With Mike Morath’s departure for the state capitol this January, the District 2 seat on the Dallas Independent School District board is vacant. With no incumbent and four new faces, voters’ selection come May might not be easy.
Coming from all across the District 2 area – which consists of 15 schools – each candidate entered the race with different backgrounds and a wide array of issues to present to voters.
Candidate Mita Havlick considers herself an invested parent in the public school system. With her two children in DISD schools, she has participated as a volunteer on the PTA and the Site Based Decision Making Committee at Stonewall Jackson Elementary.
“… I think being an advocate is one thing, but being entrenched is a different kind of investment,” Havlick said.
While Havlick has many issues she wishes to address if selected, one topic she spoke adamantly about is improving infrastructure instead of putting bandages on problems. Part of her campaign addresses directing funding into classrooms, which, according to Havlick, could reduce administrative costs.
“Our facilities are terrible. We have some gem schools … but there are too few of them. I’ve been in a classroom where I’ve actually seen maggots fall from the ceiling. No child should ever have to sit through that,” she said.
Another topic Havlick commented on was cross-community bonding. Promoting feeder patterns across the district would allow students to experience different programs that may not be offered in a child’s school, she said.
“We tend to stick to our feeder patterns and it would be really wonderful if we could actually cross communities and leverage what works and find out what doesn’t work,” Havlick said. “Every feeder-pattern is different, every community is different, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t commonalities.”
As a former sales and technology executive, the now stay-at-home mom believes she brings the entrenched parent volunteer perspective to the race. If elected, early childhood education, and recruitment and retention of quality principals and teachers are two additional issues Havlick hopes to change.
“I wouldn’t do this if I really didn’t believe in public education … [and] if I didn’t believe I could assist in making the system better for all families,” Havlick said.
Last-minute entry Carlos Marroquin, an Oak Lawn resident, comes from a family of teachers. A former area director for the Service Employees International Union in Dallas, in October he began substitute teaching in DISD schools. His experience in the classroom is a major factor for why he decided to run, he said.
“Naturally, when you get to do the job some of these teachers are going through, you see what’s going on,” Marroquin said. “I heard it from table conversation with my family, but once you get into it, you realize that you do need help. Not only the teachers, the students, but everybody.”
Marroquin hopes to bring attention and a voice to bilingual and at-risk students, and ensure they are ready for the next step beyond the high school level.
“The district is over 70 percent Latino,” Marroquin said. “I want to improve English transitional periods with bilingual students. I would like to see something change that way we can see kids exceed.”
Marroquin has also witnessed school discipline policies in practice and found them wanting. He explained that schools need to go beyond the actual punishment and look at the bigger picture.
“Some students are hungry, homeless, and we need to bring resources,” he said. “Maybe this child needs a psychiatrist or psychologist. There are a lot of factors out there. ”
According to Marroquin, who is now working for his teacher certification, his recent experiences as a teacher in the classrooms have given him a different viewpoint than that of his opponents.
“If any of these other candidates were in the classroom, there would be a different conversation between them,” Marroquin said. “I know that it’s going to be David versus Goliath.”
A Greenhill graduate and Preston Hollow resident, Dustin Marshall has been working in public education since he graduated from college about 15 years ago. Serving on various boards, helping start schools in Boston and Chicago, and tutoring students has given him various perspectives, he said.
Marshall, who has been endorsed by Mayor Mike Rawlings, says there are many things that need to be addressed in the district. Like Havlick, he is focused on early childhood education. These programs could be improved with the addition of full-day quality, universal pre-K offerings for 3- and 4-year-olds, he said.
“I think the district has made some strides in that area, but it hasn’t gone far enough,” Marshall said.
Another pillar of his campaign is teacher effectiveness. According to Marshall, the quality of teachers can improve with the growth of professional development. In addition, Marshall hopes to empower principals and promote racial equity at the DISD table.
Marshall believes his business prowess as CEO of the family business, Hazel’s Hot Shot, and his experience in the nonprofit sector would serve him well in the District 2 seat.
“I think from the perspective of somebody that’s worked with large budgets, knows about education, has had leadership positions in the district, has had relationships with the board and the administration,” Marshall said. “Those are things that I can offer as a trustee that I don’t think [my opponents] can.”
Suzanne Smith considers herself a product of public education. Raised by public school educators, Smith was raised with the mindset to value a public school education, she said.
Smith’s three-tiered platform starts with academics. The Oak Lawn resident wants to raise the bar for student readiness and preparation for post-graduation life. She believes that starts with early childhood education at the pre-K level, and raising third-grade reading requirements.
“The bar we should set DISD is, are [students] enrolled and have the financial aid to a two- or four-year college? Are they employed in a living wage job? Or are they enlisted?” Smith said. “Graduation, to me, shouldn’t be our bar anymore. If we can push the idea around this career readiness, this can help our dropout rate.”
Like some of her opponents, Smith wants to bring more attention to facilities. Smith hopes to ensure the bond money voters approved in November will be stretched as far as possible for taxpayers and the individual district, she said.
“Facilities is not a sexy topic, but the reality is we lose a lot of families and parents, both lost their interest in our schools, and their involvement,” Smith said. “If we can be leaner, if we can be more efficient with those processes and not Band-Aid, I think we’ll be able to stretch our dollar a lot farther in that area.”
The final point in Smith’s campaign is improving the image of DISD, which Smith says has struggled over the years.
In addition to her professional experience, Smith, the founder of Social Impact Architects, has experience in the nonprofit sector, working with her specialty, teenagers, she said.
“I’m hoping to bring my business expertise into really trying to streamline operations and create a more efficient process,” Smith said. “I think one of the things I bring to the table is that I also have a track record in public service, and I know how to manage competing opinions.”