Principal helps girls to aim high

Al Día

Nancy Bernardino is living her dream: devoting herself to empower girls to become the leaders of the future.

As principal of Solar Preparatory School for Girls in Old East Dallas, Bernardino works to inspire and prepare girls to build a more equitable and fair society.

“Our focus is to empower girls and teach them about their unlimited potential,” she said.

Thanks to that mission, Bernardino was recognized this monthwith one of three Principal of the Year awards within the Dallas ISD.

“Winning this award is a humbling experience that strengthens my commitment to educate children,” she said.

Bernardino, 40, is known in the teaching community as a woman who inspires her students to reach for excellence.

“She’s passionate and very driven, a trailblazer in education. She’s always seeking ways to improve our students, particularly the girls,” said Michelle Broughton, head of the Office of Innovation and Transformation at DISD.

“She’s awesome. She does amazing work. She’s always a role model for other principals [because] she has a beautiful vision for the girls at her school,” said Tomeka Middleton-Williams, principal of the Eduardo Mata Montessori School, also in Old East Dallas.

Unlike in past years, the 2019 Principal of the Year award was voted on by all the district principals. “It’s motivating having other principals appreciating the work that we do at Solar Prep,” Bernardino said.

Social equalizer

Bernardino, the third of five children, was born in Santo Domingo, a town in northern Guanajuato, Mexico. Her grandfather still has a herd of goats and farms the land.

Neither of her parents studied beyond second grade. Her mother was the oldest of 13 children and, in keeping with the tradition of some families in Mexico, she was obliged to help raise her siblings — even after she got married.

Bernardino’s father was a migrant worker who came to Dallas for seasonal work. “My mom didn’t want that future for her children, so she demanded of my father that, if he wanted to keep coming to work in the U.S., he had to bring us with him,” she said.

She was 1 when she arrived in East Dallas, which had a large Latino population and was considered an economically disadvantaged area. But she enjoyed school.

“I didn’t know I was poor until I enrolled in high school. I had the opportunity to attend Hockaday School [a private, girls school in North Dallas], and that’s when I realized that there was another world out there.”

Barely a teen but aware of the socioeconomic differences among the students, she resolved to erase those social gaps by giving opportunities to all regardless of family income or race.

The experience of attending a school where the daughters of some of Dallas’ most prominent families —including the twins Jenna and Barbara Bush, daughters of former president George W. Bush — got their education was transformative. She understood that education is society’s most effective social equalizer.

By the time she was 30, she had two master’s degrees — from Southern Methodist University and Texas A&M University-Commerce — and in 2018 she received her doctorate from SMU with a focus on preschool-to-high school education.

The lessons she learned from having studied at a girls-only school inspired the banner mission at Solar Prep: There are no limits to what each student can achieve.

“There’s a lot of negative messages and cultural messages thrown about our students. Our responsibility is teaching those girls that they have options,” she said.

School from scratch

Solar Prep School for Girls opened in August 2016. It was the creation of Bernardino and her assistant principal, Jennifer Turner, who died last year.

“In 2014, DISD made a call for principals to design their dream school. We decided to present our project and we won. Two years later we opened the school,” she said.

Solar Prep focuses on educating girls about science, technology, engineering, arts and math in a socially and emotionally supportive environment.

Solar Prep was recognized this year for improvements in reading and math, and it is among the schools with the highest comparative academic growth and closing of inequality gaps, as measured by DISD.

Before becoming principal of Solar Prep, Bernardino led John Quincy Adams Elementary in Pleasant Grove, in some of the city’s poorest zip codes. In her four years as the head of that school, she boosted student performance in STAAR exam, according to Texas Education Agency data. In math, for instance, the school got a 66% passing rate in 2012; by 2016, it was at 75%. In writing, it went from 71% to 79%.

Bernardino focused on providing quality education in the classroom and getting parents involved.

Broughton, the district’s innovation director, said one of Bernardino’s smart moves was to encourage parents to be part of an immersive full-time education experience.

“She always worked with the community, not only with her students, but with their parents, pushing always to get them involved in their children’s education.”

