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Leading Off (5/25/16)

ARLINGTON CITY COUNCIL SIGNS OFF ON A NEW BALLPARK. The council approved the $1 billion plan that would give the Texas Rangers a new stadium. However, the next step is to convince voters to spend $500 million to keep the team in Arlington. Opponents have asked why the current stadium, which opened in 1994, needs to be replaced.

POLICE FIND AN ALLIGATOR BEHIND A SOUTH DALLAS MIDDLE SCHOOL. The nearly 7-foot-long reptile was captured near Steam Middle School around 2 a.m. Wednesday morning. An officer, who was patrolling the area, stopped after spotting what he thought was a log. It’s possible the alligator came from one of the area’s nearby creeks.

THE BATHROOM SAGA CONTINUES. State Attorney General Ken Paxton may file a legal challenge to President Barack Obama’s directive that instructs schools to allow transgender students to use the bathrooms that match their gender identity. This could affect Fort Worth ISD’s newly established guidelines that would accommodate transgender students. Paxton has scheduled a 2 p.m. news conference in Austin.

STATE SCHOOL BOARD CANDIDATE WHO THINKS OBAMA IS A FORMER GAY PROSTITUTE LOSES. Thankfully, Mary Lou Bruner, a retired teacher who suggested Obama might have been a “gay prostitute” in his youth, lost the Republican nomination last night by more than 10,000 votes. Bruner drew national attention earlier this year for her Facebook commentary which included claims such as “Islam is not a religion” and that Noah’s ark carried baby dinosaurs. Lufkin school board President Keven Ellis won the nomination and will face Democratic candidate Amanda Rudolph in the fall.

DALLAS ZOO WELCOMES ELEPHANT CALF. The calf was born May 14 to one of the five Swaziland elephants that arrived in Dallas in March and is the first African elephant calf born in the United States in nearly two years. The 3-foot, 175-pound calf hasn’t been named yet but is bonding with his mother. In January, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service granted the zoo a permit allowing the zoo to bring over the elephants from Swaziland–a move that was contested by animal advocacy groups. It’ll be a few months before the public can meet the calf so–until then– this video will have to suffice.

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Leading Off (5/13/16)

Dallas ISD to Cut Jobs. A proposed budget for 2016-2017 would eliminate about 260 positions to offset a $24 million drop in revenue (most of that reduction is due to a decrease in state revenue.) DISD is aiming to have a balanced budget of about $1.42 billion developed by the end of June. The plan would also give stipends to high-performing teachers who haven’t had their pay increased for the current school year. Most district hourly workers would meanwhile receive 2-percent raises.

DISD Expands Magnet School Enrollment. The school district has added 107 students to the popular programs at William B. Travis Academy, cutting its wait list in half. The plan is to increase the number of available slots at other campuses with similarly high demand as well. Meanwhile, district trustees are still considering the elimination of the controversial sibling rule, which gives preferential placement at magnets to kids who meet minimum admission standards just because they already have a brother or sister enrolled at the same school.

GOP Leaders Grandstand on Bathroom Debate. Because there’s no more pressing issue to deal with than deciding who can use which toilets? Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Greg Abbott appeared at the Republican Party of Texas Convention in Dallas on Thursday, and both decried what they perceive to be outrageous federal government overreach that dares to suggest that transgender people ought to be able to use the bathroom consistent with their own gender identities. The convention continues through Saturday, when Sen. Ted Cruz will deliver his first formal remarks since he suspended his presidential campaign.

Frisco Hospice Overmedicated Patients. According to a Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services report, Novus Health Services gave excessive doses of morphine and other drugs to those in its care. In addition, the FBI is investigating whether the company ordered nurses to end the lives of some. Novus says it treated patients properly and committed no violations.

House-Broken Bison For Sale. If you’re interested in purchasing Bullet, a 1,000-pound bison that routinely walks around inside the Schoeve family’s home in Argyle, the Craigslist ad is right here. She’ll cost you a little less than $6,000, and she won’t poop in your house.

