uninterested, or uninvolved — and then get all pissy when someone else’s kid gets a better grade than yours does.

    A previous comment that the teachers at Hexter would be glad to see the Rogers leave the school makes me laugh. FIND me a teacher who would rather have a parent they have never met vs. a parent who volunteers, shows up for parent/child conferences, and is a part of their kid’s education.

  5. Tim: This is a situation where you cannot come out a winner. Unfortunately the perception now is there (and wrongly so from what I can tell) that you “took” a minority child’s place. Short of a retraction by the paper, and a front page one at that, in the minds of a lot of people you are marked with this stain. It is the world we live in.

  6. It is January. How are there kinds on the waiting list and open slots at the same time?

    @Sammy – Why do you make the jump to “Just because you are “at-risk”, doesn’t give you the right to be lazy, uninterested, or uninvolved — and then get all pissy when someone else’s kid gets a better grade than yours does.”

    You are making a general comment that doesn’t seem relevant to the situation. Aren’t the parents who applied involved, active, interested?

  7. Tim, with all due respect, you are hair-splitting. If there are kids waiting and your child got bumped ahead of them, the actual openings are not the point. Your child got into a classroom ahead of others due to, if the story is right, untoward action by district officials. Why DISD has a waiting list if it has capacity is a different troubling question.

  8. @ Jeffrey Weiss – my suspicion is that the waiting list has more to do with specific schools being full. Physically, an elementary can only handle so many classes of each grade. And by adding self-transportation as a burden to attend a school away from their neighborhood, many families chose to stay on the waiting list at their neighborhood school.

  9. @Tim:
    As your unappointed PR consultant, I recommend that you stop flogging this dead horse. You didn’t “steal” anyone’s place, but you should not have enrolled your kid in a program for underprivileged children. And your tone towards DISD? Oh, brother. Persistence is OK. Acting like 20 year is not. Your email posts about this issue are starting to remind me of the Wick-Angela Trinity debate on the is blog a few years ago. Wick just kept-a-typin’ and digging a hole on an issue he couldn’t win.

  10. I was wondering something along those lines, AmyS. Wouldn’t the more salient question be, “How many students in Hexter’s area were denied access to Pre-K so paying students could enroll?”

    And how many parents who have children on the waiting list opted to wait because they couldn’t provide transportation to another school outside their neighborhood?

    It seems that part of the problem is contextual. If I go to enroll my kid in a school, and I’m told there’s a waiting list and disadvantaged children are at the top, my first question wouldn’t be, “How many are in the district,” but “How many are serviced by this school?”

  11. These emails would come across a lot better if you could sign off with “And that makes me sad.”

  12. Tim,

    I would not stop pushing this story. Your next step should be to bring her editor into this conversation.

    If the reporter left out information that did not meet her agenda, then she should be fired. Period.

  13. It is disappointing that there are commenters who are blaming you for wrongdoing AFTER you have pointed out DISD and Ms. Hobbs both left out important information regarding your daughter’s enrollment in the Pre-K program.

    This just goes to show you some people simply believe what they want to believe, regardless of the truth.

    And that makes me sad.

  14. Tim: Maybe you should follow up on that waiting list and see why they’re not in the slots. As a reporter, that would be a reasonable thing to do. I don’t think this would have happened to you if you hadn’t been a journalist, so why not take advantage of that to shed light on the situation.

    Tawnell is a lousy journalist. I’ve always wondered why she was the best they could find for that beat, but maybe that’s because they don’t really care about that beat.

  15. There is a lot of writing and public relations savvy on this board. I’d like to see some of you try to get a positive DISD story printed in TDMN with similar placement.

    There’s a lot of material with which to work.

    After your turn at being Sisyphus, you may have a different perspective.

  16. @Allyall: OK, so if D Magazine were to publish a story about alleged improprieties or abuse of influence by, say, the editor of the Dallas Morning News, then you think it’s OK for the accused editor to use the newspaper to start telling his or her side of the story?

