In the Stop Six neighborhood, a rallying cry bands the community together.
“I be a Wildcat, who be you?”
The chant brings together alumni and current students at Dunbar High School. Despite that community pride, candidates for the school board District 3 seat are concerned about people departing Fort Worth ISD to send their children to schools elsewhere.
They hope to change that.
Two Fort Worth ISD alumni are seeking the District 3 seat on the school board against a candidate who is a political newcomer to Fort Worth ISD.
Quinton Phillips is asking for another term on the school board. He was first elected in 2019. Mar’Tayshia James and Valeria Nevárez — both community activists — are trying to unseat the incumbent.
Phillips has a background in working with community organizations on cultural diversity and leadership. He’s a founding partner of the nonprofit Community Frontline and spent nearly a decade working as a juvenile probation officer, according to the Fort Worth ISD school board website.
He also has been a program coordinator with “Da” Village Education Center and served five years as a behavioral interventionist with Lena Pope Home Inc., according to the district.
Nevárez is the daughter of immigrants and grew up in El Paso and attended Texas State University for two years before the COVID-19 pandemic. With quarantines in place, she said she moved to Fort Worth to be with her parents and started attending the University of Texas at Arlington.
Even though she did not attend Fort Worth ISD, Nevárez said she fell in love with it because so many people share her Mexican culture.
In Fort Worth ISD, just under 65% of students are Hispanic. The next highest demographic is African American students at 21%, according to the Texas Education Agency.
James is a Restorative Justice program specialist for Big Thought, which helps operate Metro Opportunity School in Fort Worth ISD. The alternative campus helps students with discipline issues.
She also is the president of the Echo Heights Environmental Coalition and ran for city council in May 2021 and lost to Gyna Bivens.
As a soon-to-be-parent, James said she wants to make sure her daughter will have access to a good education in Fort Worth ISD.
When James stopped in a convenience store for a slushie recently, she encountered a student who spent time at Metro Opportunity School, and his father.
The student told her, “I’m staying out of trouble Ms. James.” When recounting the story, James was visibly emotional. People often see students from alternative schools as the underdog, but her work allows her to see their chance to be something great, she said.
“There’s so many kids that have the potential to do so much more than people give them credit for, but they just don’t have the right hand to hold on to or the right person to guide them,” James said. “I just want to be that person as a trustee to do that.”
Nevárez made news with Fort Worth ISD when she started fighting against the district’s sex education curriculum. She didn’t anticipate running for school board, but she wanted to make a difference and found out the District 3 seat was up for reelection, she said.
“Especially in my district, it’s a lot of Mexicans, it’s my culture,” Nevárez said. “I think I’ve fallen in love with that where we can relate to certain things. We can have the same values and have the same customs. That was definitely something that motivated me to run. I want to represent my community.”
The Fort Worth Report received questions about whether Nevárez lives in the district. Despite multiple addresses online, she said she lives at the Griggs Avenue address listed on her campaign filing, even though the house was undergoing extensive renovations.
Public education has a huge impact on children, and as someone who works in youth ministry, Nevárez said she recognizes that. Even today, some of her teachers in El Paso remain her mentors and she hopes students in Fort Worth ISD can have that same experience.
Phillips is raising his family in District 3, and he said he keeps seeing discourse about how the school board needs to listen to parents.
“I am a parent,” Phillips said. “My kids are walking these halls that your kids are walking, so I’m not ever going to be making a decision saying, ‘They don’t need this, they shouldn’t do this,’ like it’s some ivory tower thing. We’re in the trenches with you. Whatever my kid’s getting, your kid is getting and whatever my kid is not getting we need to be fighting for — not just so my kid can get it but so all kids can get it.”
Community pride and investment can lead to a total transformation, Phillips said. Projects to improve Dunbar High School, Young Men’s Leadership Academy and J. Martin Jacquet Middle School makes people want to come to those schools, he said.
The battleground of racial equity
Both Phillips and James brought up equity and serving Black and brown kids as part of their campaign. While Nevárez brings up her culture and acknowledges the importance of racial equality in schools, she has spoken publicly against racial equity.
Phillips serves as the chair of the racial equity committee alongside trustees Wallace Bridges and Roxanne Martinez. The district established the committee in 2016 to study district policies and practices and offer solutions for improvement.
Racial equity has become a dirty buzz word that misconstrues the true meaning for the sake of politics, Phillips said.
But it’s simple for him: Those who need the most should be getting the most. And Phillips is not backing down from that fight “because the people that we’re fighting for in those instances are human beings that deserve to be heard, and have historically been neglected.”
Black and brown children are getting the short end of the stick, James said. As an example, she recalled that when she was a senior at Dunbar High School, her sister, who was in the gifted and talented program at Stripling Middle School, got financial advising.
Stripling has significantly more white students than Dunbar, and James said she didn’t understand why students at the middle school got access to financial advising that she never had. Eventually, someone came to speak to her senior class in the weeks before graduation, but she said those are resources she needed sooner.
On a Texas Latino Conservative Facebook live, Nevárez said moving from equality to equity is damaging students’ education.
“They did not like a Latina, Mexican woman going to board meetings to say that we are not oppressed, equity is harmful and we should strive for equality,” she said on the show.
Finding common ground on vouchers
All three candidates for District 3 are concerned about Gov. Greg Abbott’s push for education savings accounts, which if passed by state legislators would give families $8,000 they can use on private school tuition or other educational expenses.
“I am not in favor of vouchers; I think it will actually hurt public education,” Nevárez said. “This is my goal – improve public education. If we get public education where it needs to be then we won’t need vouchers.”
Vouchers disrupt funding and enrollment in public schools, James said, which are both issues in Fort Worth ISD. The district’s enrollment is declining and will continue to do so, which is contributing to an $80 million deficit.
If passed, Phillips believes vouchers will be a detriment to communities and young people. Typically, people agree public education needs more funding, no matter what side of the aisle, he said. Now, legislation would take away funding from public schools, he said.
All three candidates also agree that the community they seek to represent is special and deserves quality schools. They want students returning to schools in the Stop Six area.
Now, their task is to find a workable solution.
Kristen Barton is an education reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.