Achieve anything

Three years after it was founded, Solar Prep offers preschool through fifth grade. The plan is to continue adding a grade each year until completing eight levels.

The school follows a model where half its student population comes from well-to-do families and the other half from families with limited means.

“That exposes the girls to the real world. We have parents who pull their daughters from private schools because they don’t want them to believe that’s how the world looks. And we have girls who come from far away neighborhoods, who spend up to an hour on the bus,” she said.

Bernardino wants to make sure her students learn that through education, they can achieve anything. She considers that her students will become scientists, engineers, teachers, astronauts and artists. But, most importantly, she said, the girls will see their dreams come true.

“They will grow knowing they can become what they want to become. So, when somebody comes and tells them they can’t achieve something, these girls, full of confidence, will say: ‘That’s not true. I can do it.’”

Jennifer Leigh Turner

TURNER, Jennifer Leigh Jennifer Leigh Turner, age 41, passed away on Thursday, May 16, 2019, with family by her side, at the T. Boone Pickens Center of Faith Presbyterian Hospice in Dallas, Texas, following a brief but fierce fight against cancer. She was born on October 15, 1977, in Little Rock, Arkansas, to Terry and Carolyn Turner. Jennifer was raised on the family rice farm near DeWitt, Arkansas. She graduated in 1996 from DeWitt High School. Like her parents and brother, she went on to study at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, serving actively in Chi Omega and earning her B.A. in Journalism in 1999. After college, Jennifer worked as a journalist for community newspapers in Nashville, Tennessee, and Bentonville, Arkansas. In 2007, looking for adventure, she moved to Costa Rica to teach English in a public school in the small, rural town of Potrero Grande. It was there that Jennifer found her true passion in life teaching. In 2009, Jennifer moved to Dallas, Texas, and earned her teaching certificate. She became a 5th Grade Science Teacher at DISD’s John Q. Adams Elementary School in Pleasant Grove in South Dallas. In 2013, Jennifer was accepted to a program with Teaching Trust, a Dallas-based non-profit whose purpose is to transform education by improving schools. In conjunction with Teaching Trust, and while still working full-time as a teacher, Jennifer earned her M.Ed. in Education Leadership with Specialization in Urban Schools from Southern Methodist University in 2015. Also during that period, she and 3 other inspired female educators developed a proposal for an innovative school model. Impressed by the proposal, the Dallas ISD Board invested to bring the school to life. In 2016, the Solar Preparatory School for Girls, an all-girls public school with a focus on science, technology, arts, engineering, and math, opened on Henderson Avenue in Dallas with Jennifer serving as Assistant Principal. Because of its passionate staff and students and its ground-breaking approach to social-and-emotional learning, Solar Prep quickly became a success and earned a national reputation. Jennifer played critical roles in all aspects of the school’s development. She was adored by her students, appreciated by parents, and respected by her colleagues. Known for her work ethic, encouragement, and hugs, Jennifer epitomized what it means to be a Solar Fierce Female. Jennifer is survived by her parents who reside in DeWitt, Arkansas; by her brother Chris Turner, sister-in-law and close friend Suzanne, and adoring nephew Whit and niece Emory, of Dallas, Texas; and by beloved extended family. Also playing tremendous roles in her life were the 51 staff, 455 girls, and numerous parents and supporters of Solar Prep; and her cherished friends, classmates, and former colleagues around the globe. A graveside service for family only will be held at Cedarcrest Memorial Park in DeWitt, Arkansas, on Wednesday, May 22, at 1:30pm, followed by a public reception from 3:00-5:00pm at the Community Room of the Phillips Community College of the University of Arkansas in DeWitt. A Celebration of Life event open to all friends, family, colleagues, and others who were touched by Jennifer will be held at the Solar Preparatory School for Girls in Dallas, Texas, on Saturday, May 25, at 2:00pm. The family has designated the Jennifer Turner Scholarship Fund of the non-profit Friends of Solar Prep for memorial contributions (

Parent gifts $10,000 scholarship to honor assistant principal

In celebration of Assistant Principals Week, schools across the nation are thanking their assistant principals in a variety of ways. Solar Preparatory School for Girls hosted an assembly to celebrate their beloved Assistant Principal Jennifer Turner.

