Friday, March 11, 2011

Editorial: Dowagiac Develops its vision with Disney Way Opportunity


Published 12:24am in the Dowagiac Daily News, Thursday, March 3, 2011

Rare moments like this don’t materialize every day.

There was that Gwen Brooks poetry reading 20 years ago which spawned a week-long fine arts festival featuring world-class authors, musicians, dancers, storytellers and now culinary artists.

A generation of students grew up believing the way to read a book includes conversing with its creator about where he or she came up with the idea and characters.

Another moment that comes to mind is the new middle school with a Performing Arts Center opened in 2005 by an orchestra.

The Disney Way dangles a different kind of symphony, a complex collection of voices to blend together in a pleasing vision that will be like music in its ability to tell diverse Dowagiac’s inspiring story.

It’s one thing to live here and to know it’s special, but another to try to articulate that across the spectrum of an entire town, from its public schools and community college to service providers at City Hall and our hospital.

Just to look around Wednesday and to see five large tables unleashing and trying to mesh their visions inspires passion for the possibilities and underscores Bill Capodagli’s disclaimer that there’s no instant pudding, just hard work, when it comes to battering down barriers and reimagining entrenched cultures.

Certainly solving customer problems sparks innovation and it was interesting that in the first exercise about identifying examples of exceptional or awful service, 80 percent extolled exemplary examples.

Local imagineers will do well to remember how we got to this point since this initiative was conceived last November in an unprecedented show of cooperation.

This remarkable week can actually be traced to last March with a business and community leaders forum for Dr. W. Craig Misner of Michigan Leadership Institute, gathering information for the Union School District superintendent search which delivered Dr. Mark Daniel to succeed retiring Peg Stowers.

A Daily News column March 29, 2010, headlined, “We need to tell our story to create a climate for success” called for a school chief with exceptional skills and fresh ideas to tell Dowagiac’s story, good and bad, so we define ourselves rather than someone else.

A sense of urgency came from the fact that for the first time ever, Dowagiac finished below state average in 14 test categories. We came across as a mediocre also-ran and the business community knew how hard it would be to recruit for economic development or to sell homes with a school system that across the board ranked consistently in the bottom half of area districts and last in Cass County.

Fair or not, that was reality, even if it’s not the Dowagiac we know, which doesn’t take a back seat to anyone.

The durable storyline that the district is scrappy and squeezes every dollar from limited resources served it well for a long time, but it doesn’t aim high enough for graduates expected to compete in a global economy.

Dogwood is a great example of the power of the possible, ignoring naysayers and creating its own climate for success by expectations it defined.

If its visionaries had wallowed in defeatism or flinched in self-doubt at the prospect of inviting a Kurt Vonnegut, John Updike or Norman Mailer here, there wouldn’t be a new generation writing its own books and pursuing fine arts careers in college or an enviable public art collection.

So this may not prove to be instant pudding or low-hanging fruit, but branches will not be out of reach harnessing so much positive energy and maybe a little pixie dust magic in a mutual direction for the greater good. Just getting all these folks in the same room, their hats checked at the door, was no small feat. Isn’t every small town like this?

Capodagli knows better than most they are not.

The Grand Old City, with a strong identity and rich heritage, is different in a good way and has a story that someday will make a sensational book, The Dowagiac Way.

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