Redesigning Schools – Part 1

The following article was originally published on the Dallas Friends of Public Education (DFPE) web site and is published here with permission.

“Redesigning Schools – Part 1″, by Rose Parker, Founder of Schools by Teachers

In-district charters allow a structural change in the role of teachers. They allow decision makers on campus to allocate resources in a way that meets the specific mission of the campus. They allow huge pushback against constant testing. They can stabilize campuses that have been in constant upheaval and chaos for decades.

In exchange for these blessings, the process of planning to redesign a campus or feeder pattern or traditionally low-performing high school will probably take a year. Some band of Utopians including at least half the teachers and half the parents on a campus must agree to the process and outcome before the plan is presented to the board.

So the pain of doing nothing has to be far greater than the hundreds of hours donated to the planning process. Redesigning a campus to operate much more effectively is time-consuming and hard, but the rewards could last the next decade.

Step 1: Before the vision thing ever kicks in, identify the pain points solved by redesigning the campus or feeder pattern. These pain points must be non-negotiable because you are about to go to war over them.

When some parents, teachers, and a former trustee met years ago to design The School of Entrepreneurship in the Arts and Technology, we were on the warpath over the fact that while 600 kids from Dallas schools didn’t make it through the annual audition process at Booker T. Washington, a third of the students who were successful were from zip codes outside of Dallas ISD. We knew the power of an arts intensive school, and we knew many of the students who were rejected had nowhere to go but the lowest rated high schools in the state. These low-rated high schools were also operating with about $2,000 less per student than BTW at that time. Today, the demographics at BTW are simply not discussed since 60% of the entering freshmen class were not enrolled in Dallas public schools last year.

Some parents and teachers and community leaders have simply given up on the pain points that anger them and keep students from attaining their full potential. We believe righteous anger is motivational and will keep a group of school re-designers working long and hard to rectify their list of identified pain points.
Your pain points might be lack of recess, over-testing, shoddy curriculum, lack of discipline, lack of supplies, poor campus leadership, constant teacher vacancies, or all of the above. The pain points have to be severe enough to motivate you through a year of extended planning for your vision of what your school could be.

Step 2: Mold a vision you can almost touch for your campus or feeder patter. Make it as real as possible. Give it details. Share it. Continue refining it. Add more features to it to make it a perfect fit for the students it will serve. They are unique. Ask for frequent student and parent input. Consult experts related to your vision of how a campus should operate.

Our vision for SEAT looks nothing like Booker T. Washington even though many of us are former teachers, parents, and students of that school and believe in the importance of BTW.

Our vision for SEAT looks more like the cover of the April Texas Monthly where Robert Rodriquez is described as transitioning from film maker to creator of a television empire. We think entertainment technologies and computer science should be a big part of an arts curriculum along with models of entrepreneurship for creating content and platforms. Our vehicle, a Subchapter D Open Enrollment charter, doesn’t allow us to filter students based on grades, attendance, or standardized test scores, and we see no reason to do so.

Because we want our students to have as much time as possible to work as producers of their own products and performances, we will run a year-round campus and extended school day to give students time and materials they need to work designing real products for real audiences.

Other in-district charters will plan around a traditional school calendar and day. The vision of the school determines the tactics used to make the vision a reality and each in-district charter will be different.

Step 3: Find out early in the process how much money per student you will be able to move to your campus budget. Senate Bill 2 indicates it may be more than the district is currently budgeting for your campus. Read the details of SB2 when it implies that district spending per student follows the student to the campus after leaving enough to cover the cost of the superintendent and governance. All Title monies must follow students to an in-district charter.

We strongly suggest you plan on moving all functions that are traditionally left up to Ross Avenue to your campus. That means principal and teacher hiring, termination, appraisal, compensation, and training. That means all special education services. That means the level of testing you intend to use. That means the curriculum you choose. Cut as many strings as possible to central administration or you will be dragged right back into all the obstacles that lessen your ability to increase student achievement.

All in-district charters must meet state accountability standards. You cannot remove any state mandated testing. If planning a high school campus, consult House Bill 5 on developing endorsements. All special needs students– LEP, special education, handicapped–must have equal access to your programs.