At the assembly, Solar Prep parent Bill Durham announced a $10,000 scholarship donation for fourth-graders in Turner’s name.

“I’ve watched her work tirelessly and accomplish amazing things, and she does this everyday with kindness and grace,” Durham said. “She is a role model and inspiration to all of us, and I challenge all of you to think about Ms. Turner and others who are important parts of your life and to be mindful about appreciating them.” Click Here to read more

Friends of Solar Prep Awarded $110,000 from Lyda Hill

Solar Preparatory School for Girls needs additional outdoor play space to accommodate all of the girls.  Friends of Solar Prep (FOSP) applied for an opportunity to pitch Lyda Hill for a $100,000 grant to build a new playground and surrounding security fence to provide enough equipment and space for all the girls to participate in outdoor free play. The playground and associated green space would provide 4,575 additional square feet of play area.

Our application was accepted and we planned to pitch Ms. Hill on December 10th, 2018.  We arrived to find about 20 other nonprofits that had been selected, all of whom do amazing things in the community.  It turned out we didn’t need to make a pitch, as Ms. Hill decided to award every nonprofit there with a $100,000 grant for our respective infrastructure projects, and awarded an extra $10,000 to each nonprofit to apply where it was most needed.  What an amazing day and a win for Solar Prep!  

Friends of Solar Prep Receives $10,000 Grant for Imagination Playground

For more information about Imagination Playground, please click Here

From pre-K to middle school, Imagination Playground combines the sensory, motor, and intellectual development benefits of block play in a flexible and adaptable format that encourages greater collaboration and physical activity.

Blocks are incredibly valuable learning tools. For more than a hundred years, educators have used block play to help accelerate students’ cognitive and social development. Blocks play an important part in a wide variety of curricula developed by some of the world’s most noted educators, from Maria Montessori to Unit Block inventor Caroline Pratt.

Studies dating back to the 1940s indicate that blocks help absorb basic math concepts. More recently, a 2001 study in the Journal of Research in Childhood Education that tracked 37 preschoolers showed that those who demonstrated more sophisticated block play achieved higher grades in math and standardized test scores in high school. A 2007 study in the Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine revealed that children with block play experience scored higher on language acquisition tests.

Solar Preparatory School for Girls is like a new “Super School”

MetroTex News

The MetroTex Association of Realtors Public Education Committee keeps track of issues and trends in public education. Meetings often feature speakers from various public education institutions, Recently, the MetroTex Public Education Committee heard from Solar Preparatory.

A year and a half in the making, the Dallas ISD has opened its first “transformation” school under the current public school choice application process. The district repurposed the old Bonham Elementary school on Henderson in East Dallas into a single gender concept. It is an all-girl campus focusing on STEAM instruction-science, technology, engineering, math and the arts.

Focused on socioeconomic diversity, half of the students qualify for free and reduced priced lunch and half do not. It is the FIRST school of its kind in DISD. It is also racially diverse. The school draws from the area; of the 360 lottery applications 29 students came from charters, 53 from private. There were 198 seats available. The district will measure the school’s success by how well it closes achievement gaps between the different types of students. Research shows that low income children when paired with more affluent peers significantly close the achievement gaps.

The school has students from kindergarten through second grade and will eventually go through eighth grade. The campus is focused on performance based learning as well as blended learning so the students set the pace. Teaching is done with a combination of online and classroom learning. Social and emotional learning is a part of the teaching process as well as a dual language pilot with students getting instruction in both English and Spanish.

Nancy Bernardino is the principal and Jennifer Turner is the assistant principal. The hope of the teaching team is to get girls ready to move into the work force confidently in fields where they are underrepresented.

Paula Scofield is a member of the MetroTex Public Education committee.

*source Dallas Morning News, Corbett Smith

Solar Prep Featured in New York Times


DALLAS — Michael Hinojosa was about to enter the ninth grade in Dallas when a federal judge ordered the city’s public schools to integrate.

