Photography by Sylvia Elzafon

Lake Highlands isn’t what it used to be. Our neighborhood has added new residents, restaurants and streets these past few years, all while addressing plenty of life-changing issues.

Throughout it all, three teachers are among the educators who have remained constants in our evolving community — Casey Boland, Kari Gilberston and Tracey Bishkin. 

Each of the three have taught at Lake Highlands High School at least 16 years: Boland since 1998, Gilbertson since ’09 and Bishkin since ’06. Their sense of excitement about the job of teaching the next generation of students is what kept the three women here in our neighborhood.

So what’s their perspective on education today?

“I’ve been in that same room since 1998,” says Boland, whose Room A106 in the L building has been a hub for thousands of students learning social studies. 

“For the first 10 years I was here, I could walk into any room, and I would know the people. I credit Dr. Iden for that.” 

Dr. Bob Iden was the principal at LHHS from 1997-2008.

“To this day, I still call him Dr. Iden, that’s how much I respect him,” Boland says. “I feel like I was raised in this profession by him.”

Iden’s 11-year tenure set a standard of consistency for Lake Highlands. There have been five LHHS principals since Iden, a turnover that has had ripple effects within the school and RISD, along with a shift in student demographics. 

Texas serves as the new home to thousands of refugees every year. The International Rescue Committee lists Dallas as the U.S. city with the third-highest refugee resettlement numbers, with about 20,000 since 2002. 

Multiple humanitarian crises throughout the world have impacted Dallas County’s refugee population, and area school districts have adjusted accordingly. RISD’s solution: the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion program, known as EDI. 

“EDI is as important as the free and reduced lunch program,” Bishkin says. “If the new students don’t feel included or welcomed, they cannot be educated.”

In another major change, RISD decided in May 2015 to combine its autonomous Freshman Center into the main high school campus.

“We used to be a smaller school with just 10, 11 and 12,” Bishkin says. “We had pretty much the same group of teachers all the time, and we all knew each other. Now at meetings, I’m having to look around to find someone to sit with.”

In the summer between the 2016 and 2017 school years, about 1,000 new students enrolled at LHHS, resulting in a huge increase in attendance. The increased number of students prompted quick adjustments in staff, budget and architectural expansion plans for the school. What was once an intimate group of administrators now became a revolving door of teaching professionals who often didn’t stay long enough to develop a culture. 

As if the high school’s change wasn’t enough, a walk through the hallways reveals an even more dramatic cultural shift.

“Civility has changed,” Gilbertson says. “Our perception of civility and what’s polite or absurd to say. What you can say and what you should say are different things.”

Gilbertson believes the lowering bar of civility is entering the classroom, with some parents and students growing to distrust teachers. 

“Teaching is both reviled and respected at the same time,” Gilberston says.

And of course the COVID-19 pandemic affected schools and education more than almost anything else in society, with students overnight forced to learn virtually and remotely for the first time.

Gilbertson says she feared she would never get to see her students face-to-face again. Once she finally got them back, she says the transition back to regular school has been difficult. 

“It’s about getting back to learn how to do hard things,” Gilbertson says. 

Bishkin is enthusiastic about finally having some consistency in her classroom for the first time in years.

“Amidst all the craziness going on outside, the best thing is when that door closes and the kids are great,” Bishkin says. “Inside the classroom hasn’t changed. Kids are kids.”

Simon Pruitt is a journalist and senior at Lake Highlands High School. He’s been writing about culture for various publications since 2020. Simon also runs a concert promotion company that tours music around DFW.