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Sunset High tops in district

Dallas Morning News, April 27, 2009

If asked to name the best high school in Dallas public schools, Townview, Woodrow Wilson or Booker T. Washington would probably come first to mind.

But this year, it's Sunset High atop the DlSD in-house school ranking system, which purports to evaluate how well schools perform in relation to the demographics of the students they serve. In other words, the schools that do the best job with the kids they have.

Superintendent Michael Hinojosa has recently been heaping praise upon the faculty and students at Sunset, one of the district's bright spots.

What is going right at Sunset?

District officials are trying to figure that out, because the answers could help shape tactics for reforming other struggling high schools.
The educators at Sunset don't have a magic answer. They say many things, some out of the school's control, have contributed to the strength of the campus.

They pinpoint the following as pieces of their success:
• Middle and elementary schools that, teachers say, send well-prepared kids on to Sunset.
• The neighborhood surrounding the school, which is well-established and doesn't suffer from the severity of problems that others do.
• A strong cadre of veteran teachers.

That's not to say that everything is perfect at the Sunset. Only 55 percent of students graduate in four years, and of those who do earn a diploma, only 40 percent enroll in a post-secondary degree program. But when compared with the district's other "comprehensive," non-magnet high schools, Sunset is ranked highest.

Sunset's eight feeder schools are academically acceptable, according to the state. Two are academically acceptable, five are recognized and one is exemplary.
Principal Tovar said Sunset also benefits from a neighborhood that is more established than those surrounding many of Dallas' other high schools. Sunset has also seen an influx of qualified students transferring out of the DISD low-performing high schools under state and federal rules that allow kids to switch to higher performing campuses. He had to turndown more than 300 students last year who wanted to transfer into Sunset from nearby schools.

Mr. Tovar, a career administrator with DISD, said he doesn't meddle in his teachers' classrooms. He says he simply tries to stay out of his their way and let them teach.

"I'm not the smartest guy in the world," he said, ''but I can motivate people and get them pumped up."

He also attributed the school's success to the district-wide initiatives implemented under Hinojosa's Dallas Achieves, most notably the smaller class sizes and common planning time for teachers. He credits his community liaison, Nora Garcia, with boosting parental involvement at the school.

Sunset's PTA regularly has more than 100 parents turn out for meetings, Ms. Garcia said. That number may not be huge considering Sunset's enrollment tops 2,200, but it is much higher participation than most of the district's non-magnet high schools. “Whenever I see a parent, I approach them, introduce myself and tell them what Sunset has to offer," said Ms. Garcia, who has lived in the Oak Cliff area for 18 years. "I love this neighborhood. It's a matter of knowing how to approach the parents."

The common planning time for teachers plays an important role in the school's upward swing. But so, too, does a committed corps of veteran teachers who have been at Sunset for years.

One of Sunset’s teacher said, “I came to Sunset four years ago from a nearby high school and ‘was shocked’ at how collegial the faculty was. I immediately fell into a circle of teachers who were genuinely committed to doing their jobs well and to helping others do their jobs well. It's an environment that gives me the freedom and the resources to be a professional."

Jose Ortiz

Jose is the recipient of the 2009 Lee Smith Scholarship Award.  He is a soft-spoken young man and is a 2009 graduate from Sunset High School as class salutatorian.  He will be the first person in his family to attend college.  

At age 12, Jose and his brothers came from Mexico to the United States to live with their grandmother after their mother had been tragically murdered by their father.  

Jose says – “as soon as I arrived in Dallas I dedicated myself to school.” He learned English in the first six months or less, and by the time he was a freshman in high school, he could understand and speak English almost perfectly.  He always pushed himself to the limits just to see what he could do.  

When he first arrived at Sunset his peers made fun of him, but now they respect him.  He says, “they even salute me and say that what I have done is an accomplishment and an inspiration to them.”

This young man has had tremendous tragedies in his life but has pushed through all of them by remembering a promise he made to his mother.  He promised her that he would become someone who could bring all of the family up and out of Mexico.   He remembered that promise every time he felt like he could not continue, or wanted to give up because it all felt impossible.  

Most immigrant students think that college is not an option for them because it is so expensive and no one cares or is willing to help an immigrant student.  However, in Jose’s sophomore year a friend of his, who was an immigrant, graduated from Sunset as valedictorian and received a full scholarship to the University of Texas.  That helped Jose believe that he might be able to do it too.  It inspired him to continue to be the best he could be, and now he wants to inspire other students, especially his brothers, that even though obstacles seem insurmountable if they just keep on working hard they can overcome.  A college education really can be in their future.

