DALLAS — Dallas ISD Superintendent Michael Hinojosa had long planned to be on the campus of Woodrow Wilson High School Wednesday night for what he called a community conversation.
He had a highly produced slide presentation ready to go touting Dallas ISD’s growth and gains over the last few years.
The hour-long presentation was scripted to start at 6:30 p.m. with a few minutes of questions afterward.
But someone fired a gun – five to six shots - outside Woodrow during dismissal Tuesday, the latest in a string of concerning incidents parents say they’ve been notified about.
So, Hinojosa threw out his original plan and began his community conversation by acknowledging that a gun being fired just outside a school building was “unacceptable.”
“Safety is the most important thing,” he told parents.
“You’ll forgive us if we do something wrong, but you’ll never forgive us if we let something happen to your child. We take this matter very seriously.”
Hinojosa spent 30 minutes taking questions from concerned parents, sometimes asking his top administrators to weigh in with answers.
Dallas ISD Police Chief John Lawton told parents a fight preceded the gunshots Tuesday.
Officers have identified the people involved in the fight, but they have not identified the shooter, Lawton said.
Lawton told parents they would immediately see an increased presence of officers in and around campus – particularly between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m.
Parents said they were told of a fight outside in early February, during which someone showed a gun and later that same month guns were found in a vehicle near campus.
“We’re obviously concerned over the pattern the evolving here,” said Randi Thompson, whose daughter is a freshman at Woodrow.
Thompson’s daughter had just gotten in the car with her father Tuesday when they heard the shots.
“He pushed her down in the car and said, ‘Get down,’” Thompson said.
Several parents shared similar stories with Hinojosa.
“It’s in front your school, it is next to the car that my son could have been in a minute later. It’s very upsetting and I don’t think it’s been taken seriously,” said one mom, adding that her son had discovered a shell casing beside his car.
Hinojosa said school administrators had been aware of “issues bubbling up” outside the school during dismissal.
They had been working with parents on a plan to use PTA funds to hire an off-duty police officer to provide extra patrols, particularly in the public park across the street from the school entrance.
But Hinojosa said Wednesday night Dallas ISD would provide multiple additional officers so the PTA funded patrol would no longer be necessary.
Some parents worried neither the Dallas Police Department nor Dallas ISD Police had taken responsibility for patrolling the park.
But Lawton and Hinojosa said the agencies are sharing information and working together to provide more visibility there.
Hinojosa also suggested changing traffic patterns outside the school to relieve congestion during arrival and dismissal.
Some administrators said “disengaged” students are mostly responsible for the problems Woodrow has experienced.
They pledged to work with campus leaders to suggest flexible school days, like night school, to students with behavior or discipline issues.
Hinojosa said increased security is only a short-term fix.
“We can’t police ourselves out of this mess,” he said. “We have to go and solve the problems underlying. These kids are volatile, they’re proving it, and somehow we’ve got to deal with the core.”