Leaders see challenges and finds solutions by Dolores Valles


Guest post from LSAISD Class of 2015 participant Dolores Valles with her thoughts on the October class of the 2015-2016 school year.  Dolores lives in the San Antonio Independent School District and is the PTA President at Bonham Academy.

The leaders of SAISD began the day at the Claude Black Center located on the East side of San Antonio. This is my neighborhood and where I grew up so I felt at ease.  As the class began, Executive Director Durquia Guillen asked the class to think of a “safe zone.” This made me feel at ease to create a place where we would feel respected and without any harm for stating our opinions.

The following guidelines were discussed: Keep moral judgment to yourself and create a judgment free zone. Speak once to give others an opportunity to speak. Listen to understand one’s point of view.  As I listened to everyone opinions, I noticed we were sitting in a circular position and the atmosphere felt more personal. I liked the connection from one leader to the other by looking at the person speaking.

An issue that came up was race or ethnicity. One leader stated “I felt like the last meeting was us against them. So we shouldn’t speak of race again.” All present leaders agreed, and we continued with our strength finders results matrix.
As the day continued in our “safe zone” we had several speakers. A speaker from SAISD, Liza Rosenthal, gave us an overview of the state’s accountability system and the low testing scores in minorities groups. My heart raced, my hands shook, and all I could think about was “We said we wouldn’t talk about race anymore. Why must the color of one’s skin be such a factor in our schools grading system?”

The class broke for lunch and I was happy to end the conversation from these upsetting but realistic results. Upon returning, the leaders broke up into groups to discuss policy change and parent engagement. Being the PTA President at Bonham, I sat with the parent engagement group. I thought I could learn more about how I can improve my skills in bringing families and SAISD faculty together to improve not only our school’s performance, but also home relationships. I really enjoyed the dialogue our LSAISD alumni shared and my fellow leaders’ comments on this subject.

As we broke once again for the last session given by Dr. Christine Drennon, Director of the urban studies program at Trinity University, I felt reenergized. Dr. Drennon began her presentation with maps of neighborhoods in San Antonio. This presentation made me think about school districts with high property taxes and high testing scores, such as Alamo Heights. Economically disadvantaged schools have low testing scores and poor academic performances such as my own Phyllis Wheatly Middle School. This was an all-black school located in a racially restricted neighborhood.

I became agitated. My thoughts were, “Why is race such an issue in education?” The educational system is run by greed, power, and money. Families that struggle economically, suffer as a result. Dr. Drennon’s presentation continued to show pictures of the houses located in the Eastside Promise Neighborhood where I currently live. Crime, poverty, drugs, guns, and gentrification surround students. It’s difficult to survive, much less focus on reading a book, due to this environment.

The Texas Education Agency, politicians, and people with money can point at us and tell us that people of color are not educated and they wonder how educators can improve our school performances. They must understand the roots of the issues we face. I have experienced sleeping on the floor to avoid being struck by a stray bullet from a drive-by. Screams of domestic violence are also commonplace. How can SAISD leaders address these issues to help children in our schools? I always put the welfare of my kids first, which means safety, education, spiritual, and mental well-being. Despite their dad’s wishes, I became extremely involved in my kids’ schools and programs they were interested in doing.

It is important to begin a trust zone for parents to heal and therefore repair their own households. This is why I try to get to know other parents and share my personal stories about my struggles. I want other parents to realize they are not alone. As we reinvest in the health and wealth of families in the community, we will be able to see progress in our education.

One day it will no longer feel like it’s us against them.