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We all play part in kids’ success

Date Published: 10/20/2013

Author: Dane Smith, President

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings is a plain-spoken former CEO who is rather brash about his region's emergence as the nation's fourth-largest metropolitan area.

And yet Rawlings is rather humble and worried about how the long-term economic health of "Big D" is directly threatened by a widening opportunity gap for students of color and students from low-income families, who make up about 80 percent of Dallas County's public school enrollment.

So Rawlings is helping lead a comprehensive cradle-to-career strategy aimed at "doing the hard stuff of honest discourse and data-driven strategy" across several school districts in Dallas County. The aim is to improve all indicators of learning and success, toward a goal of much improved postsecondary completion rates.

'Strive Together'

The collaborative student success organization that Rawlings helps lead is Commit! (to Dallas), and its mission and modus operandi are common denominators for a burgeoning national "Strive Together" movement of similar groups. Minnesota -- along with New York, Texas and California -- is among the most active states in generating local Strive Together models, and St. Cloud is out-front of this movement in Minnesota.

These "Strivers," who held their national convention in Dallas last month, are committed to closing gaps and improving student outcomes by engaging every sector and stakeholder, from CEOs to low-income parents, then setting measurable goals from birth through career launch, and achieving these 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 areas and smaller cities were well represented at the Dallas conference.

Minnesotans at the conference included contingents from Red Wing, Austin and northern Minnesota's Itasca County, which is at the forefront in Minnesota with an already well-developed Strive-like model and "road map," under the banner of the Itasca Area Initiative for Student Success.

Also a leader is St. Cloud's Partner for Student Success, which has 40 partners, ranging from businesses to nonprofits, from Bremer Bank to the African Women's Alliance. The partnership has begun "asset-mapping" of youth organizations to better coordinate disparate efforts at helping students most in need of help. New collaborations and pilot programs for high-quality after-school and summer-school activity have been launched, and renewed recruitment of mentors and tutors is underway.

Each of the Strive Together creation stories is different, but homegrown originators tend to be leaders in the local business, education, civic or philanthropic community. They have in common a refreshing new "everybody in" mentality, and an urgency around total community effort to close gaps, improve outcomes from cradle to career, and increase post-secondary attainment and workforce readiness.

Strive Together organizers call their comprehensive plans "road maps," and they all tend to set specific checkpoints of achievement, such as kindergarten readiness, third-grade reading proficiency, eighth-grade math competence and post-secondary completion rates.

Another Strive Together trademark is reverence for data. The strategy is big-hearted but also hard-headed, relying on meaningful metrics and measurable outcomes.

Corporate support

Business leaders are gravitating toward this comprehensive approach. Minnesota's Target Corp. was a leading sponsor of the Strive Together in Dallas, as was the MetLife Foundation and United Way. Reba Dominski, director of community relations for Target, told the attendees that "strong businesses and strong communities are inextricably linked."

It's also harder than it looks. Although Strive Together efforts have started in dozens of communities, a recurrent theme throughout the convening was that no part of the process is easy. National leaders talked about "failing forward," learning from mistakes and persevering amid apathy or push back.

But there's no question that Strive Together is becoming a national movement. And the way that Rawlings explained the problem and the purpose underscores the urgency and importance behind it. Dallas' competitive position in 2030 or 2040, Rawlings said, will be all about the region's children, or "what's going on between their ears and in their hearts. ... These kids are our kids and not just somebody else's problem."

This is the opinion of Dane Smith, president of Growth & Justice, a policy and research center focused on a more inclusive prosperity for Minnesota.

more online

Visit www.strivetogether.org/strive-network to learn about the national organization.

Visit partnerforstudentsuccess.org to learn about the St. Cloud-area group working in conjunction with Strive Together.

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