Photography by Danny Fulgencio

Derrick Battie graduated from South Oak Cliff High School in 1992, and he returned as the school’s community liaison, a position he still holds, in 2002.

In between, he was one of the most highly recruited high school basketball players of his class. He started for Temple University in Philadelphia all four years of his college career, playing in the Elite Eight tournament under hall-of-fame coach John Chaney. And he played in the NBA for a few years before blowing out his knee and returning to Oak Cliff to take care of his grandmother.

More recently, Battie was among the SOC alumni who pushed for a $52-million renovation of the school, completed last year.

While a taxpayer-funded Dallas ISD bond paid for the project, Battie and others made sure it was spent sensibly and that the design of the building was perfect, from moving dumpsters away from the student entrance to providing power outlets for the student lounge and creating spaces for robotics practice.

Battie’s is one of the first faces SOC’s 1,300 students see every morning, and they know to be looking sharp when they cross his path. “You better have your pants pulled up,” he says. “You better not be smelling like no cigarettes or marijuana.”

Battie also is a leader that the school’s approximately 50 homeless students and their families can lean on for help.

SOC’s two resource centers, one with shelves full of snacks and school supplies funded by Frito Lay and Feed the Children, and one with a clothes closet provided by Friendship West Baptist Church, are open to the entire school community, Battie says.

Why SOC should be one of the best schools in Dallas ISD:

When we start thinking and speaking that, it becomes reality. We all can agree that there should be no school with the ceilings falling in and rats running around. We should do everything we can to make sure this environment is totally set for academic growth. No drugs. No guns. No gangs. No bullying. We don’t want that in our building. We have to get [students] ready in four years, and we just don’t have enough time for that. What we do is try to handle it in the community. That way, when they get to school, then the familiar conversations are there.

On community safety:

Our issues are with students having too much trauma because of what goes on in their communities, what goes on in their households, at their parks, at their recreation centers and even at their schools. There was a shooting at [the Ellis Davis Field House] recently. South Oak Cliff High School and Kimball High School were playing a basketball game. So we’re talking about how that emotionally effects children and causes behavior to spiral out of control without social and emotional support.

Putting pressure on leaders:

I’m not emotional about it. I can be friends with you and tell you that you’re not doing a good job. Because what you’re doing affects a whole lot of children who come here, and if they don’t have what they need when they come here, then they couldn’t possibly be ready to exit here in four years. If they’re at home struggling, bullets are flying around their head, there’s no technology. We’re in a technology desert. There’s no access to green grocery stores. There’s a food desert. Look at the schools. Here at South Oak Cliff High School, the alumni and students had to protest in order for them to mak