    Most reputable media would act to preserve their own credibility by assigning a reporter who is not involved in the allegations to examine the issues and allegations. At the same time, the Dallas Morning News should examine whether their reporter acted inappropriately by omitting key information or not allowing the subject to respond.

    Of course, that presupposes that the leadership at either publication cares about preserving credibility.

  17. You should have your son punch Tawnell in the gut. It’s really the only way to go at this point.

    Sell this as the headliner at the Ticket’s Fight Nigh benefiting charity — nobody’s the loser when a charity wins!

  18. From TEA”s website:

    To be eligible for enrollment in a prekindergarten class, a child must be at least three years of age and:
    1. is unable to speak and comprehend the English language; or 2. is educationally disadvantaged; or 3. is homeless, as defined by 42 U.S.C. Section 1143a, regardless
    of the residence of the child, of either parent of the child, or of the child’s guardian or other person having lawful control of the child; or
    4. is the child of an active duty member of the armed forces of the United States, including the state military forces or a reserve component of the armed forces, who is ordered to active duty by proper authority; or
    5. is the child of a member of the armed forces of the United States, including the state military forces or a reserve component of the armed forces, who was injured or killed while serving on active duty; or
    6. is or ever has been in the conservatorship of the Department of Family and Protective Services following an adversary hearing held as provided by Section 262.201, Family Code.

    Yes, there is a provision for allowing tuition students, but my question for Tim is why do you so badly want your child in a class designated primarily for the disadvantaged, homeless, etc.? Don’t you think that the teacher can do a better job of meeting the majority of the students’ needs if they are a more homogeneous group?

    Tim, you can respond to the “heat” that you have taken by attacking DISD and the DMN reporter. However, the more you find it necessary to defend your actions and criticize others, the worse you look. Have you ever thought about placing your child in private school? It sounds like you believe that volunteering at your child’s public school means that everyone should be so grateful that they do whatever you want them to do. What an embarrassing situation you have created for your child!

  19. It is refreshing to see a journalist finally recognize that much of the Dallas Morning News’ reporting is biased or lacks information that interferes with a simplistic story line. Tim’s comments have far more credibility than the paper’s other victims because he is a practicing journalist. Everyone’s best hope is that as the paper continues to raise its price and diminish its editorial quality it will go the way of the Times Herald.

  20. Um, Dallasnative, are you asking Tim why he doesn’t want his child in a class consisting of white, probably affluent to middle class, nuclear family students?

    Is there really a bad time for a child to learn acceptance, and have a wider world view?

  21. Is this the son that Tim was bragging how he hit a younger student recently? The one that Wes is suggesting he should hit the author of the article? I have yet to hear a rational reason as to why Tim’s son should take the place that was designated for a disadvantaged child. His reasoning is flawed and Bethany’s excuse if weak. A child has a better world view when they live by the same rules as other children.

    Why not just answer the questions that are posed to you and stop deleting negative comments that are not in agreement with you?

    It may not be illegal but it sounds unethical as hell. I am glad your daugther may flourish at this school but the system is set up to allow all children to do so.
    While Tim may be able to BS his way out of this with Wick, the public may have a different viewpoint. Shooting messengers does not change the facts.

  22. Tim – This is getting stupid. Yes, the DMN handled this badly in some respects. Yes, maybe they have a vendetta against DISD. But you still haven’t answered some relevant questions about your own conduct, which was either described in the article or referenced in the DISD report.

    Here is part of one of my comments from Friday’s post (others raised these same questions):

    ————-

    Good for you for getting out in front of the story I guess, but it does mention a couple of things you didn’t address and probably should:

    1. From the article:

    “Rogers wrote [in the email to Dahlander] that Healey ‘had been uncharacteristically unhelpful in providing guidance.’ He ended the email stating that his family was thinking about ‘bailing on Hexter.’

    ‘And that makes me sad.’

