For decades, public schools across North Texas have endured demographic changes – from integration, then busing and white flight, followed by waves of immigration, economic troubles and competition from charter and private schools.
Next week, KERA is launching a new American Graduate series that explores these changes – it’s called Race, Poverty and the Changing Face of Schools.
Education reporters Bill Zeeble and Stella Chavez have spent the past few months exploring life at four different schools across North Texas. Here’s a preview:
Kimball High is in Oak Cliff in Dallas.
The school is competing against a wave of nearby charter schools – charter operations consider Oak Cliff and southern Dallas ripe for expanding. There’s Uplift, Harmony, KIPP, as well as several others.
Norma Valdez Aragon, a teacher and coach at Kimball, is aware of the competition.
“There are charter schools around, and we have to compete with that,” she said. “Parents want a safe school. They want a school that’s going to challenge and prepare their child or children for the future. They don’t want to have their child go through the school system and then get to college and not be able to manage.”
Kimball is competing by starting a collegiate academy, so students can earn college credits in high school. They have other special programs, including a STEM magnet, a hospitality program and an engineering academy.
O.D. Wyatt High
O.D. Wyatt High is in Fort Worth. Mario Layne is the principal at O.D. Wyatt – this is his first school year there and he’s trying to turn things around, including perceptions.
“A lot of what our campus suffers from is the perception-truth gap,” he said. “We have a perception that our campus, our students aren’t smart or that our teachers don’t work hard. The truth is that’s not true. The truth is that we have really smart and talented kids. The truth is we have some very hardworking teachers. The truth is Wyatt has the potential to be a really good school, but you have to have people that believe in that.”
Duncanville High is a huge school that’s seen big demographic changes through the years. No matter what, though, the girls’ basketball team has been a powerhouse.
The Duncanville Pantherettes have won several state titles. They’ve had several undefeated seasons through the years.
Cathy Self Morgan has been the Duncanville coach since 2000.
“My biggest challenge in our program and our school is making sure these kids are fed,” she said. “And making sure they have warm clothes when it’s cold and making sure their needs are being met, physical and emotional.”
At Liberty High in Frisco, a quarter of the students are Asian, about 10 percent are Hispanic and another 10 percent are black. The school is finding ways to embrace its diversity. The school has Muslim and Hindu student associations, as well as a prayer room that allows Muslim students to pray.
Principal Scott Warstler talks about Liberty’s diversity being the norm rather than the exception.
“When we see our students interact and when we see our different clubs and organizations come together and work for whatever the cause may be, I think what’s really cool is race, socio-economic status, religion, it doesn’t separate our student body,” he said. “It actually, I think, makes us strong. I think it gives our students an advantage going on to college.”