At the May 19 City Council meeting, representatives of the Evanston Cradle to Career (EC2C) initiative presented the concept to Council members and asked for their support and financial commitment. Council members asked many questions, wanted assurances on certain things, and sent the matter to the Human Services Committee for further review. At least one Council member was antagonistic.

We think EC2C is one of the most important initiatives in our community for a long time. We have many people, many organizations and many institutions working hard every day to help our youth. But we are still failing many of them.

Many of our youth enter kindergarten behind their peers, and they either fall further behind or never catch up through their school years. Poverty is a factor. According to District 65’s records, 353 students who attend District 65 are homeless; 33% of its students are from households who qualify for “free lunch,” which is set at 130% of the federal poverty guideline. In addition, 11% of District 65 students are English language learners (ELL); and about 12% have a disability. 

At the end of eighth- grade and again at the end of twelfth-grade, only about one-third of our African American students are on track to college and career readiness.  A higher percentage of Hispanic students are on track. In both cases, though, there is a substantial correlation between achievement and household income.

After high school, a significant number of our youth are not getting jobs and not continuing their education. A small number have resorted to violence. Some youth, as early as in middle school, are being pressured to join gangs.

This all concerns us. What we as a community have been doing has not worked to the extent we would like. What our early childhood providers, our schools, our City, our social service organizations have been doing has not worked to the extent we would like. This is not for a lack of trying. Many families and  many youth face incredible challenges. Yet many youth still have the resiliency to go through the school doors every day.

 EC2C offers a new approach. It is built on the premise of “collective impact” – that schools, institutions, community organizations, business groups and others can have a greater impact by working together to address complex social and educational issues than by working alone.

The plan is to address the needs of Evanston youth, starting at birth, in a holistic fashion and to focus on all factors that impact learning, health, and social and emotional development. 

The vision of EC2C is that “By the age of 23, all Evanston young adults will be leading productive lives.”

Many communities across the nation, including 16 in Illinois, are relying on collective impact models to solve complex social problems, including to address disparities in educational outcomes.

“Collaboration is nothing new,” say the authors of a paper “Collective Impact” (2011) published in the Stanford Social Innovation Review. “The social sector is filled with examples of partnerships, networks and other types of joint efforts. But collective impact initiatives are distinctly different. Unlike most collaborations, collective impact initiatives involve a centralized infrastructure, a dedicated staff, and a structured process that leads to a common agenda, shared measurement, continuous communication, and mutually reinforcing activities among participants.” 

The authors also say, “We believe that there is no other way society will achieve large-scale progress against the urgent and complex problems of our time, unless a collective impact approach becomes the accepted way of doing business.”

City Council members asked good questions: Who is the target group? Will poverty be addressed? Will the needs of families be addressed? Will the persons who EC2C is designed to help have a voice at the table?  Will EC2C serve the young adults that the City is currently working with? What are the short term goals?

 The way the EC2C Planning Committee has structured the process is to keep things general at the initial stage and to allow the organizations and institutions who join the initiative to put flesh on the bones through the work of a Steering Committee and Solution Design Teams, yet to be formed.  It is a work in process.

On May 29, Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl provided six recommendations to be considered by the Human Services Committee, as proposed guidelines for the City’s participation in the EC2C. They are 1) that a City Council member serve on EC2C’s Planning Committee. (The Mayor has tentatively selected Alderman Delores Holmes (5th Ward) for this task);  2) that an alderman be on EC2C’s Steering Committee; 3) that the Steering Committee include at least one person who is in the target population; 4) that EC2C work with Northwestern University to collect data for the initiative; 5) that the City have input on the data to be collected and the metrics for success; and 6) that all data collected be public and accessible to all members of the group.

We think Ald. Holmes would be a great addition to the EC2C Planning Committee and assume she would be welcomed with open arms. As far as we know, all of the other recommendations fall within the planned framework of EC2C.

On June 2, the City’s Human Services Committee unanimously supported the Mayor’s recommendations and voted to return the proposal to participate in EC2C to Council for a vote. 

We hope that City Council will decide to actively participate in EC2C, and that it will provide $50,000 in funding to EC2C.   The City is a vital partner. Its active participation is essential to achieve better outcomes for our youth.