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The East Texan

ASPIRE Reaches for a Future Filled with Constant Collaboration

Imogené Wofford, Entertainment Editor

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On Feb. 7, the community of Commerce, members of Commerce’s school district and faculty and staff of the university got together to once again to discuss improving Commerce’s school system, the city and the quality of life in Commerce for Commerce.

This event was dedicated to the presentations that the different teams had put together to highlight the issue that they felt were important, and the plan they developed to change that for the better.

“The ASPIRE project continues to gain momentum, in part, because of the vision of the new leaders for [Texas A&M University-Commerce, Commerce Independent School District and the City of Commerce. Well over 100 people have participated in the ASPIRE project because of the promise for a better future energized through President Keck’s invitation to create collaborations not limited by personnel or funding,” the ASPIRE program notes said.

The 11 presentations included topics on improving instruction at all levels, a mentorship program, an incentive to keep employees in Commerce, the strengths and needs of students and families, summer programs, and how TBRI can help pull the community together.

“It was great to see so many people engaged, involved and to see the staying power of people who came from the first set of meetings all the way through to the end; to put in that work and effort, and to care so much about making sure that this whole initiative is successful. It was almost overwhelming to see that much community support,” Commerce City Manager Darrek Ferrell said.

“I was overwhelmed because when we first started talking about this I thought we would get 20 or 30 people in a room, [however], we consistently had meetings…Darrek hosted one along with the mayor where we had over 100 at that first meeting,” College of Education and Human Services Associate Dean, and Commerce ISD School Board Member Dr. Mark Reid said. “Then we had the series of three meetings here at the university, and that’s after they had meetings at the school district and around the community; I second [Mr. Ferrell’s] thoughts about people sustaining and really wanting to do it. In fact, they are very interested in going forward from here.”

“I worked in San Antonio and conducted several meetings there for a city of 1.4 million people; and I think I did 42 public meetings before I left, and only one, or two, of them only got over 100 people,” Ferrel noted.  “Here in Commerce, it’s out of 9,000, and we’ve had three, or four, meetings with over 100 people. So from a perspective stand point, it is a truly amazing thing. We have a lot of work to do, I mean collectively: the city, the university, the school district, and the residents of the community; everyone is on board to do the work. We’ve got some tasks and projects in every area where we work.

“The school district has projects for after school programs, mentorship programs, student initiatives, but they’ve also got professional development for teachers, and some other programs related to working with the university on those things. From the city stand point, we have a quality of life and community needs assessment piece of it that we are going to have to take a long good look at, start planning some work around and realize that we have lots of resources to accomplish those things,” Ferrell continued. “We do want to continue the communication and a lot of the momentum that’s there, so us three entities got together and created a website, Commercetogether.com, where you could read all the materials from previous meetings and you can see everything that has been discussed [and] you can sign up to join any newsletters, or communications, that we send out.”

“Everyone is working together really well, there’s a chemistry that happens between the three entities that I don’t know that I’ve ever seen in my career,” Ferrell said.

City Manager Ferrell came up with the Commerce together idea, implemented it and has given everyone a great online presence. Alice Wik-Crosby suggested forming a Facebook group around the ASPIRE project, where people can ask to join.

“That will be another place online where we will continue the momentum,” Dr. Reid said. “This is an extraordinary time: we’ve got a new university president, a new mayor, a new superintendent, and a new city manager all of whom want to [come together and] collaborate. In a non-technological way, one of the best things about local government, and local initiatives like this, is that the people who are responsible for making the policies, all the local elected officials, are your friends, your next door neighbors, they’re all right down the street, or in the same community as you.”

A&M University-Commerce President Ray Keck and Commerce ISD Superintendent Charlie Alderman have a meeting set up before spring break.

“What we want to get out is that it is moving forward, this all began with President Keck’s call and invitation to the school board for more collaboration; and now we are at a stage where the community has been involved and they’ve come up with ideas. Many of these ideas are moving forward like the TBRI [part], mentoring programs, summer programs, afterschool programs will continue to evolve based in part on the meetings that we’ve had,” Dr. Reid listed. “Now the leader from the school district, superintendent and the president from the university are going to meet and [determine] what our priorities are coming for this fall. Once we know that, we get our word out to the people who have been involved with the ASPIRE project, as well as those who want to be involved.”

City Manager Ferrell, Mayor Wyman Williams, Superintendent Alderman, and Dr. Reid met Feb. 13 to debrief from the presentation meeting, and to talk about next steps.

“One thing that will continue to give it energy, momentum, really change kids’ lives, and change the quality of live in Commerce is to continue to have volunteers that come forward, engaged in changing young people’s lives, and plugging in other places in the community where they are needed,” Dr. Reid said.

Some of the programs have already begun because they require little to no input; however, there are some that will require more consideration because they require more resources and personnel.

“We’ll know more in a few months, in terms of which direction we are heading…we are looking at a three year horizon, this isn’t something that can be implemented overnight,” Dr. Reid said.

“I would encourage people to get involved with the work that is going on because I think that the outcome will be such an amazing thing for a community our size that you’ll want to say you were a part of it. I don’t know that there’s ever been a better time to be in Commerce as it is right now and to be a part of this,” Ferrell said. “Big projects and big initiatives like this do take time, so as long as we keep moving forward everyday, I think we are doing it right.”

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ASPIRE Reaches for a Future Filled with Constant Collaboration