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Cradle to Career Collaborative to focus data on fixing education in tri-county

Author: Ashley Barker

Source: Charleston Regional Business Journal

September 26, 2014

Eight core indicators such as early childhood development and workforce readiness have been identified by leaders of the Tri-County Cradle to Career Collaborative as necessary parts of the learning experience that need to be improved.

The collaborative, which currently has two employees — CEO John Read and communications director Sara Perry — along with a board of directors, was started by The InterTech Group CEO Anita Zucker as a way to improve educational outcomes for children in Charleston, Berkeley and Dorchester counties.

In consultation with the four school districts in the area and based on national literature, the collaborative worked with education experts to select eight categories to focus on: early childhood or kindergarten readiness, third-grade reading, third-grade math, eighth-grade reading, eighth-grade math, high school graduation, postgraduate enrollment and postgraduate completion.
“We’ll put a spotlight on those eight, once we’re in consensus with the community about it, which I think will happen this calendar year,” Read said. “Those will be the things we say we want to move the needle on.”

The first step is to hold community symposiums so that collaborative networks of 40 to 60 people can form. A high school graduation symposium will be held Oct. 31 at the Francis Marion Hotel in downtown Charleston and an early childhood development event will take place Nov. 10 at Trident Technical College’s main campus in North Charleston.

During the symposiums, leaders of the collaborative will carefully watch the educators, social service agencies, nonprofit leaders, health and wellness providers, businesspeople and higher education representatives who are expected to attend to determine who is most engaged.

After that, a smaller group of 12, known as the guiding team, will be developed for each core indicator. Those teams will meet often over the next few years to go over data that the collaborative gathered from the symposiums.

“When you start with the birth of a child, it’s all very critical,” Zucker said. “To me, that’s a really important area to start with because if we don’t have good things influencing that child’s life at the beginning of their life, that can impact their ability to learn. It’s very, very critical.”

The process will be repeated for the other core indicators next year.

“The guiding team and the collaborative network will be taken by us through a pretty rigorous and disciplined root-cause analysis of why kids aren’t proficient in third grade or why kids don’t get high school diplomas,” Read said.

The idea behind the collaborative is to facilitate conversations that aren’t already happening among the big players.

Read said each of the four school districts in the area currently has its own mission. The nearly 2,000 education-related nonprofits, which compete with each other for funding, also have their own goals. Businesses, which Read said are the customers of the school systems, have their own agendas as well. They’re all working in parallel with each other instead of together, according to Read.

“To liken it to a common experience in business, if you were running a company or a division and you’ve got sales and marketing and production and support staff, there’s a natural tendency for organizations to move into silos and have sort of a singular focus on their work,” Read said. “If you look at education here as the examples, all of the constituent groups are in silos.”

Read believes that if the barriers between the organizations can be broken, the “collective impact” would be much greater.

“Facilitation, for me, is a contact sport. It’s not putting people in a room and putting newsprint up and brainstorming ideas and then you’re done. It’s a disciplined, data-based exercise,” Read said. “We intend to use the collaborative network and the data to shine a light on communities of interest that are already in place.”

The groups will look into programs like Reading Partners, the Charleston Promise Neighborhood, Metanoia, Wings for Kids and Links to Success (a Trident United Way program), among others, and find out what’s working and what’s not in each of the metrics.

“We’re not going to do their work. We’re simply going to help them do their work better by using data,” Read said.

In addition to hiring a CEO, the tri-county collaborative also joined the national StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network this year, which gives the local organization a chance to share information and learn from nearly 50 other groups. The only other S.C. organization in the national group is Spartanburg Academic Movement in Spartanburg County.

“We had to have achieved certain goals in our startup phase to get invited to join, and we’ve made it through enough levels,” Zucker said.

StriveTogether started eight years ago in Cincinnati and northern Kentucky and has spread to 26 states.

Even with support from the national network, Zucker said local businesses are going to continue to be important to the process as donors to the collaborative and as tools in creating the workforce.

“We have to have their insights into the needs of the business community because that is just so critical,” Zucker said. “How do we help develop the skills these children need, and what are those skills? They have to help us with that.”

Zucker is planning to invite a group of business and community leaders including CEOs of large employers, elected officials, district superintendents, nonprofit leaders and college presidents, among others, to join the Community Leadership Council in the early part of 2015.

The council, which Zucker said could be as large as 100 people, will act as an advisory board to the board of directors, which mainly focuses on policies, governance and procedures.

“They would be there to talk about the issues and to help us with direction and things of that nature,” Zucker said. “This needs to be a broader membership of the community. We’re working on pulling the names together now.”

Zucker said the collaborative is expecting to publish its first report card during the first quarter of 2015 and is currently waiting on 501(c)(3) status. In the meantime, it is using the College of Charleston Foundation as a way to receive funds. She said the collaborative is still in its early stages, but has a long life ahead.

“If we ever achieved 100% of every child succeeding than maybe we’d end it. But at this time in my life as a person looking on, I would think every year is going to bring differences and things we’ll have to work on,” Zucker said. “We’ll work to make sure we keep bringing positive improvement to the table.”

Reach staff writer Ashley Barker at 843-849-3144 or @AshleyNBarker on Twitter.

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