Dallas Schools, Long Segregated, Charge Forward on Diversity

Dallas Schools, Long Segregated, Charge Forward on Diversity

DALLAS — Michael Hinojosa was about to enter the ninth grade in Dallas when a federal judge ordered the city’s public schools to integrate.

It was 1971, and Mr. Hinojosa, the Mexican-American son of a preacher, was suddenly reassigned to a new school, whose football coach told him that it was too late to join the squad — its roster had been set months earlier.

“I had a traumatic experience” with desegregation, Mr. Hinojosa said.

So, too, did Dallas. Like many cities, it replaced one form of segregation with another, as white and middle-class families moved to the suburbs or put their children in private schools.

Now Mr. Hinojosa is the superintendent, and the Dallas school system, one of the country’s most segregated urban districts, has become a national leader in trying to figure out how to encourage students of all backgrounds to willingly go to school together.

Two years ago, under Mr. Hinojosa’s predecessor, the Dallas schools set a goal of starting more than 35 new schools by 2020. Through this effort, Mr. Hinojosa hopes to reverse enrollment declines and increase student achievement, while wooing college-educated and white families that may have never before considered public education in Dallas.

Some of the schools, in fact, make no secret of whom they are trying to draw: Half of their seats are reserved for students from middle- or higher-income families, and some are set aside for students living outside the district.

“Every major city in America has to find some way to deal with this issue,” Mr. Hinojosa said. “When you have a mix of kids, the affluent kids don’t suffer and the children of intergenerational poverty do better.”

Dallas is one of just a handful of cities trying ambitious integration programs, even though nationwide, public schools are more segregated today than they were in 1970.

A third of black and Hispanic students attend schools that are more than 90 percent nonwhite, according to research from the Century Foundation, and those racially segregated schools are overwhelmingly low-performing. Research shows that poor children who attend school alongside more privileged peers score higher on standardized tests and earn more money as adults.

But fearful of stoking a fresh round of middle-class flight or another busing revolt like Boston’s in the 1970s, most cities have shied away from addressing the issue.

A typical approach is New York’s, where gifted programs and magnet schools have not made a great dent. This month, Mayor Bill de Blasio released a diversity plan that promised to decrease the number of schools in which low-income children are isolated from middle-class peers.

There has historically been little interest in the issue in Washington. In March, the Trump administration announced that it would end a small grant program for districts hoping to diversify their student bodies.

That makes Dallas, which has even produced a marketing campaign to promote its integration efforts, an outlier.

The effort is small for now, involving fewer than one in 10 city schools, and has not been a total success. One strategy, called “innovation schools,” tries to make neighborhood schools more attractive by installing programs like the International Baccalaureate curriculum, similar to Advanced Placement. It has improved test scores, but has not yet significantly changed the demographics of the schools, many of which are in middle-class areas but serve few middle-class children.

Another, more expensive strategy, called “transformation schools,” is getting faster results.

Rather than admit students by grades, test scores or auditions, which tends to turn schools into enclaves of affluence, these schools admit them by lottery, with no admissions standards. They are organized around popular themes like single-sex education, science, the arts, bilingual classes and professional internships.

Most strikingly for a district where 90 percent of students are low-income, the district is setting aside seats in several of the new schools for students who do not qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, even if they live in suburbs outside the district. Those coming from other districts do not have to pay tuition, and though Dallas will not receive school property taxes from their families, it will get funding from the state for each traveling student.

By relying on income instead of race, Dallas is following guidelines from the Supreme Court, which in 2007 declared it unconstitutional to consider race as a factor when assigning students to schools.

“What’s exciting about what Dallas is doing is you have a district that’s 90 percent low-income,” said Richard D. Kahlenberg, an expert on school segregation at the Century Foundation, a liberal think tank. “So many people look at that and say, ‘Therefore, we can’t integrate.’

“That’s not right,” he continued. “You can begin with a small subset of schools and try over time to build the reputation of the school district among middle-class people.”

Dallas has plenty of white and college-educated parents to draw from. The region is the nation’s second-fastest-growing, with an economic boom driven by the financial services and health sectors. On weekday evenings, throngs of well-heeled, mostly white urbanites take to the Katy Trail, an elevated, tree-lined path north of downtown. They walk their dogs, stroll with their babies and jog while wearing university T-shirts and expensive sneakers.