It was 1971, and Mr. Hinojosa, the Mexican-American son of a preacher, was suddenly reassigned to a new school, whose football coach told him that it was too late to join the squad — its roster had been set months earlier.

“I had a traumatic experience” with desegregation, Mr. Hinojosa said.

So, too, did Dallas. Like many cities, it replaced one form of segregation with another, as white and middle-class families moved to the suburbs or put their children in private schools.

Now Mr. Hinojosa is the superintendent, and the Dallas school system, one of the country’s most segregated urban districts, has become a national leader in trying to figure out how to encourage students of all backgrounds to willingly go to school together.

Two years ago, under Mr. Hinojosa’s predecessor, the Dallas schools set a goal of starting more than 35 new schools by 2020. Through this effort, Mr. Hinojosa hopes to reverse enrollment declines and increase student achievement, while wooing college-educated and white families that may have never before considered public education in Dallas.

Some of the schools, in fact, make no secret of whom they are trying to draw: Half of their seats are reserved for students from middle- or higher-income families, and some are set aside for students living outside the district.

“Every major city in America has to find some way to deal with this issue,” Mr. Hinojosa said. “When you have a mix of kids, the affluent kids don’t suffer and the children of intergenerational poverty do better.”

Dallas is one of just a handful of cities trying ambitious integration programs, even though nationwide, public schools are more segregated today than they were in 1970.

A third of black and Hispanic students attend schools that are more than 90 percent nonwhite, according to research from the Century Foundation, and those racially segregated schools are overwhelmingly low-performing. Research shows that poor children who attend school alongside more privileged peers score higher on standardized tests and earn more money as adults.

But fearful of stoking a fresh round of middle-class flight or another busing revolt like Boston’s in the 1970s, most cities have shied away from addressing the issue.

A typical approach is New York’s, where gifted programs and magnet schools have not made a great dent. This month, Mayor Bill de Blasio released a diversity plan that promised to decrease the number of schools in which low-income children are isolated from middle-class peers.

There has historically been little interest in the issue in Washington. In March, the Trump administration announced that it would end a small grant program for districts hoping to diversify their student bodies.

That makes Dallas, which has even produced a marketing campaign to promote its integration efforts, an outlier.

The effort is small for now, involving fewer than one in 10 city schools, and has not been a total success. One strategy, called “innovation schools,” tries to make neighborhood schools more attractive by installing programs like the International Baccalaureate curriculum, similar to Advanced Placement. It has improved test scores, but has not yet significantly changed the demographics of the schools, many of which are in middle-class areas but serve few middle-class children.

Another, more expensive strategy, called “transformation schools,” is getting faster results.

Rather than admit students by grades, test scores or auditions, which tends to turn schools into enclaves of affluence, these schools admit them by lottery, with no admissions standards. They are organized around popular themes like single-sex education, science, the arts, bilingual classes and professional internships.

Most strikingly for a district where 90 percent of students are low-income, the district is setting aside seats in several of the new schools for students who do not qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, even if they live in suburbs outside the district. Those coming from other districts do not have to pay tuition, and though Dallas will not receive school property taxes from their families, it will get funding from the state for each traveling student.

By relying on income instead of race, Dallas is following guidelines from the Supreme Court, which in 2007 declared it unconstitutional to consider race as a factor when assigning students to schools.

“What’s exciting about what Dallas is doing is you have a district that’s 90 percent low-income,” said Richard D. Kahlenberg, an expert on school segregation at the Century Foundation, a liberal think tank. “So many people look at that and say, ‘Therefore, we can’t integrate.’

“That’s not right,” he continued. “You can begin with a small subset of schools and try over time to build the reputation of the school district among middle-class people.”

Dallas has plenty of white and college-educated parents to draw from. The region is the nation’s second-fastest-growing, with an economic boom driven by the financial services and health sectors. On weekday evenings, throngs of well-heeled, mostly white urbanites take to the Katy Trail, an elevated, tree-lined path north of downtown. They walk their dogs, stroll with their babies and jog while wearing university T-shirts and expensive sneakers.

