Fifty people attended the inaugural meeting on community literacy.

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Fifty people met at Evanston Township High School on May 8 for the inaugural meeting of the Community Literacy Solution Design Team of the Evanston Cradle to Career (EC2C) initiative. They represented 25 organizations, including the School Districts, the City of Evanston, and many non-profits.

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

Ultimately, five solution design teams will be formed to focus on: a) literacy; b) community stability including housing and poverty; c) mental health and physical health and safety; d) career and postsecondary readiness; and e) parent engagement. The teams will set goals in their areas and adopt an action plan to achieve those goals.

EC2C will set measures to track progress and give periodic progress reports to its members and the community.

The group has decided to start with literacy.

The Need to Address Literacy

Sheila Merry, executive director of EC2C, said, “In a community with tremendous resources, with excellent schools, with wonderful non-profits working 24 hours a day to improve our families’ lives, we’re still failing to meet the needs of a significant percentage of our students.

We’re still losing our kids. There is a recognition that we’ve got to be better. We as a community believe we can do better. Through collective impact, we can really begin to pool all of those resources to make sure we’re working as effectively as we humanly can together to make a difference.

“This initiative is really about finding new ways to work together using what we know about what’s happening with our young people, analyzing that to really engage all of our community in thinking about problems and how we can solve them and hold each other accountable.

A key piece of this is about holding all of us accountable for the outcomes for our kids.”

Ms. Merry explained how EC2C is different from other initiatives undertaken in the past. First, she said, “We’re going to make it different.” Second, she said, “is the sheer magnitude of this effort,” which includes 27 partner organizations and six others in process. Third, “There’s going to be a very clear tie to data,” including using data to inform decision-making and to measure success. Fourth, there is a backbone organization (headed by Ms. Merry) that will “make sure this initiative is moving forward.” Finally, there is “shared accountability.”

Joe McCrae, deputy city manager, said representatives of the City, City Council, the police department, and the Evanston Public Library were present “all in support of cradle to career and this initiative.”

Literacy “is one of the most important skills you can have in your life,” said Mr. McCrae. “The impact of this transcends any particular organization, one particular school district. It is something we all should be focused on. It’s something we all should be thinking about, how we can impact this issue.”

Mr. McCrae gave an example of why EC2C’s focus on literacy is so important. At the Mayor’s Summer Youth Employment Program, he said, “some of the kids who came to the job fair cannot read. They cannot put their name on the application. They cannot spell their names and they cannot read the word ‘name’ so they don’t know where to put their name.

“Right here in Evanston,” he emphasized.

“This is the wake-up call that says it can’t be done just by the high school, by District 65, and the library. We all should be thinking how we can incorporate literacy with the work that we do, not just for young people but for families who might not be able to teach their kids how to read.”

“We’re in support of this initiative,” said Mr. McCrae, “because in Evanston you have so much in terms of talent and ability and resources, that if we pull on this together, what an impact we could have on this particular issue.”

To give a broader perspective, test data presented by School District 65 in January shows that only 29% of District 65 students from low-income households were on track to college readiness in reading on the 2014 Illinois Standard Achievement test.

Ms. Merry said EC2C picked literacy as the first area to work on because “it is the foundation of learning for all young people throughout their lives. It’s absolutely critical to their having success in any area of their lives. It touches on any non-profit in our community.”

Input on a Goal and Key Outcomes

The purpose of the meeting was to obtain input on an overarching goal for community literacy and on desired key outcomes. The group broke into eight smaller groups, and Ms. Merry asked each group to discuss, brainstorm and provide feedback on a goal and outcomes.

To facilitate the discussion, a proposed overarching goal was provided: “All children, youth, and families in Evanston have the literacy skills and competencies they need to be successful.”

The groups raised issues on what the term “literacy” included, whether it would encompass literacy in math or technology and whether it should be expanded to include people with disabilities who might not be able to read the written word, but who have other communication skills. Many persons struggled with how to define the term “successful.” One group questioned whether to even keep that word in the goal.

One group suggested that the overarching goal be: “The residents of Evanston will have a full range of literacy skills to support Evanston youth to develop their fullest maximum potential.”

The groups also identified many potential outcomes desired for the children of Evanston. Some of the outcomes proposed are:

• All kids are assessed at pre-K for learning and developmental disabilities.

• All children, ages 0-5, receive a target dose of literacy (such as a target number of words).

• All children will have completed a well-child visit and have a source to primary health care.

• All children and youth will have two to three test points outside of the school setting.

• All children will live in a safe and supportive environment.

• Children will have social and emotional skills.

• All children are kindergarten-ready, high-school ready, and postsecondary-ready.

• Students graduating from high school have a postsecondary plan and the skills to execute it.

• Residents have the literacy skills needed to seek employment.

• Parents have access to and use parental and educational supports.

• All adults working with children have training in cultural sensitivity.

• Residents have access to health care and nutrition.

• Develop Information on job readiness competencies for K-12.

Ms. Merry said she and others would take the input and draft an overarching goal and outcomes. They plan to present the drafts to the group at the next meeting scheduled or May 29.

The Community Literacy Committee

Representatives for the following organizations attended the inaugural meeting of the Community Literacy Solution Design Team:

Brummel Park Neighbors, CASE, City of Evanston, Evanston Community Foundation, Evanston Police Department, Evanston Public Library, League of Women Voters of Evanston, Evanston NorthShore University Health System, Family Focus, Foundation 65, Garett Evangelical, Infant Welfare Society, Leadership Evanston, Literature for All of Us, McGaw Y, Moran Center, Northwestern University (Kellogg), Parent Teachers Association, Reba Place, School District 65, School District 202, United Way, Youth Organizations Umbrella.

Larry Gavin

Larry Gavin was a co-founder of the Evanston RoundTable in 1998 and assisted in its conversion to a non-profit in 2021. He has received many journalism awards for his articles on education, housing and...