The primary and elementary campuses in Kessler Park are among the most transferred-to schools in Dallas ISD
Rosemont is by far the most populated and popular school in north Oak Cliff, with a combined 1,066 students at its detached primary and elementary campuses. That’s almost as many students as live in the school’s attendance zone — 1,111, according to estimates based on U.S. Census data.
But more than a third of Rosemont students aren’t zoned to Rosemont. A total of 376 transfer in from other Dallas ISD schools, a population that rivals the total enrollment at nearby Reagan Elementary (387) and surpasses the enrollment at Hogg Elementary (287).
In other words, the transfer students at Rosemont could be an elementary school all on their own.
Its 35 percent transfer rate is not the highest in DISD, but it’s high enough that in fall 2015, the district’s board-appointed Attendance Boundary Advisory Committee (ABAC) was asked to consider a boundary change that would send more of Rosemont’s students to Hogg.
Rosemont’s campuses, just south of the Stevens Park Golf Course, draw from Kessler Park, Kings Highway, Winnetka Heights and part of Kidd Springs. The committee considered extending Hogg’s boundary north to I-30 and west to Sylvan, which would have put East Kessler and all of Kidd Springs within Hogg’s attendance zone.
“Transfers are a huge concern amongst the community,” state the minutes from the Dec. 9, 2015 ABAC meeting hosted at Rosemont to gather input. “Hogg and Reagan need more students to improve the quality of their schools. Several community members want to see more move out of zone.”
Ultimately, however, no boundary change was recommended. When the committee met with then-Oak Cliff Trustee Eric Cowan a few days later, he suggested that “the committee might need to pull back” because “Rosemont would like some time to handle issues on their own,” the minutes state.
This was not long after the Rosemont community experienced a principal change. Anna Brining, who had led the school for 15 years, left after the 2015 spring semester when Dallas ISD didn’t renew her contract. Many of the school’s engaged parents attributed the school’s success and its ability to attract homeowner families to Brining, and fought vocally against her removal.
A majority of the board, including Cowan, voted to retain Brining, but they were overruled by then-superintendent Mike Miles. DISD promoted assistant principal Rachel Moon to the head of the school.
Transfer numbers climbed steadily during Brining’s leadership; the school had 77 when she arrived in 2000 and 255 by fall 2006, the year Rosemont’s Chris V. Semos primary campus opened. That was the same year the school launched its two-way dual-language program. Starting in kindergarten, native-Spanish and native-English speakers are combined in one classroom and learn in both languages.
The program has been the biggest transfer draw, Moon says.
“Parents wanted their child to be bi-literate and bicultural and workforce ready,” she says. “There hasn’t been another program in north Oak Cliff until maybe two or three years ago at Hogg and Reagan.”
Transfer numbers dropped slightly under Moon’s leadership. She denied some requests from families zoned to Hogg, Reagan and Winnetka elementaries wanting to attend Rosemont for its dual language program. They can now participate in this program at their home schools, Moon says.
“Schools are becoming very competitive, and rightfully so and as it should be,” Moon says. “Parents have a choice, and it’s exciting to see the district move in that direction where we’re really looking ahead to the workforce and the skills needed for our students to succeed.”
District policy allows principals to approve or deny transfer requests, which is easier and less politically divisive than changing boundaries every time a population shift occurs. More than 20 percent of DISD students don’t attend their home school, and most if not all DISD schools have some transfers in and some transfers out, says Audrey Pinkerton, Oak Cliff’s representative on the DISD board.
“Parents have a choice when it comes to educating their child, and DISD wants that choice to be one of our schools,” Pinkerton says. “Transfers and other choice offerings allow flexibility for parents.”
And if parents want their children to attend a particular school and that school has space, as Rosemont does, a good argument can be made that families who choose a school will be more invested in it.
Moon worked for several years in DISD’s parent services department at the central office, and across the district, she saw “not too many parents involved.”
“I see what a difference parents can make,” she says. “Myself and Ms. Brining have something in common in that we both love parents and nurture and value what we have because we know that at schools, you don’t always get a lot of parent involvement.”
That’s one of the big draws of Rosemont, she says, describing it as a school that is also rich in tradition and veteran teachers.
Parents with the know-how and resources to advocate can make a huge difference, studies show, not just for their own children but for all children at a school. This is one of the biggest arguments for socioeconomically diverse schools. Even though Rosemont is roughly 75 percent low-income, it is one of the most affluent schools in north Oak Cliff.
Still, district estimates show that 296 students zoned to Rosemont attend private school or are home schooled. Another 226 zoned to Hogg, nearly half of the students who live in the school attendance zone, are private or home school students.
Hogg is nearly 95 percent low-income and Reagan, on the edge of the Bishop Arts District, is 90 percent. (See more statistics about Oak Cliff schools on page 23.) Studies show that poor students at predominantly low-income campuses don’t perform as well academically as students at more diverse campuses, like Rosemont.
“Hogg and Reagan need more students to improve the quality of their schools,” community members said at a meeting last winter. Perhaps the catalyst will be their new two-way dual-language programs.
“I think, as all parents, they want the best for their kids,” Moon says of families who transfer into Rosemont. “Fortunately, this school figured it out that parents make the difference.”
But Rosemont doesn’t have to be unique in this, she says.
“If all parents get involved with their neighborhood school,” Moon says, “every school can be like Rosemont.”