Story by Carol Toler and Keri Mitchell
In September 2017, leading up to an Richardson ISD rivalry football game, a couple of J.J. Pearce High School students posted racist images on social media depicting, for example, their school as a slave driver and Richardson High School as a slave, with Pearce whipping RHS.
Three weeks later, an all-white RISD board of trustees and their white superintendent sat around a table at a board work session, acknowledging the racism in their midst and trying to figure out what to do about it.
Supt. Jeannie Stone’s plan to hire a director of equity, diversity and inclusion and coalesce an equity council would lead to a groundbreaking equity policy that the board unanimously approved roughly a year and a half later, in May 2019.
Trustee Katie Patterson noted before the vote that “developing policies like this are part of the legacy work that we do, and I’m proud to have been a part of it.”
To learn more about the definition of equity and the changing policies, read “Racist memes inspire new Lake Highlands school policy.”
At the work session a year and a half earlier, though, she told her board colleagues that “until our school board reflects our community, I don’t think we’re going to be there yet.”
“It’s not just about this year or next year; it’s about that long-term,” Patterson said. “I feel like for us to truly be able to have a greater understanding and be inclusive, it’s not just about inclusivity in our [Advanced Placement] classes or our clubs, but it’s inclusivity at the highest level as well — which is at this table.”
Three months later, in January 2018, former RISD Trustee David Tyson, the only minority trustee in RISD’s history, filed a lawsuit claiming that RISD’s at-large election system, in which the seven board members are elected to serve districtwide, is a violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and discourages minority representation. RISD settled the lawsuit a year later, in January 2019, and agreed to a so-called 5-2 system, with five single-member districts and two at-large seats. One district is comprised of a majority of African American voters, and one is a majority of African American, Hispanic and Asian voters.
This November, two years after Patterson’s now prophetic words, Richardson ISD voters will elect the second African American trustee to the board, representing District 4, and may elect a Hispanic woman to the board, representing District 2.
In District 2, located around Berkner High School, incumbent Eron Linn will face challenger Vanessa Pacheco in the race. Linn, a federal relations manager for DART, was elected in 2015. He has three young children who attend Yale Elementary. Pacheco, vice president of a private investment company, has two children enrolled at Berkner.
District 4 is the new “opportunity zone” created to encourage minority participation on the board. Four African American women who live in Hamilton Park have filed in the race.
Taler Jefferson grew up in Hamilton Park and now teaches at Dallas ISD’s Hillcrest High School. She is founder and executive director of the Salome Foundation. Regina Harris is a webcast production manager active in RISD’s Council of PTAs. Her son attends Richardson High School. Patricia Price Hicks led the 2017 effort to have Hamilton Park officially declared a historic community with a marker installed by the Texas Historical Commission. She retired from teaching at Cedar Hill and Dallas ISDs. Sakennia Reed teaches at DISD’s Barack Obama Male Leadership Academy.
RISD’s efforts toward equity preceded the lawsuit, says Angie Lee, the district’s director of equity, diversity and inclusion, but “I think it’s just perfect timing,” she says. While the lawsuit was ongoing, it became a hot topic at one of the equity council meetings when a Berkner High School student brought it up.
“She’d been reading about it and really had some questions trying to understand what it all meant,” Lee says. Patterson, who is part of the equity council, “took some time to educate all of us that night,” she says.
Vicky Taylor, a Lake Highlands resident on the council, says a defining moment for her was hearing a Berkner student say that she could not see herself on the RISD school board “because no one on that board looks like her.”
“After hearing that,” Taylor says, “I felt compelled to be a part of this council because this is not how our students should feel, regardless of their ethnicity.”
Patterson resigned from the board in August, citing her family’s move outside of RISD boundaries, which makes her ineligible to serve. Her last event as a trustee was the Hamilton Park Schoolwide Reunion, where she took a photo with three of the District 4 candidates.
“As I leave the RISD board of trustees, I’m excited for the future,” Patterson noted in the photo’s caption. “These three amazing ladies are all running for my place.”
Patterson, who lived near J.J. Pearce High School, wouldn’t have competed with the women on the District 4 ballot. But her sentiment was clear — she wants her departure to help usher in a new era.
“I hope this provides our community the opportunity to elect a candidate who reflects the fantastic diversity of our community,” Patterson said in a written announcement. “Equity, diversity and inclusion are all immensely important to me.”
Richardson ISD voters who live in newly created Districts 2, 4 and 5 can cast a single ballot in the Nov. 5 school board election.
In District 5, located mostly in Lake Highlands, incumbent Karen Clardy will run unopposed. Clardy’s two grown children are graduates of LHHS, and she’s a retired executive assistant after serving 25 years at LHHS.
Voters will be able to cast ballots at new Dallas County-wide Vote Centers using new voting machines. Visit web.risd.org/govote to learn more. Early voting begins Oct. 21 and continues until Nov. 1.