When Mayor Mike Rawlings visited Lake Highlands Women’s League members Friday, he had high praise for their work volunteering in the community and fundraising for neighborhood and educational causes. Lake Highlanders have it “just perfect,” he said, living in the City of Dallas and sending their children to RISD, with its manageable size and ability to handle diversity while retaining high-achieving students.

Rawlings was decidedly high on Dallas, repeatedly referring to Dallas’ “positive, can-do spirit versus the rest of the country” as reflected in numerous polls and economic indicators. He bragged on Dallas’ sports teams, Main Street Garden, Arboretum, Calatrava/Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge, South Lamar area and Museum of Nature & Science (under construction), among other assets. But he lamented what he sees as a significant deterrent to economic development within the city’s boundaries: the sad state of DISD.

Rawlings discussed “black flight,” recalling conversations with successful, middle-class African-American families who work in Dallas but live in the suburbs. “When I ask why they don’t move back to Dallas, they look at me like I’m crazy,” Rawlings said. “They say they want to give their kids a good education.” About 700,000 people per day enter Dallas from surrounding communities.

Rawlings touts new programs like Commit!, a collaboration of the city, DISD, the Chamber of Commerce, businesses and non-profits. He calls it a “cradle-to-career” initiative, including some components that are remarkably simple, like the program to teach new mothers to speak 30,000 words to their children by the first grade (many will speak only 6,000). The idea is that language acquisition can’t begin too soon and that no one is too young for human investment.

These programs are creating a sense of hope,” said Rawlings. “If we lose hope in schools, it doesn’t matter what we do with the arts, the homeless, all the rest of it. These programs can work. Education can empower the whole community.”