1. Why are you running for School Board? What are your qualifications?
I am running for school board because I have a love and desire to see our students and district flourish. I love this city where I have resided for the past 28 years. We have a family-friendly city with smart kids. Those kids deserve leaders that challenge the status quo and those that have a vision of what success looks like in the future. I meet all qualifications set forth by the state and local agencies, as well as the district to run for School Board.
2. Have you received any donations or endorsements from any group(s)? If so, which groups?
I have not received any donations or endorsements from any groups. The donations I have received have been from the community, friends, and colleagues.
3. Is there a specific issue that motivates you to serve on the school board? If so, identify the issue and your concerns.
There is not any specific issue that is motivating me to run for School Board. I am motivated by the kids in the district. I know that we have some great families and students in DeSoto, and I simply want to serve them with excellence and provide strong leadership that will help get our district back to achieving our goals at a high level.
4. In what school district or community activities/ organizations have you been involved?
I have been involved in the community since 1995 when I built my 1st house here. I have been involved with the Parks and Recreation through coaching basketball and football for over 15 years. I have my own Educational Services business where I tutor kids and prepare kids for their standardized tests, including the SAT/ACT. I was also part of the original Community Sports Board in the early 2000s. I was also part of a pilot program for SAT/ACT prep back in 2011-2012, which aimed at improving student score and having them college ready.
5. What attributes and behaviors are essential for school board members?
I believe that as a Board member you must be able to work well in a team environment. Having personal agendas or looking to grandstand on issues, are not behaviors you want your Board exhibiting. I further believe that Board members need to be able to dissect data and be able to provide guidance and make good decisions based on factual and not flawed data. I believe that Board members should be able to address situations and concerns of our citizens, dispassionately and without aggression. Board members should be supportive of the Superintendent to a degree that the Superintendent feel that he/she can do their job effectively. At the same time, Board members must hold the Superintendent accountable for all results of goals that were set forth by the community.
6. What is the public relations role of the board?
I would think the role of public relations / Communications Director would be responsible for ensuring that the right messages are being communicated to the public at large. If there are messages that need to go out to all parents, community stakeholders, or even news outlets, these messages should go through the Superintendent, the Board and Communications before being released.
7. What is the best way to address differences of opinions on the board or between the board and the administration?
This really boils down to seeking to understand rather than being understood. A lot of difference comes down to people not really listening intently to the other person’s message. At the end of the day both parties need to ask themselves are we making a decision in the best interest of the children or someone else. Asking themselves that question should lead them to what is right, rather than who is right.
8. In your view, what has the district done well over the last 5 years? What has the district done poorly that you would change?
As most people know our overall District rating improved from an “F” to a “B” rating. While this was largely due to our Elementary schools doing so well, our Secondary Schools improved as well. This is huge because it confirms that our schools are capable of greatness. Also our school board has been under the framework of the Lone Star Governance for the past 5 years and we have improved our rating in that space from and “F” to a “C” and we are heading in the direction of a “B”.
We have many accolades to be proud of especially in the Arts, where our students are doing very well under the leadership of a Grammy Award winning teacher. Our Athletic Department has produced Girls back to back state champions and were runners-up in the state title game this year, as they were trying to “3-peat”. Of course, our boys football team just won another state title under the leadership of Coach Mathis. However, I think one of the biggest we have accomplished is that we have hired a Superintendent that we believe can lead us to great things. Her vision of Choice programs, couple with our 3 A’s (Academics, Arts, and Athletics) is the right focus for our District.
There have been a couple of challenges during the process, but I truly believe we can overcome them. We continue to have a challenge in our Math and Literacy results. We need to really execute our improvement plans in this area. Our communication has not been as strong over the past 5 years as it has been here over the last year. We must tell our story loudly and proudly. As loud as we hear the negative noise, that seem to win the day and overshadow our positive days, we need to be as loud about those positive days. Finally, we need to really engage our students and community better. Our students need to know that we hear their concerns and that we are acting upon them. This builds trust and confidence in our leaders.
9. What should your school district do better to prepare students as citizens?
Again, this speaks to the lack of communicating the “big things” going on in our District. The curriculum itself is the starting point of preparation. Then we have our Choice Programs and our Industry Based Certification Programs (IBC) that help prepare our kids to be productive citizens. The District realizes that not all kids are going to college, so having a pathway (i.e. IBC programs) allows our kids to gain certifications that will prepare them for good careers in the future. We must put these messages out to our community to let them know that DeSoto has a program for you and you do not have to leave YOUR community for other educational opportunities.
10. What do you see as the major issue(s) facing the school district? Public education?
The biggest issues facing not only our District, but the public education system is teacher shortages. It appalls me that we cannot quite get this figured out as a country. Then there is government funding and school financing. Our school’s budgets are roughly 85% based on Average Daily Attendance (ADA) and this should probably be based on enrollment. Above all else, the major issue across the country is safety. The rise in the number of active shootings in our schools is disheartening. These issues alone are distraction for our teachers to reach our kids.
11. What is your view of school choice?
I believe a parent has the right to choose where their child attends school. I think it is incumbent upon every school District to provide a quality education that yield results whereby a parent would want to keep their child in their home district. If our District is not providing quality instruction and opportunities for enrichment, then shame on us. We have to create the programming that attracts families to our community. If we are providing the programming and our programs have proven results, then I am positive we can attract and retain our residential kids.
12. What are the district’s greatest capital needs right now? How do you think those needs should be addressed?
I believe that our biggest capital needs are in the technology space. As out CTE programs expand, and they will due to our economy is changing, we will need to invest heavily in our infrastructure. We need bandwidth and capacity to be able to handle heavy traffic on a system. We will then need to invest in the equipment and devices for our students. To this we must understand what resources are available to us, outside our own funds. What government programs can we sign up for, that will help get us where we need to be. We should evaluate our technology goals annually.
13. As a board member, where would you look to make budget cuts?
I have not had a chance to do a deep dive and assess the school’s budget at this time. I’ll be looking forward to what the recommendations are from the Superintendent and then assessing from that point. At the end of the day, the Team of * will decide the best direction to go for our students.
14. What changes should be made on the state and local level regarding public education?
See question 10.
15. What specific steps would you take as a board member to improve transparency and make school district information more widely available
I’m a huge fan of Town Hall meetings because they allow our community to ask questions and have the Board and Superintendent to provide a response. With technology being available we should open the Town Halls up to a more hybrid approach of Zoom/ in-person so that we can maximize our attendance. I believe allowing our citizens to express themselves gives them a more sense of engagement and having their concerns heard. Right now, the District puts a lot of information out on the website, but I’m not sure if the citizens feel that the website is user friendly, in terms, of being able to find the data they need. Therefore, we might need to consider more FQAs section for our citizens.
16. Is there anything you’d like to add?
Vote James (JD) Durham for DeSoto ISD School Board Trustee, Place 4
Early voting takes place from April 24th to May 2nd at Disciple Central Community Church (DC3), located at 901 North Polk Street, DeSoto, Texas on the following dates:
Monday – Friday, April 24-28, 8 am to 5 pm
Saturday, April 29th, 8 am to 5 pm
Sunday, April 30th, 12 pm to 6 pm
Monday & Tuesday, May 1st & 2nd 7 am to 7 pm
DeSoto registered voters can also vote at any Dallas County Early voting location. Please check the City’s website for a list of other Dallas County voting sites.