The newly hired head of the 12th largest school district in the nation was looking for a home with easy access to his office at the DISD administration building near downtown Dallas and his wife’s office at the Region 10 headquarters in Richardson. Preston Hollow fit the bill perfectly. In addition to its central location, Superintendent Michael Hinojosa says the big trees and close-knit community made him feel welcome.

Oh yea, and the schools aren’t bad, either.

“Dr. Moses had his son at Hillcrest. So that was the first think that told me this was a good place for kids. So then we started checking it out on our own, and we were very pleased with what we saw. Hillcrest and Franklin are both great schools, so that really added value to the decision.”

Not content to simply hang his hat in our community, Hinojosa has already taken an active role in Preston Hollow. While most of Dallas knows him as the superintendent of schools, a select group of Franklin middle-schoolers simply refer to him as “coach.” He spends a couple of hours every Sunday coaching his 12-year-old son Taylor’s winter-league baseball team.

“Some of the parents knew that I’d coached before, and I love spending time with my son and being on the baseball field. So I volunteered to coach them,” he says. “I’ve been teaching them the finer points of the game.”

Hinojosa also understands the finer points of public education in an urban school district. One of those finer points involves the lure of private schools, especially in areas such as our neighborhood where parents can afford them, and the private campuses abound. He says part of the problem is real and part of it is imagined. He’s trying to address both sides of the issue with his three-pronged reform plan unveiled in November, as well as a branding strategy for the district, which is still in the works.

“We’d like to keep more middle-class students in Dallas ISD. But if you think about it, you drive up and down North Dallas there are more private schools in North Dallas than anywhere and they didn’t pop up over night. They’ve been here for a long time. So getting them back in the public school is not going to be an overnight event. It’s going to be one child at a time – convincing their parents that it’s not only OK to send them to public schools, but it’s going to benefit their kids.”

Hinojosa says he has seen the benefits from his own children’s public education, citing the extensive pre-AP and AP course offerings, dedicated teachers and multi-cultural environment.

“After my boys go through that diverse, comprehensive high school, they will be ready for anything that the world throws at them. People who go through a more sheltered environment get shocked when they get out there in the real world. And that’s why I think the public schools are the great equalizer.”

He explains that major changes in the district are in the works, including the opening of 12 new campuses next year, which is driving the recently announced boundary changes.

The opening of Lee A. McShan Jr. Elementary School last year and Emmett J. Conrad High School this year will case overcrowding at Hillcrest and its feeder schools and ensure that students on both sides of Central Expressway attend their own neighborhood school, which Hinijosa sees as crucial to the success of any school district.

There’s been significant research that shows that parents love their school. They’re not so happy about other public schools or the school down the street, but they love their school. And that’s true in this community, that’s true in the suburbs and that’s true in rural communities. And this is the big year to get it all done.”

In addition to the opening of these traditional neighborhood schools, Hinojosa predicts that DISD will expand its offering of magnet and preparatory schools. The Irma Rangel Young Women’s Leadership School, and all-girls college preparatory academy, had enjoyed much success since it opened in 2004. The plan is to expand the program through 12th grade by the 2008-09 school year, and eventually open an all-boys school. Another major initiative is the district’s plan to open six international schools in the next three years – the first two will open next year in North Dallas and Oak Cliff. The program teaches elementary students two languages starting in kindergarten and then adds a third language in fourth or fifth grade.

Hinojosa says he’s also looking at opening international high schools and a technology magnet down the line, and all of this is to be accomplished while improving DISD student performance across the board.

“We can’t just have these pockets of excellence that we already have, because at some of the schools it’s not there. We need to spread it to all the schools. Every community deserves a great school.”

Hinojosa says these initiatives and reforms will have to be achieved with the addition of Katrina and Wilmer-Hutchins students taxing the DISD budget, and without additional funding from the state.

“What the court has ruled, though, is they have set a June 1 deadline for the Legislature to come up with a solution. But realistically, even if they do, let’s say they pass something the last week of May, they have to put a new tax structure into place and they won’t even collect those dollars for a year. So we can’t wait, we have to be assertive and come up with plans as if the Legislature was going to do nothing.”

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