Behind The Curtain
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 0:11
Welcome to "Your Authentic Path to Powerful Leadership" with Marsha Clark. Join us on this journey where we're uncovering what it takes to be a powerful woman leader. Well, Marsha, welcome back yet again, (thank you) to our mini series that's focusing on women supporting women in education, which I think is going to be a good episode. So and what an incredible journey we've been on so far for learning about how we can engage and encourage our local leaders in education.
Marsha Clark 0:41
Yes and thank you very much, Wendi, and welcome back to you as well. So I have been learning so much. And it's been a powerful reminder of really just how dedicated and passionate our educators are, and how we can all show our appreciation and support for their amazing work, their hard work and certainly their contributions to our communities.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 1:02
Yep, absolutely. And today, we're kind of turning the tables a little because usually Marsha is the one who has a history with our guests and I'm the one getting to meet them for you know, this has been several times that I've met Dynette and Rene. And Dynette and Rene are both local leaders who I've known for some time and I just simply adore them. So I'm excited to introduce our listeners to them and providing just kind of a fascinating peek behind the curtain, if you will, of how public school districts look through the eyes of these elected officials. And our guests today are two Frisco ISD Board President, Rene Archambault and then Board Secretary, Dynette Davis. So welcome to you both.
Rene Archambault 1:32
Well, thank you. We're so excited to be here.
Dynette Davis 1:51
Thank you for having us.
Marsha Clark 1:52
I am excited, too. I had not met you as Wendi identified and yet I've lived in Frisco now for 20 going on 27 years. So but my my kids are old enough that they didn't go to school here because we hadn't lived here yet. But you know, we do have some mutual friends (We were talking about that before the podcast recording) who I also know adore you both. So it's really a treat to get to meet you and really learn not only about each of you individually, but also about the roles that you play as elected officials for our public school board and as our listeners are going to hear, a really large and fast growing school system. And so far, we've had episodes in this education series highlighting some of the challenges that principals and teachers are facing and how we can better encourage and support them. And then another guest, who was an attorney, the general counsel for a school district, and she shared some really fascinating insights into the complexity of running a public school system. So I can't wait to hear more from you.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 2:54
So Rene and Dynette, just to give you some context from the episode before yours, that guest works in Keller ISD and they have about 35,000 students across 43 campuses and about 5,000 employees. And one of the things that we talked about in that episode was that we set the stage with some history of public school education in the US, and then also talked about the importance of providing those educational opportunities, especially to girls around the globe. So that was a jam packed episode.
Rene Archambault 3:29
That's awesome. I can't wait to listen to that when it comes out. And Keller ISD has definitely been in the local news lately. And we've been watching their school board, and there have been some really interesting things that they've had going on. So I'm sure that'll be a great episode to listen to.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 3:42
Awesome. Well, what I'd like to do for our listeners first is to provide some numbers to give everyone a sense of the scope and complexity of the school district you both lead here in Frisco and then spend a little time diving deeper into your backgrounds and backstories. What drew you both to public service in the first place, and specifically running for office because I mean, that in and of itself is quite an ordeal. And then we can talk about the ways our listeners can engage with their own school districts and communities. That sound good to y'all? (That sounds awesome.) Let's do it.
Marsha Clark 4:19
And I do want to add something here, Wendi, is that even though this is my, yours and my, Wendi, our local school district, we're going to talk about some specifics here, but they this is representative of a school district anywhere in America with nuances and distinctions and certain things that are specific to a region or area. But what I love about this is how can women get more involved and how can women show up in positions of influence and certainly elected positions. You absolutely get the whole thing. And I want our listeners to think about it because they're from all over as well, listening with that ear. So I just wanted to offer that up.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 4:58
Yep. So let's start with the numbers. And I pulled these off the press of the Frisco ISD website. And I have to say, for someone who's pretty plugged in these numbers even amaze me. So the total number of students enrolled in Frisco ISD is around 68,000 and the number of employees is over 8,000. And the total number of schools in the district is 75, which includes 43 elementary schools, 17 middle schools and 12 high schools. And then you also have three special program centers. Tell us about those three special program centers.
Dynette Davis 5:34
Well, we have the CTE Center, the Student Opportunity Center and our Early Childhood Education Center.
Marsha Clark 5:43
Before we go forward what's a CTE? They won't know the acronyms. So what does that stand for?
Dynette Davis 5:49
Career Technical Education Center. Yes, yes. And in addition to those, we also have programs. We will graduate our first International Baccalaureate Program in the spring. And then we also have the Naval Cadet Program out of one of our high schools.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 6:06
Rene Archambault 6:08
And our Early Childhood Education Center serves our three and four year old students in our district with a high quality preschool program. And also think it's worth mentioning that outside of our early childhood school, we have multiple campuses throughout our elementary campuses that also serve Pre K students. So our Pre K program has exploded over the last couple of years. COVID gave us a little bit of a pause because those babies weren't coming to us. And so we have been playing catch up. But we have grown to over 1,000 Pre K students in our district and we'll just continue to grow that program. And like Dynette said, you know, people talk a lot about schools of choice, that's a kind of a big buzzword right now. And even within Frisco ISD, we have schools of choice. You can choose to go to Frisco High School, if you want to take part in the IB program. You can choose to go to Lebanon Trail High School if you want to be a part of the Navy National Defense Cadet Corps. You can choose to go to Bright Academy in downtown Frisco if you want to be a part of the elementary IB program. So I think as we continue to grow, and certainly as that growth, I think when we begin to slow down a little bit, we will see more of these schools of choice, because we'll be able to focus on things like STEM education, we might be able to have a magnet school for the arts, there will be some really unique things that we'll be able to do as this crazy growth pattern slows down. Right now we're just trying to keep up with the demand on our campuses. So it'll be exciting to see Frisco in 5 years, 10 years, 20 years and just see what kind of unique programs our central administration decides to bring forward.