As we will describe in the next article, your planning group is on the way to developing a contract that will be in effect for 10 years between your future campus leadership and the Dallas ISD trustees. You must be able to document how your way of administering the campus increases student learning, attendance, and post-secondary success if you are at that level. You are being given autonomy in exchange for improving student outcomes and must earn acceptable ratings from the state for three out of every five years as well as providing an annual audit of campus expenses.

For the nonbelievers, this is state law. It was intended to introduce innovation into public schools. The legislators who wrote it knew superintendents would not be happy at a loss of control and micromanagement, so they strengthened the autonomy given varieties of in-district charters against incursions by superintendents and central staff.

It’s a new day, and rather than removing democracy from school board elections, it’s time to use the tools given us for authentic school reform.

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Posted in Guest Posts

The Conversation We Need to Have

The following article was originally published on the Dallas Friends of Public Education (DFPE) web site and is published here with permission.

“The Conversation We Need to Have”, by Rose Parker, Founder of Schools by Teachers

A little over a month ago, the structure of an innovative in-district charter school was presented to the Dallas Board of Trustees in an afternoon board briefing. The proposal included the first teacher-governed middle and high school in Texas along with a new twist on talented and gifted education, an innovative approach aligned with the state mission of giving students the time and resources to be creative producers in their talent areas.

Readers of this article probably never heard a word about this board briefing and the chance for trustees to approve a new middle and high school with a career focus on the visual and performing arts, a focus that adds a film school and gaming cluster to the traditional fine arts program. The teacher-designed innovative program combines a magnet-quality visual and performing arts program with Career and Technical Education (CTE) and tech entrepreneurship.

The proposed school, the School of Entrepreneurship in the Arts and Technology, would use a campus operating board made up of the nonprofit, Schools by Teachers, whose chairperson would report directly to the Board of Trustees. At almost no additional taxpayer expense, 730 students would have access to a year-round program in the arts and technology, led by some of the state’s best teacher talent, by this summer. Dallas ISD would get the bonus of a new literacy model that could be ported to any other secondary campus where reading and writing scores need improvement.

All of this, along with a teacher-designed truly interdisciplinary curriculum focusing on student talents and interests, is possible with the choices granted by Senate Bill 2. Many more innovative, locally controlled Dallas schools are possible with existing legislation and the existing, democratically elected school board.

The only required tsunami of change is one of attitude that all Dallas schools must use the same curriculum, the same methodology, and the same layers of teacher management. The democratically elected Dallas school trustees already have the legislative approval to grant a variety of in-district charters, each using a different curriculum, different staffing formulas, and different methodologies than those mandated by the superintendent and central administrators at this time. There are no Texas Education Agency requirements in these areas other than meeting the needs of special populations, and those include gifted and talented learners who are artistic creators. State accountability standards stay in place, but the methods and curriculum used to meet those standards would be the choice of parents and teachers who write in-district charters for specific campuses. And yes, appraisal instruments and methods can be defined in the in-district charter proposals. Nothing is off the table as long as student achievement improves.

A Home Rule Charter is not necessary for grass roots campus innovation. A Home Rule Charter does nothing in itself to reformulate the delivery of education at the campus level. The paradigm shift that is needed is a change from a factory model of standardized inputs and processes to a portfolio of different options for teachers, students, and parents. This is already possible in the choices provided in Senate Bill 2.

Authentic school reform only happens at the campus level. No urban district has ever forced top-down, cookie cutter reform with good results. Dallas ISD is no different, but with each incoming superintendent, greeted like Caesar, Dallas citizens get a promise that is never fulfilled.

Innovation is driven by teachers in collaboration with parents and communities to solve problems of specific campuses. This was the original promise of charter schools. Educators will have increased accountability when they create plans in-district charters, but they are granted increased autonomy in determining how they choose to meet campus achievement goals. Teachers continue their participation in TRS and retain Chapter 21 rights.

Senate Bill 2 has been state law since June, 2013. So why hasn’t it been used?

Dallas media and the business community, the two groups who usually jump on reform led by superintendent or Eli Broad, either are ignorant of the potential of Senate Bill 2 and House Bill 5, or they want to lead the charge to micromanage change from the top in structures that ignore educators, research, and the needs of students and parents.