    Dahlander responded in email the next morning that he would do what he could. He forwarded Mr. Roger’s e-mail to Healey and asked her to give him a call. Healey told investigators that Dahlander asked for no favors during the call. She wrote in a statement that Mr. Rogers’ description of her in the e-mail concerned her.”

    I can see how Healey might feel intimidated (or as she put it, “concerned”) when you effectively went over her head to Dahlander and called her “uncharacteristically unhelpful”. That a pretty underminey thing to do to someone you purportedly like so much and, now, your “heart goes out to”. Your thoughts?

    2. From the article: “‘I believe [Mr. Rogers] thought I had been unhelpful because I was emphatic about the guidelines, and didn’t make an exception for his daughter as he wanted me to,’ Healey wrote. Roger’s [sic] wife would later apologize to Healey for her husband’s email to Dahlander, Healey told Steerman in a Sept. 16 email.”

    Did this apology happen or not? If it did, then maybe Healey’s alleged concerns about your intentions had some merit? Otherwise, why would your wife have apologized to her?

    —————-

    Remember, Tim, you’re the one who opened this door. I doubt that 80% of this blog’s readers would have been aware of this dumb little scandal if you hadn’t brought it up on Friday. With today’s post, it looks like you’re trying to kick sand in our eyes. Your readers aren’t stupid and resent being spun.

  23. I am just disappointed that Tim seems to be actively avoiding addressing the two space versus one space after punctuation issue that some commenters so poignantly raised in response to the last post regarding DISD. WHAT ARE YOU HIDING, TIM ROGERS?

  24. @DallasNative – now I feel guilty for having my children enrolled (and graduated) in public school.

    And that makes me sad.

    The real (big huge gorilla of a) question is, is DISD going to be considered a success when it serves only the low income, or when it becomes a school system that serves the middle and upper classes of our city as well. And I posit there is no absolute way to separate these groups without segregation based on income. And no kid, whether poor or rich, wants to feel segregated based on their income. Ever.

    OK, here’s the deal, there’s a lot of resources out there for the low income to help with everything from meals to pre-k, to after school tutoring, to applying for colleges and scholarships. It serves a need, no argument there. But what often is missing in regular elementary schools is the lagniappe, or the extra that enriches a child’s education, whether that is art, music, scouting, chess club or math team. That is what the middle and upper class parents consider when they are looking for – they already know that little Johnnie or Mary are going to understand their ABC’s. And some are willing to work damn hard to make sure the kids at that school are going to get it – all the kids. Because if it were just about the (art, music,scouting, etc), they could pay for that out of pocket just for their own family. But it isn’t. It’s about making a better school. For all.

    So they fundraise like crazy trying to raise the $40,000 a year to pay for these programs, and scramble with telephone trees to patch together the volunteers who each week implement the programs, and they spend countless hours over forms to try to get that special grant so late buses can be available to take the kids home afterwards.

    And do you know what low income parents want more than homogeneous schools? They want these same extra opportunities for their elementary age kids – but they can’t afford it. Neither can DISD. Some parents are willing to drive their kids across town to elementary schools that offer just such extraordinary after school (free) programs within their schools. I have yet to hear one family state “Those stinking Rogers knocked our little baby out of the preschool program.”

    And don’t get me started on “resources”, there are always more resources when enrollment is kept artificially low – that is why there are quotas. Sure maybe it’s easier to teach 11 kids over 13, but if the quota is for 13, I personally would like to see some paying students come in and be a part of the group if it’s the best use of the taxpayer’s resources.

    Damn straight “volunteering at your child’s public school means that everyone should be so grateful”, but the rest of your sentence is unsubstantiated and comes off as somewhat jealous. How can you question the intent of their volunteerism – please look within at where this bitterness is coming from (Jesus shrugs).

  25. Bethany:

    Yes, there is a bad time for a child to learn acceptance and have a wider world view — in particular, during childhood. Hence the waiting list (a real waiting list) for Lamplighter, De Vinci, etc.

  26. Dallasnative asks: “there is a provision for allowing tuition students….. why do you so badly want your child in a class designated primarily for the disadvantaged, homeless, etc.?”