Jose is now attending the University of Texas at Austin.

Edited from excerpts in a May 2009 article from “Comeback Kids”, Advocate Oak Cliff.

Ana, Dallas, TX  

31 August 2008

Sunset Foundation Committee,

First of all, I want to express my appreciation to the Sunset Foundation for all their support over the years.  I wanted to give the foundation a brief review of how the scholarship money helped me, where I am now in my education after taking a 2 year deferment, and what my future plans are.

The scholarship money has been indispensable in financing three and a half years of school at Brigham Young University. My family's financial situation allows me to qualify for the Pell Grant, which covers the cost of tuition, so I have used the money from the scholarship to pay for room and board. My first two years I lived on campus which allowed me to focus on my studies.

This fall I will be returning to BYU to finish my undergraduate studies in Clinical Lab Science and Spanish Translation. I need one more semester to finish my Spanish Translation degree and another year of school as well as a three month internship to finish my degree in Clinical Lab Science. The additional degree added a year of school and now the two year deferment pushed my graduation by two more years so I plan to graduate winter 2010.

After I finish school I am planning on continuing my education but at this point the options are endless. With the diversity in my undergraduate studies it opens a wide range of opportunities in various fields to continue my education.

Once again, I sincerely appreciate all the help and support that the foundation has given me.


Zulema, Lee Smith Scholarship Recipient

Dear Sunset Foundation Committee,
I would like to inform you that thanks to your contributions to my education I have the pleasure to let you know that I am the first person graduated from a High school in the Dallas Area to confirm two near Earth Asteroids from the International Astrometrical Search Collaboration.
I confirmed:
    "K08U91P” (November 6, 2008)
    “2008 UN90" (November 8, 2008)

I am going to receive a Certificate from NASA by the month of April. But, I want to share this accomplishment because it was all thanks to your help. I understand that without the help of this great Foundation I wouldn't be even in college.
Thanks for your great help! I really don't have the words to explain how grateful I am and honored to be one of the recipients. I really want to make a difference and like I said, "one day be a help in the community" and of course to take the standards of Sunset Foundation with proud.

Once again, Thank you for helping me continue my education.
Zulema, Lee Smith Scholarship Recipient

This is Zulema just giving some updates on how I am doing. As you know I received a certificate from NASA.  Also I wanted to share with Sunset Foundation that I made the Dean List in the Fall 2008. Everything is going great. You know that I am doing a triple major and I got accepted to the Teachers Education Program at TWU. All this is thanks to your great support! Thanks to the Sunset Foundation I am in college.

Also, I want to tell you if in any occasion the Sunset Foundation needs of my help, I am willing to help.

I am currently taking summer classes in order to fit my triple major in all my four years in college. I took a maymester class and I did pretty good, I am currently thinking about taking another class, Organic Chemistry. But, I was wondering if the Sunset Foundation can forward the remaining of my funds from last year to DCCCD, so I can to buy the book.  

Thanks for everything! I really appreciate everything this organization has done for me. Thanks to the Sunset Foundation, I am not just in college but also I have been recognized by NASA. When I had an interview with them they wanted to know more about me and I told them about the Sunset Foundation and how thankful I was to have been awarded my scholarship.  Thanks for everything!

Sunset High School Named Academically Acceptable 2006 – 2007 School Year

In the academic year 2006-2007, Sunset High School was labeled one out of six academically acceptable High Schools in Dallas. As a matter of fact, Sunset High School was mere percentage points away from being an academically recognized school by the State Board of Education in Texas. In past years, from 2003 to 2006, Sunset High School was labeled the most comprehensive High School. It was rated number one in Advanced Placement tests taken and passed. Sunset High School has produced 10 AP Scholars. Of these 10 scholars, four of the young people were on an athletic team. One of the students who passed the AP exam, passed 6 of the AP tests that he took. The most outstanding thing about this young person is that he was an immigrant who came to the United States in the 8th grade from Mexico. When he was a junior in High School, he was on pace to pass 10 AP tests. Jonathon Vines, a football and basketball player passed 9 AP tests. Mr. Vines is the first student in Sunset High School history to receive three five standings, and three four standings. Because of his diligent hard work, Mr. Vines is now on an academic scholarship at the University of Texas.
Received on 9/22/2007 from Coach Khalid Ross, Sunset High School Basketball Program

A ribbon-cutting at Sunset High School

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