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All Clichés Are Bigger in Texas Award Nominee: Friday Night Lights Edition

Last weekend, voters in McKinney approved a bond that will fund a nearly $63 million high school football stadium, and national press outlets have taken note. At that price, it would be the most expensive in the country, supplanting the troubled Allen ISD ball yard.

Today’s nomination goes to a Forbes contributor, Maury Brown. He writes:

This all gets back to keeping up with the Jones’. McKinney may be the biggest Taj Mahal high school football stadium now, but only a fool would think that there isn’t already boosters from other areas trying to mount a charge to get theirs built. Everything is bigger in Texas… including stadium envy.

Pray this newfound trend doesn’t gain a foothold outside the state. Imagine what the response from the state that prides itself on saying, “don’t mess with Texas” might be.

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Leading Off (5/11/16)

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick brings potty talk to Fort Worth schools. Patrick visited the FWISD Board of Education complex yesterday to call for superintendent Kent Scribner’s resignation. He says Scribner violated parents’ right to know what’s happening with their schoolchildren by implementing a policy that allows transgender students to use the bathroom and locker room of their choice. Patrick also said Scribner “is putting the privacy and rights of 78,000 or 79,000 students in the back seat for a few.” However, Scribner says he simply tweaked a 2011 policy and called Patrick a “bully.” Patrick didn’t have a solution for transgender students, but I’m thinking maybe there’s an extra empty naval base lying around Grand Prairie. Stick a few porta-potties on that. All good.

Local man’s son back in the Senate saddle. Ted Cruz returned to his Washington Senate office yesterday, receiving a tepid welcome back from colleagues.

Murdered Midlothian fitness instructor case weird enough for national tabloids. Flirtatious messages pointing toward infidelity, financial and marital problems, a solid chance the hammer-wielding killer caught on surveillance video might actually be a woman, and a mother-in-law who blames Camp Gladiator for taking her daughter-in-law’s life — People has all the strange details.

Watch the bovine go. Yesterday’s local news broadcasts brought us two loose livestock videos. A bull trotted through Arlington and Dalworthington Gardens with police in tow for nearly four hours before a rancher was able to wrangle him. This incident totally showed up the guy who said “only in Stephenville” after a calf booked it through town on Sunday.

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Leading Off (4/29/16)

Cowboys Select Ezekiel Elliott. With the fourth pick in this year’s NFL draft, Dallas took the Ohio State running back. Reviews of the decision are mixed, with some suggesting they should have gone with Florida State cornerback Jalen Ramsey instead. The Cowboys also tried — and failed — to trade up to get another first-round pick with which to select Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch as Tony Romo’s heir.

Dallas ISD Votes to Buy New Headquarters. The $46.5 million purchase was approved by board trustees in the earliest hour of Friday morning. The building, at 9400 N. Central Expressway, will consolidate the district’s headquarters and 15 other offices in one place. DISD anticipates the change will produce tens of millions of dollars in savings by 2021. Trustees were divided on the matter, which got the go-ahead on a 5-3 vote. Trustees Bernadette Nutall, Joyce Foreman, and Lew Blackburn opposed the purchase, expressing concerns about how it’s being funded and about the district headquarters moving six miles north of its current relatively central location. Some employees could be relocated to what’s being called the Dallas ISD Education by the end of the year, with the entire moving process taking about four years.

Blackie Sherrod, RIP. Sherrod, who died of natural causes at age 96 on Thursday afternoon, is being remembered as “the greatest Texas sportswriter of his generation.”

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The Oak Cliff DISD Trustee Race Has Turned Ugly

Early voting has begun for the May 7 joint elections, which feature many ISD races. As I wrote about in my May column in D Magazine, this is an especially crucial vote for Dallas ISD, with four seats up for grabs. I point out that, contrary to popular opinion, the school board has overcome status quo efforts to maintain the status quo, putting in place important reforms that will help poor kids throughout the district. (Which, in turn, will help the city at large.)

