The DRC hosts the State of Public Education, presented by Toyota Motor North America and Wells Fargo, on Tuesday, Sept. 27, at the Moody Performance Hall.
Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath will provide a keynote address on the issues facing Texas’ public schools. Newly-hired superintendents Tabitha Branum of Richardson ISD, Stephanie Elizalde of Dallas ISD, and Ángel Rivera of Mesquite ISD will also lead a panel discussion.
The DRC talked to each superintendent ahead of this month’s event. View the full conversation below:
Tell us a little bit about your background, including one fun fact about you.
Tabitha Branum: “My family and I live in RISD, and I have two children enrolled in RISD schools. I have a bachelor’s degree in history and a master’s degree in educational administration from the University of North Texas. I’m pursuing my doctorate in educational administration at Dallas Baptist University. Fun fact: There are many educators in my family, and three generations of my family are employed in RISD. My father is a technology assistant at one of our elementary schools, and my oldest son is starting his first year as an elementary school PE teacher.”
Stephanie Elizalde:“My undergraduate degree is in biology, and I was pre-med. While I was studying for the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), I saw a job listing for a dance teacher near San Antonio and applied. They said ‘Sorry, you don’t qualify for this job — you majored in biology,’ but I did get their anatomy teacher job, and that’s how I began my lifelong career in education. Fun fact: Education was a big deal in my household, but my parents also instilled in me a love of the arts. My mother signed my sister and me up for everything — piano lessons, ballet, flamenco — and for a time as a young girl, I dreamed of being a ballerina.”
Ángel Rivera:“I was born and raised in Puerto Rico to parents who valued the power of education, although their own education was limited. My teachers made a huge impact in my life, and I know our teachers in MISD do the same thing for our students every day. My original plan was to pursue medical school, but after helping a friend set up his classroom and meeting his principal, I decided to become a teacher and found my passion in education. I also served in the Army for seven years as an Airborne Ranger.”
As the new superintendent, what is the top priority that you want to accomplish for your school district?
TB: “My top priority is to ensure growth for every student. We need to be sure that every RISD student is leaving school every day better than when they walked in. I want to see growth academically, socially, and emotionally.”
SE: “Our top priority must continue to be excellence and equity for every student, but we must also focus on safety and security. We can’t accomplish our top priority if families can’t feel comfortable sending their children to school. Two safety task forces have recommended a comprehensive safety plan we’re now implementing. Dallas ISD has also made great strides in improving student outcomes, as demonstrated by the district earning a ‘B’ in the recently released Texas Education Agency accountability ratings.”
AR: “As superintendent, I want to make sure we continue to provide safe and stimulating environments for students that maximize their potential and their future aspirations. My role is to remove barriers so my staff can best serve our students.”
How can the support of the DRC and the regional business community help you achieve your goals?
TB: “Do what the DRC does — get involved in your local public schools. Volunteer, mentor students, and celebrate our teachers by sending them notes of gratitude or a meal. RISD recently adopted a Graduate Profile. This will provide opportunities for the business community to partner with our district to ensure our students are workforce ready with the skills and aptitudes they need to be successful.”
SE: “When we look at the best schools across the country, they’re backed by a strong business community that invests in the future of students who will one day join our workforces and lead our communities. Many already help us prepare students for the future through our P-TECH Program (Pathways in Technology Early College High School). The DRC and the Dallas Region business community can help us build on our successful ventures through their continued support and investment. Every hour and every dollar spent on our kids is an investment in the future of our region.”
AR: “Business partnerships with educational institutions are known to be paramount for the success of our students once they leave our school system. The economy and workplace are ever-changing. We must stay abreast of those changes and have the capacity to pivot our approach as necessary. This is only accomplished if we have the support of the business community and the DRC.”
What is one thing you would like the Dallas business community to know about your school district?
TB: “We believe in every child, every teacher, and every leader every day. I believe in our kids. I believe in our community, and I believe big things are possible, even the impossible. The work is hard, but on the hard days, our collective belief is what fuels us — ensuring every student connects, learns, grows, and succeeds.”
SE: “We are well on our way to being the premier urban school district like our mission statement says. Our students are excelling in the skills of the future — robotics and technology, oratory, debate, theater, music — you name it. As a district, we are engaging all our stakeholders — parents, families, community members, business partners, and voters — to deliver the educational and physical resources needed to develop the whole child.”
AR: “I would like the Dallas business community to know our district is full of promising students who were made to excel. In addition, our staff is dedicated to discovering the potential of every child in our school system. For instance, through our initiative called AYO, which is an African word meaning ‘great joy,’ students understand how their interests and talents align, so they can experience a tailored learning approach.”