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Last week a steering committee, formed in the spring of 2013, presented a draft “Evanston Cradle to Career” initiative (ECCI) to the larger planning committee. That committee is composed of persons affiliated with School Districts 65 and 202, Northwestern University, Oakton Community College, the City of Evanston, the Childcare Network of Evanston, the Evanston Community Foundation, First Baptist Church,  the McGaw YMCA, Youth Organization Umbrella, and the YWCA. 

 The vision of the proposed initiative is that “By the age of 23, all Evanston young adults will be leading productive lives, building on the resources, education, and support that they need and their families have had to help them grow into resilient, educated, self-sufficient, and socially responsible adults.”

The model is built on the premise of “collective impact” – that schools, community organizations, business groups, and others can have a greater impact by working together to address complex issues, than by working alone. We urged three-and-a-half years ago that the School Districts adopt a joint goal of college and career readiness and that they partner with early childhood providers, community organizations, religious communities to ensure all students are college and career ready when they graduate from high school.

We thus strongly support the cradle-to-career initiative. We appreciate the creativity, dedication and hard work of the steering committee and the larger planning committee. They have performed a great service to our youth and our community by taking this important step that brings together many institutions and organizations in our community to work toward this common vision. We do offer several suggestions, though, in the spirit of strengthening the initiative, or perhaps to set out in words what every participant is taking for granted.

First, a concern. One important element of a collective impact initiative is that the participants agree on the goal or goals of the initiative and a shared measurement system. While the initiative contains a broadly stated vision, the draft proposal does not contain an overarching goal with measures of success. Instead, the proposal says six “broad-based working groups” are “charged with setting goals and creating initiatives to reach the goals of the initiative.” One group will set goals for literacy, other groups will set them for community poverty and stability, youth and family violence, health, career and post-secondary readiness, and parent connections. A steering committee is charged with guiding the way the broad-based working groups set the goals, which may be a way to unify the initiative behind six sets of goals. We hope, this process will evolve to adopting overarching goals and measures of success for the entire initiative.

Second, the proposal provides a structure for one of the broad-based working groups to adopt academic goals relating to “literacy,” but it does not provide a structure to adopt academic goals in other subject areas such as math or science, or more broadly for college readiness across all subject areas. Given the broad vision of the initiative, we think it is important to provide a structure to develop goals in these other academic areas. In particular, we urge that a path be formed for the adoption of a goal that students be college and career ready by the time they graduate from high school. We urge that this be an overarching goal of the initiative.

Third, the proposal provides that the initiative will collect and report data showing “proficiency” in writing, reading and math for third through eleventh graders. We think it is important to define exactly what “proficiency” means and how it will be measured. Moreover, because the benchmark for “proficiency” has often been pegged at a level significantly below the proficiency needed to be on track to college and career readiness as defined by ACT, we think it is essential that the initiative collect and report data showing the percent of third- through twelfth-graders who are on track to college and career readiness, back mapping from or using ACT’s college readiness benchmarks. The proposal does not provide for collecting and reporting this important data.

Finally, the proposal plans to put the leadership and management function into the hands of a “Steering Committee.”  We have a concern that a committee, no matter how dedicated and well-intentioned, is not equipped to perform executive functions on a daily basis. The proposal plans to hire a project coordinator at a total cost of $80,000 per year, to carry out certain administrative functions. We suggest that the initiative consider hiring someone who can perform the function of a chief executive officer, someone who has the skills, knowledge, experience and authority to move the participating organizations forward in a cohesive, effective faction.

The proposed initiative represents a giant step forward. We thank members of the steering and planning committees for putting forth this proposal and thank the leaders of the many institutions and organizations that have agreed to collaborate together toward a common vision for our youth. We have the utmost respect for everyone involved in this process. We respectfully offer these suggestions for your consideration.