Right after Mike Morath was appointed as Texas Education Agency commissioner, effectively ending his nearly 5-year stint on the Dallas ISD board, Preston Hollow resident Dustin Marshall launched a Facebook page and website throwing his hat into the ring for the soon-to-be-vacated seat.
Marshall describes himself as “passionate about education reform” and “a guy who believes in data and results,” some of the same qualities that made Morath popular with his constituents in the Hillcrest and Woodrow Wilson high school feeder patterns. They also are both successful businessmen — Marshall is CEO of Hazel’s Hot Shot, his grandmother’s company that drew him back to Dallas in 2011 — and fathers of young children.
Marshall and his wife, Denise, have four children, stair-stepped at 2, 4, 6 and 8. The family lives in the Preston Hollow Elementary zone, part of the Hillcrest feeder pattern, but Marshall’s two oldest children attend Greenhill, a private school in Addison that is his alma mater. It’s one of the distinctions between Marshall and Morath, a Garland ISD graduate who intended to send his children to Dallas ISD schools.
Marshall doesn’t believe it’s a conflict of interest, however. His backstory is that he was a “college accident baby” who grew up in a single-parent household with a lot of financial struggles.
“I can’t sort-of overestimate the impact that Greenhill had on my life,” Marshall says, describing his emotional bond to the school. “I graduated with 83 students and am still friends with 70 of them. I never left that community and I want my kids to be part of that community.
“To be honest, I’m trying to create the same kind of educational and community outcomes that I enjoyed at Greenhill in DISD. Every kid deserves that same kind of lift up and potential that I got and my kids get.”
And though his children spend their time in the place “where my heart is and my emotional connection is,” Marshall says he spends his time investing in public schools. He estimates that he gives 20-30 hours a week to education nonprofits, primarily Reading Partners, “just because I’m so impressed with the intervention method.” The program pairs students who are reading behind grade level with volunteers who regularly read with them at schools, and they “advance two months in reading for every one month they spend in the program,” Marshall says.
Marshall was chair-elect on Reading Partners’ North Texas board until he announced his candidacy for the DISD District 2 seat. Reading Partners also is how he got involved with the Woodrow Wilson High School Community Foundation, the other organization he says tops his list of commitments. Lakewood resident Richard Vitale, a Woodrow alum and the foundation’s president, has signed on as Marshall’s campaign treasurer.
So what is he hoping to accomplish? We asked Marshall to name his top three priorities:
1) Early childhood education. “The research is pretty clear that 90 percent of brain development occurs before a child is age 5, and somehow we’re only spending 5 percent of education dollars on early childhood education,” he says. “We can invest in a way that will save money later in the process.”
2) Making sure there’s an effective teacher in front of every student. “We’ve made some reforms at DISD in this area, and I want to make sure those continue and are implemented with fidelity.”
3) School leadership. “Having an effective principal at every campus is huge. A bad one can be corrosive.”
In addition, he says, “a lot of bridge building needs to happen. It’s no shock to anybody that we have kind of a lack of cohesion between the board and the administration and parents and schools. I want to be that bridge builder and listen and, ultimately, do what’s right for kids.”
We don’t know of any other potential candidates in this race. Since Morath is leaving mid-term, the DISD board will set a special election for the District 2 seat, most likely in May when three other trustees also are up for election.
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