It’s time for teachers to have a conversation with parents about what they want in their schools. Not allowing that conversation is a violation of Senate Bill 2.

Senate Bill 2 clearly states that the Board of Trustees shall hear proposals for in-district charters when a majority of teachers and parents on a campus want change. The only way proposals get written is for parents and teachers to unite in their common goal of improved schools.

Senate Bill 2 doesn’t ask the superintendent for approval for in-district charters. Senate Bill 2 doesn’t require the permission of the existing campus principal in order to plan a complete redo of a campus. Parents and teachers ultimately need sturdy plans and the five votes of existing trustees.

If more than 15% of campuses bring valid proposals, the Texas legislature meets again in January, 2015. These state representatives look favorably on changes that improve public schools. If in-district charters become popular, accessible methods of urban school reform, it is doubtful a cap would remain on their numbers.

The next in this series of articles will explain what the conversations between teachers and parents might include in order to begin the planning process for in-district charters. Planning an entire redo of a school takes time, but the rewards to the community of learners could be permanent under new legislation. No longer will superintendents be able to eat away at the autonomy granted these schools.

Those who believe school reform can pushed from the top down have had decades to prove their approaches. It’s time for communities to use Senate Bill 2 to improve campuses in a meaningful way, one that only occurs school by school, not in secretive meetings held by non-educators.

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Will Miles Hold Principals Accountable to Protect DISD Students?

trickle-downRecently, a teacher at a DISD school received a 1.0 on at least one part of a spot observation.

If my own child had this teacher, I would be concerned, but I wouldn’t blame the teacher.

I would want to know why, with the school year almost over, the principal had not managed to ensure that my child’s teachers are performing better.  If the principal came from the Fellows Academy, I’d be especially concerned.

The principal is supposed to be the instructional leader.  Schools are even staffed with expensive instructional coaches.  So why are all DISD teachers not receiving top scores (3.0) on all parts of all spot observations this late in the year?

If all teachers at a school are not performing at the level of a 3 by spring break, we need to replace the principal because the principal has clearly failed.

A bad teacher in August is no one’s fault; a 1.0 teacher in March is the principal’s fault.  Period.

No one disagrees that a teacher—even a first-year teacher—should have mastered classroom management and effective instruction by spring break.  If not, that teacher should be replaced and there’s no doubt that many first-year and veteran teachers will be non-renewed.  Inexperience or length of time on the job will not be taken into account or excused.

The same principle must apply to principals: if they have not mastered the ability to lead every teacher to a 3 by spring break despite having complete authority over professional development, how instructional coaches spend their time and how campus resources are spent, then the principal has to go, even if it’s their first year as a principal and especially if it’s not.

It’s been said before:  “Behind every ineffective teacher is a principal with the authority to non-renew”.  Truer words, as any teacher will tell you, have rarely been spoken.

Miles must move now to protect the students of DISD from bad instruction; he must remove the principals who have failed to eradicate weak instruction from their campuses after 7 full months of receiving their paychecks (and, no, they don’t get to blame the assistant principals or the instructional coaches).  The buck stops with the campus leader.

No excuses, Miles.  For the children.  Let’s see you walk the walk, starting with principals.

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Posted in Giving Grades, Teachers Rule

Want Some Mayo With That Baloney?

baloney-meterEditors Note: This is the first in a weekly series of fact checking done with our patented “Baloney Meter”

Citizens attending any of the faux Town Hall SOPS meetings last Thursday were fed power point after power point of pure baloney.

Not only was the substance pure baloney, but the servers, the founders and wannabes like Edwin Flores, either couldn’t answer questions or were serving a layer of Spam on top of the baloney.

SOPS Talking Points

  • The state won’t allow innovative curriculum at the local level.

Baloney Meter Says:  This is adulterated baloney filled with toxic waste products such as smoke, lies,and by-products of greed.

The state learning standards (TEKS) can be developed into innovative curriculum at the local level and in the classroom by creative teachers. The Texas Education Agency hasn’t shackled any school districts with cookie cutter curriculum. The curriculum for each district is determined by the district interpreting the TEKS.  TEA has protocols for writing and teaching innovative courses and courses can be added for local credit. On top of that, most teachers interpret the TEKS and design their own lesson plans unless they have cookie cutter superintendents (like Mike Miles) demanding otherwise.