    I am appalled at this question. Basically you are saying that the public school system belongs to the disadvantaged and poor only, that if your kid belongs to a middle-class or affluent household, then they better get into to private school.

    You are the reason that our public schools are failing.

  27. In the future, everyone will be traduced by the Dallas Morning News for 15 paragraphs.

  28. hey Tim, can we please put this back in to it’s original context? This was the DISD cheerleading that inspired the two commenters:

    “A couple hours ago, Wick and I popped over to a new charter school called Laureate Preparatory that opened three weeks ago in the West End. Uplift’s CEO, Yasmin Bhatia, and its chief development officer, Deborah Bigham, showed us around the joint, which has a little more than 100 students right now and will have 480 once all grades are enrolled. I myself today dropped off my little girl for her first day of pre-K at Hexter Elementary. The halls of that place were raucous, ankle biters caroming off walls, giving each other the business, some of them in tears (my daughter). Contrast that to Laureate Prep. The kids were getting lunch when we visited. The place was literally as quiet as a church. Kiddos were lined up, holding their lunch trays, all polite smiles when I said hi to them. I mean, it was shocking. And it’s not just about behavior. The 15 Uplift schools in the area that were already in operation last year all outperformed their nearest DISD neighbor school (with all but three – Hampton Primary, Middle, and High – receiving an “exemplary” rating from the state). Then know this: Laureate Prep has a partnership with the Museum of Nature and Science. When the new museum opens in 2012, those kids are going to be able to walk across the street to it. Pretty cool.

    All of which I mention because Laureate Prep still has openings in the 1st and 2nd grade.”

    Real positive comments for Hexter, huh?

  29. The News seems to dislike and trash intelligent and the affluent who choose DISD. Witness the unsubstantiated attacks they printed by Garrison and Dreher. Dreher pretty much called white parents racist for putting their kids in a majority minority school. Incredible. No mention that the smug Dreher was homeschooling his kids a couple of blocks from an exemplary (and mostly minority) Dallas elementary.

    Can anyone enlighten me as to this motivation?

  30. I was a parent/volunteer at Hexter. I never got the feeling that the Rogers’ were there for anything but to be seen. And pretty much all of the volunteers at Hexter (and there are alot) volunteer because they want the school to be a better place, not just for their own children, but for all the children. And for the most part, these same volunteers never ask for anything in return.
    Maybe the Rogers’ championing DISD would be more believable had they not sent their son to private school this year.

  31. Bethany and Amy,

    I am an advocate of public schools. I am merely pointing out that Pre-K is designed to give disadvantaged kids a boost so that they can start Kindergarten on a more equal footing with kids like Tim’s. Tim’s kid does not need the Pre-K curriculum, so why does he want his kid there? Maybe because Pre-K tuition is a lot cheaper than daycare?

  32. Haha, wow, i was wondering if one of Timmy’s ilk would accidentally let slip what this was really about and along comes Bethany, thanks! Now, if you’ll excuse me, i’m off to make sure that no white child has to go to school with other white kids especially ones who come from a home with a mother and a father, oh the horror!

  33. Doug, that is not what I meant at all. If you look at context, you’ll see I was asking Dallasnative if that was what he was saying.

    Your theory, if it’s based on what I said, is completely obtuse.

  34. @Dallasnative – “I am an advocate of public schools” please describe in more detail, or are you really saying I wish I was an advocate of public schools while I sit here and denigrate those who are. Bitterness.

    “Tim’s kids doesn not need the Pre-K curriculum” thousands of children from all types of backgrounds go to preschool. Mine did too, and found friends that lasted through their high school graduation. Ignorance.

    “Maybe because Pre-K is a lot cheaper?” at $450 a month, hardly. But you got your shot in. Can’t stop slamming a nice family, what is it with you? Meanness.

    DallasNative you are not nice. And that makes me sad.