Since I wrote that column about six weeks ago, one race has become awash in nastiness. Which happens, right? It’s local politics.

Except this time, that nastiness includes not just political operatives but also City Council members. In fact, the council members have become political operatives in these ISD races in ways that make me very queasy, in part because the folks doing this include people I admire and consider friends. Which means this is not going to be fun. Let’s do a little FAQ to get you caught up:

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Let’s Talk About How to Fix Dallas Schools

Next Tuesday evening here at D Magazine World Headquarters, we’re hosting a happy hour/panel discussion on education in North Texas: More specifically, the question of how schools can find, reward, and retain the best teachers. Eric Celeste will moderate a talk among Dallas ISD trustee Miguel Solis, Stacy Hodge of education advocacy nonprofit Stand For Children, and Todd Williams of overly-punctuated education nonprofit Commit!

If you’re interested in attending, mosey on over this way.

As for myself, I was too excited about the issues to wait all the way until next week. So I asked John Hill, who writes and podcasts about education in Dallas on his blog Turn and Talks, to have a little chat with me (via instant messages) to further whet my appetite. Hill is a former DISD teacher and is now teaching 10th-grade world history at his alma mater, Jesuit Dallas.

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Leading Off (4/22/16)

Ex-DISD Executive Sues District. Tonya Sadler Grayson, who was fired last July, claims in a lawsuit filed Thursday in federal court that she was wrongfully terminated, sexually harassed by trustee Lew Blackburn, and discriminated against because of her race. Grayson’s dismissal from her job came after an internal DISD audit determined she had taken part in a deception, lied about her criminal history, and bullied another employee.

Johnny Manziel Likely Indicted. The Dallas County district attorney’s office will announce indictments by the grand jury that was hearing the domestic violence charges against the former Texas A&M and Cleveland Browns quarterback on Monday. Prosecutors had previously said a decision not to indict Manziel would be announced on Thursday but a formal indictment would come Monday. So it’s not looking good for Johnny Football. (Are we still calling him that?)

Frisco Mother’s Death Ruled Suicide. Christine Woo was found dead — and her three young children alive — in an SUV in a Target parking lot earlier this month. She and her kids had apparently been in the vehicle a few days. Yesterday the medical examiner revealed that Woo had killed herself via a drug overdose. Furthermore, Frisco Police say their investigation determined that Woo had “no deliberate plan” to harm her own children with what she did. Deliberate or not, let’s hope there are no long-term repercussions for these kids.

Mavs Lose Game 3. A contingent of D Magazine staffers was on hand to witness the Mavericks’ 131-102 loss to Oklahoma City, which gave the Thunder a 2-1 lead in the first-round NBA playoff series. It was my first time attending a Mavs game in about 25 years. If they had to lose, I’m glad it was in a blowout because that led Tim (my ride) to leave the game early, which got me back to D Magazine World Headquarters in time to watch the bottom of the ninth as former Plano East Senior High School and TCU baseball player Jake Arrieta (now the ace of the Chicago Cubs) finished a no-hitter against the Cincinnati Reds. My apologies to the poor maintenance guy I frightened when I hooted and hollered in what he had assumed was an empty office.

The Texas Rangers saluted musical artist Prince, who died Thursday, on the video board at Globe Life Park as the team completed a sweep of the Houston Astros.

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Dallas ISD Isn’t Home to the Most Challenging High School in the U.S.

Following on yesterday’s post about Dallas ISD’s Talented and Gifted magnet school continuing to dominate the U.S. News & World Report’s annual rankings of the best high schools in the country, I received a note from Sara Ortega, a spokeswoman for charter school operator Uplift Education. (Side note: I once had breakfast with Uplift’s CEO. Impressive lady.)

Uplift has 15 North Texas campuses (mostly in Dallas). Ortega took issue with my lumping together charters like the Uplift schools with selective magnet schools:

Uplift Summit International Preparatory is an Uplift Education school, which as you may know, is often criticized as a network (along with all public charters) for cherry picking the best students–the exact thing that magnets do.  So, when you say that, “…it does say something that DISD is able to out-compete schools of a similar type,” I would have to politely disagree in that open-enrollment public charters like Uplift Summit are not similar to magnets in that they do not have the ability to only choose elite students.

