Paul Goren, District 65 Superintendent, discusses priorities at the EC2C partners meeting.

At their July 20 meeting, partners of the Evanston Cradle to Career (EC2C) initiative reviewed revised goals and strategies to achieve the goals, the need for equity and equity assessments, and the process for distributing a new $172,500 grant awarded to EC2C by the United Way of Metropolitan Chicago. Representatives of about 30 of the more than 40 partner organizations attended the meeting, held at Evanston Township High School.

Sheila Merry, Executive Director of EC2C, said United Way had previously provided an initial planning grant to EC2C, and the additional funding is intended to enable EC2C to take the next step forward.

“We are seeing this moment as kind of a launching pad to really get into high gear,” said Ms. Merry. “We’ve made some important progress. But now it’s time for us to really put our feet on the gas to get more serious about results based accountability, to get more serious about systems change and how we can move forward.

“The additional United Way funding was given to help us begin to think about how we can really push our work to the next level.”

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.

“We aim to create conditions in Evanston that will provide necessary supports, whatever they may be, for each child to realize their full potential – in their classrooms, neighborhoods, families, and into their careers and adult lives,” says EC2C in its 2016 Report to the Community. “This is the whole child, whole family approach: children cannot thrive in school or elsewhere without having their basic needs met, their families able to provide healthy and supportive homes, their living and learning environments offering a strong foundation for their development, and their community helping them to succeed.”

The partnering organizations plan to do this not by creating new programs, but by realigning their current programs to maximize their impact. This includes using data and community input to evaluate the needs and to develop shared goals and strategies to meet those needs, working with other partners to better coordinate efforts in implementing the strategies, using data to evaluate the effectiveness of the strategies, and revising strategies as needed.

Refocused Goals/Results

For the last two years, five EC2C action teams have been identifying goals and strategies and working together to implement certain strategies to address the needs of children and youth in Evanston. Beginning in April, the action teams started a “results based accountability process” in which they reviewed the work done to date and considered whether additional strategies were needed to move the needle on some high level markers. The action teams also began developing metrics to evaluate whether the strategies are showing progress toward meeting the goals, said Katie Pacyna, Data Manager for EC2C.

As part of this process, the action teams more clearly focused their goals and identified several strategies to meet each goal, said Ms. Pacyna. Four of the goals cover developmental stages, starting with birth and continuing to post-secondary education. Two other goals relate to health and well-being and equity.

The goals and strategies are: 

First Goal, Parent/Caregiver Empowerment: “Parents and caregivers have their basic needs met and have the resources they need to support their children’s development.”

Several strategies to achieve this goal are expanding the Talk, Read, Sing campaign in conjunction with health care providers and agencies that provide home-visiting programs to assist families with infants and young children. The purpose of the campaign, which was launched last year, is to raise awareness of parents and caregivers about early brain development and the importance of talking, reading, singing, and interacting with children, ages 0-3, to enhance early brain development.

Several other strategies include creating a coordinated referral system to connect families to home visiting programs and collaboratively creating a universal waiting list among providers to assess eligibility, communicate openings, and fill open slots across Evanston early childhood providers. At least four partnering organizations are working in this area.

Second Goal, Literacy on Track: “Children of diverse backgrounds are ready for and will experience success in kindergarten.”

Data shows that many children of color and children from lower-income households are less likely to arrive at kindergarten “ready” to learn at grade level than their more affluent, white peers. The strategies to address the needs of these children include creating assessments to better capture the picture of “readiness” for kindergarten and the definition of “success;” creating a regular system of direct feedback among early childhood teachers and kindergarten teachers and school administrators; and using data to improve the curricula and outcomes for early childhood programs.

An EC2C action team has already implemented a number of initiatives. Paul Goren, Superintendent of School District 65, said early childhood providers and School District 65 have entered into data-sharing agreements under which pre-K teachers provide information about the social and emotional skills and competencies of students entering kindergarten, which provides kindergarten teachers valuable information before school starts and enables them to more quickly address each student’s needs. The data may also be used to identify successful early childhood programs and to implement successful programs throughout the City. At least nine partners of EC2C are working in this area.

Third Goal, Summer Learning: “Children maintain or gain ground academically and socially through a
range of accessible, enriching summer activities.”

This goal addresses “summer learning loss.” Data shows that underserved children lose substantial academic ground during the summer. The strategies include improving access to scholarships for summer learning and expanding free and affordable summer learning options.

This summer and last summer, one, partners in EC2C have expanded the number of slots by 130% for students in existing summer liter-
acy programs, and have provided structured reading time to more than 4,700 children participating in camp programs offered by Evanston Department of Parks and Recreation and by other organizations. More than 15 partners are working in this area.

Fourth Goal, Prepared for Adult Life: “All students graduate from ETHS with an individualized plan for life after high school and implement it.”