But these people have not enrolled their children in public schools, with the exception of a few coveted neighborhood schools and selective magnet programs. The district’s student population is 93 percent Hispanic and black. In the 1960s, before court-ordered desegregation, more than half the students were white.

The Rev. Andrew C. Stoker, senior minister of First United Methodist Church of Dallas, sends his two sons, who are white, to Hispanic-majority public schools. But he estimates that three-quarters of his congregants send their children to private schools.

Mr. Stoker said he heard a variety of concerns from church members about the Dallas schools, first among them, “Is my child safe?” (According to the most recent state data, Dallas experienced major disciplinary incidents, like fights and drug and weapons offenses, at about the same rate as the state average.)

The idea of catering to parents like these was, at first, controversial. Past desegregation efforts, based on involuntary busing and selective schools, offered little to poor, nonwhite children. The transformation program is also costly; the district renovated several school buildings and is busing students — voluntarily — across the city.

Joyce Foreman, a school board member who represents working-class southwest Dallas, said she supported the integration push and believed the new schools gave her constituents more options. But she said the cost of expanding these programs must be weighed against the needs of older schools that serve largely poor families.

“I am looking at the numbers of students per nurse or counselor” in traditional schools, Ms. Foreman said. “We want to make sure we don’t oversaturate ourselves with choices.”

Mr. Hinojosa, who is on his second stint as superintendent, began his education career in 1979 as a Dallas middle school history teacher and basketball coach. He sent all three of his sons to Dallas public schools.

He inherited the desegregation plan from the previous superintendent, Mike Miles. Several staff members working on integration have recently left the district, but Mr. Hinojosa said he was nevertheless expanding the effort.

This spring, 1,705 students applied for 613 spots in the five existing transformation schools. More than a quarter of applicants are currently enrolled in private or charter schools or live outside the district, and 15 percent are white, a demographic profile very much outside the district’s norm.

The most lauded of the new schools is Solar Preparatory School for Girls, which emphasizes the sciences and art. On a recent morning, a teacher, Nicolette Luna, asked her uniform-clad first graders to pair up to discuss the meaning of a new vocabulary word: “humility.” Later in the day, the class took a trip to an environmental center.

The school has become so popular with well-off families that administrators have had to step up recruitment in low-income neighborhoods, in order to meet the requirement that half the students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. The student body is 51 percent Hispanic, 22 percent black, 22 percent white and 2 percent Asian.

Not all of the transformation schools are that diverse. At the Innovation, Design, Entrepreneurship Academy, or IDEA, a high school that places students in professional internships as early as 10th grade, about 80 percent of students receive free or reduced-price lunches, and only eight students are white.

One of the eight, an aspiring architect named Aiden Dornback, left a popular charter school because he and his parents did not like what they considered its emphasis on test preparation.

Aiden’s mother, Sarah Dornback, said she was comfortable with her son’s being in the demographic minority at his new school — even though it makes their family a subject of curiosity among people in their social circle, many of whom send their children to private schools or have moved to suburbs like Frisco or Prosper.

“My husband and I both went to suburban, white high schools,” Ms. Dornback said. “It’s not a reflection of real life.”

Mr. Hinojosa acknowledged that for now, families like the Dornbacks were the exception. Some principals have complained, he said, that while college-educated parents are increasingly “window shopping” at their schools, they do not necessarily return to enroll their children.

Mr. Hinojosa hopes that will change. But ultimately, he said, “if parents can’t get over race or class, they’re not going to put their kids in our schools.”


Published at Mon, 19 Jun 2017 11:24:38 +0000

Before the Gunfire in Virginia, a Volatile Home Life in Illinois

BELLEVILLE, Ill. — Signs of a deeply disturbed family life kept surfacing from the well-kept house with the pale sun awning and the pretty flowerpots off a gravel road here.

One of James T. Hodgkinson’s foster daughters killed herself in a gruesome fashion: by dousing herself with gasoline and setting herself on fire. Another described herself as “more of a hindrance than a daughter.” And when Mr. Hodgkinson dragged his grandniece by her hair and tried to choke her, the police were called in, and he was charged with battery. In previously sealed court papers obtained by the local newspaper, she described him as an abusive alcoholic who hit her repeatedly.

