Who gets to name the West Dallas STEM School?

By Keri Mitchell, Founder + executive director
Dallas, Texas | local government, education, civic issues, investigative and enterprise reporting

March 20, 2024

West Dallas

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No one in West Dallas seems to know how their new STEM school is on its way to being named for Oak Cliff power couple Domingo and Elba Garcia.

This is the second Option 2 of the West Dallas STEM School Project Renderings proposed in the Dallas ISD 2020 Bond, but the school might be named after a couple from Oak Cliff. West Dallas neighbors were not notified of the possible name change. Photo courtesy of Dallas ISD.

Residents can’t recall a community meeting where their names were put forward. Parents say they weren’t asked for input at the meeting where the official document was signed by two STEM school principals and a teacher.

Trustee Maxie Johnson won’t answer questions about who recommended the Garcias’ names and how the recommendation made it to the Dallas ISD board docket.

Yet this Thursday, the nine trustees will vote on whether to name the West Dallas community’s only school of choice for the president of LULAC and the Dallas County commissioner.

Los Altos resident Ronnie Mestas says a Facebook post alerted neighbors to the name change, which sparked a series of community discussions over the past several days.

“I think they’re more than qualified,” Mestas says of the Garcias, “but the process wasn’t done with community input and the transparency was lacking.” Domingo Garcia’s name initially was attached to the school more than two years ago, in a January 2022 Dallas ISD presentation to the City Council’s Workforce, Education and Equity Committee.

Even then, West Dallas leaders said the community had been left out of the naming process. Trustee Johnson, who district 5 includes the school, responded to community members via email that it’s “not Dallas ISD policy that community picks the names of schools. That falls within the responsibility of the Trustee.”

How does Dallas ISD name schools?

DISD’s naming policy doesn’t specify where recommendations should come from, only that they “will not be considered when submitted by an individual or a group for self-nomination,” unless that self-nomination comes with a donation of $5 million or more toward the facility’s construction.

In addition, “all recommendations must be submitted to the principal for final submission to the Trustee representing the election district in which the school is located, and where applicable, receive consensus approval from at least one member of the site-based decision-making committee (SBDM), and/or the parent-teacher association (PTA), and a member of the administration prior to submission to the Board for consent and approval.”

Johnson wouldn’t respond to our phone calls or texts about who submitted the recommendation. His text response was: “Trustees work with Dallas ISD Administration and we follow Dallas ISD CW Local Policy. Dallas ISD made sure that community input was given per policy. For more information please contact Dallas ISD Administration.”

We’ve reached out to Dallas ISD with questions, including why the current agenda item, which has been pulled from the consent agenda for a separate vote, says the board would have to waive its policy in order to rename the school.

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West Dallas residents like their school’s current name

In early 2022, the community rallied for and received an official DISD survey asking how the school should be named. Earlier meetings had floated the idea of co-naming the school for two neighborhood leaders, Pastor Arrvel Wilson and Isabel “Chavela” Lozada Taverna, but “Chavela’s family declined,” Mestas says. 

In the end, he adds, the principal and staff said their preference was to remain the “West Dallas STEM School.”

“We feel as though it encompasses all parties within our fabulous community,” then-teacher Elizabeth Allen said.

Facebook post by Elizabeth Allen in the Naming WDSS Facebook Group.

The survey results were never shared with community members, Allen told us this week. Then they learned a few days ago that principal Marion Jackson had signed and submitted an official document in October 2023 recommending that the STEM school be named for Domingo and Elba Garcia. 

Her co-signers on the document were assistant principal Ebonie Lewis, representing the SBDM, and what appears to be second grade teacher Maria Silva, representing the PTA. The STEM school did not yet respond to our requests for its SBDM member list, or the attendance sheet and minutes from the October meeting.

What can West Dallas neighbors do?

At this point, West Dallas neighbors have only three options to keep the vote from taking place:

  1. Ask Board President Justin Henry to remove it from the agenda; 
  2. Ask Trustee Maxie Johnson to request its removal from the agenda; or 
  3. Ask the Garcias to remove their names from being put forward.

Mestas says all three were asked, and all three refused.

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“I spoke to Mr. Garcia and made sure he understood it is not about him and his wife or their accomplishments; it was the policy and the way it was done,” Mestas says. 

At this point, he adds, “we’ve only got two or three days, and we’re grasping at something that’s going to be really hard  to change.”

“We’re losing our identity. We keep naming schools after other people and leaving West Dallas out of it, and it changes the whole culture of who we are,” he says. “There’s no consideration of us as residents of this community.”

It’s the reason Vecinos Unidos, the Los Altos-based  organization Mestas leads, is hosting a series of educational events this Thursday, Friday and Saturday, he says — “come and learn what’s here before you destroy it or wipe it off the map.”

District 8 Trustee Joe Carreon, who represents other portions of West Dallas, hasn’t said how he will vote because he is “still listening to community input.” He also has a name change on this week’s agenda — naming the building at UT Southwestern that houses DISD’s Biomedical Preparatory for Dr. Charles Ginsburg, who is “the thought leader and visionary behind the school,” Carreon says.

District administration suggested the name, Carreon says, so he met with Ginsburg several times then held a community meeting to present the proposal to the school community, which includes a “very active SBDM and PTO, mostly comprised of UT Southwestern folks, who are familiar with [Ginsburg].” His proposal to name the building for Ginsburg rather than the school was for “practical reasons,” Carreon says — “the school had its logo, its brand,” and families can easily figure out what “Biomedical Prep” means.

It’s also a cost practicality, as the district’s name change policy states that “costs (i.e.: food, plaques, advertising, receptions, and the like) associated with the naming or renaming of portions of District facilities shall be borne by the SBDM, PTA, or private donor.”

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Mestas says he gives Carreon and Johnson credit — “they’ve done a lot of good. This is West Dallas, and we have a STEM school. That’s pretty incredible.”

Plus, no matter how the vote goes Thursday, West Dallas residents still have the ultimate vote.

“If they’re not held accountable,” Mestas says of the school board members, “we remove them.”

Additional reporting by Michaela Rush

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