Never Settle: preparing aspiring magnet students for the spotlight

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Catherine Luster. Photo by Ralph DiFronzo.

Oak Cliff native and DeSoto ISD middle school theater teacher Catherine Luster is making it her mission to give students the experience and confidence necessary to make a career in the arts a real possibility.

After graduating from Booker T. Washington arts magnet high school in 1997 and then graduating from college, the charismatic cellist and lifetime Oak Cliff resident returned to Dallas and spent two years teaching at South Oak Cliff High School and another couple at South Dallas’ Roosevelt High.

“I loved them both. All schools, all districts have ups and downs,” she says. 

The biggest downer: dealing with budgets, because art programs (and educators) often are No. 1 on a school district’s cost-cutting chopping block.

Luster, whose purple locks brush shoulders that shake when she laughs, has watched fellow Booker T. classmates find fame. But she’s a moth drawn to the education flame. Exposing students to culture and art is her life’s purpose; that’s why the talented cellist and digitally inclined instructor chose to join DeSoto ISD.

“I cannot get away from education. It is pure joy for me,” she says. 

So when McCowan Middle School, the fine arts magnet in DeSoto ISD, offered her a gig, she couldn’t wait to get started. 

The City of DeSoto practically blends into Oak Cliff, she says; the commute is just a few minutes from her home. Granted, DeSoto’s school district hasn’t been on many Dallas residents’ radar, but that’s changing now that the district has received an A2E2 grant supporting DeSoto ISD’s magnet schools and diversifying its student populations.

The 9,000-student district will receive roughly $2.5 million annually over five years, in part to help boost magnet programs serving students in grades K-12.

Working to earn national acclaim for DeSoto’s K-12 fine arts continuum programs doesn’t intimidate Luster or her peers. 

“I am ambitious. I’ve seen some of the staff members’ resumes, and they are beyond impressive. I envision so many things we can do here in DeSoto.”

Beginning at Woodridge Elementary Fine Arts Academy, students can explore dance, theatre, instrumental music, choir and visual arts.

At McCowan, students deep-dive into the arts at the middle school level so they’re ready to embrace their artistic development in DeSoto’s award-winning high school arts magnet programs, says DeSoto ISD Director of Communications Tiffanie Blackmon-Jones.

With DeSoto ISD’s growing magnet school tools and funding, Luster promises to prep her students for a solid shot at bright art-driven careers through magnet education.

DeSoto ISD welcomes magnet school applications from all students in the Dallas area, particularly Oak Cliff residents. 

“It just takes me 15 minutes to get there,” Luster says. 

For information about DeSoto’s award-winning magnet programs for students of all ages, visit
www.desotoisd.org/magnets or call
469-747-3100 to set up a campus tour.

To apply for a DeSoto ISD Magnet Program, visit
www.DeSotoISD.org/MagnetApplication

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