SOUTHLAKE — For one night a week, this community comes together to rally behind the Southlake Carroll Dragons.
Music blared from Dragon Stadium as cars piled into the home side parking lot on a recent warm Friday evening. Every few yards, groups of residents gathered around in lawn chairs, chatting about football and occasionally munching on a snack.
It’s a picturesque representation of Friday night lights. However, this unity is a far cry from the Carroll ISD board of trustee meetings that have been divisive since the district introduced its proposed cultural competence plan. One of the most recent developments was the board’s 3-2 vote to reprimand a teacher over an anti-racist book a student took home, overturning administrators’ decision not to punish the educator.
Parents Stephanie Williams and Andrew Yeager are vying for the Place 7 seat on the school board. The winner will serve until May when the seat is on the ballot for a full three-year term. The spot is open because former board member David Almand moved out of Carroll ISD, a 21-square-mile district with 8,324 students in northeast Tarrant County.
The early voting period for the Nov. 2 election starts Oct. 18 and ends Oct. 29. Carroll ISD voters may cast their ballots at Southlake Town Hall, 1400 Main St. in Southlake or at any Tarrant County vote center.
Here’s when polls will be open:
- 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Oct. 18-22
- 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Oct. 23
- 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Oct. 24
- 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Oct. 25-29
Residents asked the seven-member school board to call for an election for the spot instead of an appointment. Board President Michelle Moore said at an Aug. 2 meeting a special election was the best direction for Carroll ISD. Trustees voted 4-0, with two trustees absent, to call for the election, according to the meeting’s minutes.
Yeager supporters say he will uphold their community’s conservative values and ensure trustees stay within their state-mandate duties. Residents backing Williams say she will try to steer the school board’s focus away from adult squabbles and back to students.
Despite their different choice of candidates, many residents agree those outside of Carroll ISD and Southlake have a misconception about their community being racist and closed-minded. Instead, they say their community is a caring and charitable place that has issues around race. Their differences emerge in how each side wants to fix it.
Divisions on cultural competence proposal
A video of Carroll ISD students chanting the n-word spread online in 2018. That incident — and another a year later — caused district leaders to form a cultural competence plan. Among the initiatives the plan called for included hiring an equity and inclusion director and requiring students to go through diversity and inclusion training before graduating.
The plan was never enacted. A parent sued the school board in August 2020 after alleging trustees discussed the plan through text messages rather than during a board meeting, a violation of the Texas Open Meetings Act. Judge Josh Burgess of the 352nd District Court issued a temporary restraining order, halting the district’s plan.
Occupation: Independent facilitator for a parenting philosophy group Love and Logic, former educator
Education: Bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s in education from the University of Colorado at Boulder
“What happened in the fall of 2018 that brought us all together to address a problem hasn’t gone away. That hasn’t changed,” Williams said. “We’ve just stopped talking about it.”
Regardless of people’s views on the cultural competence plan, Williams said, her community must find common ground. She thinks her experience as a corporate trainer will be useful to begin to do that and bring Carroll ISD together.
“When we are prohibited from having dialogues, we’re not being examples to our children. We’re not allowing our community to unite, and it’s just hindering our ability to move past this,” Williams said. “Let’s work together to make sure that (students are) the best they can be, and all the students who have moved here for those schools feel included in that discussion and in that environment.”
Yeager, a sales director for NBC Universal, agrees Carroll ISD has issues dealing with race. He said the competence plan would have policed what students said, violating their First Amendment rights and opening the district up for a lawsuit. Yeager said he feels for the students who have stories about being discriminated against by fellow students.
Administrators last year codified a system for students to report their issues to administrators. Yeager said that is a good first step because students need to know who to see when the need comes up.
Occupation: Sales director for NBC Universal, adjunct professor of media sales at the University of North Texas
Education: Bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of Michigan, master’s degree in integrated marketing communications from Marist College
“I believe it’s so important — and I wish adults did this more — if we could give each other more grace and forgiveness because it’s not always this being mean intentionally,” Yeager said. “People need to be forgiven, and I think that’s key.”
Tim O’Hare, a Republican running for Tarrant County judge, founded the Southlake Families political action committee. O’Hare, a Carroll ISD parent, is one of many people who have endorsed Yeager. He says Yeager is the best candidate who reflects Carroll ISD’s values.
Like Yeager, O’Hare acknowledges Carroll ISD has issues, but the district’s proposal — which he described as a critical race theory-infused Marxist plan — will not solve any of them. O’Hare objects to supporters of the plan who characterize opponents as racist.