Elsewhere in America, people learned this past week who Mr. Hodgkinson was: the seemingly deranged gunman who, fueled by leftist rage, opened fire on a congressional baseball practice in Alexandria, Va., grievously wounding Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the Republican whip, and three other people. He was carrying a list with the names of at least three Republican lawmakers and had pictures of the ballpark on his cellphone, law enforcement officials said on Friday.

But here in Belleville, a quaint little city where flags fly on Main Street and the movie theater marquee is set off in lights, Mr. Hodgkinson, 66, who was killed when Capitol Police officers returned his fire, was known to some friends and neighbors as a volatile figure.

“Is it shocking?” asked Doug Knepper, whose son is married to one of Mr. Hodgkinson’s foster daughters. “No, because the man did not seem 100 percent stable to me.”

No one can truly know what motivates a man to drive halfway across the country, live out of his car — as Mr. Hodgkinson apparently did — and attempt a mass killing of members of Congress. In the days since the shooting, much has been made of Mr. Hodgkinson’s strong political views — he was an ardent supporter of Senator Bernie Sanders’s bid for the 2016 presidential nomination, and he railed against President Trump and Republicans in Washington on his Facebook page and in letters to the editor of the local newspaper.

But another aspect of his personality may have also presaged the shooting: his troubled home life.

When Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun control group, analyzed F.B.I. data on mass shootings from 2009 to 2015, it found that 57 percent of the cases included a spouse, former spouse or other family member among the victims — and that 16 percent of the attackers had previously been charged with domestic violence.

There is extensive research on shooters who kill multiple victims, but none on those, like Mr. Hodgkinson, who only wound, experts say. Most mass killers “arguably suffered from some form of mental instability,” at least temporarily, the Congressional Research Service concluded in a 2015 report.

Mass shooters are usually socially isolated, experts say, and channel their sense of grievance into a rage at a particular group of people. Some latch onto a political cause as a way of justifying their violence. And their attacks are often carefully planned and premeditated. In that sense, Mr. Hodgkinson also fits a pattern.

But for all his complaining about Republicans, he had little to do with Democratic politics here.

“Never heard his name, ever, ever, ever,” said Patty A. Sprague, the St. Clair County auditor, who has been in elective office for more than a decade. “We knew our volunteers, and he was not a part of it at all.”

A onetime high school wrestler who worked for years in construction and then ran his own home inspection business, Mr. Hodgkinson spent much of his adult life here in Belleville, a Southern Illinois community of just over 40,000 people not far from St. Louis. He lived with his wife of nearly 30 years, Suzanne, in the home with the sun awning and flowerpots, which this past week were sprouting pink flowers, on a street with a pleasant name: Rolling Hills Lane.

Cindi Clements, 59, who has known the Hodgkinsons for more than 20 years, said Mr. Hodgkinson had long been “Billy Goat Gruff” and was known for his “abruptness,” qualities that could be endearing or maddening, depending on the audience. He was known to show up at dinner parties and turn around and leave if the meal was not ready. She said Mr. Hodgkinson’s political views had taken an “extreme, fanatic” turn in 2016; while “life moved on for other people,” she said, the election had “never ended for him.”

The Hodgkinsons had no biological children, friends say, but they were licensed as foster parents for much of the time between 1990 and 2003. The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, citing privacy rules, declined to comment on their performance. Ms. Clements said they had taken in foster children because they could not have their own.

“They were loving,” she said. “We were not blood, but they would host Christmas for all of my family.”

In 2004, the couple was featured in a newsletter published by the state, in an article about a foster daughter named Julie. Mr. Hodgkinson, who went by the nickname Tom, was sick and in the hospital on Julie’s wedding day; he insisted on leaving the hospital to walk her down the aisle. Ms. Clements said he showed up for the ceremony in a tiny brick Belleville church, entering at the last minute as 50-some heads swung around to watch a sick man in a tie and slacks hobble in.

“It was a little unorthodox, but he made it happen,” the article said.

But there were other, much darker moments.

