DALLAS -- Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings is a plain-spoken former CEO who is rather brash about his city's emergence as the fourth largest metropolitan area and one of the strongest economic growth powerhouses in the nation. And yet he's rather humble about how big-thinking "Big D's" long-term health is directly threatened by the opportunity gap for students of color and from low-income families, who make up about 80 percent of the county's public school enrollment. He's leading a comprehensive cradle-to-career strategy aimed at doing the "hard stuff of honest discourse and data-driven strategy'' across many school districts in Dallas County, to improve many indicators of learning, toward a goal of much improved postsecondary completion rates. The collaborative student success organization that Rawlings helps lead is Commit! (to Dallas), and its mission and modus operandi are common to a burgeoning national Strive Together network of similar groups. These strivers, meeting in Dallas this week, are committed to closing gaps and improving student outcomes by engaging every sector and conceivable stakeholder, from low-income parents to CEOs, setting measureable goals along the entire pathway from birth through career launch, and then achieving goals through action networks.
The Twin Cities has its own ambitious effort underway, Generation Next, But this is most definitely not just a big-city movement. Rural and small-town communities are well represented at the Dallas conference, from Las Cruces, N.M to Kalamazoo, Michigan. Minnesota contingents at the conference represent the communities of Red Wing, Austin and northern Minnesota's Itasca County, which is out front in Minnesota with an already well developed Strive-like model and "road map," under the banner of the Itasca Area Initiative for Student Success. A key founder of the Strive model, Nancy Zimpher, Chancellor of the State University of New York, opened the conference with the observation that attendance and representation had grown exponentially over the last four years from about 75 attendees to 450. She suggested that the comprehensive cradle-to-career strategy and the collective impact model has become "a bit of a movement.'' No question about it. And I like the way Mayor Rawlings explained the problem and the purpose, because it is the right stuff of a movement. Dallas in 2030 or 2040 will be all about what's happening right now with the city's children, Rawlings said, or "what's going on between their ears and in their hearts...These kids are our kids and not just somebody else's problem.'' One is tempted to borrow from that unforgettable transmission from space to another Texas city (Houston, we have a problem), and declare, "Dallas, we have a movement!"