East Oak Cliff school selected for new ‘total community' program

Dallas ISD is kicking off the school year at John Neely Bryan Elementary in east Oak Cliff with a new program, hoping to bring up test scores and enrollment at the campus.

The experiment program is being called a "total community" approach to schooling.

Just before the first day of school, parents are getting a preview of changes on campus.

Friday's meet-the-teacher night doubled as the kick-off of for the pilot program.

“It's based on the concept that a lot of our kids are coming to school with challenges that aren't necessarily about learning,” explained Allison Brim with the Texas Organizing Project. “They may be hungry. They may have parents who are unemployed or may have gotten deported. And those concerns are barriers, sometimes to them, from achieving in the classroom.”

Brim and a DISD parent say the school would help arrange for counseling, healthcare and even transportation to appointments.

There’s also a shift in discipline, eliminating suspensions or using them only as a last resort.

“We want to see if that student has some social needs that are not being met, and then of course that student would exhibit negative behaviors in the classroom,” said Principal Tonya Anderson. “When they're suspended, they're not here. We always want our students here.”

DISD says the program has been in the works for a year now.

Initially, Paul Laurence Dunbar Learning Center in the Fair Park neighborhood was selected. But this summer, DISD insisted John Neely Bryan is a better fit.

The school is also one of 24 DISD schools identified by the TEA as a "turnaround campus" and rated "improvement required" for two consecutive years.

The rating was a factor parent Adrienne Easter said got her on board with trying something new as her son heads to second grade and her daughter to Pre-K.

“Doing the same thing wasn't working,” said Easter. “We needed to do something new to support our kids, try to build them back up.”

DISD says depending on how things go this school year, it will consider expanding the program to additional schools.