Marsha Clark 7:42
Awesome. I want to tie this in, because when I hear you say more and more of the preschool capabilities, and I think about what that means to women, to working mothers. I don't want to say it's an alternative to childcare because it's high quality education and developmental opportunities. But I also think it solves a little bit of that childcare problem in a quality, credible, you know, high comfort kind of way. And I think that's huge.
Rene Archambault 8:12
Well, right now, we're pretty limited to the types of students that we can serve in Pre K. They have to qualify right now through a variety of, you know, if students are, if English is their second language, if the students have, you know, early learning disabilities, where we can we can do early intervention. There are ways in which students have to qualify. But I would love to see, and I know that our administration, our superintendent, and I've had many conversations about this, we would love to offer Pre K to the entire community but we just have to figure out how do we do that if we have 10,000 four year olds that want to join our program where are we going to put them? So we have to grow it steadily, but I think that that is something that the district is very passionate about, because as we all know, early intervention is the number one way to make sure that kids persist and are successful at school. So get them to us early.
Marsha Clark 9:02
Yeah. And I, you know, I remember moving here in '96 and I think there was only one high school. And now there are 12. That in and of itself blows me away because I grew up in the Plano School District, and they're still only three and they're bigger than we are. Frisco learned from them. And I love that.
Rene Archambault 9:19
Well, we have the fastest growing school district in the country on a percentage basis. From '87-'88 to 2014- 15 we grew more rapidly than any other school district in the country. And then in addition, throughout COVID, we were one of three school districts that actually gained enrollment numbers. One of three out of 1,100 school districts in the state of Texas. People, even in COVID, could not wait to move into Frisco.
Marsha Clark 9:43
Well, the business environment and all that is part of it. And the quality of schools is something that you always look at. (Absolutely.) So I just want it from a frame of reference standpoint. I heard we have 68,000 students enrolled in Frisco. Our children are our future when I just think about that basic. How many kids do we have in public schools throughout the country? I mean, just in frame of reference.
Rene Archambault 10:04
5.4 million in Texas and then I mean, there are, it's an incredible number throughout the entirety of the United States. And again, you know, public education is the main form of education in the United States. And so one out of every 10 babies born in the United States will be educated in Texas. And so we continue to grow rapidly because people want to live in the state, they want to live in Frisco. And so out of that 5.4 million kids that we serve in the state of Texas, that number will just continue to grow. And then hundreds of 1,000s of educators and staff members to support us. Absolutely. It's the biggest thing we do in Texas, is educate.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 10:43
Yeah, it's amazing. So I'm going to shift the conversation to diversity a little bit and, Dynette, I want to hear more about your why. You are in fact the first African American to be elected to the Frisco School Board. Is that correct?
Rene Archambault 10:59
To be elected in Frisco all together. (Wow.) Sorry. I didn't mean to steal your thunder but that is a very important distinction. She's the very first African American to be elected in Frisco. That's awesome.
Marsha Clark 11:12
It's amazing. Congratulations.
Dynette Davis 11:14
Oh, I was the first actually in Frisco ISD. The other African American we named a school after and he was appointed. And so I'm grateful for that opportunity. My why was simply my children. We relocated here in 2012. And I enrolled my girls in Frisco ISD. I became very active in the PTA, and served on several PTA boards, one elementary, two middle schools, two high schools. And as the girls grew, I stayed involved on those PTA campuses, even you know, through high school, to where I became a lifetime member. And that was really exciting. That was in 2019. So I knew that I brought a unique perspective, right, or lens to those PTA board meetings, and not only as the first African American, but also because of my experience as an educator. I'm coming from the classroom.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 12:15
So it's a big jump to go from being PTA mom to a candidate for a school board. I mean, that's not an automatic leap for everyone.
Dynette Davis 12:23
Absolutely. So I really do, I had two primary drivers. One was that I wanted to lend my experience as an educator, as a former classroom teacher. The curriculum instruction piece was the forethought of my priorities. And then my education background ranged from kindergarten through college, because prior to going full time with my own company, I was in higher education. I was in higher education and served as a full time faculty member for a university. So when I looked at the makeup of our trustee board at the time, I was thinking of running. We had an incredible array of talent and experience. And we had someone with classroom instruction experience. We had someone with higher education experience, people with financial backgrounds, one in IT, all of which were really valuable. So I knew that I would fit right in and be able to contribute at that level.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 13:19
Well, and you had your own unique perspective as a woman of color.
Dynette Davis 13:23
Yes. I knew that that perspective would add value. Yeah, as the first African American trustee on our school board, it was important for me to run because I wanted our students who have also relocated just as my girls have, who were born here, and also those who were born here to have an opportunity to see someone in leadership that looks like them and to have someone who can relate to the issues that they may be facing within the school district, as well as our community. So for me, the drive to run was a combination of factors.
Rene Archambault 13:57
Well, and I think too, it's so important, you know, just as it's important for children to see someone that looks like them in the classroom, it's important at the leadership level as well. And so our board is richly diverse. We have an Indian American trustee. We have two African American trustees. We have four female trustees. And so it's really, I think, very important for the community to see themselves in leadership. And so I've learned so much from Dynette over the last two and a half years, and she has been a champion for all students, and certainly students of color. She has gone through that experience. I have not. And so leaning on her experiences as we're making decisions for 68,000 students, that voice is so incredibly important to be at the table.
Marsha Clark 14:44
Well, and I want to come back to some of the demographics because I was blown away by this. I had no idea because my kids are old and I don't pay attention. But the fact that Frisco ISD is 37% Asian, 34% White, 13% Hispanic, 11% African American with less than 1% American Indian/Alaskan and the same with the Hawaiian Pacific Islanders, and then around 5% for those selecting two or more races. That is frickin' amazing I have to say, because everybody thinks, oh, the affluent Collin County and the this and the other, and it's all a bunch of white people. No, it's not.
Rene Archambault 15:22
No, we're a minority majority district. And I think that that is, and we have seen such a rapid growth, especially with our Asian population of students. I mean, it is that population started outpacing every other population of students two years ago, and it's, we're a melting pot, (We are.) and that's the way it should be. It's a beautiful thing.
Marsha Clark 15:43
If we want our communities to be that, the fact that our children are representing that, that is our future,
Rene Archambault 15:48
We want our students to be great citizens of the world. And in order to do that, you need to be around a lot of diversity of thought, and every other type of diversity that you can think of. And so we're really passionate about making sure that our kids are given the opportunity to be around a lot of different thoughts and a lot of different types of folks. So it's a good thing for all of us.
Marsha Clark 16:11
So now, Rene, you're currently serving your fifth year on the board and I think in your second term as board chair or president of the board, is that correct? (That's correct.) Okay. So how does one become president of the board?
Rene Archambault 16:25
Well, it's we are, all of our officers, President, Vice President and Secretary, those are all roles that are, we're you're basically chosen and elected by your peers. So all seven trustees we'll decide every June. So after we have an election cycle, we do a reorganization of our officers. And we, you know, if someone's interested in that, put your name in the hat. And if you have the votes, you have the votes. And so the last few years, I've been interested and had been asked by my peers to serve as president of the board, and it's been a pure joy to be able to serve them in that capacity. So being board president, you know, you're really doing a lot of advocacy work for your trustees, making sure that they have what they need before their meetings, making sure that they have what they need from staff so that they are comfortable casting every vote that comes before us. And so I'm sort of that middle man between our superintendent and the rest of the trustees so that if they're not getting something that they need, or if they you just need more information, or they're not ready to vote on something, then I work with our superintendent to make sure that that problem is corrected. So it's been it was like drinking from a firehose the first year. The second year has been really lovely, because I know what I'm doing. Yeah, a little bit more confident.
Marsha Clark 17:43
But I also want our listeners to hear, these are not full time jobs. These are not paid full time jobs.
Rene Archambault 17:48
Marsha Clark 17:50
They forgot to tell you.
Rene Archambault 17:51
I've been waiting for that paycheck for five years!
Marsha Clark 17:53
There you go. So you know, again, thinking about your motivation for running and then you know, what do you do in the other parts of your life, because I mean, it's a full time job, whether it's a full time job or not.
Rene Archambault 18:03
Exactly right. So I have been in education for over 20 years. I helped to start and continue to run a graduate school at Southern Methodist University. And so our graduate school is one of the nation's top grad schools for video game development and design. I've always been involved in STEM education, which stands for science, technology, engineering and math. And it's just been talking about a joyful, you know, workday. I mean, I never had to leave college. So how great is that, but I have been part of SMU for over 20 years and have loved every second of it. I've done a lot of advocacy work actually prior to to running for the Frisco ISD school board. I did a lot of mentorship and advocacy work for first generation high school graduates through Dallas ISD. And really started working with their board, their trustees, they have nine trustees for Dallas. And so being that was kind of my first entry point into what an elected position locally would look like. But I was on the other side, I was a member of the Dallas ISD community and just serving as a mentor. So I kind of wrapped up all of those things, the love of education, the love of good education policy, and my time serving high school students over the course of 15 years and decided to run for school board here. So it's been awesome.
Marsha Clark 19:19
I love to hear the story. And then again, I'm just blown away that there's a graduate program for games. I know. So there is value in my eight year old grandson's never looking away from his, you know, tablet and playing games?
Rene Archambault 19:31
It is a very heavy science and math focused program. And so, video games require a really sharp minded individual to be able to create not only something beautiful but when you have to bring about you know, coding and AI and all of these really technical components so that something like that will work, it's a unique person that wants to go into something like that and then they also make a ton of money. So that's, there's a lot of great job opportunities in video game design and development.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 20:02
So in 2018, you're working full time at SMU. Why did you choose to run for school board? Because you didn't have enough to do?
Rene Archambault 20:11
Right, I was bored. No. You know, I've because I've always been such an advocate for public education and education in general. You know, I also know that there are other forms of education through charter schools and private schools and homeschool, and parents have to decide what's best for their kids. So, I'm an advocate for education, first and foremost. But I have always had such a unique opportunity to be able to serve public school students in my capacity at SMU. And then when we, my husband and I decided to move to Frisco, we wanted to educate our daughter in Frisco ISD schools. And so then, of course, as a parent, you want to become involved. And you want to understand the inner workings of this very important thing that you're gifting your child to a school district and saying, "Educate her. Make her the person she's going to be." And of course, parents have a huge role in that, too. But when you're giving your child to someone for eight hours a day and wanting the output to be a successful, well educated student, you want to make sure you're picking the right place to do that. And for us, Frisco ISD was that place. So just getting involved on committees and understanding the inner workings. And how can I take what I, you know, have spent my life doing and help make this community better. And so I was asked to run for school board a few times. And I never imagined myself as an elected official or going through a campaign because that, quite frankly, scared me to death. Because I'm just, you know, I'm a higher education professional and a mom and just want to kind of live my life. But it just became this calling because it's so important, I think, for people to give back in this way and to and to protect public education. So then it became more of a, well, I can do something to protect one of these seven seats, because we were already starting to see some contention surrounding public education. And it's always, there's always a lot around that, right. But it became even more so during 2018. And so I thought, well, I can be one person that can be positive sitting on the school board. And so I ran and it worked out, and then I ran again, and it worked out again. So I've been blessed by this community in trusting me for the last, you know, five years going into my sixth, you know, making good decisions for their kiddos.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 22:26
Do you guys have term limits?
Rene Archambault 22:27
We do not.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 22:28
Okay, so you can run and run and run?
Rene Archambault 22:30
I mean, we have trustee friends across the state that have served for 20 and 30 years. I would like to mention that I will not be one that will do that.
Dynette Davis 22:38
I would like to second that.
Rene Archambault 22:39
But there are people that serve for that long. I think that with public education recently, though, I think the term limit is just the stress of being in this role. And so at some point, you know, it's good for new leadership to come in. And so I think we still have plenty of time ahead of us, though I think we will serve for many more, we still want to do and see through. But I will certainly not be here in 30 years doing the same thing.
Marsha Clark 23:05
I just want to emphasize one of the it's sort of the turn of the phrase of when you gift your child to a school district. What a beautiful sentiment and to think about it in those terms. And it's not just to produce a good student but to produce a good person, good citizen, right, good all of the other things. So I really liked that turn of the phrase. Thank you for that.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 23:26
So we heard what Rene does. Dynette, let's shift to you because you said earlier that you had started your own company after you left academia, but we didn't hear specifically what your company does. So tell us about that.
Dynette Davis 23:38
I'd love to. So I actually started my company before I left academia. I started my company in 2013 when I made the transition into higher ed because I still wanted that classroom feel, right. And so I formed Dymensions Education, Dymensions Educational Consulting, and in addition to that, I also started a foundation so it's twofold. For your listeners that is d y m e n s i o n s education.
Marsha Clark 24:09
Like Dynette. I like that.
Dynette Davis 24:13
Yes. So Dymensions Education is a company that offers K through 12 tutoring, college planning, test preparation. And then on the foundation side, we have one fundraiser a year and we offer scholarships to students that are pursuing higher education or taking up a trade. And so in addition to those two entities, I am completing the third company (Yay) and that is The Sweet Space, which will be a space for women owned businesses. So I'm really excited about that. (That's Awesome.)
Marsha Clark 24:51
You know, I look at this so that I hear that this is whether it be a calling or a purpose, certainly a passion. And as both of you are talking the quote that kept going through my head in the why on earth would you put one more thing on your plate and take on one more thing in a world where that's hard right now, is the "If not me, who and if not now, when?" the Gandhi quote, right? And so, I mean, I have such respect and admiration for people like yourselves who are willing to put themselves in that arena. And it's tough. And it's dangerous. And in many it's become so. It has and yet, which has been anyway, which to me tells me it's purpose and passion as much as anything.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 25:35
Yeah. And so I think what you're hinting at, Marsha, is something that I think is really important for us to add here is that for most communities in the United States, serving on the school board, and for that matter on City Council is a non partisan role. Meaning candidates do not declare a party affiliation, they do not run in party races. And according to Ballotpedia, which is like Wikipedia, but Ballotpedia, around 90% of school board elections in the US are nonpartisan as of October, 2022. And they also add on Ballotpedia, that in 41 states and the District of Columbia, the state law requires nonpartisan election for school boards. And so I think that what Dynette and Rene are not saying, but I'm gonna say it for them is that party politics is starting to infiltrate into ISD systems. And that's just not good.
Rene Archambault 26:36
It's not and you know, technically speaking the races, as you mentioned, they are considered nonpartisan. And in reality, many races over the past couple of years have become very partisan across the country without officially declaring national party affiliation. In my personal opinion, though, I think quite honestly, that it's destructive to how local and national folks are deeply involved in education. How dangerous that idea of partisanship actually is. There's a bill on the House floor right now that wants to require school board members to declare a party when they run. And that's Texas, that's in the Texas House right now, a representative, I believe out of Houston, proposed that bill. I don't think it'll go anywhere. I'm hopeful it doesn't go anywhere. I don't think that it is relevant whatsoever for local races to have an R or a D or an I next to their name because if you're in it for the right reasons, then service its service. And oh, and quite frankly, you know, I cannot imagine school board members having to go through a primary election to then make it to a general and when you're talking about making it a partisan, that's exactly what you're going to go through. So you know, in Texas, especially this is my own personal opinion, I think that our that primary system is broken. I think you have to be the most extreme version of your party to get through a primary, then to get to the general election to actually do the work. And so having school board members have to battle it out on far, far right or far, far left ideologies is not good for kids.
Marsha Clark 28:13
Well, I look at it as it's if I have to declare partisanship, then I have a political agenda and not a service and education agenda. And I don't know that you can, that those two can coexist. And so I think it is, I don't declare either or in many cases, but I think that's a dangerous precedent.
Rene Archambault 28:33
Well, I'll say too, if I can. One of our you know, when I first ran for office in 2018, no one asked me about my party affiliation. No one cared. They wanted to know, what was my background? What committees had I served on? What did I feel about our local tax rate? What were my qualifications? And in this last cycle, it was the first question asked of all of our candidates, what party are you affiliated with?
Dynette Davis 28:56
That is a powerful point, Rene. When you think about it, there are no Republican playgrounds or Democrat dance classes. (Right, right.) Public schools are intended to be inclusive of everyone, regardless of political affiliations, race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation. Remember, we accept everyone so to design policies or programs that are aligned with one particular party or political party over another is against everything that we stand for within the public education system. (Absolutely right.)
