How we intentionally moved our kids from private to public school, with Lisa Tran

Name: Lisa Tran

City and State: Dallas, TX

Occupation: Managing Director, Corporate Engagement & Strategic Partnerships, Southern Methodist University, Cox School of Business

Lisa and Jimmy with their children, Jordan, Lila, Livia

Tell us a bit about the story of how you (and your husband) decided to move your kids from a private school to a public school district that wasn't always known for being great?

I attended private schools my entire academic career, and the idea of putting my kids in public schools was never an option. My husband, Jimmy, attended K-12 public schools in Houston, but bought into my idea of placing our children in private-Catholic schools. When we were selecting schools for our eldest daughter, the question was never private vs. public, it was which Catholic Pre-K through 8th grade parochial school is the best fit. We selected a great school with a great church community. We started exploring the public school option when my husband and I went through a leadership development program through the Dallas Regional Chamber called Leadership Dallas. One of the class topics was focused on education, where I had the opportunity to meet amazing principals, teachers, and administrators in Dallas ISD (DISD), which piqued my interest in learning more about the district and school options. We learned that many of my Leadership Dallas (LD) classmates had opted for DISD magnet and neighborhood schools, and we wanted to do our research on what our options were in the public system.

Prior to making the decision how did you (and Jimmy) view education for your kids?

Through the lens of my own experience mixed with myths of DISD, I believed that in order to receive a quality education, we had to pay for it. And, as someone who works in higher education, having exposure and access to a good network is also a critical component to successful educational and career outcomes. We wanted our kids to be in an educational environment that was well-rounded, which is not limited to only strong academics, but inclusive of social, extracurricular, and religious activities. We also liked that our kids would be attending the same school from Pre-K until 8th grade, and receive their sacraments all in one place.

What was the tipping point when you decided "we have to do this"? 

Jimmy and I had, and continue to have, on-going conversations on how we can raise our children to be tolerant and inclusive members of society. Then, we asked ourselves the question “are our children learning, living, and playing in diverse environments?” Our school-aged children spend 75% of the year, and majority of their waking hours in school. After some reflection, we realized that we were unintentionally segregating our kids on multiple dimensions - socio-economically, religiously, and racially – and wanted to make a change.

How did you tell people? What were their reactions? And how did you react to their reactions? 

Only a handful of people knew that we were considering switching from private to public school. We had many conversations with friends who had made the decision to switch from private to public school, but waited to tell our friends and family once we had made our final decision. I feared my parents’ reaction the most because of their firm belief in my children’s Catholic education. Believe it or not, I waited until the week prior to the first day of school to tell them of our decision. They were surprised of our decision, and it has taken a while for them to accept our decision. However, they are now supportive of the change because my children are thriving in their new school.

Jimmy and I co-authored an Op-Ed in the Dallas Morning News sharing our story of switching to public school that was for the most part positively received, but we did face some negative reactions from parents who believed that we were judging them for choosing private school. That sentiment was far from what we were intending to convey. We 100% believe that choosing a school for our children is a very personal decision, and there are no wrong decisions. What we do realize is that we are extremely lucky to be in a position to make a choice of private or public, whereas many families in this country do not share that privilege. Most importantly, we want to help educate parents that they have a choice within the public school options.

Describe your experience since you have made the switch.

We have been overwhelmingly happy with our decision to switch to our children’s current school, Personalized Learning at Sam Houston Elementary (PL Prep), a personalized learning, two-way dual language, and 50/50 socio-economic diversity school with Dallas ISD. Our children are friends with people from all walks of life, while receiving a high quality education. I along with a handful of parents formed the PL Prep PTA where I am currently serving my second term as president. My husband co-founded and leads a foundation along with a few parents to help raise funds for the school. As you can see, we are actively involved in our kids’ new school!

What advice would you give to someone who is weighing the options between private schools and public schools? Specifically when the public school might have a bad rap?

My advice to parents who are considering school options is to do your research on the various options (e.g. dual language, Montessori, personalized learning, magnet, single-sex, etc.). High-level research can start with looking at the school/district’s website, but it is very important to go and visit the various schools, and to talk to parents at the various schools. During the pandemic, some schools may not be hosting in-person tours, so ask if there are virtual tours. When we were accepted to our current school, we asked our principal if we could speak to parents of current students and she put us in touch with 3 parents who helped inform our decision. Lastly, make sure you meet the leadership of the school. They set the foundation for a positive culture for the students, teachers, and staff that is crucial in students’ learning outcomes.

What is the best lesson you have learned about yourself after going through this experience?

I have learned two main lessons through this experience: 1) no decision is permanent, and that we can reassess our school options at any point; 2) in order to embrace differences in people, we need to consciously put ourselves in proximity with different people from different backgrounds.

Anything else you want to share with us?

My husband and I and two other Dallas ISD parents started Parent Advocates for Dallas ISD to allow parents of current and prospective students to connect and learn about the various school options. We welcome anyone to follow/join our Instagram (@ParentAdvocatesforDISD) and Facebook group (

A question we ask everyone...what do you want to be known for?

I want to be known for being a loving wife, parent, and servant leader who brings people and the community together for the common good.

My favorite quote is...

“A life not lived for others is not a life.” ~ Mother Teresa

You can connect with Lisa on LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, or follow her on Twitter.

Want to learn more about Dallas ISD options?