December 14, 2011
DALLAS (SMU) – SMU and the Dallas Faith Communities Coalition have created a new partnership dedicated to transforming education in low-income neighborhoods. The coalition now is part of the Center on Communities and Education at SMU’s Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development.
The center will initially focus on West Dallas, an impoverished area west of downtown where just 33 percent of residents over the age of 18 have high school diplomas. However, the intent is to establish a far-reaching model to impact other communities locally and nationally.
The partnership (See Facts About the Partnership) is a natural step for the coalition created in 2004 to develop solutions to poverty, says former coalition executive director Regina Nippert, now executive director of SMU’s Center on Communities and Education. In 2008 the coalition narrowed its focus to West Dallas schools. The partnership with the Simmons School provides new educational resources for West Dallas children.
“Our goal remains the same,” Nippert says. “Close the education gap in West Dallas by building a thriving education ecosystem – an integrated network of high-performing schools and nonprofits that together weave a safety net so tight that kids can’t fall through the cracks on their way to a college-ready education.”
SMU’s Center on Communities and Education is the backbone organization for the School Zone, which supports collaboration between 10 West Dallas public schools and 20 nonprofit agencies. The School Zone provides:
- Parent training and early childhood development programs
- In-school programs such as college readiness and teacher training
- After-school homework assistance, college awareness, mentoring and arts programming
Creating successful schools is key to fighting area poverty, says David Chard, the Leon Simmons Endowed Dean of the Simmons School. Through SMU faculty research, as well as student service learning, internships and work-study programs, Simmons School resources can support student progress in West Dallas schools as well as provide opportunities to SMU students and researchers.
“We have great respect for the families, educators and community organizations in West Dallas, and we intend to learn much from them,” Chard says. “Their insights will shape our work in the Simmons School.”
Key to tracking the progress of educational reform in the area is the West Dallas Report Card, an electronic monitoring system created by Timothy Bray, director of the Institute for Urban Policy Research at the University of Texas at Dallas. The report card will enable all 20 organizations to set goals, track progress and document outcomes on an easily accessed web site, www.westdallasreportcard.com.
Scientific documentation contributes to a larger goal of the Center on Communities and Education – replicating the process and contributing to successful education reform in other communities. It also dovetails with one of the Simmons School’s missions – to promote excellence by engaging in and sharing the results of evidence-based research.
“Effective teachers and principals can deliver even more to their schools, knowing the community is standing with them and expecting only the best for their children,” Chard says. “With this partnership, we will continue the education work of the Dallas Faith Communities Coalition by assessing what works, measuring outcomes and developing programs that are meaningful to West Dallas.”
SMU enrolls nearly 11,000 students who benefit from the academic opportunities and international reach of seven degree-granting schools.
SMU’s Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development serves current and future teachers, counselors, therapists and the community through degree offerings, human development programs, continuing studies courses and faculty research on education-related topics.
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