By Michaela Rush, Report for America Corps Member, Dallas Free Press
Dallas ISD welcomes back students, teachers, and staff on Monday, August 14. Simultaneously, Dr. L.G. Pinkston High School and West Dallas Middle School also welcome new principals, Tameca Ward and Laura Guzman. Dallas Free Press sat down for conversations with Ward and Guzman to learn more about their vision for the 2023-24 school year.
Tameca Ward — Dr. L.G. Pinkston High School
Tameca Ward has worked in Dallas ISD for more than 20 years. Ward was born and raised in Fort Worth, and attended Paul Quinn College and the University of North Texas for her degrees. Most recently, Ward was the principal at Raul Quintanilla Sr. Middle School STEAM Academy in Oak Cliff.
Though Ward didn’t grow up in Dallas, many of her relatives attended “The Pride of the West Side,” making her particularly proud and excited to lead Pinkston. Ward says the West Dallas community investment in the school is her source of motivation.
“You just see that pride and [community members] are so caring, wanting to know what’s actually happening in the West Dallas community, whether it’s the schools or the community as a whole,” Ward says. “It’s a generational thing, the support on all levels.”
Topping her priority list is to help students achieve academic goals, and for seniors in particular to be more involved in the community. Ward says the challenges a school year brings are all opportunities for growth.
“[Superintendent] Dr. [Stephanie] Elizade has led the charge with academic achievement, so that’s the goal for the district and the goal here at Pinkston as well,” Ward says. “I’m excited about working alongside my staff to empower and encourage our students. Dr. Elizade set a very ambitious goal for us … we’re working toward that [larger] goal by setting [smaller] goals and looking at our progress, and making sure we’re on the right track for that student achievement.”
One challenge Pinkston and many schools across the country face is security, ensuring that buildings are safe, parents are informed, and that faculty is prepared for emergencies. Pinkston students and staff experienced multiple lockdowns last year, which prompted the Pinkston PTO to host an emergency community meeting and other community members to host prayer walks around the campus perimeter.
To address security challenges, Ward says she and the administrative team have walk-throughs of the campus, trying to preemptively identify ways to improve students’ experience.
Ward’s predecessor, Principal Marlon Brooks, spent four years at Pinkston and is now Dallas ISD’s executive director of Internet Technology-Campus and Security. Longtime Pinkston community liaison, Coach Anthony McGee, also has moved to a new DISD central staff role.
Ward says that because most of her administrative staff is brand new to Pinkston, “one of the things that we have done is gotten a lot of input.”
“We’re just working together, pulling on every person that is a part of this community and campus, to say what we need to work towards, how it looks currently, and what we strive for,” Ward says. “We know it’s not a perfect process, but we’re striving toward perfection.”
Ward’s goal is for her team to use their expertise to improve the school overall, so students can focus on academics and also enjoy their high school years.
“All the things we’re doing now is to make sure that our students are able to soak up this experience now as students in high school, like making sure that we maintain a safe campus so our students can enjoy right now,” Ward says. “We want them to live in the moment and make sure that we’re giving them the experiences that they deserve and they need. We want to make sure that they understand how prideful the community is on the outside, and make sure that the pride is felt from the inside out and outside in.”
Laura Guzman — West Dallas Junior High
Taking the helm at the new West Dallas Middle School is Laura Guzman, a South Dallas native, who most recently served as assistant principal at Dr. L.G. Pinkston High School. Guzman attended Dallas ISD’s Woodrow Wilson High School, then Dallas College’s Eastfield campus before transferring to Southern Methodist University to study business.
The new middle school, for West Dallas seventh- and eighth-graders who are zoned to Pinkston High School, is temporarily located at the old Pinkston campus, along with the West Dallas STEM School, led by Principal Marion Jackson. Dallas ISD is currently working to renovate the campus of the former Thomas Edison Middle Learning Center, with a goal to relocate the junior high by next school year.
Dallas ISD closed Edison in 2018, citing a failure to meet the state’s minimum education standards, and moved West Dallas students to Dr. L.G. Pinkston High School. Pinkston was a seventh- through 12th-grade campus until January 2021, when the new Pinkston campus opened on Bickers, and the original Pinkston campus on Dennison became the West Dallas STEM School.
Though sharing a space can be challenging, Guzman is excited by the vision of a traditional middle school returning to West Dallas. She says she enjoys working alongside Jackson to create a productive learning environment.
“We’re here in unity, and our goal is to be sharing this building for the next school year, hoping that weather and no other delays happen,” Guzman says. “I’m creating systems and a culture of a traditional middle school, knowing that we’ll have our own space in about a year.”
As a former assistant principal, Guzman says she’s able to better identify what skills her students need to learn now to succeed in high school. Two of the biggest challenges she anticipates are improving the low reading and math test scores in the area, but also keeping a high level of energy throughout the school year.
“We have to own [the scores], and we’re going to say it’s on us, but also not losing the momentum with new school years and new faces,” Guzman says. “I know what student outcomes look like when we prepare students in elementary school and middle school, and what they need to be successful in high school.”
Even with these challenges, Guzman says she feels at home in this community. Several of her current students have older siblings she knew at Pinkston.
“The families are the same. It’s still West Dallas families, but they’re the younger generation,” Guzman says. “I’m looking forward to that joyful environment in middle school, and I know the teachers are excited, too, to meet all our new scholars. When you’re committed to the work, it’s worthwhile, and my vision right now is to have a successful beginning of the year.”
Guzman invites community members to share in her vision and wants them to know that the school also can be a resource to parents and guardians. Because she grew up with eight older siblings, with immigrant parents who had to learn the school system alongside their children, Guzman says she wants families to feel comfortable asking questions and getting involved.
“To me, it’s all about being involved, even if it’s once or twice a semester and knowing that we’re here to be a resource center … we are here to support our parents, too,” Guzman says.
“We’re big on communication and our open-door policy. I don’t want them to be strangers; I just want them to be involved in our village. It just takes a little bit of their presence throughout the school year to make a big impact on students.”