Controversial education secretary meets with Dallas champions for public schools

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From guns to race to school choice, embattled Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has made headlines for her controversial stance on education.

That’s why her visit to Dallas was met with protests. Some parents believe DeVos is failing students.

“She’s dismantling public education with the idea of charter schools, which naturally segregates the population between parents who care and don’t care,” said Dawn Cleaves, who protested with signs outside Urban Specialists Dallas headquarters.

Urban Specialists, a non-profit that mentors at-risk youth in South Dallas, says, even if you disagree, it’s important to start a dialogue.

They reached out to DeVos after the high school shooting in Parkland, Florida, and invited her to come to Dallas and see their strategies for mentoring at-risk youth and curbing urban violence.

“Let’s figure out where can we find synergy, everyone can be armed with an argument, I’m trying to find a witness. I hope that she can be a witness to us and to others and say there is good work going on in urban centers around America and let this be the first example of it,” said Omar Jahwar, Urban Specialists CEO. “If the vast majority of the kids are in public school, my job is to say how do we serve them at our best level, that’s what this is about.”

At Urban Specialists headquarters Thursday afternoon, DeVos heard from a panel of Dallas ISD students, Superintendent Dr. Michael Hinojosa, and Dallas ISD District 9 trustee Bernadette Nutall, Urban Specialists, and other community leaders on gun violence and bolstering public education.

“I think we’re in this for the long game,” said Hinojosa. “I think a lot of times people go with what they’ve heard or read about, not what they’ve actually seen. Hopefully, we’ll add a new perspective to their paradigm and a new understanding of what’s possible.”

That’s why Dallas ISD wanted to give DeVos a tour of Dade Middle School, which drastically skyrocketed in performance when Dallas ISD invested in new teachers and strategies. In one year, the school went from last to third in middle school performance.

“We don’t have any kind of effort to privatize any kind of school. What we do want is ensure that parents have the opportunity and the power to find the right educational environment for their child,” said DeVos.

DeVos briefly visited classrooms and met with the principal, Nutall, and Jahwar.

“If I had had as exciting a teacher in every one of my classes, I probably would have loved school a whole lot more,” said DeVos.

“I am an advocate for public school education, but she is the secretary of education, so she must hear our thoughts, she must hear how we are finding solutions and what we need for our district,” said Nutall.

As teachers strike for better pay in Oklahoma, DeVos said she thinks about the kids.

“I would hope that adults would keep adult disagreements and disputes in a separate place and serve the students that are there to be served,” DeVos said.

DeVos wrapped up her visit at 16 Streets Center in South Dallas, where she heard from a police officer, and young men who work with at-risk youth through Urban Specialists.