Like President Barack Obama, Fort Worth schools superintendent Walter Dansby could be forgiven if he said he inherited a failed system when he took over the helm of the district last year from former superintendent Melody Johnson who resigned abruptly in her fifth year. It was second from the bottom in state and federal student acheivement results amongTexas’ six largest urban districts; it was facing a budget shortfall of more than $40 million, it was bleeding money to outside legal firms fighting three whistleblower lawsuits as well as numerous other employee-filed grievances charging everything from falsification of attendance documents to bullying from supervisors to discrimination in hiring and disparate treatment of students of color. Plus, its school board may have been the most controversial in the district’s history.

But at yesterday’s “state of education” address, that Dansby gave to a packed crowd at Ridglea Country Club,sponsored by the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce, the district’s first African-American super’s talk was upbeat filled with great expectations for the future, mostly ignoring the failures of the past. He touted what he called the opening of the “first single-sex school” for young males this year when the Young Mens’ Leadership Academy opened its doors at Dunbar’s former sixth-grade center.. Last year, the district opened a young women’s leadership acadamy on Fort Worth’s Near South Side, both offering a “rigorous college prepartory curriculum” for 6th  and 7th graders.  (The girls’ school did well on its first year tests.)

Trustee Ann Sutherland, who was in the audience, said afterward that during Dansby’s first year, the district’s ranking among the state’s six large urban districts in the Department of Education’s  Annual Yearly Progress report shows that Fort Worth school’s have risen from second from the bottom to third from the bottom, bypassing Dallas for the first time, with 33 percent of Fort Worth’s 125 schools meeting the federal standards compared to Dallas at 27 percent. That’s still not good enough, she said, but it does show progress under Dansby’s leadership. “I think he’s doing a good job so far,” she said, compared to Johnson, whose five year tenure saw the district’s scores drop from second from the top in the urban districts to second from the bottom.


Yet, there is still a $40 million budget shortfall out of a budget nearing $589 million due primarily to the state legislature’s cuts to education funding. With 85 percent of the budget going to personnel costs.  The district is trying to make up up the shortfall by laying off low-echelon employees such as library clerks, offering teachers money incentives to retire early, combining some high school classes, which will increase the student-teacher ratio in some schools,  and not filling slots that come vacant in the central office, which reduced  the staff  there by 200 in the current year, according to Sutherland, who vigorously opposed the lay-offs of the low-paid staffers such as library clerks and kindergarten aides. Those employees make in the teens and low twenties while the central office personnel are often paid in six-figures.

Dansby is making more than $328,000 with a $10,000 bonus promised for his first year. Yet, he announced  this summer that this year there will be no employee raises because the district “can’t afford it.”

In a short press conference after the talk, Dansby was asked about those layoffs that hit the lowest paid employees hardest. He said that most of those who lost jobs have been rehired for other positions that came open. “We put out the word to those employees that they would get preference in hiring.,” he said, “if they would apply. “Almost all who were laid off t have been rehired,”  he said.

“People know we have to have layoffs–we have a $40 million budget shortfall this year and only $100 million in reserves, with no real hope for relief next year or the one after, but, I was upset that all the layoffs came from the school sites and not the higher paid central office,” Sutherland  said.  She was the only board member who raised objections.

Dansby touted the district’s diversity. With around 80,000 students, close to 60 perdent are Hispanic, 25 percent African American and the rest Anglo and “other.”  He pointed to partnerships that he’s developing with businesses and the city in his efforts to improve the education of all the city’s children, citing more than 400 “partners” who have signed up to collaborate with the district since he took over — a 20 percent increase from the year before. The district now meets regularly with FW mayor Betsy Price to help “place community resources where they are needed,” he said. However, one of the district’s biggest failures in this effort was the decision by the two entities  to cancel the partnership between the Fort Worth ISD and the city to build a joint-use facility, Rosemont Park school, that would be open year-round and on nights and weekends for use by the surrounding  community. But when Chesapeake Energy announced plans to drill 14 wells just across the street  from the school, the plans fell through.

A nutrition partnership may have greater success. This year, according to promo materials passed out by the district, Carlo Capua, chef  and owner of Z’s Cafe  is working with the mayor and the district to introduce nutritious foods into the district’s cafeterias as well  as providing guides on healthy eating for students and their families. a long-overdue program, especially in an inner-city urban district where the district’s demographics show that 75 percent (67,271) are “economically disadvantaged.”  It doesnt’ take a rocket scientist to understand that kids who are hungry do not do well in school. yet nutrition has been one of the most neglected areas of our public schools until First Lady Michelle Obama made it one of her priorities. Now Dansby has made it a priorty of this district.

Other partners include JP Morgan Chase that recently donated $50,000 to the Young Mens’ Leadership Academy; XTO Energy with a $25,000 grant to Paschal High School’s engineering program; and a partnership between TCU and Paschal for the university to provide help in English, science and math programs at the school. It is also providing help to Paschal’s newly formed dance company from its school of classical and contemporary dance.  And in a switch from past superintendents who cut such programs from the budget, a full fine arts progam, is being offered at every high  school in the district.

