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Todd Williams: We are Failing Dallas County’s Schoolkids

The following op-ed written by Commit! Executive Director Todd Williams appeared in this morning's edition of the Dallas Morning News: We are Failing Dallas County's Schoolkids by Todd Williams I left the private sector three years ago to volunteer my efforts full time toward education. I’d realized that whatever success I’d had was owed principally to teachers and mentors over the years who’d convinced me I could do anything in life if I studied hard and gave my best. Growing up within a family living, at best, paycheck-to-paycheck in East Dallas, my access to a quality public education from Dallas ISD substantially changed my life trajectory. Austin College and 100 percent financial aid transformed it. I was blessed to live the American Dream. Growing up in the 1960s and ’70s, my story was very common. Today, it’s increasingly unique. And we, our collective community, must ask ourselves: Why? Today, Dallas County has 500,000 K-12 students. Ninety-one percent of those students attend a public school. Poverty is pervasive; 70 percent of those students qualify for free or reduced lunch. Most importantly, only 13 percent of public school students who start ninth grade across Dallas County graduate four years later academically ready for higher education. For our Hispanic and African-American children, who collectively represent 80 percent of all first-grade children regionally, that number is 4 percent. These tragically low numbers represent our community’s future — and that future is increasingly worrisome. We are collectively failing our children. Regardless of their ethnicity or ZIP code, they are our children and our region’s future depends on the success of all of them. Too many of us have stopped fully supporting our public school system, believing that if we pay our property taxes, we’ve somehow done enough. But our educators and children need more than our dollars; they need us to share in the collective accountability for each child’s future, regardless of whether our own children are grown or attend school elsewhere. Educators cannot, and must not, be asked to stem the cycle of poverty alone. When is the last time each of us did the following? Encouraged our own offspring to consider becoming a public school teacher. Asked our company to adopt a school. Personally mentored a child, volunteered or provided an internship. Thanked a school board trustee for serving countless hours in an unpaid role. Voted in a school board election? Held our representatives truly accountable for working meaningfully to improve our education system. Within DISD, we pay over $1.4 billion in taxes, yet less than 2 percent of us vote in school board elections. The 2011 elections were canceled due to lack of candidates. We allow select media to focus more on reporting scandal and conflict among educators instead of discussing academic progress, best practices and remaining challenges. We watched the state decimate pre-K funding in 2011 while concurrently growing prison expenditures. We watched legislators cut $5 billion of resources for public K-12 education (taking us to the bottom 10 percent of [...]

By |January 7th, 2013|General, News|0 Comments

Todd Williams: We are Failing Dallas County’s Schoolkids

The following op-ed written by Commit! Executive Director Todd Williams appeared in this morning's edition of the Dallas Morning News: We are Failing Dallas County's Schoolkids by Todd Williams I left the private sector three years ago to volunteer my efforts full time toward education. I’d realized that whatever success I’d had was owed principally to teachers and mentors over the years who’d convinced me I could do anything in life if I studied hard and gave my best. Growing up within a family living, at best, paycheck-to-paycheck in East Dallas, my access to a quality public education from Dallas ISD substantially changed my life trajectory. Austin College and 100 percent financial aid transformed it. I was blessed to live the American Dream. Growing up in the 1960s and ’70s, my story was very common. Today, it’s increasingly unique. And we, our collective community, must ask ourselves: Why? Today, Dallas County has 500,000 K-12 students. Ninety-one percent of those students attend a public school. Poverty is pervasive; 70 percent of those students qualify for free or reduced lunch. Most importantly, only 13 percent of public school students who start ninth grade across Dallas County graduate four years later academically ready for higher education. For our Hispanic and African-American children, who collectively represent 80 percent of all first-grade children regionally, that number is 4 percent. These tragically low numbers represent our community’s future — and that future is increasingly worrisome. We are collectively failing our children. Regardless of their ethnicity or ZIP code, they are our children and our region’s future depends on the success of all of them. Too many of us have stopped fully supporting our public school system, believing that if we pay our property taxes, we’ve somehow done enough. But our educators and children need more than our dollars; they need us to share in the collective accountability for each child’s future, regardless of whether our own children are grown or attend school elsewhere. Educators cannot, and must not, be asked to stem the cycle of poverty alone. When is the last time each of us did the following? Encouraged our own offspring to consider becoming a public school teacher. Asked our company to adopt a school. Personally mentored a child, volunteered or provided an internship. Thanked a school board trustee for serving countless hours in an unpaid role. Voted in a school board election? Held our representatives truly accountable for working meaningfully to improve our education system. Within DISD, we pay over $1.4 billion in taxes, yet less than 2 percent of us vote in school board elections. The 2011 elections were canceled due to lack of candidates. We allow select media to focus more on reporting scandal and conflict among educators instead of discussing academic progress, best practices and remaining challenges. We watched the state decimate pre-K funding in 2011 while concurrently growing prison expenditures. We watched legislators cut $5 billion of resources for public K-12 education (taking us to the bottom 10 percent of [...]

