I am a parent of twin 5-year-olds who will be in kindergarten next year. We live downtown. Where can I send my kids to school?
That was the opening question, and not a hypothetical one, that I posed last month at our Downtown Dallas Inc. board meeting to a panel including Dallas ISD District 8 Trustee Miguel Solis, Dallas ISD District 2 Trustee Dustin Marshall, and Uplift Education Chief Administration Officer Ann Stevenson. It is also a question I get more and more often, not only from my downtown neighbors, but also from corporate decision-makers who are chasing the talent pool who craves urban living.
At the beginning of this year, Downtown Dallas Inc. (DDI) realigned our priorities to take a more integrated approach to building our center city. One that has risen to the top is “Fostering the Growth of Complete Neighborhoods.” This includes thoughtful urban planning efforts that grow and diversify housing choice downtown, including product type and price point, while at the same time complementing it with essential services like grocery stores and dry cleaners, parks and cultural assets, and accessible, multi-modal, and efficient transportation. And yes, schools. It’s not just about a race to build the most units or lease the greatest amount of space. What will sustain our urban core in the long run is filling in the gaps between towers to create complete places.
And education is a gap. As downtown’s pioneering population has grown and matured in recent years, demand has risen for more education options at all levels. We are “aging”—establishing careers and having kids—and we want to stay downtown. From 2000-2010 the number of 25-34-year-olds in the central business district (CBD) grew by 185.6 percent. I won’t make assumptions about anyone else’s life, but I know what I was doing at age 34, and those near-kindergarteners are the starting point for this piece. Furthermore, talent retention and recruitment have never been more important due to the increase of companies staying, growing, and moving to our urban core. So, our education platform at DDI is a simple brick-and-mortar strategy: We need more great schools in downtown.
From 2000-2010, the number of children ages 0-4 grew by 55.6 percent in the CBD. The projection for the next decade, from 2010-2020, predicts a similar trajectory at 45.7 percent growth. Then it slows to 27.9 percent from ages 5-14. The correlation with entering kindergarten is probably not accidental. Within the 2.5-mile radius of the Downtown Dallas 360 Plan geography, from 2000-2010, all age brackets between 0-19 declined by double-digits, but the story is a bit brighter from 2015-2020, as projections show modest growth of 2.7 percent. That said, we know that number can, and should, be higher.
Despite the undeniable need for more schools, it’s important to note the resources that are available today. We have options, great options. There are more than 30 schools of all levels within about two miles of downtown. So, when I asked the opening question to our panel about what I’m to do with my kids right now, there were answers.
Ms. Stevenson spoke about the Uplift Preparatory System, with 17 schools throughout Dallas and a mission to provide quality education in communities that are underserved with a focus on college preparation. In the downtown area, Uplift’s International Baccalaureate-authorized Luna Campus is split between the West End (K-5) and Deep Ellum (6-12), and will add pre-kindergarten in the 2017-2018 school year. Another charter school option, Pegasus School of Liberal Arts & Sciences, provides K-12 education through a highly experiential curriculum that utilizes all of downtown as its campus.
Trustee Solis was instrumental in the decision to locate CityLab High School in downtown, which will open this fall with its first class of 100 freshmen students. CityLab’s mission, fit perfectly for an urban campus, “is to establish an open enrollment inner-city high school where students use the city itself as a classroom to engage with the diverse social fabric and neighborhoods of the city.”
CityLab is just one creative way Dallas ISD is rethinking its approach to education downtown. Trustee Marshall’s district includes Ben Milam Elementary, located at McKinney Avenue and Fitzhugh Avenue, which, with the help of many neighborhood advocates, is now the school serving most of Uptown and downtown Dallas, giving our downtown families new options. Milam also offers pre-kindergarten, and is in the Alex W. Spence Middle School and North Dallas High School feeder pattern, with traditional as well as Talented and Gifted curriculum options at Spence Middle School. In addition, the incorporation of Public School Choice has allowed families to have better access to schools that are more streamlined to particular interests, including STEAM, Leadership, and Personalized Learning curricula. Schools of choice have also opened up geographic constraints, making schools like Solar Prep Girls STEAM Academy just north of downtown an option for many families.
In addition to CityLab, El Centro College, and Dallas ISD have a partnership in Lassiter Early College High School that allows students to graduate with high school diplomas and 60 or more college credits, in some cases qualifying for an associate’s degree. And, of course, downtown is home to the award-winning Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts.
First Baptist Academy also serves as a pre-k-12 option for private school. Preschool and early childhood development options are available at many downtown and nearby faith-based institutions, adding to a handful of traditional daycare options. Additionally, the T. Boone Pickens YMCA is growing its programming for children.
Downtown’s higher education institutions are robust and growing as well. Within downtown and a 2.5-mile radius more than 18,000 students are enrolled. The El Centro College campus celebrating 50 years, includes a rich core curriculum in addition to its specialty programs such as El Centro’s Center for Allied Health, Center for Design, and Food and Hospitality Services Institute. El Centro is also proud to be an HSI, a Hispanic Serving Institution. Downtown is also home to UNT System and UNT Dallas College of Law, as well as the Universities Center at Dallas and its partner institutions, including UNT, UNT Dallas, Texas A&M Commerce, and University of Texas Arlington. In the Cedars, the Bill J. Priest Institute for Economic Development provides workforce and business development training. DDI is also working with nearby campuses like Paul Quinn College to continue to grow the talent pool and opportunities in the center of our city.
I’ve chosen to live downtown with my family for a number of reasons. I live in a place where we spend our time enjoying life with front door access to art, recreation, food, events, and spontaneous run-ins. My children are exposed to a richness of culture, diversity, innovation, and history, supported by a community striving for the same. And now, as we weigh our options for education, the long-term viability of staying here feels pretty good.
Kourtny Garrett is president and CEO of Downtown Dallas Inc.