Times of transition, and in particular the transition we are all experiencing with the Presidential election, often create significant emotional reactions. Some of us feel encouraged, while others feel despair. And identifying how we as individuals can make our own positive impact can be overwhelming. I read recently that voting in an election in many ways is the least we can do, and I believe that the most we can do is to personally work to bring about the change that we want to see in our world. There has been significant talk of voters in this election who feel left behind, who have no voice, and who saw their vote as a means to disrupt a system that isn’t working for them. I think this is a critical conversation for our country to have, but I hope the conversation will include all of the voiceless in our country. There are 498,000 public school students in Dallas County. 358,560 of them qualify for free or reduced lunch. The City of Dallas has the highest child poverty rate of large cities in America. These students overwhelmingly start kindergarten more unprepared than students in more affluent suburbs, and the gap only grows from there. The impacts of poverty, especially when combined with race and an inequitable distribution of resources, magnify these effects. The hope of these kids escaping the cycle of poverty without intervention is extremely small. Franklin Delano Roosevelt said, "Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education." And while supporting a child’s education is critical, it is also important to develop our own understanding of these challenges at a deeper, personal level. This type of insight can be gained through what Bryan Stevenson refers to as “proximity;” understanding these communities better by actually working with them. And so we encourage and invite you to join Commit! and actively participate in creating more equitable and effective educational opportunities in our community. Something as simple as being a reading tutor in an elementary school can take just one hour per week, but can positively impact a child’s future. Children reading on grade level by 3rd grade are much more likely to graduate from high school. The Commit! Partnership is active across North Texas with more than 190 partners, including public school districts, non-profit organizations, foundations and higher-ed institutions, working together to benefit students in measurable ways throughout Dallas County, from cradle to career. If you are looking for a way that you can make a difference in the lives of kids right here in our community, fill out this form and we’ll reach out and work to help connect you with an opportunity that matches your skills, interests and availability.
The Commit! team is excited to announce the addition of Taylor Toynes to fill the role of Community Impact Associate. In this position, Taylor will be focused on building lasting strategies to improve early childhood outcomes in Dallas’ South Oak Cliff community through neighborhood and family engagement. A native of South Oak Cliff, Taylor brings a deeply personal commitment to the students and families in the community where he was born and raised. He has served as a 4th grade teacher at W.W. Bushman Elementary School and as the Urban Specialist at Sarah A. Zumwalt Middle School, while also organizing the “For Oak Cliff” back-to-school festival last August. “It has been my mission to improve education for students and families in Oak Cliff,” says Taylor. “I look forward to serving as the Community Impact Associate with Commit! in the community that I was born and raised in. In order for us to make real strides in educational equity we have to start with early childhood. I am fired up and ready to work with everyone this upcoming year.” Taylor’s position is made possible with the support of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and will build upon the ongoing work of school district, nonprofit, and community-based organizations in South Oak Cliff, where a collective impact approach has already started to yield results for the community’s youngest learners. If you’d like to connect with Taylor, he can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
“[College] is such a good investment. You can’t afford not to go to college” With this statement, Alfreda Norman, the Senior Vice President at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, emphasizes the importance of acquiring a post-high school degree. Her data-packed presentation drives home the point that educational attainment is key to economic mobility: nationally, the median income for a Bachelor’s degree is nearly twice that of a high school graduate. Despite the earnings power of a Bachelor’s degree, only 1 in 5 African American adults and only 1 in 10 Latino/Hispanic adults in our region have attained this level of education. Our community is responding to this data in pursuit of a goal of 60% postsecondary attainment– including Bachelors, Associates and high quality certificates – for working age adults by 2025. Some of these efforts include: A community-wide financial aid campaign, student workshops, and quality training for counselors and college advisors. In total, 100+ partners participated in this effort this past year A partnership between four school districts and eleven colleges that provides targeted text message reminders and personalized supports to college-intending high school seniors Providing comprehensive non-academic student supports- such as financial literacy and coaching, benefits screening, and legal counseling- for currently enrolled community college students As the work continues to grow, so will the opportunities to engage. Please reach out to Sagar Desai, Director of Higher Education and Workforce, or Sarah Jensen, Deputy Director of College Access and Success, to learn more about the Commit! Partnership’s effort to increase college attainment.
Continuing our Scorecard video blog series, Larry James, CEO of CitySquare, discusses the pervasive presence of poverty, which leaves a crippling effect on our community. Between 2000 and 2012 the population of the city of Dallas grew by a modest 5%. During the same period, however, the number of individuals living in poverty grew by 41% and the number of census tracts experiencing concentrated poverty nearly doubled. Currently, almost 9 out of 10 Dallas ISD students, or 3 out of 4 Dallas County students, receive free and reduced meals at school. James urges us to reimagine the role of schools in our community. He envisions a Dallas where parents, families, and entire neighborhoods are engaged in the improvement and reinvention of their children’s schools so much so that schools become a “safe harbor of hope for all of our families.” Ultimately, James challenges us to tackle poverty by reimagining schools as the foundations for our community support structures.
