This family reached the end of their rope, and Felix G. Botello Elementary threw them a lifeline

Clark Bryce is a second-grader at Felix G. Botello Elementary on Marsalis Avenue at Jefferson Boulevard. The school wasn’t the first choice of his parents, Rachael Lieck and Russell Bryce, or even the second choice, but the Bryces now believe they found “the diamond in the rough.” (Photo by Danny Fulgencio)
Clark Bryce is a second-grader at Felix G. Botello Elementary on Marsalis Avenue at Jefferson Boulevard. The school wasn’t the first choice of his parents, Rachael Lieck and Russell Bryce, or even the second choice, but the Bryces now believe they found “the diamond in the rough.” (Photo by Danny Fulgencio)

When the only option is the ideal choice

Rachael Lieck Bryce sat on her front porch in Wynnewood North, sobbing. She had just learned that her soon-to-be first-grade son, whom she describes as both brilliant and difficult, would not be able to return to his elementary school.

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Behavior issues had led to his departure from two schools — first from preschool at The Kessler School, and now from Dallas ISD’s Rosemont Elementary, to which Bryce’s son had transferred for kindergarten.

It was the end of June. The new school year would begin in mid-August. The deadlines for private school applications and DISD transfer forms had long since passed. Bryce didn’t know how in the world she would find a school that quickly, let alone a school that could both challenge and manage her son.

As luck would have it, her neighborhood association president, Brian Davis, walked by and saw Bryce in her despair. He stopped to find out what was wrong, and then gave her news that would change her life.

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“Have you even called Botello?” Davis asked her, reminding her the neighborhood recently had been rezoned to the distinguished elementary. “Their report card blows Rosemont out of the water. Stop worrying about it and call Botello because I’m telling you, it’s a better school anyway.” (Editor’s note: Davis was referring to the Texas Education Agency report cards for Rosemont and Botello.)

Phone calls to the school connected Bryce with principal Reyna Sotelo and vice-principal Maria Puente, who calmed her fears and reassured her that her son would be in great hands at Botello. Bryce and her son first visited a month and a half later for meet the teacher night. Other expectant parents crowded into the auditorium, nearly all of them Hispanic. Bryce, whose father is bilingual, didn’t let herself be fazed. But when the presentation was given entirely in Spanish, and she couldn’t understand anything, she lost her composure.

Sotelo approached Bryce afterward, and “I was trying so hard to hold myself together,” Bryce recalls. “I look at her and say, ‘I don’t speak Spanish,’ and at that point, I just start sobbing. And Dr. Sotelo puts her hand on my shoulder and says, ‘You’re gonna be fine. Let me walk you to your classroom.’ ”

Botello’s counselor, who was with Sotelo, noticed Clark’s Star Wars shirt and engaged him in a Kylo Ren vs. Luke Skywalker conversation, further comforting Bryce.

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“They care enough to figure out who we are as people and speak our language, whatever language that may be — physical, mental, actual language,” Bryce says.

A year and a half into his time at Botello, Clark is thriving. There have been some behavioral hiccups along the way, but Puente, now the principal after Sotelo was promoted to executive director of the Sunset High School feeder pattern, continues to reassure Bryce that Botello is committed to their family.

Davis is determined to convince more Wynnewood North families to give Botello serious consideration. With so many families moving into the neighborhood, the association recently created a new position, parent liaison, to connect families and give them more resources. Becca Leonard took on this role and is eyeing Botello for her 3-year-old son.

“In the last couple of years, Botello has received awards and opportunities through the district that will really, I think, make it a viable option for parents in our community,” Leonard says.

Visit Botello Elementary with Becca Leonard, and listen to a conversation with the Wynnewood North parent liaison as well as to Rachael Lieck Bryce tell her moving story in our new podcast, “The Uninformed Parent,” available at

What are parents looking for? What are — and aren’t — they finding in their neighborhood schools? How do parents choose a school for their children?
This is the focus of our school-year-long series that attempts to help Oak Cliff parents take a better and deeper look at their neighborhood schools. Each month, our magazine will highlight a different family who is considering or attending a Dallas ISD school. We’ll probe all of the questions, hesitations and soul-searching that revolve around school decisions. We’ll help our partner families figure out answers to their questions and concerns, and we’ll publish their stories in our magazine, on our website and in a new podcast, all available at

We’re still looking for other partner families. If you’re considering your neighborhood school but have questions and doubts you want to explore, please reach out to editor Keri Mitchell at 214.292.0487 or

Botello Elementary by the numbers

Current enrollment at Botello Elementary

Number of students zoned to Botello whose families opted for private or home school last year

Seats at Botello that remain open, according to its campus capacity of 821

Percentage of Botello’s students who live in poverty

Number of Texas Education Agency distinctions awarded for the 2016-17 school year, in reading, mathematics, science, closing performance gaps and post-secondary readiness

Percentage of Botello fifth-graders whose grades and test scores qualified them to attend Dallas ISD magnet schools this year

Sources: Dallas ISD My Data Portal, DISD Demographics Department, Botello administration

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