What SOPS refuses to admit is that the STAAR tests are based on the TEKS, so wandering away from TEKS will doom students on state accountability tests. Other high school courses, such as Advanced Placement, must adhere to College Board standards.

If SOPS is trying to drag Common Core through the back door, this is their smoke screen. If SOPS wants Pearson to run Texas public schools, this is their loop hole. Greedy, greedy Pearson wants a national takeover of the public schools. SOPS is handing them a way to take Texas.

  • We can only have excellent teachers if we are allowed to fire teachers at-will, also known as at-whim.

Baloney Meter Says:  This baloney must have been manufactured by Michelle Rhee or any of the brand charters paying their CEOs $500,000 a year while paying their teachers below market. This baloney is not fit for human consumption because of the layer of fat at the top.

Charter teachers tell of having to report to their principals each Friday to see if they still have a job. That kind of fear won’t attract top teacher talent to Dallas. What SOPS really wants is sweatshop conditions for teachers while providing a comfortable living for administrators and vendors. If Dallas finally gets the churn rate of Peak Preparatory, 70% teacher turnover in one year, then we will probably have Peak Preparatory ACT scores which were around 15.4 for the first senior class.

Citizens can only wonder why Todd Williams leaves out the remarkably low level of college readiness in his Dallas charter schools while demanding that Dallas schools adopt charter practices.

Dallas ISD has to compete for teacher talent. This district has no value proposition as it is. At-will teacher employment will guarantee thousands of teacher vacancies each fall.

  • Allow for the possibility of appointing some school board members with specific expertise (e.g., finance) needed to run our $1.6 billion budget school system.

Baloney Meter Says:  This baloney is in the shape of a Trojan Horse and seems filled with the excrement of SOPS elite who believe democracy should remain the privilege of the elite class.

The one current board member who has a remarkable knowledge of finance is currently on the SOPS radar for removal. Elizabeth Jones asks too many questions and the oligarchy doesn’t like questions. Any move for appointment of any school trustees requires someone do the appointing, and we believe this someone is Mayor Rawlings who walks hand-in-hand with Arne Duncan on federal control of public schools. There is one class of voters in the United States. Rawlings outside City Hall is Citizen Rawlings who doesn’t get to pre-empt the wishes of the voters in Dallas.

  • The ability to increase accountability for Trustees; for example, the charter could require that Trustees be replaced if the student achievement gaps fails to close the gap with the state’s baseline.

Baloney Meter Says: This baloney is the manure that will be used to bring the Department of Justice into the Dallas ISD as a permanent partner in monitoring voting rights. This baloney stinks of Mike Morath’s attempts to permanently disenfranchise minority and poor voters one way or the other.

The communities least likely to meet state standards are those that are majority poor and minority in Dallas. These communities contain the segregated housing for the poor that are relegated in critical mass to the southern sector. The public schools are affected by these housing patterns.

These voters would have a constant rotation of school trustees if anyone were ever willing to represent them. Over time, probably no one would step forward to represent these communities, an event that has Morath’s fingerprints all over it.

SOPS will bring permanent federal oversight of Dallas schools if they are successful in attempting to remove voter rights in the southern sector. Local control, who is SOPS kidding?

As far as SOPS proposal that only those with college degrees should be allowed to be school trustees, are they aware this proposal would keep Bill Gates (their school reform hero), Paul Tough (their pop psychology hero), and Michael Dell from serving on the DISD board if they were residents of Dallas ISD? Oh yeah, guess Morath would need a special amendment stating that high net worth individuals without college degrees could serve.

If SOPS wants to alter the school year, then they need to take Todd Williams’ and John Arnold’s money and lobby the Texas legislature for the right of school districts to decide their opening day of school. How hard is that?

As far a moving the school board elections to November, why not? What is the problem?

The motivation for all of SOPS sloppy lies comes to one driver: Mike Morath wants to be superintendent of Dallas schools. Mayor Rawlings is in competition with Morath for CEO of Dallas schools.

The rest of SOPS subterfuge is just baloney.