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 29:26
Yeah. So how do we get back to the focus on qualifications versus party affiliation?
Rene Archambault 29:32
You know, I, I'm usually a fairly optimistic person, but I think in the current environment of politics and divisiveness, I don't know that we do. I think that the best way that we can keep it from going down that path is to fight against legislation that's trying to change it, especially for school boards and city councils. Local control and local municipal representation, again, should never be political. It should never be partisan. It should never be hung on a hat of an R or a D or an I so fighting against legislation that's trying to change that, I mean, that's the most that I think that any of us can do. And we are planning to be down in Austin during the 88th legislature often. Our representatives and representatives from all over the state will hear just how dangerous those ideas actually are and hopefully, we have the majority of the votes to keep that from going onto our ballots.
Marsha Clark 30:25
So it's not only who you vote for, but it's writing letters to our elected officials to let them know what you're testifying and concerns. And, you know, I will not support that, I will support this kind of thing. So like on many things, and this, this one is so important, because it's public. And as you said, we've got 5.4 million kids in Texas who will be impacted by this, right. And we also know that, like, for example, when textbooks are identified for Texas, other states adopt that because we're such a big purchaser of books. And we therefore can influence all that and do the work of other states. And so that exaggerates it even more.
Rene Archambault 30:59
And we already have enough partisanship in education. Our State Board of Education, which is comprised of 15 districts throughout the state, they have to declare a party when they run. Our House members and Senate members, obviously, they declare a party. So all of those elected officials touch public education in a very important and robust manner. So politics is already at play. So let's leave the local alone.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 31:22
Yeah. So I want to circle back to another question we touched on but haven't really answered yet. There's just so much to cover in this. I mean, education is such a broad topic. So Marsha's question about how we can be more supportive of local leaders, especially if we are also advocates of keeping public schools strong. Give us your thoughts on that, both of you.
Dynette Davis 31:46
Well, one thing, and Wendi, you actually mentioned it in an earlier question. So maybe this is one, you're referring to, focus on actual qualifications versus national agendas. When you are vetting candidates for office, what school district is perfect, right. And there will be very real challenges and issues to discuss in a civil, respectful way. When candidates are vying for a vote, research and consider their actual advocacy and track record related to solving those issues. Notice I said solving issues, not creating them, so not showing up at meetings and shouting the loudest or using theatrics to get your friends to clap for you.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 32:28
Yeah. So real advocacy means being a part of the solution, clearly. And, you know, so that's a part of what I and all of us who vote for these positions can be looking out for in candidates. What else should we be on the lookout for when it comes to electing qualified candidates?
Rene Archambault 32:48
Well, and to add to Dynette's point, you know, what is their track record of service in the district? Yeah. Have they been serving at the campus level in the PTA-PTO realm or on campus space committees? Have they served at district level committees? Have they demonstrated a commitment to serving and supporting all students? We can't say this enough. And as a public board, receiving state and federal funding, we are all compelled to work on behalf of all students, all families, all staff. So does the candidate have the capacity and willingness to work for the greater good of all? And if that answer becomes very clear that they are there for theatrics, or to serve a sliver of this community rather than its entirety, then they're not right for Frisco ISD. And quite frankly, they're not right for any school board.
Marsha Clark 33:33
Or that they're from a totally other state, or, you know, they don't even live in the district and yet, they're there to tell you about... So I mean, oh, don't get me started. So these are all really helpful and important considerations that I hope our listeners can really take to heart. And that can help them as they become more aware and involved as informed voters. And are there other things that we can be doing as advocates of public education that would be helpful or supportive of our local leaders? Because I want us to, if we're going to make change, we've got to go in there and make change.
Rene Archambault 34:05
Well, I think being an informed voter is a huge challenge. And the best way to do that is whenever possible participate in the process. Learn more about your local district and the candidates that are trying to make decisions for your kids. Listen to and attend meetings if you can. Follow the district on social media so that you can connect to surveys or find out about public hearings on important topics. We need informed citizens to help get a clear and accurate pulse of what's going on in our district.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 34:31
And I just want to underline real quick, you said follow the district on social media, not Suzie Q down the block who's got a rant about ABC Elementary.
Rene Archambault 34:43
And you know, I think that's an important, you know, note as well. I mean, all of the trustees, we have Facebook pages as well. So instead of going in and talking in parent groups where there's not a trustee present, or a teacher present or a principal present that can sort of correct the commentary, go to our official pages because we put out the information that's relevant and that is accurate.
Marsha Clark 35:06
Yeah, well, and what I would say is one more thing is there, I have my anecdotal experience. And then there's empirical, right, which is much bigger and broader and deeper than my one singular experience to which I then apply and project on everything else. So know the bigger story and the bigger facts associated with that, which is what a trustee can give you.
Rene Archambault 35:26
Right. Well, I think it's important to mention, too, that, you know, we are constantly surveying and listening and reaching out to everyone in this community, from our teachers to our staff, parents and students. And that data is invaluable input in our decision making. And so when students, a lot of the decisions that we've made to bring in new programs or different opportunities for our students, those were student driven. And so we are meeting with different constituency groups, different stakeholder groups all the time, because we want to continue to create the Frisco ISD that Frisco ISD wants. And so we're asking the questions and then we're building a lot of our decision making on the answers to those questions.
Dynette Davis 36:02
You know, something else that I think is critical is to learn about the actual processes and protocols used in the district. I'm a big proponent of protocol. And we have processes in place for everything.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 36:16
Yep. Well, and everything I want to underscore because I know this is where we're going to go. Complaints. So what's the process? How does that happen with complaint procedure? How do y'all react? How do you manage it?
