Three initiatives that began independently converged at the joint District 65/District 202 School Board meeting on Nov. 9: the Joint Literacy Goal, adopted by the two Districts nearly two years ago; the Joint Achievement report, which is aimed at defining and then measuring literacy achievement from kindergarten through high school; and the community literacy goal of Evanston Cradle to Career (C2C). (See accompanying story on the Joint Achievement Report. For stories on the Joint Literacy Goal visit evanstonroundtable.com.)
Sheila Merry, executive director of C2C, said, “We are fortunate that many School Board members are participating in C2C. This is really complicated stuff … but at the same time, I think we’re making some real and exciting progress. … There is a key consensus on the primary target of community literacy, which I think not only meshes well with the important initiatives that the districts have undertaken but really is fundamental to all the issues that we are trying to deal with.”
There are five action teams for the community literacy aspect of C2C, Ms. Merry said: Well-being, Health and Safety; Literacy on Track; Prepared for Adult Life; Community Supports Literacy; and Parent/Caregiver Empowerment. Each of these teams is on track to do something major by the end of the year, she said.
The Well-being, Health and Safety Team is charged with ensuring “all children and youth are safe, healthy and ready to learn.” They are looking at “the first things kids need to be able to learn in school,” Ms. Merry said. “We are expanding access to social services through the City’s 311 system,” she added.
Carl Caneva, assistant director of the City’s Health and Human Services Department, told the RoundTable the City is working on a pilot with Open Communities. “We were looking at the question ‘How do we make it easier for our residents to access services?’ Open Communities provides landlord-tenant resources and reports to the City.” He said the pilot could start in the next few weeks, “after the bugs are out of the system.”
Literacy on Track Team focuses on children ages 4 and 5 and on kindergarten-readiness. Its charge is to ensure “all children and youth have the literacy skills needed at all stages to support academic success.”
The Prepared for Adult Life Team will help ensure that “all young adults in Evanston have a post-secondary plan and the skills and supports to execute it.”
The charge of the Community Supports Literacy Team is to ensure “all members of the community work together to build the capacity for literacy, ensuring that resources are equitably distributed throughout Evanston.” The idea is that Evanston will become “a community that supports literacy wherever kids go – to church or synagogue or sports camp,” as examples, Ms. Merry said.
The Parent/Caregiver Empowerment Team will help ensure “that parents and caregivers have the skills and supports they need to support their children’s literacy.” They will help parents and caregivers of children from birth to age 3, the most critical time in the development of a child’s brain. One of the programs the team is looking at is a regular text-a-tip about childcare. “It will be just a little reminder – ‘Have you talked to your child about shapes today? Or colors?’ We are accessing all the participants in programs around the City to get them engaged. We know how incredibly important all exchanges between parent and child are in developing skills that kids will need to be the foundation for kindergarten.”
The group hopes to centralize the program at the Evanston Public Library and to partner with providers of home-visiting programs, early childhood programs and parenting programs to initiate the C2C program. Longer term, the group would like to reach out to doctors and hospitals. Text-a-tip programs have been successful in other communities.
The group also plans to bring a “30 Million Words Initiative” to Evanston and to partner with students at Northwestern University to help launch a public awareness campaign explaining the importance of parent talk.
Ms. Merry said some challenges are still being addressed, such as how to engage the community “so we make sure this is really owned by the community not just by the organizations,” making sure that data are being used well, communicating in a meaningful way and implementing plans to make the organization sustainable.
“And that’s where we are. We plan to celebrate in January our accomplishments by Dec. 31.”
District 65 Board member Omar Brown asked, “Is there a quantitative goal, that C2C is successful because it has ‘moved this number’?”
“By the end of our retreat in January, we will have those measures – a clear consensus about what those measures are,” said Ms. Merry, adding, “We want to track them on a regular basis on our website,”
At present, there are 150 individuals and 40 organizations in C2C.
District 65 Board member Candance Chow asked what commitment, beyond the financial, is asked of the partnering organizations.
“We ask that they buy into the values, attend two meetings per month and share data when we are ready to share it – basically to stand up and say, ‘This is a key part of who we are. C2C is a fundamental part of our work.’” She added that C2C representatives meet with the board of directors of potential partners and ask them to sign a written agreement.
Ms. Chow then asked whether corporate participation is part of the goal.
“The Chamber of Commerce is actively involved,” Ms. Merry said. “We have met with a number of business leaders. We have business leaders on the sustainability team. How to create a meaningful role for the corporate community is something we’re still figuring out,” she added.
“How do you compare to other cradle-to-career initiatives? Are you pulling [ideas] from them?” asked District 65 Board member Jennifer Phillips.
“One of the things that is so great is there are so many – a regional network of C2C collective impacts. We are also in the United Way network,” said Ms. Merry. “I think the real difference with this effort from collaborations that we’ve all been involved in ad nauseam is the sense that we – and I’ll borrow from Evanston Own It – all own it. We all own the outcomes,” she added.
District 65 Board president Tracy Quattrocki said the overlap with the Joint Literacy Goal, the Joint Accountability Report and Cradle to Career “is incredible, because when I think about Peter [Godard] working on kindergarten readiness – that’s the work of Cradle to Career, yet it informs so much of what we’re doing with our literacy goal. And it’s going to be measured by our Joint Accountability Report. … Tonight is really meaningful.”