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Posted in Baloney Meter

Nancy Bingham, Two-Time Winner of the High School Closure Award

nancy-bingham-samuell-hsGot to give it to Trustee Nancy Bingham. Has any other trustee in the state of Texas been threatened by TEA with closure of two-thirds of the high schools in their district?

We are sure of Nancy’s response to the potential shuttering of Samuell High School. Nancy will respond with the words she always uses for every crisis:

“It’s time for a bond package.”

No, Nancy, your Highland Park developer friends, the ones who keep financing your re-elections, really aren’t relevant at this point. Neither is your idea to develop a campus-based Early College at a failing high school.

The rest of the state understands that the power of Early Colleges comes from being placed on community college campuses in order to get away from the distractions of high schools. Well, everyone except Bingham.

So, Nancy, how are you going to explain the promotion of Samuell’s former principal to an Executive Director position or your opinion that he is the best principal in the district?

Don’t know?

Well, how about explaining to the public how you allowed Hinojosa and his crony buddies to rob Samuell of huge numbers of teachers during the annual RIFs? Or how you never question the mismanagement of Mike Miles, remaining his loyal employee instead of an advocate for the students in your district? How’s your simulation of a door mat working for Samuell High School?

Well, we have some suggestions for you, Nancy. These suggestions will further endear you to the wealthy in Dallas. They may not do much for Samuell High School, but when has that been your concern?

  • Hand Samuell over to SOPS. They insist they know so much about education. Give them a real hands-on project where Mayor Rawlings, Mike Morath, and all the SOPS folks from Plano and other outlying areas can pool the wealth of knowledge they have about high school reform. In order to add some cash to the surplus fund, turn it into a reality show, SOPS Does Samuell.

Louisa Meyer might want to hold off on those t-shirts for Samuell while she adjusts her tiara for the cameras.

  • Have Mayor Rawlings call KIPP and let them know they are now in the high school reconstitution business. Rawlings will be in for a shock when KIPP lets him know in no uncertain terms that they failed at running a comprehensive high school and they won’t do reconstitutions. It might ruin that excellent brand they have. Rawlings can cry on cue when hearing the news.


  • Please, please, call Todd Williams and let him know that Samuell High School needs to be taken over by Uplift and re-opened as a neighborhood high school. Uplift knows so much, and with COMMIT! and their little group of analysts in tow, Samuell will no doubt have a brighter future. Again, we could sell tickets to watch Todd Williams and his little charter groupies take on a real project instead of simply spewing misconstrued data. We’ll be glad to put their data on billboards around Dallas after they’ve had a year of life in Reality-ville.


  • Reopen Samuell and let it be run by the Teaching Trust and SMU with Bill McKenzie head of the Site Based Management parent group. All those whiney Teaching Trust novices who love to complain about teachers on their campuses not being as special as they are will now have a whole school to themselves. We’ll check back in a year and see how bright and perky those novice teachers are when they have no one to blame but themselves.


  • Reopen Samuell as a Teach for America lab school, but don’t provide any experienced teachers to mentor the brilliant TFA, uncertified teachers. We are sure TFA will turn Samuell around in a year or so. We’ll rename Samuell after Wendy Kopp.


  • Since vendor Mike Miles knows so much, he needs to create a reconstitution plan for Samuell and head up the revitalization himself. He can relocate his whole executive team to Pleasant Grove since they are all such geniuses. That will settle the need for a new building downtown.

Actually, Nancy, this whole situation is far from funny. We’ve tried to give you feedback over the years that might motivate you to ask the hard questions, like why your high schools are left to fend for themselves while all the attention and money was handed to schools in west and south Dallas for the past two years. We tried to stop your neediness to be part of the Edwin Flores’ circle of contempt for teachers. We’ve tried to make you see that Miles has few answers to anything with his cookie cutter formulas. We warned you about forked-tongued Morath, but you still go for the bad boys.

Like a girl in bad need of a prom date, you desperately cling to each superintendent and never demand anything in return, like equal funding for your high schools or a stop in the constant churn in principals.

So Nancy, it’s only fitting that you go to Austin this week and explain to the Commissioner of Education why you refuse to hold any superintendent accountable for the failure in your high schools.