Dynette Davis 36:31
So effective, safe school districts will have tools and processes in place, partly to deal with the sheer volume of requests and issues on a daily basis, and sometimes to be in compliance with state and federal regulations, learning the processes and protocols can go a long way to ensuring students needs and potential concerns are being addressed in the most effective and efficient, quite frankly, empathetic way possible. And so with those complaints, and there's a process yet, right, so if there are challenges where families have a complaint, and they go to the campus level, and the campus has not been able to assist them, then there's a grievance policy, a grievance procedure that we're able to go in and utilize to ensure that the best decision protocol and policy wise is made.
Marsha Clark 37:34
I want to add something there. Because you know, so many, we have educators that are listeners, we have business people that are listeners, mothers, healthcare workers, all that. So when I think about policy, protocol practices, and so on, the predictability and the repeatability of that is what process and methodology gives you. And what we know to be absolutely true, is that that is required, the ability to predict with some certainty is what builds trust, and whether it be interpersonal group, institutional, or whatever it might be. So the idea that I can trust that this is going to be handled in a consistent way, is why I think it's so important for our listeners to hear that and just whether it's in your business life or professional life, or whether it's in your mom, dad education life, you got to know how the game gets played and what the rules are, and you have a better chance of then getting to a good resolution.
Dynette Davis 38:31
Absolutely. knowing those rules, knowing what to do if an issue should arise. School leaders want parents who are engaged and advocating for their children. Parents are the greatest advocates. And so for example, if there is a school related issue, that first line of communication, as I shared before, is with that campus, which is the protocol. And just don't just call. Send an email. And if you don't get the resolution or information that you're looking for on that campus level, escalate it up.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 39:02
Yeah. So what happens when the complaint is brought by somebody who seems to be unaware of the protocol? How do y'all react? What do you do?
Rene Archambault 39:11
That kind of really gets back to the situations where we're more than likely dealing with one of those national agenda topics, shouted from the podium from people who don't live in our school district who have never had a child enrolled in one of our schools, but have an agenda, but have an agenda. We are obligated by law to allow them to speak with decorum and respect. By the way, that's what we prefer, although, that's not something that we've seen. But we've seen the tide shift on that a bit, which is unfortunate, because, again, we're all just here to serve kids. And so screaming at us doesn't seem to be a really useful way to get things accomplished. Again, we're obligated by law to let them speak but to allow bullies in our boardroom, to spew hate and misinformation, it's not only disgraceful, but it's just simply not good governance. And so we've been fighting that really since last spring. I mean, it's been well over a year that we have started seeing this target on school boards that really hasn't existed before. And so we've had to shift. I mean, we've had to change our board operating procedures to try to keep that decorum in our board rooms. Because we have kids in there, we have children and students that are being honored for and acknowledged for their good work. And we don't want them to feel like their school district is in disarray or a place of contention. This should be their safe space.
Marsha Clark 40:27
That's what leadership looks like, or, you know, compassion looks like.
Rene Archambault 40:33
And I have had to say more than once in our school board meetings, to all the adults in the room, we are here to model what good, positive behavior looks like to our students. And we are, we are acknowledging our students, we are rewarding, you know, our staff members and teachers with awards. There are so many enriching wonderful things that we are doing here in our school board meetings. And so to come and cheer from the audience and to clap for things that people are saying that is just mean, that are just mean and not accurate is not the school district that people know and love. I mean, that's not Frisco ISD. And so we have been, unfortunately, having to put a lot of energy and effort into correcting the misinformation and trying to keep everything calm. And that came from a national level that's not just here locally. That is that is something we're seeing nationally.
Marsha Clark 41:24
And I just have to say, when you think about serving all, it's kind of like, are we going to spend all our time correcting misinformation or are we going to spend more productive, more efficient, more effective time improving the education opportunities or expanding programs or including more people, more students, more kids in the offerings? To me, that's the opportunity, not correcting misinformation.
Rene Archambault 41:50
Well and it's not only frustrating and disheartening for us, and you know, it's not just the trustees and staff who are trying to conduct business, you know, it's disheartening for the students and for staff who happened to be attending our meetings. So sadly, not only do our students end up witnessing this uncivil behavior, but the comments can be very hurtful and inappropriate to our students, especially when you're talking about, you know... I did a podcast a couple of weeks ago on bathrooms and books, because those are two really hot topics right now in education, especially in Frisco ISD. We're spending an exorbitant amount of time speaking about those two issues. But I did a podcast on those issues. And you know, we do have transgender students in our schools, we do have students that are within the LGBTQ umbrella. And for hatefulness to come out of our board room, I never want children to believe that this board or this school district doesn't support them. And so I have been on a lot of campuses meeting with students to make sure that they know that what they're hearing in our board meetings is not indicative of what this district believes.
Marsha Clark 42:56
Yeah. And that's a point and a question I would like to ask and both of you having attended all those meetings, and of course, what what I often see is what's on the 10 o'clock news because of somebody's school board meeting getting out of hand. So is that, how big a percentage of the, if you just think about hours of time in the school board meetings, how much of it is spent on that kind of crazy versus the good stuff?