Data shows that students of color and students from low-income households are less likely to be prepared for and realize post-secondary success than students from more affluent, white households. The strategies to address this issue include creating a system for all students to have actionable post-secondary plan before high school graduation; introducing post-secondary planning in middle schools; creating ways to support students after they graduate from ETHS; and creating strong pathways from ETHS to post-secondary options, including working with the business community to do so. At least six partners are working on this goal.

Fifth Goal, Health, Well-Being and Safety: “Children and their families in Evanston experiencing barriers to a
good quality of life receive timely, effective, trauma-informed care via a coordinated, accessible, and trusted system of providers.”

Trauma, such as exposure to crime, violence, abuse, or discrimination, can have a significant, long-lasting impact on the health and well-being of a child. The strategies include building a system of coordinated intake and referrals with follow-up to make access to trauma-informed services more streamlined; expanding a trauma workshop model in which trauma-focused counseling can take place; and working to ensure that all Evanston organizations are informed about the impacts of trauma and how to address it. At least seven organizations are collaborating.

Sixth Goal, Equity: “Evanston is an equitable community.”

Racial and economic disparities in Evanston compromise the wellbeing and thriving of many students in Evanston, says EC2C. The strategies include providing ongoing training and support around equity, and working across organizations to support equity within organizations and in the community. All partners of EC2C have committed to promoting equity.

“These are all starting points for us,” said Ms. Pacyna. The idea is to “plant seeds” along the trajectory running from birth to young adulthood and then figure out what is the most effective and what can work in Evanston. Over time, these points will blend together for a continuous, cohesive effort to prepare all youth for adult life. 

Equity and Equity Assessments

Ms. Merry said 21 partners of EC2C have filled out a survey on equity, and eight partners are in the process of conducting an equity assessment and two have completed an assessment. “We hope that within the next year, all of our partner organizations will have at least begun taking an equity self-assessment,” she said.

Eileen Heineman, Director of Racial Justice Community Engagement at Evanston North Shore YWCA, provided the group with samples of an equity assessment tool. The assessment tool covers areas such as whether the mission statement includes reference to the organization’s goals on equity and inclusion, whether the organization actively values and seeks to hire a diverse staff, whether there is a clear culture of respect, collegiality, intergroup dialogue and collaboration across differences in all levels and positions.

The value of the tool is it provides a way for an organization to gather information about strengths and weaknesses which can then be used to develop equity goals for the organization, said Ms. Heineman. The organization can then prioritize several goals for the coming year and determine what needs to be done to achieve those goals, including what education is needed and what policies may need to be changed, she said.

 “The only way this is going to work is, number one, if leadership buys into equity work and make it clear this is something that is going to be infused throughout the organization,” Ms. Heineman said. Secondly she said, there needs to be “buy in” by everyone else in the organization.

The YWCA has prepared a Human Resources best practices document relating to equity and the YWCA and ECF each offer workshops on equity, Ms. Heineman added. The YWCA and ECF have also applied for a grant to enable them to continue to provide training and workshops. “That will leap us ahead if we’re able to do that.”

 Ms. Merry said, “One of the things we’ve heard from partners so frequently is, ‘Yes I get white privilege, but what does it mean I should do differently? How do I need to change practices?’ I think the HR document really gives you some very concrete ideas of how usual HR practices can undermine equity within an organization. I really encourage you to take some time and really look at those.

“The second thing I want to make clear is you can have equity as a mission within your organization and not be an equitable organization. These are totally different things. I think we often think we’re committed to equity, that’s what we’re all about. But that doesn’t mean that you have looked at yourself, figured out whether the way you provide services and the way you interact within your organization actually undermines equity.

“It is the firm belief of EC2C and others who do this work that if you are committed to the goals that we’ve outlined for Cradle to Career, that we have to create a more equitable community. Equity is the fundamental issue in our community if we are going to be successful. We really as a group have to embrace and look at ourselves, look at our community and move forward and look at all the systems that are undermining our children and families.”

The United Way Grant

Monique Jones, Executive Director of Evanston Community Foundation, said ECF will be managing the $172,500 United Way grant. She said an eight-person committee will decide how $157,500 of the grant will be distributed; $15,000 will be used to develop an EC2C parent advisory team to address neighborhood issues.

EC2C partners are invited to submit a proposal and request for a portion of the $157,500. Under the guidelines, at least three EC2C partners must collaborate on the proposal, and their proposal must describe a system of structure they would like to change, and how they plan to change it.

At the meeting the partners ranked EC2C’s six goals in terms of priority. The top four were all close in rank, and were the First, Second, Fifth, and Sixth goals described above. After discussion, the partners decided that proposals should focus on one of those four areas, and the committee would have discretion in deciding how to distribute the United Way grant funds that focused on any of those areas.

As EC2C is evolving, it is becoming more apparent that two, three or more partners are joining together to work on a specific goal or a specific strategy that is part of the overall mission (e.g., kindergarten readiness), and they can draw on other partners to ensure there is a continuity of services and that a child’s holistic needs are being met.

The United Way grant encourages this approach, by requiring three of more partnering organizations to work together on a proposal to address a specific system of structure change.

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...