DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – To say Dionte Johnson was a troubled student in Middle School might be an understatement. “Been kicked out three or four times, got sent to an alternative school for fighting – doing the wrong stuff I shouldn’t have been doing,” says Johnson.
That behavior continued at North Dallas High School. “My last grade I got kicked out of school was the 10th grade year.” But then he says his teachers and coaches intervened, and took him under their wings.”Everyone narrowed it down and showed me which path to take.”
Johnson began playing football and became an All-State linebacker, and a very good student. On Friday night, he graduated number 10 out of 275 in his class.
His principal, Dinnah Escanilla, has taken notice of Johnson. “He was in danger of being kicked out – not because of his own choices, because of his life troubles,” says Escanilla. “Through his determination and persistence, he was able to overcome the hurdles.”
Johnson says he’s proud of what he’s accomplished. “I’m doing something a lot of my family members haven’t done before: that’s graduate from high school, not just attend.”
Johnson isn’t alone. Dallas ISD says this year, more than 7,000 students are graduating. It’s the most graduates since the class of 1982-83. The district says the increase isn’t because there are more students, but because the district has identified potential dropouts and troubled students early on, and helped them turn around.
Outgoing Superintendent Michael Hinojosa says they noticed a problem with freshmen. “A lot of kids were failing multiple classes during the first six weeks and we found out those kids have a 40 percent chance of graduating.”
So they made classes smaller and more challenging, and hired academic coaches to help students. At North Dallas High School, which has been one of the lower performing high schools in the district, the principal says they’ve raised the graduation rate from nearly 63% last year to nearly 68% this year. That number is expected to rise once students graduate this summer.
But Hinojosa says some of the programs that have helped boost student graduation rates, will be reduced next year. He blames deep cuts in state funding.
Now, as he graduates, Johnson thinks about his next step. He got a scholarship to attend and play for the West Texas A&M University near Amarillo. When asked, Johnson says when he looks in the mirror he sees, “Opportunities. I see a brighter future.”