Rene Archambault 43:19
You know, I would love to say that it's not the majority of our time, but as of late, it's the majority of our time. (Really?) Yes. And so we are we have been spending a lot of our effort when we're setting our agendas. And I set our agenda alongside Dynette, and then our board vice president Debbie Gillespie, we set our agendas with our superintendent and with his cabinet members. And so we have been trying to make sure that there is still enough good to balance it out. And so we have had, we have seen more staff reports, we've added more content with presentations by our staff, because at the end of the day, I mean, there was one meeting that we had this year that it was in the fall where I at the end of the meeting, I was sitting there thinking from the dais we have not spoken about academics once. And that's what we're there to do. I mean, we are, that is what we are there to do, talk about student achievement, talk about closing the gaps, talking about our students doing post COVID. Academics is what we're here to do. And we did not speak about it once. And that was the last meeting that we didn't speak about at once. So we are being much more intentional. We do have a lot of agenda items that are being plucked from national politics. And so now in a space where we've never had to balance that, we're having to balance it.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 44:40
So we're going to go do a 180 because the highs have to be way better than the lows and so will you both share maybe one of the things you're most proud of since you started serving on the board. And Dynette, I'm going to start with you.
Dynette Davis 44:56
From my point of view, our biggest success would be our Fine Arts and our Performing Arts Center that we recently voted to move forward with as an ISD. I'm an arts parent. Yes. And so I've been an arts parent since we moved here in 2012. Both of my daughters have been involved. My older two did color guard, band and orchestra. And I'm excited to see what the youngest will do. So as a fine arts parent, to see the opportunity move forward is incredibly gratifying. This is something our performing arts students will have that they can call their own just as our athletes do. I would say that this is the most successful piece for me.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 45:41
Awesome, awesome. Rene?
Rene Archambault 45:45
Yeah, that is such an exciting opportunity for our students. And I was so excited when we had a bunch of our fine art students and teachers in the board room and we voted that project through. Was awesome. And, you know, the first thing that pops into my head really is the incredible work of our staff, and what they did to respond during the COVID pandemic.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 46:00
Yeah, because y'all were all on spring break.
Rene Archambault 46:02
We were all on spring break and I was in Mexico. And we were having a conversation on the Tuesday of spring break that no, we are absolutely not shutting this district down. And then by Thursday, our board president Chad Rudy at the time called and said we are absolutely shutting down and within 48 hours, we were all trying to just get home. So because we had a lot of work ahead of us. So it just it felt like we were making a new decision during COVID about every four hours, but our staff was incredible. And they got ahead of it. You know, the sheer amount of forethought that went into getting an online platform of learning ready for 64,000 students at the time. That's kind of where we were at the time of COVID, 64,000 to 65,000 kids Pre K through 12th grade. We were going to make sure that they didn't have a ton of downtime in their learning. And so they were ready for it. The administration was watching the trends of countries being shut down. Dr. Waldrip, who's our superintendent, put a mechanism in place by which if we were faced with a decision to shut down our district, we had something in place so that our children would not have the learning loss that we saw happen during Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and other national disasters that happened throughout the world. So they were really very thoughtful in their response and we were ready. Our people were absolutely amazing during that time, and we had meeting after meeting, workshop after workshop. We were asking how are we going to make sure that our kids have what they need, so that when this does die down, when everyone is back in a classroom with us, how can we make sure that the learning loss is as minimal as possible? And that we have the mechanisms in place to support not only their academic progress, but also their mental health recovery. Because none of us have ever been through this. Adults didn't know what to do either. So we had parents, you know, trying to not only educate their kids, but work through what they can't you know, why their kids couldn't hang out with their friends or go to choir practice, or have grandma's funeral. Yes, it was traumatic for everyone, but especially for our kids that their lives were completely just shut down. So I don't know that we'll ever know the full impact of you know, what COVID actually, you know, did to our kids and to our communities for decades to come. But, you know, we wanted to make sure that from the Frisco ISD perspective, because we were in such little control that we did control that. Yeah. So we had everything ready to go. We had our mechanisms in place, we had resources in place, so that we could support our kids during that time and seeing our staff and our teachers, and our trustees come together was an incredible experience to witness and something that really, during my board service, I can't imagine anything superseding how successful that felt when we were at the tail end of it. During it, we were just crazy, head down, just trying to get through it. But looking back, I just I marvel at what this district was able to accomplish.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 47:01
Yeah, we do, too.
Marsha Clark 47:46
Yes. I want to bring the listeners back to, and the school district grew during that time, which was craziness. I often have women coming into my programs. And they will say something like, Well, I'm in a male dominated industry. And it could be manufacturing, construction, it could be you know, whatever. And I laughing, I smile, I don't laugh, I smile. And I say, tell me one that isn't. And they immediately go to education and health care, because the majority of the employees in those industries happen to be women. And then I mention to them, and what is the demographic of the principals of the school even in elementary school, superintendents of school districts, or trustees or board members, or whatever it might be? Because if it is primarily male in those lead roles executive, decision making, allocation of resources, decision making, sorry, it's still male dominated. And so they kind of go, oh, you know, it's sort of a never mind kind of thing. And so I'd love to hear because you shared with me some of the stats, and I like they're happy dance on the other end of this. But I'd like to hear both your thoughts about that, and what trends you might be seeing or what you think, because what the two of you decided to do to go through an election and all that that entails and then show up week in and week out and be there for the students and the parents and the schools and the staff and so on. Talk to me about that.