By |January 7th, 2013|General, News|0 Comments

Fall Update: The Partnership Takes Root

If you’re familiar with the student achievement data we’ve been sharing over the past several months, then one thing is probably clear: no single entity can solve the education crisis facing our region. We are impacted as a community, and we must address it as a community.

Irving ISD Boosts Number and Scores of SAT Test-Takers

The SAT has been a high school staple since 1927, but Irving ISD is approaching the college entrance exam in an innovative new way: the district is administering the test on a school day. As a result, a record number of Irving students are taking the test (77% district-wide), and average test scores have climbed 15 points since 2010. The district is committed to a college-going culture and is eager to do whatever it takes to prepare Irving students for educational opportunities beyond high school. Read more here.    

By |November 13th, 2012|News|0 Comments

Perot Museum a Valuable Asset to STEM Learning

After years of planning and construction, the Perot Museum of Nature and Science is on the brink of its official opening December 1. A $200 million project, the Perot represents the single largest investment in math and science education in Texas and rivals long-standing museums of its kind nationwide. Not only has the Perot changed the downtown landscape physically, but it is also primed to transform the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) landscape in Dallas as it strives to “inspire minds through nature and science.” The Perot has 11 different exhibit halls, a Portable Universe planetarium that can travel to schools and multiple learning labs that function as on-site classrooms. All exhibits are dynamic, hands-on experiences designed to engage the senses and dazzle learners of all ages. Perot staff are committed to working closely with local school districts and have plans for professional development and programming intended to connect students and teachers to the museum long-term. For a full list of programs and resources, including a Pre-K-12th grade Teacher's Guide, click here. The opening of the Perot could not be more timely. Nationwide, 45% of 2011 high school graduates were ready for college-level math, and just 30% were ready for college-level science. Locally, only 28% of Dallas County eighth graders attained a commended score on the 2011 Science TAKS test. The need for robust STEM opportunities is apparent, and the Perot is uniquely equipped to support schools in preparing students for success in math and science.

Schools of Choice in Grand Prairie ISD

Grand Prairie ISD is committed to school choice and is eager to offer options that meet the evolving academic interests and desires of parents and students. To that end, GPISD opened the Young Men’s Leadership Academy (YMLA) and Young Women’s Leadership Academy this year in response to local desire for and research supporting single-gender middle school options. This past Friday, Commit! team member Ashley Bryan had the opportunity to visit the Young Men’s Leadership Academy, home to 1,000 6th-8th graders who are thriving in their new educational environment. Once the young men overcame the shock of a school without female peers, they were able to buckle-down and take full advantage of the school’s perks – including double-blocked Math and English Language Arts courses, an extended school day that runs from 9-4:30 and a class structure that reflects their developmental needs. Led by dynamic school leader Sterlin McGruder, YMLA is still a neighborhood school largely populated by students that fall within the stipulated attendance zone, but parents can send their students to another district school if the single-gender option is not the right fit. The school is structured so that students are a part of smaller communities – called ‘houses,’ in the vein of Harry Potter – that focus on leadership, social development and critical thinking. GPISD has plans to open two additional schools of choice in 2013-14.  

By |November 6th, 2012|News|0 Comments

Inaugural Roundtable Seeks Shared Policy Voice in Austin

On October 11, education organizations impacting Dallas County kids joined together for the Inaugural Dallas Education Advocacy Roundtable.  Hosted by Commit!, the Dallas Regional Chamber, United Way of Metropolitan Dallas and Childcare Alliance, the event provided a forum for local education organizations to submit and present policy briefs for community feedback.  After months of planning, the roundtable included four panels - Childhood Education, Traditional K-12 Education, Alternative K-12 Education and Supplements to Learning – featuring a total of eighteen policy presentations.  The audience full of education advocates, including retiring State Senator Florence Shapiro, was given opportunity to ask questions and make comments specific to each of the individual policies. Just coming together to collaboratively think about and discuss legislative policies that traditionally have been developed by organizations in isolation is a giant victory for the local education community.  But to maximize the power of our collective voices, Commit! has asked all roundtable attendees to indicate which of the presented policies they would be willing to support on behalf of their organizations.  Those policy briefs with the most supporting organizations will be presented to a group of local legislators in November with the intention of gaining their support prior to the next legislative session in Austin, which begins January 8.

By |October 18th, 2012|Advocacy, News|0 Comments

This Thursday, Get Up and Give – To Education!

