Dallas Mayor Pushes Education Initiative | KERA News

Dallas Mayor Pushes Education Initiative

Dec 20, 2011

When Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings campaigned for office, he said public education would be a top priority. What's happened since then? KERA's Bill Zeeble takes a look.

It was less than a week after winning the June runoff, and Mayor Rawlings picked up where he left off as a candidate. In a brief talk at SMU, he again called for better public schools.

Rawlings: We will never truly be a great city the way we all talk about it unless we have great education for every child in Dallas. It's imperative for us to diligently think and argue and work towards that goal.

Saying education will make or break us in the next decade, Rawlings urged that a fledgling Chamber of Commerce education effort become a separate non-profit group. It' called Commit! and its director is attorney Todd Williams, retired partner from the Goldman Sachs investment firm. With his wife, he launched a West Dallas charter school. Williams says these are Commit's goals.

Williams: Every child enters kindergarten school-ready. Every child shall graduate from high school. Every child shall get some type of post secondary degree. It could be an associates degree, a bachelor's degree, a technical degree, with 21st century job skills. Hard goals to argue with.

Williams has reached out to businesses, parents and school board members, seeking everything from money and mentors to research. He wants Commit! to offer best-practices for finding, say, a great superintendent . But it will not micro-manage.

Todd: Our job is to use data and highlight and share, ultimately those boards have to make the decision about who their superintendent is, etc.

Williams also needs buy-in from teachers. Rena Honea leads Alliance AFT, Dallas' largest teacher group.

Honea: And I was invited to attend one of the first meetings they had about a presentation they were giving, to try to get the whole program started.

Honea says her members aren't yet committed to Commit! For one thing, Williams champions charter schools, but Honea wants state education dollars to stay with public schools. She likes that Williams reached out, but worries his organization is another "Dallas Achieves." That was a business - led reform effort from the last administration.

Honea: And it didn't' work. Parts did. But there were an awful lot of ideas brought forward that put a huge strain on the classroom teachers, on the employees, it wasn't funded well. It seems like the businesses are trying to step in to run education again.

Williams says Commit! won't run anything. He points to successful reform models in other cities he hopes to copy. Cincinnati Ohio's Strive Together program is one of them. Teachers like it, according to Julie Sellers, who heads the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers.

Sellers: They keep the agenda moving, they make sure the district is going in the right direction. Everybody's helping each other now.

Sellers says like a sick patient, her school district used to be labeled an Academic Emergency. Now, thanks in part to Strive Together, it's among Ohio's best districts.

Sellers: Teachers can't do it alone and districts can't do it alone. It has to be a community commitment. And now that the community is engaged, there are all these different partnerships, they're no longer criticizing us.

Mayor Rawlings says it's past time for Dallas to boast something like that.

Rawlings: The model is there. We just have to have the political will and the intelligence and the drive to execute it.

Rawlings and others say the Commit! program is still in its infancy - a work in progress - and way too soon to judge it a success or failure. Bill Zeeble KERA news.