  35. By reading six separate documents posted along with the DMN report, it’s easy to see there are anywhere from 400 to 1,021 openings in the district PreK program – more than enough openings for 300 children on the waiting lists, and in every part of the district.

    - Page six from the Office of Professional Responsibilty (OPR) report reads: “For school year 2010-2011, 143 elementary schools have PreK classes with approximately 417 class sections. This gives Dallas ISD the potential to serve approximately 9174 students. As of September 10, 2010, two weeks after PreK classes began, there were 8153 PreK students enrolled. This gives Dallas ISD the capacity to serve approximately an additional 1021 students.”
    - The support for the above calculation is on page 64 of the Open Records Request (ORR)
    - Pages two through six of the ORR list current enrollment in PreK by campus. With a class size of 22, it’s easy to calculate which campuses are at or under capacity. From this list, I estimated over 400 openings.
    - Pages seven through 11 of the ORR lists class sections, by campus, plus details the waiting list. Matching class sections next to enrollment from the above listing, I calculated 539 openings.
    o I also looked at the waiting lists in geographic terms. A simple tally of the waiting lists, without considering availability at neighboring schools, does not tell the whole story. Nathan Adams has a waiting list of 20 while neighboring Caillet and Cabell have openings of 16 and 10 respectively. The same scenario is true for all other schools with waiting lists.
    o Also worth noting is page 60 of the OPR which states there is no obligation by the district to provide transportation for PreK.
    - Page 18 from the ORR and page 74 from the OPR outline openings at the schools surrounding Hexter Elementary – a net of 14 openings in the area.

    As I commented earlier (January 14th, 2011 at 4:31 pm), one of my e-mails to DISD apparently prompted this investigation, which was not my intent. I fully support The Rogers Family enrolling their child in Hexter PreK and I want the opportunity extended to more families as, we now know, is allowed by the Texas Education Code (page 45 of the OPR.)

    I want those who do enroll to follow The Rogers Family example by completely supporting the school as was expressed in my first e-mail to the district almost a year ago, months before I became aware that the Rogers child had enrolled.

    Annual tuition income at as much as $4 million would be a nice dividend.

  36. Three vital points missing from this discussion.

    1) @Bethany “Is there really a bad time for a child to learn acceptance, and have a wider world view?”

    You’re damn right there is.

    B) I’m so bored with this my John Thomas is actually gnashing its teeth.

    iii) Gee I see no reason people say negative things about DISD.

    and bonus number quatro…

    Go Plano Wildcats!

  37. What I am about to type has nothing to do with Tim, or DMag and thus may be a touch inappropriate for the thread, but here goes.

    It strikes me that if there is a huge demand for these slots from nondisadvantaged children then engineering classes with say a quarter to a third of the seats reserved for them might be a great way to make Bethany happy, to forge some otherwise improbable friendships and to raise money for the program.

    $450 a month seems a very modest amount (I’m missing something bc i estimate it about $6/hr). If you hire tutors through the Park Cities Blog, you’ll pay over $50 an hour. But my experience with parents is that they’ll take a look at what the classroom needs and figure out some way to take up teh slack … buying supplies, teacher lunches, chaperonnes, drivers for field trips, etc, so getting a variety of folks with additional and different assets to contribute in this way also makes sense.

  38. Louisa Meyer, thank you. Good work! I agree. DISD will continue to constantly improve with parental vigilance and support. We get the schools we work for and DISD is improving!

    Yesterday I finished the annual update of a report on four measurements of the dropout/graduation progress within DISD. All of the measurements again improved by at least 4.3 percentage points, to as much as 9.4 percentage points! That is amazing for one year! Find the details at the blog: http://schoolarchiveproject.blogspot.com/ .

    Louisa, as people who work as hard as you do with DISD become more common, our schools will really begin to shine, and our city along with them. Thank you!

  39. @Louisa, Sorry, but no matter how hard you try to get out of this one, you can’t. You can’t make a habit of sending sniping mean emails without every now and then coming out smelling, well, not so good.