And Nancy, please don’t start in with the need for another bond issue with Commissioner Williams. He’s not going to understand why you are more concerned about your donors in Highland Park rather than the students in your district or where the $30 million dollars added to the surplus fund came from during the sharpest downturn in state funding in the history of Texas schools. Part of that surplus couldn’t have come off Samuell’s campus last year when they had double digit teaching vacancies, could it? Yanking all that money off Samuell’s campus had nothing to do with their failure, did it, Nancy?

Remember, when Superintendent Miles was totally unconcerned about the 1500 teacher openings last year? And then all of a sudden there was a surplus of money to add to the fund balance for a bond election? Remember that, Nancy? Remember how happy you and Morath were at the increase?

We don’t want to open that can of worms for all of Austin to see when the rich and powerful in Dallas have been using TEA as a spanking boy for the ills of Dallas public schools, do we?

Have fun in Austin, Nancy. Just don’t mention bond elections or surplus funds and whatever you do, don’t mention how underfunded your high schools are in comparison to the good schools in Dallas.

Just tell the Commissioner that SOPS said he is the problem along with all those other bureaucrats in Austin. You might want to take Louisa, tiara and all, with you. You will need all the distractions you can muster when the hardball questions start coming, and they won’t be about the next bond issue.

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Posted in Giving Grades

(1) DISD Fall 2013 Climate Survey (223 page, 4.5 Mb PDF)

(2) Public Education Grant (PEG) List of 57 Failing DISD Schools

(3) View school master schedules. Fall 2013. Sort by teacher, class, grade, etc.

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Foundation for Empowerment (FCE) released 3 papers:

1. Disruptive Change: Mike Miles and the Crisis In Dallas ISD, which has been prepared with consultation by education academics, extensive research, review of data and education literature, and meetings and interviews with people of Dallas holding varying and sometimes conflicting points of view;

2. Digging Into Data and Evidence: Mike Miles, Dallas ISD, and Trickle-Down Education Report, by Dr. Julian Vasquez Helig, Lindsay Redd, M.A. and Dr. Ruth Vail; and

3. The Challenge of Disruptive Leadership in Dallas ISD, by Decoteau J. Irby, Ph.D. and Matthew Birkhold, M.A.

"You will see from these papers that, after much research and discussion, we believe the current Superintendent lacks the pedagogical, leadership and integrity qualities necessary to lead Dallas ISD and recommend the Board terminate his contract."

Citizens wanting to speak at regular board meetings and briefings must sign up by calling Board Services at (972) 925-3720 no later than 5 p.m. on the day before the meeting.

Contact the Superintendent and Trustees:
3700 Ross Avenue, Box 1
Dallas, TX 75204

Superintendent Mike Miles

Lew Blackburn, 1st Vice President
District 5
Term Expires 2016
(972) 925-3718
Oak Lawn, West Dallas, Wilmer, Hutchins and portions of East Oak Cliff

Miguel Solis
District 8
Term Expires 2014
(972) 925-3721
Love Field, Northwest Dallas, and Central Dallas

Eric Cowan, President
District 7
Term Expires 2016
(972) 925-3721
North Central Oak Cliff and parts of West Dallas

Nancy Bingham
District 4
Term Expires 2016
(972) 925-3722
Southeast Dallas, Seagoville, Balch Springs

Elizabeth Jones
District 1
Term Expires 2015
(972) 925-3722
Northwest Dallas, including North Dallas, Addison, parts of Carrollton and Farmers Branch

Mike Morath
District 2
Term Expires 2014
(972) 925-3721
North and Near East Dallas

Dan Micciche, Board Secretary
District 3
Term Expires 2015
(972) 925-3722
Northeast Dallas

Carla Ranger, 2nd Vice President
District 6
Term Expires 2014
(972) 925-3722
Southwest Dallas

Bernadette Nutall
District 9
Term Expires 2015
(972) 925-3721
South Dallas and parts of Downtown Dallas, Pleasant Grove, Deep Ellum, Uptown, and East Dallas

"Republics are created by the virtue, public spirit and intelligence of the citizens. They fall when the wise are banished from the public councils because they dare to be honest and the profligate are rewarded because they flatter the people in order to betray them." --Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Constitution, 1833

Open Mike Community Meetings 6:00 pm – 7:00 pm

May 12
Seagoville High School • 15920 Seagoville Rd., 75253