But these people have not enrolled their children in public schools, with the exception of a few coveted neighborhood schools and selective magnet programs. The district’s student population is 93 percent Hispanic and black. In the 1960s, before court-ordered desegregation, more than half the students were white.

The Rev. Andrew C. Stoker, senior minister of First United Methodist Church of Dallas, sends his two sons, who are white, to Hispanic-majority public schools. But he estimates that three-quarters of his congregants send their children to private schools.

Mr. Stoker said he heard a variety of concerns from church members about the Dallas schools, first among them, “Is my child safe?” (According to the most recent state data, Dallas experienced major disciplinary incidents, like fights and drug and weapons offenses, at about the same rate as the state average.)

The idea of catering to parents like these was, at first, controversial. Past desegregation efforts, based on involuntary busing and selective schools, offered little to poor, nonwhite children. The transformation program is also costly; the district renovated several school buildings and is busing students — voluntarily — across the city.

Joyce Foreman, a school board member who represents working-class southwest Dallas, said she supported the integration push and believed the new schools gave her constituents more options. But she said the cost of expanding these programs must be weighed against the needs of older schools that serve largely poor families.

“I am looking at the numbers of students per nurse or counselor” in traditional schools, Ms. Foreman said. “We want to make sure we don’t oversaturate ourselves with choices.”

Mr. Hinojosa, who is on his second stint as superintendent, began his education career in 1979 as a Dallas middle school history teacher and basketball coach. He sent all three of his sons to Dallas public schools.

He inherited the desegregation plan from the previous superintendent, Mike Miles. Several staff members working on integration have recently left the district, but Mr. Hinojosa said he was nevertheless expanding the effort.

This spring, 1,705 students applied for 613 spots in the five existing transformation schools. More than a quarter of applicants are currently enrolled in private or charter schools or live outside the district, and 15 percent are white, a demographic profile very much outside the district’s norm.

The most lauded of the new schools is Solar Preparatory School for Girls, which emphasizes the sciences and art. On a recent morning, a teacher, Nicolette Luna, asked her uniform-clad first graders to pair up to discuss the meaning of a new vocabulary word: “humility.” Later in the day, the class took a trip to an environmental center.

The school has become so popular with well-off families that administrators have had to step up recruitment in low-income neighborhoods, in order to meet the requirement that half the students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. The student body is 51 percent Hispanic, 22 percent black, 22 percent white and 2 percent Asian.

Not all of the transformation schools are that diverse. At the Innovation, Design, Entrepreneurship Academy, or IDEA, a high school that places students in professional internships as early as 10th grade, about 80 percent of students receive free or reduced-price lunches, and only eight students are white.

One of the eight, an aspiring architect named Aiden Dornback, left a popular charter school because he and his parents did not like what they considered its emphasis on test preparation.

Aiden’s mother, Sarah Dornback, said she was comfortable with her son’s being in the demographic minority at his new school — even though it makes their family a subject of curiosity among people in their social circle, many of whom send their children to private schools or have moved to suburbs like Frisco or Prosper.

“My husband and I both went to suburban, white high schools,” Ms. Dornback said. “It’s not a reflection of real life.”

Mr. Hinojosa acknowledged that for now, families like the Dornbacks were the exception. Some principals have complained, he said, that while college-educated parents are increasingly “window shopping” at their schools, they do not necessarily return to enroll their children.

Mr. Hinojosa hopes that will change. But ultimately, he said, “if parents can’t get over race or class, they’re not going to put their kids in our schools.”

PTO Spring Carnival


The Friends of Solar Prep sponsored bounce houses and a button maker, which were enjoyed by hundreds of students and family members.  This first Spring carnival was a tremendous success, and a testament to the community that is forming among not just the families, but the community.

Inaugural Grant – MakerBots!


As part of Solar Preparatory School for Girls new Digital Lab in their MakerSpace, they requested three MakerBot Replicator printers.  This was beyond the scope of the district, but will enable each class at Solar Prep to have the use of a printer.  This will allow more girls to experience this great, innovative technology.