Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Forging opportunity out of crisis, a letter to Dr. Miguel Cardona, incoming U.S. Secretary of Education

Dear Dr. Cardona,

The title of your first presentation today to the American Public as the nominee for Secretary of Education was perfect: "To forge opportunity out of crisis."  That is where we are.  The project I will describe below is an opportunity that is an open-source, very low budget, and volunteer-based project.  It is associated with progress here in Dallas ISD.

I retired as a teacher 9 years ago from Quintanilla Middle School here in Dallas ISD. Quintanilla is a 98% Hispanic and 95% high poverty middle school. 70% of my student’s parents only spoke Spanish.  It was a normal struggling Dallas inner-city middle school in 2005, the year that the School Time Capsule Project started. 

This is an open-source, volunteer-ran, almost-no-budget-project that students, parents, and teachers enjoy. It started with 8th graders writing letters to themselves planning their lives 10-years into the future and planning for a 10-year class reunion. It expanded over the years with priceless teacher and parent input into an annual letter-writing by all grades and to parents and relatives writing letters to the students that include priceless family history stories as well as their own dreams for their students.

Academic achievement has soared! Now Quintanilla is one of the highest achieving middle schools among all 33 DISD middle schools. Being one of the four highest poverty middle schools in Dallas ISD has not changed.  It appears we are eliminating poverty as a factor in the achievement gap by injecting goals and the study of family history, a study the entire family is involved with.  

I have continued to work as a volunteer
School Time Capsule Postmaster for Quintanilla.  We have now had 5 classes return for their 10-year reunions.  We also ask for volunteers at these reunions to come to the school on Career Day and talk about their first decade after 8th grade.  They give recommendations for success.  It appears this focus on the future has contributed to the constantly higher academic success. 

The annual writing project now involves many schools and includes grades from 3rd through 12th grade.  Only 8th grade and 12th grade letters are focused 10-years into the future and remain in the vault a decade. All other letters are returned the following year by volunteer Time Capsule Postmasters like me.

Many positive changes happened since 2005 to our students, not the least of which is that students begin to see the power of writing.  Negative behaviors were lessened. Graduation rates went from 33% to near 90%.

The costs involved paper, copying, envelopes, and postage to connect with former students for their 10-year reunions. We have been able to secure the 700-pound vaults we use from Costco delivered, usually for $1,000 or less.  (See photo for vault we had to buy to replace the first one at Quintanilla. It became too small for the large number of letters.)

See project details at

I would be honored to answer any questions you or your staff may have.  This is an open-source project free for any school to use.

The LULAC National Education Service Center here in Dallas has been the major supporter for this project for the past 9 years.  I am copying this letter to the Director of that office, Ray de los Santos.

Thank you for taking on the monumental task of U.S. Secretary of Education.  I hope the School Time Capsule Project can make your job more rewarding.  It involves writing issues all teachers know and should make their work easier, but they must have School Time Capsule Postmaster volunteers to support them and not add to their already heavy workloads. 

I will be in the crowd if you ever visit Dallas,

Bill Betzen, volunteer
School Time Capsule Project Postmaster
Supported by LULAC NESC Dallas, (National Education Service Center) 
345 S. Edgefield Ave., Dallas Tx 75208
An open source project, free to use if sharing improvements

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Dallas ISD Bond 2020 $3.7 Billion Proposal

The first writing I did on the 2020 Dallas ISD Bond Proposal was in February.  See it at

Now we are voting and I am supporting the passage of this bond.  Have my concerns been taken care of?  No!  

We still have problems but our students do not have more time!  They must have new and improved schools!   Thomas Jefferson High School must be totally removed with a new building put up since NO work has been done on that site since the tornado over a year ago.  But Covid-19 has shown that DISD must replace 1950's sized classrooms with Covid-19 sized classrooms to create more healthy environments!

I will speak about this at tomorrow's 10/22/20 Board Meeting about the need to now vote again on Thomas Jefferson H.S., and this time vote to build a new school!

Dallas ISD students deserve new schools in multiple locations, not just in North Dallas!  The $3.7 billion 2020 Bond will hopefully pass.  Then hopefully the needed transparency can be secured for public oversight to grow and reinforce public support for our schools.  

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Covid-19 Dangers Present Opportunity for Dallas ISD, Testimony to Board

It was very impressive to listen to the 20 or so teachers who spoke before me today about the dangers of returning to the classroom. I will not repeat that data but will add one source of related data not yet mentioned.

I have spent hundreds of hours searching for a nation or state that successfully started schools face to face with a daily infection rate above 5 per 100,000 population.  No such place exists.  Dallas County has an infection rate 8 times greater than that!  How can we start in-person school with only failures in the nationwide and the international record with starting schools with infection rates even lower than our rates here in Dallas?

We have the opportunity of introducing our students to accelerated online learning.  This will push our students into the future ahead of their time.   If we do it correctly, this will be known as a time of accelerated achievement.

First, we have teachers who overwhelmingly do not want to have in-person classes that expose their students and themselves to potential Covid-19 infections.

Second, we have hundreds of thousands of adults at home, retired or unemployed, including grandparents and other relatives, who would find great satisfaction in helping our students as online tutors.  We also have the screening systems needed to screen and clear large numbers of volunteers for this sensitive work.

Third, the technology exists to have all tutoring be recorded and monitored at random by the teachers and other DISD staff for safety and meeting academic goals.

Fourth, most of you know of the School Time Capsule Project that is now 16 years old in Dallas ISD.  It is being moved to an online version so that students can more easily secure the family history letters from parents and relatives also addressing their dreams for the students.  Increasing the focus on life goals and dreams for the future will help students realize the importance of these online classes.  Hopefully, the parents and/or grandparents can even become online tutors for the students.  Motivated students change everything!

Today's decisions could set up our students for great steps forward, or for increased illness and, God forbid, even death if you are wrong. The School Board must not respond to anything other than the best interest of our children.

Thank you for the work you do.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

6-11-20 DISD Briefing Testimony: Creating a single spreadsheet for Racial Equity data

Honorable Trustees and Dr. Hinojosa. I am Bill Betzen.

I am honored to be a member of the Racial Equity Office Advisory Committee and am extremely impressed with the team. The specific recommendation from each of the four committees formed is in the presentation the Racial Equity Office will give today. It is item 6 B on your agenda.

On page 13 are the recommendations from each of the four committees. 

Notice the similarities of focus.  Three of the four committees recommended annual reports, audits, or the establishment of a DISD Racial Equity Dashboard related to their area of responsibility. All are recommendations related to the reporting of data. The fourth committee, “Community Involvement” recommended making certain every DISD home has access to the Internet in their home. How else can our students and their families be involved?

These recommendations must be achieved.

Three of the committee's recommendations can pull their data from the same single annual spreadsheet. That School Information File, under "Resources" in the DISD Data Portal, must include all data the public requests on each school, stored in one single spreadsheet with each school covered in one row and 250+ columns of data to include all the most critical data the public is requesting about our schools.

It only needs more columns of data to be added to this single spreadsheet. Data will be added to the School Information File for use in Racial Equity reports as available throughout the school year.  This School Information File spreadsheet is then frozen into an Annual School Information File at the end of each school year. Nothing fancy is needed. The history of DISD racial equity will be shared as never before as data is pulled from this central source for the recommended reports.

The public will be able to follow racial equity, along with thousands of additional components building DISD success. They will be able to follow it in a way that has never to-date happened in Dallas ISD!  All that is needed is a 7th grade understanding of spreadsheets, the subject I taught for the last 8 years before I retired from DISD.
The urgency of transparency is reflected in a 22-year-old article about Dallas ISD from 1998 titled "Corrupt Empire."  It is initially hilarious, but not for long. As you read the humor disappears.

Think of how students in the 1990's were neglected due to this theft of both money and attention. Nothing like this can continue

But still, 22 years later, Dallas does not have needed, easy-to-use transparency. That needed transparency must be the work of the Racial Equity Office.