Rene Archambault 50:08
Well, you know, it's incredible. So because I knew this question was coming, I did a little, I dug a bit deeper with our incredible chief HR officer, Dr. Pam Linton. Um, she sent me some really great stats, and I was excited. You know, I was excited to see them. So I'll just I'll share those with you. So for all staff, all over 8,000 staff, we have 79% that are female, and with our teachers, 77% that are female. Our campus administrators, 71% are female and central administration, over 62% are female. Dr. Waldrip's cabinet or ISD members, which are his cabinet members, it's equally split. We have five females, and we have five males. Our athletic director is female, and she was hired into that role. She has been with the district forever. She was hired into that role last year. So we have female athletic director, which is very cool and casual and unusual. And she is Grace McDowell is maybe one of the most amazing women that I have ever had the pleasure to meet her. Phenomenal. And so I think that you know, and then our, you know, on the board, you know, we have strong female representation there as well. So it's a very, gender wise, it's a very diverse, very diverse group. And certainly we have some phenomenal female leaders in Frisco ISD.
Dynette Davis 51:32
Absolutely. I'll go on to add that we have an all female board officers, officers for our team..
Marsha Clark 51:41
I picked up on that when I heard... her...
Dynette Davis 51:42
All girls. I think that it speaks volumes to our young ladies that are on our campuses, that get to see us come in day in and day out. I know when I was in elementary and high school, it was a male, leadership wise, it was male dominant. Our classroom teachers were female, but the principal, the superintendent, and so to see and be a part of this trajectory change and to see, you know, kids look and say, oh my goodness, are you a teacher? Are you a mom? I'm like, Yes, I am a mom. Yes, I'm a teacher, and I'm a school leader. So it's success to me. It makes me feel good.
Marsha Clark 52:27
Well, thank you, Wendi for that because I think it's an important point.
Rene Archambault 52:31
If I can say one more thing, too. I would like to mention with our officer election last year for the board officers, they were unanimous vote. So our boys on the board are very supportive of the women, you know, being in leadership roles. And so we we're appreciative of that as well. There's never a there's never a... kind of thing. No, ever and so, and I think quite frankly that especially right now, they were probably pretty happy to not have the extra vote. I was asked one time so how do you you know, like you guys mentioned earlier, how do you become school board president? And I said well, you draw the short straw.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 53:09
Yeah. All right. So Dynette, Rene, final thoughts from today. What do you want people to take away from this episode?
Rene Archambault 53:17
You know, I think for me, you know, we love Frisco ISD. And I hope that that comes through in the service and in the decisions that we make. And you know, the biggest thing that I would like to encourage listeners to do is just be get involved with our school district. You know, don't listen to sound bites on Facebook about what's what's good and what's bad about Frisco ISD get involved, go to your campus ISD or any ISD. Exactly. Get involved. Don't be part of the Facebook, you know, Drama Club, that's just not something that's useful for our teachers. It builds just trust between the teacher and student relationship. And that is an important relationship and one that we need to be very, you know, just very passionate about upholding because we want our community and our parents to understand that your kids are safe in Frisco ISD. They are being well educated in Frisco ISD. We are constantly pushing the envelope to make sure that we are giving them exactly what they need and to offer an incredible amount of opportunities so that every student feels that they have a place in our in our school, on our campuses and in our schools. So I think just you know, that's my big takeaway. I think for anyone listening is be involved with your school districts, be involved, ask questions to your teachers, go to your campuses, go to your trustees, because we know the information and we're all here to serve in the best capacity that we that we know how and kids are first. That's our why.
Marsha Clark 54:46
I want to do one add on. And so with the Facebook Drama Club, let's not make it a part of the Fine Arts Center.
Rene Archambault 54:53
It will not be.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 54:54
Not so Fine!
Dynette Davis 54:55
I would add don't be afraid to put yourself out there as a potential candidate for office or for any local office. When I decided to run, I didn't know anyone that was currently on the board. I didn't know any of our district leadership, I had served on a campus level in PTA and PTO. And the first thing that I did was I set up meetings with all of our leadership, because I wanted to know what they loved and what they didn't love about their roles and how the district functioned. Candidate quality matters. Experience matters, I would not have put my hat in the ring if I did not believe that I was qualified. Commitment to the greater good matters. If the only people running for our local offices, are those with a political agenda, then we will all lose. And in that case, in the case of school boards, the kids, you know, they have to come first and they have to be. They would be the most, they would be the people to lose in that that situation.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 56:01
Yeah. So. Well, Rene Archambault, Dynette Davis, thank you both so much for being here today. I'm inspired, I'm fired up, I'm going to be looking for more ways to get involved. I mean, Scott and I don't have children but still we keep an eye on what's going on in the ISD because that is the main thing that is attracting new residents to Frisco is our schools and keeping those high quality and high caliber. And thank you both for your servant hearts and for your inspiring leadership.
Marsha Clark 56:31
Well, Wendi, I'm right there with you. And it really was a privilege to meet and hear you speak and put, you know, life to the words on the page, so to speak. And, you know, I love and appreciate that you shared your stories and and the experiences that you have for us to hear in a real time way. And I am glad you're where you are. I feel better about our schools, about our communities. And, you know, and I know we have listeners out there that who could play a similar role in their own communities. And I hope this has inspired them as well to say, well, maybe that is a place where I can live out a purpose or live out a calling or really make a significant contribution. So thank you both. And as always, Wendi, thank you for guiding us through this. And, you know, you're great role models for women, for women as powerful authentic leaders. And so, I want to thank our listeners for everything. You know, let us hear from you. If there are questions you have, we gave your dymensionseducation.com and friscoisd.org I'm guessing I don't have that word, .org. Okay. But go out there, get involved in your own. Let us hear from you if there's anything we can do to support you. And you know, I can think of no better place given the demographics even that you shared about the Frisco where, you know, I close every podcast with 'here's to women supporting women' and here is a great opportunity for us to support female candidates, women candidates, board members, teachers, all from top to bottom in an organization. So thank you, listeners, and I will repeat it. "Here's to women supporting women!"
Transcribed by https://otter.ai