However,Improving those test scores, will be his biggest challenge  He said the key is better teachers, improved relations with parents, a focus on keeping kids in school, and a community dedicated to making education its top priority. He emphasized the need to teach kids critical thinking while not mentioning the barrier to that ideal that’s been put out by the State Board of Education’s Republican conservative majority, which recently proposed guidelines that would eliminate such teaching in the states’ schools, based on the theory that teaching  kids to think critically could interfere with their parents’ “authority.”

And in a video that says more about the times we live in than words can say, he showed pictures of students down on their knees in a hallway, their heads against the wall, their hands over their heads, as they practice in an emergency drill simulating a possible hazardous materials accident near their school. It was an eerily familiar “duck and cover” picture of another time when kids of another generation feared a nuclear attack from Russia. Ironically, this is not so different, after all. The most hazardous materials that will be traveling through this district on their way to a West Texas dump will be nuclear waste from the nation’s nuke programs and nuclear power plants.

As one observer said rehtorically after the speech was over, Why on earth would he want this job?” When asked that once by this reporter, he answered that his  whole life has been dedicated to improving the lives of kids in his community. (He has been in education for close to 40 years, all of his career in the Fort Worth district.)

“As superintendent, he said, “This is where I  hope I can do the most good.

As yesterday’s state of education address shows, he has his work cut out for him.



  1. 14 out of 16 high schools failed to meet AYP and the two that did are still in trouble from previous failures. You cannot sugar coat facts. You cannot improve academic results when you continue to be surrounded by M.J.’s failed folks. Sadly Dansby is allowing the “bleeding” to continue in the Palazzolo case and Tuesday’s Board meeting showed that retaliation is alive and well against Teacher’s who report wrongdoing. Yet the guilty retain their jobs because of who they know on the Board. Some things have not changed.

  2. On June 1, while I was in the middle of teaching my class, Mr. Dansby came to Dunbar High to personally to tell me that I was going to be assigned to another school because I opt not to take on extra duty by working an after school program when asked by Mr. Dennis Duncan. As of today, I am still waiting to hear from Human Capital Management to tell me where I am going to be teaching this school year.

    I personally think that Mr. Dansby crossed the line when he had me remove at the request of his friend Mr. Dennis Duncan because I refused to work an after school program. He also did not follow district policy. Removing me from Dunbar was not justifiably. It was personal.

  3. Why is Terri Buckner (the only “Director” without an Masters) allowed to pursue her Masters degree while on the clock? Doesn’t seem right.

  4. Hold up! What improved scores? And we surpassed Dallas? Correct me if I’m wrong, but I was led to believe that any scores from 2011-12 are null and void…and some scores are not even completed! The STAAR is new and was basically a trial run! If in deed there was an improvement, it was a gratuitous one written on paper, or embellished, because all of the AYP’s from 2010-11 were given a reprieve and cancelled out last year. In other words, 2011-12 scores didn’t count…every kid passed STAAR! Of course, Dansby and his high paid officials have to mark improvement, because his bogus campaign promise to become permanent super indicated he would have this district turned around in one year!!! Dansby inherited from MJ what he helped create…period! It’s easy to blame others, in order to justify your own failures and keep pulling the wool over the taxpayers eyes! Nothing has improved here, only a reshuffling of fancy titles, restructured depts in central and on campus, overcrowded classrooms, disgruntled employees, and a district being run by an overbearing, ego-maniacal, albeit well dressed, super! And speaking of well dressed…your so-called professional dress code mandate is utterly ridiculous Dansby! Just because you can afford tailored suits, doesn’t mean the rest of us low paying employees can! And just because you did dress well as a principal a 100 yrs ago, doesn’t mean you have to impose your narcissism on us! Who else puts a picture of himself as suit wearing principal on a power point and streams it on the virtual convocation???

    Yes, its all about Dansby and what HE wants…for HIS community! And to heck with the other 60% of students that make up the minority majority right? His stomping grounds get the best, in spite of our district’s majority Hispanic population. Ever noticed where the YWLA and the YMLA are located?

    One last thing. Why the heck did we increase Dansby’s salary to what MJ was making, which was outrageous to begin with, before proving himself first? And what happened to the coy Dansby, who was refusing a salary increase when named interim? Almost sounding like he was being humbled, yet took his 50k increase without incidence? All the while, saying his taxes would increase…not so much that he wasn’t worth it, but worried more about paying extra taxes!? What a joke! Dansby should take a page from the super up north, who cut his huge salary, until his district could recover from the budget cuts! Of course, that would be the honorable thing to do, including the salaries of his top cabinet members, who were under the old regime,and who remain to this date, with their high paying jobs! What happened to Ray? Wasn’t he already retiring? What about Sorum? He was MJ’s right hand and helped create the failures in our district! And wasn’t he interviewing for a job in West Tx somewhere? Were they paid more $ to stay or promised some undisclosed goodies for their continued alliance? The only one who had any sense to go away was Reyna…and good riddance to her! Still, the failing regime is alive and well, including the joke of a legal dept, who can’t find their asses if you spotted them a cheek!

    So yeah..nothing has changed…it continues to spend lots of OUR $ on legal fees and trying to protect the old buried bodies from resurfacing! No…there is no freaking way anyone should ever compare Dansby to Obama, or MLK , or any other history making activists for human rights and justice! Dansby is just short of being a self-serving and self-righteous megla-maniac!