Dallas Regional Chamber Wants DISD Board to Commit to Commit! Like, Right Now.

Still waiting on a response from Mayor Mike concerning the Dallas Regional Chamber's so-called Commit! initiative, which we took at long look at Sunday. Turns out, Rawlings, Dwaine Caraway, Uplift Education board member Todd Williams and Dallas ISD board president Lew Blackburn paid The Dallas Morning News a visit yesterday to sell the paper's editorial board on the plan. Looks like it worked.

But it remains, for now, nothing more than a vague concept -- a partnership, of sorts, between the district, the mayor's office, banks and businesses, and other "Dallas area stakeholders [who are] highly committed to the transformative power of education," per its manifesto. As we mentioned Sunday there are various role models in Boston, Cincinnati, Los Angeles, Seattle and elsewhere.

But as Blackburn told the board moments ago, "We do not have a plan yet. We're in the stages of getting together to develop a plan." Then, later, he said that Commit! as it presently exists "represents an agreement to work together. The how and what will come later during a process formed after we all agree on common goals." So ... yeah.

Clint McDonnough, a managing partner at Ernst & Young and chair of education for the chamber, sketched out Commit! for the trustees, explaining that it was born out of months' worth of confabs -- "lots of meetings with a variety of constituents, lots of meetings with the service providers in the nonprofit and faith-based community notion to try to get some agreement that the community has interest in doing it and some agreement around common goals we can work toward. ... We're here for input. We have tried to be both transparent and collaborative. We do think it's a good document and represents good work by good people ... to live the life of collaboration and be as transparent as we could be."

Most of the trustees didn't have much to say about it. Ah, but what do Carla Ranger and Edwin Flores think? Jump.

First off, McDonnough and Blackburn want the board to get on board. Pronto. By no later than September 22 meeting. Said McDonough, "We believe there's momentum, there's enthusiasm around the community to lock arms and be as creative as we possibly can in helping the school board and administration in providing the best education we can for our community."

Blackburn then mentioned his meeting with the paper's editorial board and said, "I told both Mike [Rawlings] and Clint I didn't want to move forward without the board knowing and wanted them to approve a resolution saying it was OK to mvoe forward with the mayor and chamber. I want the entire board to say, 'Yes, it's OK to do this. So far I like it, but I'm only one [trustee]."

"We can't go forward without the trustees," added McDonnough. At which point it was mentioned that if and when Commit! becomes a reality, it will exist, more than likely, as a 501(c)(3).

Flores was among the few trustees to chime in one way or the other. And he's positively giddy about the prospect of this public-private partnership.

"I want to thank you for your work and what you're doing," he said, before mentioning those chamber-funded trips during which some trustees and then-Superintendent Michael Hinokjosa looked at charter schools for a study yet to make its appearance before the full board.

"Those of us who went on the city trips to Denver, L.A. and Houston and elsewhere know this is the foundation for how organizations ... are now working together," Flores said. "It's new in Dallas, but it's not new in Boston or Chicago, and these cities are showing remarkable change. It's important city leadership takes this to heart and gives it the long-term focus that's needed. We're so focused on next year's budget ... we don't see the whole region. ...

"We are all about preparing every child to succeed in school and graduating with skills to work in the workplace and going to college and eliminating the achievement gap The alignment to the work this board has already done is important for me to see. I am very very supportive. ... This is where everyone's going because it works."

McDonnough was grateful for the kind words. "I think I've lost count of the number of meetings we've had," he said. "There were lots of meetings where we were trying to build that collaboration and transparency. We're almost at the end of the beginning. The real hard work is gonna come around this. I feel really great about the foundation and as we talk about next steps, some of which were laid out in the article today."

Then Ranger spoke up. She also thanked the chamber for all its hard work. She said it sounds good, absolutely, but that there's a lot to consider here. "This is a significant document," she said, "a significant undertaking." And because of that, Ranger said, she didn't want to the board to have to act right now, bound by some artificial time line. Why, she asked, can't the board meet about this later, after having gotten some input from the public?

"We need to start now," Blackburn told her. "The longer it take for us to buy in to it, the longer it takes for us to get started. ... In Focus 2012 we talked about partnering with businesses and other community groups, and it falls in line with the other tenets we operate under. We don't have a plan. We're going to come together to help develop a plan, and the plan is going to significantly benefit Dallas ISD. They are talking about education broadly -- public schools, charter schools, private school, cradle to career -- and at the end of the month I am asking the board to adopt a resolution to work with whatever it will be called."

"I would encourage the trustees to move at pace on this and not lose the momentum," McDonough said. "The quicker we can move, the quicker we can move into action steps."

"Again, a lot of work has gone into this, a lot of time," Ranger said. "This give us two weeks to decide how we'll join in and partner. For me, as a trustee, I am also interested in the stakeholders, the public, as well as our having the conversation as trustees about the implications both short-range and long-range. We want to move it along, but we want to be clear about what we're doing and why we're doing and receive from the public their input."

Eric Cowan suggested, well, maybe the board ought to have a special called meeting in the next two weeks to talk about it, then vote on the 22nd. Didn't sound like that's going to happen.

"I would like to plan a meeting to hear from the public and digest their response and feedback," Ranger reiterated. "There are implications, and I've seen us rush -- and I am not saying this is that -- but I have seen us rush into projects, concepts and initiatives before, and the last one ended in great financial disaster because we didn't take the time to look at the implications and associated results. I am concerned about that. It troubles me ... we are too hasty."

Blackburn then told said, well, the resolution will be on the agenda September 22. Ranger asked: Are you going to have a public hearing? "I'll take it under consideration," the board president said.

There was then a talk about Leadership DISD. Which was interesting. But been there, done that.

But then the trustees began talking about those academically unacceptable schools and the school improvement plans. A lot of proposals were tossed out there -- some involving a study of feeder patterns, some involving a reconfiguring of the magnets. Flores spoke of performance pay at the central office and of "turning around our paradigm."

At which point, Mike Morath spoke up. We'll end this there:

"We have to adopt an attitude of no excuses," he said. "I want a commitment from every layer of leadership in this district that says we'll get these kids to where they need to be or we'll all quit. We've got a third that don't graduate and a third who do who aren't prepared for modern life. You can't turn this around immediately. I look at folks that are willing to take the responsibility of leading these campuses that want that responsibility, and they get four years to turn it around. And if they don't get it working at the highest possible level, I don't want 'em ever working for us again."

Tune in. They're passing out soapboxes.