If Mayor Mike Comes Knockin' On Your Door Tomorrow, He Just Wants You Back in School

Got a robocall from the Dallas Independent School District last night asking me to help round up any truants I might know of. Sorry, wish I could help. Turns out, it was just a precursor to tomorrow's kick-off of Operation Graduation, which is now in its fourth year and involves city and district officials spending a Saturday morning knocking on doors of identified "potential dropouts" and asking them to come back to class. (Though, as I seem to recall, last year it was called Operation Comeback.)

Tomorrow morning at 8:30., Mayor Mike Rawlings, DISD Interim Superintendent Alan King, DISD board president Lew Blackburn and other higher-ups will meet and greet the media at H. Grady Spruce High School before fanning out to begin their knock-knocks. Says the district's release, Rawlings, Blackburn and King get Pleasant Grove. City Hall says Dwaine Caraway and wife Barbara, Pauline Medrano, Tennell Atkins, Monica Alonzo and trustee Nancy Bingham will take everywhere else. What -- the other trustees and council members too busy?

A note from the mayor's office says this started in Houston in '04 and spread out statewide, and since then "close to 10,000 students have returned to school thanks to this collaborative effort between school districts and local elected officials." I asked DISD spokesman and noted pianist Jon Dahlander if he had specific numbers for DISD. He went to find them and came back with this:

In '08, according to Dahlander, the district got 84 kids back to school during the month-long initiative. Eight-two returned in '09, and another 85 went back to class last year.

"What you have to remember is the event on Saturday is a three-hour event," he tells Unfair Park. "And it's helpful to raise awareness, obviously, but the initiative continues through the month of September, and getting one student back is great. Getting 15 is great. To get 80, that's even better. It's a lot of work to go through this, especially this year, as we have a new mayor and interim superintendent, and there was some discussion of should we even do it. But after careful consideration and knowing its impact, then the decision was made: Yes, let's go for it. So they'll be up there tomorrow, kicking it off, but it'll continue through Friday, September 30."

I asked: How does the initiative work following Saturday's round-up? Dahlander explains: "Calls will be made to the homes where students are listed as being enrolled but have not shown up."

Then there's the obvious question: Why not do this year-round?

"Then you'd create an office that does nothing but that," he says. "At some point you have to get them in school and start the learning process, and if they're not coming back by September 30, chances are they aren't coming up. But that's why we have some of the reconnection centers. And they can always come back. But as at some point it becomes difficult, because many have moved on to different places."

Alas, Dahlander says the district doesn't have hard stats on whether or not those kids brought back during Operation Graduation actually stay in school.

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky