Grantee Corner  |  DeSoto Independent School District



A female student in an apron works with clay
Curtistene S. McCowan Fine Arts Academy student explores Hispanic Heritage Folk Art through the creation of Sugar Skulls with clay, part of the celebration of “Dia de Los Muertos”

A female student works on a laptop with a male teacher
Frank D. Moates Blended Learning Academy students engage in blending learning with an educator

A female student jumps in the air and does a split
Curtistene S. McCowan Fine Arts Academy student rehearses and refines her skills for a performance

Two female students wear latex gloves and work at a lab table
DeSoto East Medical Magnet Academy students investigate a simulated crime scene as part of a project

Three male students at a lab table look at small piles of white powder
DeSoto East Medical Magnet Academy students investigate the mysterious, powdery substance that was left at a crime scene

Headshot of Debbye Garner
Debbye Garner, DeSoto ISD Project Director

DeSoto Independent School District (DeSoto ISD), located south of Dallas, Texas serves 9,600 students. The student population is 77 percent African American, 17 percent Latino, and 3.4 percent White. The district offers students a number of robust magnet programs with themes such as visual and performing arts; advanced academics; science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM); and career and technical education.

DeSoto ISD is using Magnet Schools Assistance Program (MSAP) grant funds to create new or expand existing magnet programs in seven schools. The grant project seeks to encourage greater diversity among district students with the goal of enriching student learning experiences and cultural interactions and awareness. The magnet programs also encourage equality, excellence, and effectiveness for all students. Grant funds support professional development, instructional, and support activities that will build cutting-edge and innovative educational experiences in the seven new magnet programs. The district partners with Project Lead the Way, the College Board, Texas Instruments, Vernier Technologies, University of North Texas, SureScore, Agile Mind, and the EGT Institute to help support implementation of the seven programs described below.

Frank D. Moates Blended Learning Magnet Academy Elementary serves 759 students in grades K-5. In this blended learning setting, students learn through a curriculum that incorporates different modes and manipulatives to support different types of learning experiences. Whether students are engaged in a station-rotation model in math and reading classes, a small learning group supported with online instruction, or in project-based learning activities, the blended learning model personalizes the student learning experience and provides differentiated learning opportunities based on student mastery. In the classroom, teachers use a learning management system daily to deliver student-centered instruction that is also accessible at home for deeper levels of study and exploration.

Woodridge Fine Arts Magnet Academy Elementary serves 729 students in grades K-5. The magnet program gives students a chance to experience an array of artistic programs. Exposure to the arts can significantly boost student achievement and behavior and prepare students for college and careers. Woodridge students can pursue specialized studies in visual arts, theatre arts, orchestra, piano, strings, dance, and choir, with opportunities for summer training intensives.

Ruby Young Medical and Environmental Sciences Magnet Academy Elementary serves 614 students in grades PreK-5. The school gives students the opportunity to study different forms of clean energy (solar, wind, hydro), conservation, recycling, and other concepts related to environmental sciences. With resources such as the campus aquaponics farm and the garden where students plant, prune, and harvest a variety of produce, students have hands-on engagement opportunities to learn the natural environment of the world around them and how to preserve and protect its rich natural resources. In addition, the medical magnet program introduces students to themes and studies in health, wellness, and modern medicine, all supported by local community health partners such as Charlton Methodist Hospital. 

DeSoto East Medical Magnet Academy Middle School serves 629 students in grades 6-8 to create a continuum with the Ruby Young Medical and Environmental Sciences Academy. The school offers a rigorous, project-based curriculum that focuses on modern medical concepts through creative, analytical, and evaluative thinking projects and prepares students for a wide range of careers in the healthcare field. Students in the program work closely with faculty members and community partners, including surgeons, professors, hospital personnel, and other professionals to create an environment supportive of creative and independent academic exploration with real-world relevance.

Curtistene S. McCowan Fine Arts Magnet Academy Middle School serves 945 students in grades 6-8, and creates a continuum with the Woodridge Elementary Fine Arts Magnet Academy and the DeSoto High School Fine Arts program. McCowan provides an inspiring and robust program for students interested in pursuing an accelerated arts curriculum. Staff use the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, the Texas Education Agency guidelines for college readiness in fine arts, and the Center for Educator Development in Fine Arts to inform curricular planning and development, ensuring that every student receives a research-balanced academic arts experience. Students enjoy meaningful and enriching opportunities in the areas of visual arts, dance, band, orchestra, choral music, drama, and piano.

DeSoto High School serves 3,214 students in grades 9-12 with a theme that focuses on creativity, innovation, and design using project-based learning to build 21st century skills. The school empowers every student to develop and achieve their creative and expressive potential through inspiring instruction and diverse learning experiences. The magnet program fosters artistic and academic student growth by integrating the arts with emerging technologies. Students are immersed in self-discipline, creativity, intrinsic motivation, and teamwork through aligned, articulated, and assessed experiences in the arts.

Debbye Garner, Executive Director of Innovative Programs, is the project director for DeSoto ISD’s MSAP grant. Her previous positions include special education teacher and lead school counselor, and, at the district level, director of parent engagement, director of professional development, and director of counselors. These experiences enable her responsiveness to diversity and the acquisition and application of knowledge and skills to lead others to achieve the goals of the MSAP project.