This Thursday, September 13, 2012, is Get Up and Give! North Texas Giving Day. From 7 a.m. to midnight, every donation of $25 or more will be multiplied if given through www.DonorBridgeTX.org. Last year, this special day raised $10.7 million for nonprofits in our region. This year, the goal is $12 million. There are 1,000 eligible nonprofits to give to (click here to see the full list), all striving to fulfill honorable missions and meet very real needs. Here at Commit! we firmly believe that education is the most effective vehicle to realizing the potential of our children – and our community. As we strive to identify and spread practices proven to work for children right here in Dallas County, we are driven by the real challenges reflected below:   We have 800,000 students, ages 0 to 22, in Dallas County. Seven out of 10 of our students grow up facing the challenges of poverty. Nationwide, fewer than half of all children who grow up in poverty are ready for school at age five. By 4th grade, only 1 in 3 Dallas County kids reads at a level that puts them on track for college. One out of five Dallas County students fails to graduate from high school in four years. Every year, the high school dropout rate costs our region $5 billion in lifetime earning potential. The dropout rate in Dallas area colleges is over 50 percent.   We must do better as a community. Schools can’t do it alone, and education nonprofits play a critical role in supporting our kids. So, as you consider making a gift on the 13th, we hope you’ll give to an effective education nonprofit. You can explore this 2012 Giving Guide or reach out to us at info@commit2dallas.org to learn more. Join Us. Commit!  

Visit to Garner Fine Arts Academy (Grand Prairie ISD)

We are always looking to find out what works for students across Dallas County. Today, Commit! had the opportunity to visit Garner Fine Arts Academy, a preK-5 elementary school in Grand Prairie ISD. Students at GFAA explore their core academic content areas through the lens of the fine arts (orchestra, dance, theater, video production, and choir). A TEA Exemplary campus, GFAA's student population is 48% economically disadvantaged, 40% Hispanic, 25% African American, 25% White, and 7% Asian American. We are working on a more in-depth case study, but in the meantime, enjoy the pics!  

By |September 6th, 2012|News|0 Comments

School’s Out, and so is our May Newsletter!

Yesterday Commit! issued its May monthly newsletter. In it, we recap our progress from the prior month, share our priorities for the month ahead, spotlight other collaborative action initiatives, and share relevant news and resources. You can find a text copy of the newsletter below:   Dear Friends, First and foremost, a note of gratitude and congratulations to all of the educators, parents, and students who are bringing their school year to a close. We have heard many success stories within Dallas County education, and we are here to support your hard work. In this newsletter, we are pleased to share meaningful recent progress in our efforts. We are sensing momentum in conversations across the community as we've continued to define our role and those of our partners, increased our staff capacity, and taken a lead in growing both student intern opportunities and enrollment in the State's Kindergarten Readiness System (see below). As always, we welcome your feedback, especially as we begin to narrow in on our strategic priorities, and appreciate your continued support. Sincerely, Todd Williams Executive Director, Commit!   A quick glance at what we've been up to this month: 1. Updating and learning from the Commit! community. During the month of May, we were honored to meet with and gain feedback from several education and leadership groups, includingHead Start of Greater Dallas, Hispanic 100, North Texas TxCAN, University Crossroads (a P-16 Council affiliated with Dallas ISD), and Dallas Social Venture Partners. We also had the unique opportunity to contribute to the public conversation about education at a briefing of state and federal legislators, an SMU symposium, and an appearance on Krys Boyd's Think (click on the link for the full podcast). As a result, we've steadily expanded the size of this movement with over 1,500 individuals on our distribution list! 2. Launching a campaign to encourage early childhood providers to participate in the State's Kindergarten Readiness System (KRS) by July 31. KRS represents an important first step in demonstrating the commitment of our community to providing quality early childhood services and education. KRS will identify PreK Centers of Excellence by linking student success on Kindergarten literacy testing to the preK provider that prepared the student. Thus far, 17 District campuses and 49 licensed child care centers have enrolled online, with many more in progress. To learn more, please read the kick-off letter sent earlier this month and read below for information about our next steps in support of this important effort. 3. Continuing to build out the Commit! team and Strategy Committee. In the coming weeks, we are excited to welcome three new team members to our staff! We are also pleased to welcome Trisha Cunningham and Michele Bobadilla to our Strategy Committee. Trisha, from Texas Instruments, has replaced Arturo Sanchez, who recently joined NASA in Houston. Michele, a provost from UT-Arlington, will serve as a liaison for University Crossroads, a third P-16 council in the Dallas area. She will also represent the fifth higher education institution on the Committee (UNT, Paul Quinn, DCCCD, TWU and UTA).   What's next on the horizon ... 1. Pursue more formal District support. Having had introductory conversations [...]