Our community has always come together in remarkable ways to support our students. Recognition for this hard work and progress came this past week with the announcement that Dallas County, represented by the Commit! Partnership, has been selected as 1 of only 6 communities nationally to participate in the StriveTogether Cradle to Career Accelerator Fund, a three-year, $15 million project designed to help communities like ours strengthen our collective ability to improve student outcomes. As a result of this highly competitive process, Dallas County will benefit from resources to enable timely data-sharing and capacity-building for continuous improvement, increased community accountability for student outcomes and broader implementation of promising practices. The goal is to attain consistent growth each year against the majority of the Partnership’s community achievement indicators. Over the summer, a more detailed action plan will be developed with the assistance of the StriveTogether team and the input of partners across the Dallas County infrastructure. In addition to funding one-time expenses (not Commit! staff costs), StriveTogether will provide strategic assistance, capacity-building activities and trainings in specific areas, such as continuous improvement, data use and results-based leadership. Through our participation, we will also help build knowledge and tools to accelerate results for cradle to career collective impact initiatives across the country. The StriveTogether Cradle to Career Accelerator Fund is supported by several philanthropic organizations, corporations and private investors, including the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation, KnowledgeWorks, Target and Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, a philanthropic account administered by Vanguard Charitable. We are excited about this honor and the opportunity to accelerate our work together. Please reach out to Jonathan Feinstein to learn more.
Although we released our third annual Community Achievement Scorecard back in February, the data and the stories behind the data are still just as real and relevant today. For that reason, we’re revisiting some of the performers, speakers and themes resonating from the release event a few months ago. One feature of the Scorecard is that it disaggregates the data wherever possible by race, economic status and language status. With disparities across the academic continuum, it’s clear that our community is not serving all of our children equitably. But what does that look like? What are the in-school and out-of-school factors that are leading to these disparities? And how can we begin to address these head-on? The three video excerpts each attempt to answer these questions in their own unique way: “Dressing” performed by the African American Repertory Theater This short one-act play depicts an interaction between parent and son that is sadly all too familiar for African American families in Dallas and across America. It makes public a conversation that we must be willing to have as a community if we want to change the life outcomes of our children of color, who make up 80% of our student population. Michael Sorrell, President of Paul Quinn College Drawing from his experience as president of a college with 84% of students Pell Grant-eligible and 70% with an expected family contribution of $0, Sorrell crystalizes the challenge as he sees it: “If we want to address our college readiness issue, we have to address our college-ready environment.” Said differently, “If I send an A student home to an F community, all of sudden he has a C life.” Sorrell’s words serve as a clear reminder that we all have a critical role to play in supporting both our schools and our communities. Miguel Solis, Dallas ISD Board President Drawing from his experience as a former 8th grade teacher, Solis tells the story of one of his former students to make it clear that an equitable education is possible for all children. He challenges us to have the difficult conversations about race and equity while insisting that we recognize and capitalize on the strengths and assets that our students bring with them. For example, Dallas ISD’s Latino and English Language Learner student population could represent the future pipeline of bilingual educators who are in such great demand today. Want to build your capacity to address racial equity? Join Dallas Faces Race if you haven’t done so yet. Don’t let that Scorecard sit on your desk either; use it to push for change! Share these videos and share the Scorecard itself. Visit http://commit2dallas.org/scorecard, where you’ll find a slide deck and one-pager to engage others in your organization, school and community.
"Behind Every Number Is A Child…" With these words, Executive Director Todd Williams reminded attendees at the 2014 Community Achievement Scorecard release event to use data not to punish but to illuminate, to ask questions and uncover stories essential to creating positive change. Leading off the event, Todd spoke to the breadth of the Partnership, urgency of the challenges in front of us, and opportunities to better spread best practices. He highlighted achievement differences of 50 to 60 percentage points between schools with similarly high-poverty rates to reinforce the need to learn from bright spots so they become the norm, not the exception. Inspired by the belief that poverty is not destiny, the Commit! Partnership is collaborating in many areas across the educational pipeline, including: A spring pre-K registration campaign where 100 organizations have supported five districts in significantly increasing early registration; Dallas ISD alone had increased by 500 students as of mid-May; Community-based partnerships centered on strengthening early grades reading and math achievement that are engaging nearly fifty elementary schools across three school districts along with twenty community organizations; Alignment between four school districts and eleven colleges to increase area college enrollment through targeted text message reminders and personalized supports; Co-creation of a new school of teacher education along with a regional marketing campaign to strengthen the teacher pipeline; Data learning workshop series with the United Way of Metropolitan Dallas and fourteen education-focused nonprofits to enhance use of data for continuous program improvement As the work continues to grow, so will the opportunities to engage. Please do not hesitate to reach out to Kyle Gardner, Deputy Executive Director to learn more about the Commit! Partnership.
Are you a leader with the potential to unite our diverse Dallas community in support of at-risk children and their families? Do you know someone else who might be? If so, here’s a great opportunity to join a national cohort of community-based leaders - and get paid to develop your skills! The W.K. Kellogg Foundation has launched a three-year fellowship program for emerging and established leaders. Selected fellows will join a national cohort whose work will focus on racial healing and equity. Every fellow will receive an annual stipend of $20,000 and be reimbursed for travel expenses as they enhance their leadership skills at quarterly meetings with peers in their cohort. In the third year of the program, each fellow also will receive $5,000 to execute his or her action plan. More information about the WKKF Community Leadership Network or to apply, visit: www.wkkf.org/leadership. The deadline to submit an application for the fellowship is Jan. 10, 2014.
As you may already know, Dallas is not alone in its quest to a build a regional cradle to career educational partnership. Communities in 34 states and the District of Columbia have adopted a similar approach to better serve every child. Once a year, the Strive Network convenes these communities from across the country to connect and share what they’re learning. Because our community has demonstrated significant progress in building this collective approach, Dallas has been selected to host this year’s convening at The Fairmont hotel on September 25-27. Education leaders from across the state and country will be participating, including Jeff Edmondson, Nancy Zimpher, and representatives from the U.S. Department of Education, Data Quality Campaign, Educate Texas, the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Lumina Foundation. There will be a number of ways for local partners to participate, free of charge. Look for more communication in the weeks ahead; for now, please mark your calendars for September 25-27.