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At a joint meeting on Jan. 13, the District 65 and District 202 School Boards adopted a joint literacy goal that “District 65 and District 202 will ensure that all students are proficient readers and college and career ready by the time they reach 12th grade.”  In addition to committing to work together, both School Districts have committed to partner with the many community organizations we have in town to meet the goal.

We think this is the boldest commitment to address achievement gaps in Evanston for many, many years. It is also one that holds promise because of the commitment to harbor all community resources together to have a collective impact.

The joint literacy goal is much different from any other goal adopted by the Boards for at least three reasons.

First, it states a belief and an expectation that all of the children in our community can and will succeed at high levels. It states a meaningful measure of success: that all children will be proficient readers and college and career ready when they graduate from Evanston Township High School. The goal has a long-term, 12-year horizon, one K-12 cycle. 

Second, it contains a commitment that District 65 and District 202 will work together to achieve the goal. This is essential to ensure that the curriculum is truly aligned from kindergarten through twelfth grade and that students are taught the foundational skills in earlier grades that they need for success in later grades. There are agreed upon benchmarks – linked to college and career readiness – that can be used to measure progress at each grade level.

Third, the School Districts explicitly recognize that much of what children learn about reading and writing happens outside the classroom and that they cannot achieve this goal on their own. Thus the goal statement provides, “Both Districts commit to partnering with each other and with community organizations especially those involved in the essential work of early childhood education to capitalize on every opportunity to meet this goal.”

Partnering with the community is a critical part of the joint goal. Mounting scientific and educational research demonstrates that it is crucial that children, starting at birth, have positive and nurturing experiences to establish a strong foundation for more effective learning capacities in the future. Research also shows it is important to address children’s health, emotional, social and cognitive needs in a holistic fashion. For all children to succeed, the entire community must help. 

The Evanston Cradle to Career Initiative (ECCI), unveiled last month, provides a vehicle to partner with the community. Administrators of Districts 65 and 202 participated with persons affiliated with nine other organizations in drafting the plan for ECCI whose vision is “By the age of 23, all Evanston youths will be leading productive lives.” Through ECCI, the School Districts could partner with as many as 30 organizations to achieve their joint literacy goal.

Importantly, ECCI is being put together using a “collective impact” model which is based on the premise that schools, community organizations, business groups, and others can have a greater impact by working together to address complex issues, than working alone.

Collective impact models represent a significant shift in the way community organizations have collaborated with each other in the past.  “Unlike most collaborations, collective impact models involve a centralized infrastructure, a dedicated staff, a structured process that leads to a common agenda, shared measurement, continuous communications and mutually reinforcing activities among participants,” says a paper “Collective Impact,” published in the Stanford Social Innovation Review.

Communities that have truly embraced the essential elements of a collective impact model have shown progress. This is one feature that gives the joint literacy goal promise.

The joint literacy goal is a huge step forward. We commend administrators and School Board members for taking this important step.  We urge community organizations, institutions, faith communities and residents to partner with Districts 65 and 202 and to join in the cradle to career initiative to help achieve this goal.