Editorial: Working together for West Dallas students

SMU’s Center on Communities and Education has launched an innovative program that can improve education and make the future brighter for West Dallas K-12 students, says a Dallas Morning News editorial.

A family moves from one apartment complex to another, causing a child to change schools mid-semester. Another child goes to school hungry, the next is anxious because of problems at home and yet another struggles in basic math, science and reading.

In West Dallas, these are common pathways that carry young people first to poor grades and later to lifelong poverty. By high school, frustrated students drop out or graduate without the skills to earn a decent living, a depressing cycle that must end.

Determined to change that reality, the Center on Communities and Education at Southern Methodist University is betting that it can marshal community, school district, parents and social service agencies in an innovative program to give West Dallas students a brighter future.

This newspaper applauds this groundbreaking effort to tackle the problem in all of its many complicated facets.

At a breakfast last week, the center unveiled its first scorecard, along with impressive concrete strategies aimed at getting at least 60 percent of West Dallas students college-ready by 2020. While 60 percent may seem modest, it won’t be an easy goal to reach. According to the center’s research, less than 20 percent of students at most West Dallas public schools are deemed on pace to become college-ready.

Like the much-praised Harlem Children’s Zone in New York, the center’s plan properly recognizes that students face major hurdles at home that hinder them in class. Recognizing the warning signs and causes of academic trouble as early as possible is especially important in West Dallas, where about 53 percent of residents lack a high school diploma or equivalent, almost twice the Dallas average of 27 percent.

But unlike previous piecemeal efforts of social service agencies and academia, this ambitious initiative smartly attempts to customize comprehensive support strategies to the specific deficiencies of each of the nine elementary and three middle schools that feed into Pinkston High School.

There is no one-size-fits-all strategy. Each school has its own identity and challenges, and the center takes those differences into account.

Read the entire editorial