“You can be against the cultural competence action plan and still want to make sure kids are protected and not mistreated in any way,” he said. “What happened for years in Carroll ISD was just blind eyes were turned to everything instead of enforcing the student code of conduct and holding kids accountable when they mistreated other kids.”
Elizabeth Janning is a mother supporting Willliams. She said she thought the cultural competence plan was a good start that went through more than a year of work.
“If you look back on that, there were many opportunities for the community to engage, and so many people, for whatever reason, didn’t and felt left out in that process,” Janning said. “I think that is partly how we’ve gotten to where we are today.”
Janning, whose three children attend Carroll ISD schools, said she would expect Williams to use a pragmatic approach to try to bring Carroll ISD together. Those conversations will be difficult, she said, but Janning thinks it will help.
Diversifying enrollment, teachers
Over the past nine years, Carroll ISD has become more diverse, according to Texas Education Agency data. White students are still the majority of enrolled in the district. However, they made up 63% of enrolled students in the 2019-20 school year — a 15 percentage point drop from the 2012-13 school year.
During that time period, the percentage of Asian students increased from 9.2% in 2012-13 to 19.3% in 2019-20. Black students have remained 2% of the district’s enrollment.
The increased diversity of Carroll ISD and Southlake is a sign they live in a welcoming community with one of the best school districts in the state, Yeager said.
To keep up with its increasingly diverse student body, Williams wants administrators to diversify the district’s teaching staff. Almost 89% of Carroll ISD’s 1,054 teachers were white in the 2019-20 school year. Williams is encouraged by the district beginning to work with historically Black colleges and universities to attract more diverse teachers to Carroll ISD.
“Hopefully, they’ll find that this is a wonderfully diverse community, and we need to celebrate that and embrace that,” she said at an Oct. 12 forum. “And one way is to make sure our teachers reflect that.”
Yeager supports a more diverse staff, but he said Carroll ISD cannot hire based upon race because of federal law. The only way the district can achieve greater diversity among its teachers is by offering better salaries. That will only increase the pool of applicants, he said. However, he added the district must find additional revenue sources to make increased salaries a reality.
A teacher with no experience earns a starting salary of $56,100, according to the district’s current salary schedule. The median teacher salary in Texas last year was $57,641. The median salary in Carroll ISD was $60,126.
“When you pay (teachers) more, you get people from all different ethnicities (and races) that are interested in the job opening,” Yeager said at the same forum. “It’s foolish to think you can just overnight … have a more diverse teaching group.”
School board elections are nonpartisan. Candidates do not run under a party label. However, this special election has increasingly become partisan.
The Southlake Families PAC, which successfully elected two trustee candidates on the board in May, is supporting Yeager. The group describes Yeager as a conservative leader who will have Carroll ISD focus on academic excellence, fiscal responsibility and transparency.
If Yeager wins, he will be the third Southlake Families-backed trustee to get on the board this year; the group supported Cam Bryan and Hannah Smith in May.
Southlake Families has $130,262 in cash on hand and raised $16,140, according to the PAC’s Sept. 30 campaign finance report. The group had not directly donated to Yeager’s campaign, as of that reporting period.
Williams has criticized Yeager for garnering the support of a PAC in a race that is meant to be nonpartisan. She said the school board has become more political and lost sight of supporting students.
“The first way to protect our public schools from politics is to not elect someone who is backed by a political action committee,” Williams said at a forum. “Our last two trustees were backed by Southlake Families; Mr. Yeager is backed by Southlake Families. Southlake Families is a very partisan PAC.”
Yeager has pushed back on that, saying Williams also has injected politics into the race by signing a letter from a group of residents asking the district to change its diversity policies. He characterized the letter as a list of demands with radical ideas.
“When you went and spoke to the school board time and time again, and you said these demands must be met, that’s not unity,” Yeager said at a forum. “This is what has been dividing our city and our school.”
The division over how to ease racial tension in Carroll ISD and Southlake has thrust the Fort Worth suburb into the national spotlight, including being the subject of a six-part podcast by NBC News.
Both candidates have raised tens of thousands of dollars while seeking the Place 7 seat. Yeager has raised $31,588, while Williams has brought in $27,420, according to Oct. 4 campaign finance reports.
Carroll ISD will know who its next school board member will be on Nov. 2. Two days later, the community’s focus will shift back to the undefeated Dragons for the final game of the regular season. A perennial power in Texas high school football, Southlake Carroll is sure to play deep into the playoffs again this season. The Dragons are used to success, winning eight state championships, including three straight from 2004-06.
Jacob Sanchez is an enterprise journalist for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at email@example.com or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.