She then pointed me to the Washington Post’s ranking of the “America’s most challenging high schools,” which was released on Monday. The Post uses a different methodology than U.S. News, even if a bunch of the schools near the top of their respective lists end up the same.

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Dallas ISD Once Again Boasts Best High School in the Nation

I’m not sure whether to make too much or too little out of the fact that Dallas ISD’s School for the Talented and Gifted has once again topped U.S. News & World Report‘s Best High Schools list, which was released today. It was the fifth year in a row TAG took the honor.

On the one hand, the notion that DISD operates the absolute top secondary school in all of these United States is impressive. Almost as impressive is that DISD has the fourth-best too, the School of Science and Engineering, which is on the same campus as TAG.

On the other hand, these are magnet schools, with the ability to select an elite cross-section of students from across the entirety of the district. Does it tell us really that much about DISD that, when it’s able to select only students with top-notch academic potential and educate them together in one place, it’s able to operate a top-notch school? As opposed to a school that makes the most of what it’s given via its attendance boundaries?

At the least, I suppose what it tells us is better than the alternative: collecting the best students and not getting great performances on standardized tests from them. And since the U.S. News list is dominated by magnet and charter schools, it does say something that DISD is able to out-compete schools of similar type.

So today I’m going with the positive spin. Two other North Texas schools made the nationwide top 100: Arlington’s Summit International Preparatory, at No. 22 and DISD’s Irma Lerma Rangel Young Women’s Leadership School (No. 97.)

Click here for the full Texas portion of the rankings.

How Its Limitations Have Helped UT-Dallas Gain Attention

The Texas Tribune had a piece over the weekend about how the University of Texas at Dallas (in Richardson) has garnered a growing national reputation. It’s now ranked as the third-best public university in the state, behind only UT-Austin and Texas A&M.

In addition to not pursuing a foolhardy strategy to gain prominence via football — UTD grants scholarships to its top-ranked chess team instead  — it’s actually been restrictions imposed upon the school that have helped it become what it is today. For one, the campus is hemmed in by development around it, meaning that staying relatively small was an imperative. Secondly, so that UTD wouldn’t draw students away from the local community colleges, the state legislature required it to use the same higher admission standards as does UT-Austin:

That created a big challenge. UT-Austin, a highly popular and well-established public university, could impose high standards because so many people wanted to enroll. UT-Dallas was just starting off, and those top students needed a lot of convincing to come study in Richardson. The first freshman classes had fewer than 200 enrollees. “And retention was abysmal,” Wildenthal said.

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Correction: Allen ISD Is Way Better Than We Were Told

The April issue of D Magazine featured a cover story titled “The Ultimate Newcomer’s Guide to Dallas.” For one of the items, we ranked select North Texas school districts using data from Children at Risk, a nonprofit, non-partisan research and advocacy institution. We used CAR’s rankings of high schools to create an average ranking for each district. You can learn more about CAR’s ranking methodology here (warning: PDF). Allen ISD fell near the bottom of our list, which prompted us to write: “Given that its one high school is ranked 90th in North Texas, it might be smarter to buy a house a few miles north in McKinney or west in Plano or Frisco.”

We hereby retract that statement and apologize to the folks in Allen for printing it. CAR used bad data for the school’s graduate rate to rank Allen ISD’s high school. Using an accurate measure of Allen’s graduate rate would put the district someplace right at the top of the list that we published. This correction will also appear in our May issue.

Now then, Lance Hindt, Allen’s superintendent, took a lot of time to get to the bottom of this matter with CAR. And the district’s chief information officer, Tim Carroll, took even more time to explain it to me. The short version is that Allen High is a grades 10-12 campus, which CAR didn’t account for when it figured the school’s graduation rate. But here’s the longer explanation from Carroll and Hindt:

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