Choosing to stay home
Mike Lukas is one of the “bench boys” at Lida Hooe Elementary. The group of fathers convenes after school to keep an eye on students while they work out their pent up energy on the playground.
Lukas, a self-described “older dad” at 52, finds himself mostly in the company of grandfathers on the bench. It’s not the only way he stands out from other Lida Hooe parents.
“I’m the white guy,” he says.
This isn’t a distinction he thinks much about now, but when his daughter, Gwendolyn, started at Lida Hooe three years ago, it was a factor in the family’s decision. Lukas and his wife, Gretchen, live in the house in which Gretchen grew up. She attended Lida Hooe, too, which was then, as it is now, a predominantly Hispanic school. Her nickname was “La Güera Loca” — the crazy white girl.
One major change from her childhood was that parents could now choose where to send their children to school.
“It was almost harder, instead of just, you go where you go,” Gretchen says.
As the Lukases asked around, Rosemont Elementary kept coming up as a great option. Gretchen looked into it, then compared it to Lida Hooe, and “couldn’t find any real difference” in terms of student-teacher ratios and other such academic measures. She asked a Lida Hooe staffer why so many families transferred to Rosemont and was told, “It’s just where the white people are sending all their kids.”
Only 14 percent of Rosemont students are white; like Lida Hooe, the elementary school is predominantly Hispanic (81 percent). But Rosemont’s longstanding reputation as a strong public school has attracted both more white and more middle- to upper-class families than other Oak Cliff schools, despite those schools’ often competitive academic ratings.
The staffer’s matter-of-fact comment was an eye-opener for Gretchen. “Then I had to honestly face that part about myself,” she says.
They chose the school two blocks away and never found any reason to look elsewhere until the beginning of this school year, when their son, Ian, started pre-K. Last year he attended John H. Reagan Elementary because it offered a half-day program for 3-year-olds and Lida Hooe didn’t.
Reagan has a “creative, colorful, wonderful feel,” reflective of the Bishop Arts District in which it sits, Gretchen says, and Ian had the same great experience there as Gwendolyn’s at Lida Hooe. Would they move Gwen there or move Ian to his home school?
“Again, we looked at the schools and looked at the numbers, and they were pretty equal,” Gretchen says. But their daughter balked at the idea of changing schools. She told her parents she didn’t want to leave her friends. “And Gwen had been thriving at Lida Hooe,” Gretchen says.
They decided to stay put.
These days, they’re not “the white family” at Lida Hooe.
“We’re just another family,” Mike says. “Everyone there, from top to bottom, treats everyone there with equal love and compassion. That’s what we noticed right off the bat.”
How do they know they made the right choice?
“All I know is they’re reading, they’re writing. My second-grade daughter is reading at an 11th grade level, and my pre-K son is already starting to read,” Mike says. “They’re doing incredibly well.”
Listen to Gretchen and Mike Lukas talk about how they approach ethnic differences and what they love about Lida Hooe in our new podcast, The Uninformed Parent, available at oakcliff.advocatemag.com/podcast.
Lida Hooe Elementary
by the numbers
Current enrollment at Lida Hooe Elementary
Seats at Lida Hooe that remain open, according to its campus capacity of 632
Students zoned to Lida Hooe who transfer to other DISD schools, with nearly half choosing either Rosemont (22) or Winnetka (19)
Percentage of Lida Hooe’s students who live in poverty
Non-Hispanic white students enrolled at Lida Hooe, two of them being the Lukas children
Followers of the @lidahooeelementary Instagram account since it launched at the beginning of this school year
Percent of parents who say they’re satisfied with the direction of the school, according to Dallas ISD surveys
Sources: Dallas ISD My Data Portal and Demographics Department, and Lida Hooe Principal Fernando Rodriguez* (*Numbers were updated online after press deadline)
This school-year-long series attempts to help Oak Cliff parents take a deeper look into their neighborhood schools. Each month, we highlight a Dallas ISD family in Oak Cliff, probing all of the questions, hesitations and soul-searching that revolve around school decisions.
If you’re considering your neighborhood school but have questions and doubts you want to explore, please contact editor Keri Mitchell at 214.292.0487 or [email protected].