Hillcrest and Marsh teachers seem dismayed while Withers, Dealey, Gooch, Walnut Hill and Preston Hollow staffs appear quite hopeful


quick-and-easy new web feature from the Dallas Morning News allows parents of Dallas ISD students to type in their schools and get a better sense of staff morale. The data is based on anonymous, voluntary district surveys in fall 2014 and fall 2015, so it’s also useful to compare whether morale is improving or decreasing.

A quick glance through the results of our neighborhood’s schools had these revealing finds:

• A whopping 98 percent of the staff at Withers Elementary believe their campus is headed in the right direction, which is the highest rate of neighborhood campuses. Withers is followed closely by Dealey Montessori at 95 percent, T.C. Gooch Elementary at 93 percent and Preston Hollow Elementary at 89 percent. The staffs who least believe in their schools are at Marsh Prep Academy and Hillcrest High School — only 39 percent and 37 percent, respectively. Hillcrest also saw the biggest dip in confidence — 58 percent less than last year — and Dealey saw the biggest jump — 42 percent more than last year.

• Staffs have less confidence in Dallas ISD as a whole than in their individual campuses. Most staffs’ hover in the 60s and 70s in terms of DISD pride, though, in most cases, 2015 showed much higher confidence than 2014. Preston Hollow and Walnut Hill Elementary are the biggest believers — 89 percent and 82 percent — while Hillcrest is the biggest doubter at 49 percent, followed closely by Marsh, Degolyer Elementary and W.T. White High School at 50 percent.

• Several neighborhood schools have experienced substantial jumps and dips in morale between 2014 and 2015. Dealey’s was the largest jump — a whopping 78 percent — followed by E.D. Walker Middle School, 44; Nathan Adams Elementary, 43; Franklin Middle School, 30; Withers, 27; and Preston Hollow, 26. In contrast, at Hillcrest, morale dipped by 53 percent.

• Ninety-eight percent of Walnut Hill’s and Gooch’s staffs believes their campus is clean, safe and free of physical hazards, and so do 93 percent of Withers, Dealey and Pershing Elementary‘s staffs, while only 43 percent of Hillcrest’s and 32 percent of Marsh’s staffs believe the same.

• Dealey has the best handle on discipline issues: 90 percent of its teachers say unruly students are not permitted to disrupt the learning environment. Withers and Walnut Hill are close behind at 87 percent. At Hillcrest and Marsh, however, only 36 percent and 13 percent, respectively, think students are under control.

• Withers’, Walnut Hill’s and Dealey’s staffs feel most supported by their campus leadership in providing quality instruction (94 percent, 93 percent and 90 percent). In contrast, Hillcrest’s and Marsh’s staffs feel the least supported (33 percent and 39 percent).

• The staffs at Withers and Walnut Hill are the biggest cheerleaders of their schools; 100 percent and 96 percent, respectively, would recommend that families send children to their campuses. Only 21 percent of Marsh’s staff and 36 percent of Hillcrest’s would recommend the same, however.

• Many of the elementary campuses strongly believe that most of their students will attend college; 100 percent of Dealey, Gooch and Walnut Hill staffs see universities in their students’ futures, and so do 90 percent or more of Withers, Kramer, Degolyer and Nathan Adams staffs. Hillcrest and Marsh were the lowest at 59 percent and 53 percent.

Based on these results, a few observations:

• Hillcrest seems to be suffering a blow from the loss of Principal Ronald Jones, who led the school for six years. Administrative change, whether good or bad, can be difficult. All of its campus scores dipped this year; perhaps the fall 2016 survey will be telling in terms of whether the new leadership is finding its footing. Dealey, on the other hand, appears to be experiencing the opposite based on its leadership change; all of its scores jumped this year.

• Changes to curriculum at Withers, Walnut Hill and Preston Hollow in recent years appear to be a big boost to those schools and their staffs. Preston Hollow is on the last leg of becoming an official International Baccalaureate school, while Walnut Hill and Withers have sought-after dual language programs.

• Curriculum changes at Marsh Prep have not had the same effect as at the elementary schools. The school this fall launched its personalized learning curriculum with sixth-graders and recently made a principal change. “Marsh had a challenging fall semester and the decision was made to transition the campus to a new principal in January — Martha Bujanda, formerly principal at Gooch [Elementary],” says Mike Koprowski, who oversees choice schools. “The challenges largely stemmed from leadership working to juggle the demands of a large, complex middle school while also moving toward a new approach to instruction (certainly not an easy task!). We are quite excited about the direction of the campus under Martha’s leadership and expect significant growth in campus culture this semester.”

• Though Franklin didn’t score the highest in any categories, it wasn’t the lowest, either, and fared quite well for a middle school. Eighty-seven percent of staff believe the middle school is headed in the right direction, and 82 percent would recommend the school to neighborhood parents. Like Hillcrest, Preston Hollow and Kramer Elementary, Franklin, too, has begun the process of becoming an IB school, which ultimately will allow students in the Hillcrest feeder pattern to begin an IB education in elementary and continue all the way through high school.