DISD Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde Emphasizes Excellence & Equity

New Dallas ISD Superintendent talking with crowd
Photo courtesy Dallas ISD

Dallas school trustees officially hired Dr. Stephanie Elizalde last month as the district’s new superintendent and a diverse crowd from across the district was on hand to welcome her Tuesday night, along with a large group of high school musicians from multiple DISD schools in the southern sector which wowed the attendees with their musicality.

Elizalde thanked everyone in the room for coming to meet her, many of whom had worked with her while she was in DISD as a teacher, principal, and superintendent Dr. Hinojosa’s right hand as chief of school leadership in Dallas.

Dr. Hinojosa is stepping down after over a decade and Dr. Elizalde said she was surprised to have a chance to return to DISD so soon after taking the superintendent position in Austin. Elizalde was key in the Dallas district’s signature initiative, Accelerating Campus Excellence, a turnaround program for low-performing campuses.

Hinojosa announced this week that he is stepping down earlier than expected. His last day will be July 8. His plan to run for Dallas Mayor is still in the initial stages. Elizalde begins her work in the district officially July 1.

Focus On Equity and Excellence

Elizande was clear about her focus once she takes over July 1. “Excellence and equity,” she said, “Is crucial.”

She spoke about how fortunate she was to have two parents who supported her and her interests throughout her childhood. “My father was a college graduate, but my mother was not. She worked as a secretary – not to put food on the table, I’d never act like I came from desperate means – but to help me get lessons in Ballet, Equestrian lessons, whatever I liked. But why can’t we do the same in DISD? Get these programs into our schools.” This brought a standing ovation.

She also spoke to the teachers in the audience. “Do you have a meditation room on your campus? And why not? Is emotional/social learning just for students? Why not teachers?”

Elizande spent her two years as Superintendent of Austin’s district all during Covid lockdowns and restrictions. When asked if she would bring the best practices, she learned there to DISD, she said, “I’ve learned that what works in one place doesn’t always work in another.” This drew shouts of relief and joy from the educators in the room.

Downtown and Southern Dallas Schools to Be Rejuvenated

The event, held at the Black Academy of Arts and Letters located in downtown Dallas on Griffin street, was packed with a Who’s Who from DISD. Camille White, the latest newly-elected DISD School Board member was there, along with veteran Trustee Joyce Foreman from District 6 – Southwest Dallas, who’s term expires in 2023. Harrison L. Blair, President of the Dallas Black Chamber, was also on hand to welcome Dr. Elizande.

A graduation for TexasCan! Academy students was going on at the same time down the hall in the auditorium, with happy students in cap and gown adding to the joy of the evening. Many of these students previously dropped out of DISD and finished in the TexasCan! program designed for older students who may have fallen behind in school due to illness, a family emergency, or getting a job to help with bills in their homes. Their happiness at graduating spilled over into the room where the reception was being held and grew even more as a joint marching band from multiple DISD schools kicked off the reception.

Revive The Culture

Revive the Culture band
Photo credit Judy Porter

The marching band students who came into the reception high-stepping and pounding drums are in their second summer of practicing together, and three band directors, working together, were there to show off their students’ skills.

“Revive the Culture” is a combined marching band from seven schools in the southern region including Carter, Kimball, Samuel, Skyline, Townview, South Oak Cliff and Life Oak Cliff. Led by Mr. William Allen, Head Band Director of South Oak Cliff, the band of over 100 students played three songs in the high-stepping tradition of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) for the appreciative crowd. He stepped aside for the second and third songs so the Band Directors from Samuel and Carter High Schools could lead.

Community Members Welcome Dr. Elizalde

Dallas activist and minister Dominique Alexander from the Next Generation Action Network was the Master of Ceremonies for the evening. He explained that he was honored to be present and was often in Dr. Elizalde’s office when she was chief of school leadership, asking for data about the underperforming schools in south Dallas. Alexander had high praise for Dr. Elizalde and said he came back from his vacation early to be there to greet her Tuesday night. Alexander also pointed out his high school tutor from Townview who was in attendance and mentioned that she is now a principal of a DISD school.

As he invited people up to welcome Dr. Elizalde, one speaker stood out: a tiny rising 6th grader who read her greeting from her phone, and then asked if Dr. Elizalde could please help the schools get better food in the cafeteria. “All we’ve been getting is packaged food. We need healthy, fresh food.” She received a standing ovation from the crowd.

A few moments later, during the Q&A portion of the evening, Dr. Elizalde remembered her first school as a Principal, where a teacher passed her by and mumbled, “Look at the tortillas.” Dr. Elizalde wasn’t sure she heard correctly but went to the cafeteria and checked them.

She realized immediately that they had mold on them. She said she stopped the cafeteria director from serving them and asked why he would do such a thing. “The district says I have to serve a carb,” was his answer. She instructed him to throw out the moldy tortillas and give the students fresh bread instead. “This is probably better than these kids are getting at home,” the cafeteria director then commented. Dr. Elizalde said she was shocked.

“Equity,” she said, “And excellence. No moldy tortillas for our students.”

DISD has not publicly stated the length or salary of Dr. Elizalde’s contract, but she has said this will be her last position as Superintendent. The large crowd Tuesday night apparently hopes that is true.