After one of the couple’s foster daughters, Wanda Ashley Stock, set herself on fire in 1996, the couple told the local newspaper, The Belleville News-Democrat, that they did not know what had prompted a “very practical, levelheaded girl” to take her own life. The newspaper went on to say that the couple later discovered that the young woman had previously attempted suicide, and that hours before she killed herself, her boyfriend had broken up with her.

Experts caution that many children arrive in foster homes with deep-rooted problems that cannot be attributed to those who care for them. Even so, the Hodgkinsons’ home life was chaotic.

In 2002, court records show, the Hodgkinsons became legal guardians of their grandniece, Cathy Lynn Putman, just as she turned 13. She had been in the Illinois foster care system since at least 1995. In a 2003 annual report the couple made to the state about her, they called her a “minor and low functioning mentally,” and said she needed “adult supervision at this time.”

By April 1, 2006, according to police records and interviews, the young woman was seeking refuge with the Hodgkinsons’ next-door neighbor. On that day, her friend Aimee Moreland called her boyfriend, Joel Fernandez, to the Hodgkinson home and said Mr. Hodgkinson had been beating Ms. Putman.

According to a police report, Mr. Hodgkinson had forced his way into the neighbor’s house, screaming for the young woman. When she hid in a bedroom and locked the door, Mr. Hodgkinson broke into the room and dragged her by her hair, the report said.

Later, as Ms. Putman got into Ms. Moreland’s Honda Civic, Mr. Hodgkinson opened the car door, turned off the ignition, slashed her seatbelt with a pocketknife and ultimately tried to choke his grandniece, the police said. When Mr. Fernandez tried to step in, he said, Mr. Hodgkinson came at him with a shotgun and hit him in the head with the butt of his gun.

Mr. Hodgkinson was charged with two misdemeanor counts of battery and with damaging a motor vehicle. He pleaded not guilty and the case was eventually dismissed, records show, because the victims did not appear in court. A judge eventually gave custody of Ms. Putman to the next-door neighbor; in their final report to the state, the Hodgkinsons described the arrangement as “quite stressful and uncomfortable” for them.

During a court hearing in November 2006, The Belleville News-Democrat reported, Ms. Putman told a judge that Mr. Hodgkinson had hit her in the face for not mowing the lawn correctly. “I didn’t mark a time” when Mr. Hodgkinson “started hitting me,” she told the judge.

Ms. Putman, by this time known as Cathy Rainbolt, died of a drug overdose in 2015; she was 25. In a paid death notice in the local paper, her adoptive mother, Nicki Friedeck, lamented her very difficult life — and the foster care system. “Cathy’s story is her own. A tragedy. Her life was mixed with suffering and laughter,” Ms. Friedeck wrote. “Foster care is not supposed to be belittling. The child is not supposed to be your free worker bee.”

It was not clear whether she was referring to the Hodgkinsons or another set of foster parents.

By that time, though, some who knew Mr. Hodgkinson were convinced that something was not quite right about him. Mr. Knepper and his wife, Vicki, first met Mr. Hodgkinson in 2014, when their son Matthew became engaged to another of the Hodgkinsons’ foster daughters, Tasha. Ms. Knepper described Mr. Hodgkinson as “very aloof,” and uninterested in the children he had helped to raise.

“When Sue talked about the kids, it was always ‘I wanted it,’ it was never ‘we,’” Ms. Knepper said. More recently, she said, Ms. Hodgkinson had confided in the Kneppers that she wanted a divorce.

In March of this year, Mr. Hodgkinson abruptly left Belleville for Washington, telling friends he was going to the capital to protest and demand tax reform. His wife, Suzanne — now his widow — held a brief news conference on Thursday outside their home, where she said she thought her husband had gone to Washington to “work on taxes.”

But she also suggested that his home life might have factored into his decision to leave.

Tasha had separated from her husband and moved back into the house on Rolling Hills Lane, bringing her 2-year-old son with her. Mr. Hodgkinson was not pleased about it.

“He’s home all day long; I think he just wanted a break from it,” Ms. Hodgkinson said. Asked why family circumstances might have prompted him to leave, she added, “You don’t need to know that stuff.”


Published at Sat, 17 Jun 2017 16:26:51 +0000