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Ms. Price goes to Washington!

Thu, 2016-09-29 14:24

This week Juliette Price, director of The Albany Promise, a Sustaining member of the Cradle to Career Network, will travel to Washington, DC for a very special visit to the White House in which she will be recognized as one of eleven “White House Champions of Change for College Opportunity”

This week Juliette Price, director of The Albany Promise, a Sustaining member of the Cradle to Career Network, will travel to Washington, DC for a very special visit to the White House in which she will be recognized as one of eleven “White House Champions of Change for College Opportunity” for the work she is facilitating in the community of Albany, NY to improve student outcomes from cradle to career. StriveTogether congratulates Juliette for this exciting and well-deserved honor.

This won’t be Juliette’s first visit to Washington and with her background in public policy she should feel right at home. In fact, Juliette and a team from The Albany Promise visited with White House and Department of Education leaders, including then Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, back in 2014 to provide guidance on how the federal government can make college more affordable and within reach of all students. These conversations helped inspire First Lady Michelle Obama’s work to improve college opportunity through initiatives such as Reach Higher and Better Make Room.

At the local level, Juliette and the partners of The Albany Promise have been digging deep into their data and taking action. Albany has seen SAT test-taking rates increase by 29% – with a 15% increase access for Black and Hispanic students after the partnership helped implement universal in-school SAT and PSAT testing. Partners also joined together to understand and combat the problem of ‘summer melt,’ when students who are committed to going to postsecondary fail to matriculate. You can read more about this work that was recently featured in one of StriveTogether’s #ImpactAgent stories.

Please join us in congratulating Juliette for this honor. We know that she will use this platform as a way to continue to drive improvement in education outcomes for all students.


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New Data, New Opportunities

Wed, 2016-09-28 12:18

With the implementation of the new ESSA law, cradle-to-career partnership new opportunities to support the law’s implementation in their community and in their state.

Too often, policy can seem inaccessible to the people in charge of, or affected by, its implementation. That’s why, in part, the StriveTogether network has identified four different roles cradle-to-career partnerships can play in policy:

  • Data expert
  • Partner Convener
  • Community Mobilizer
  • Advocate

Connecting each of these concepts is one major role: liaison.

I’ve been thinking a great deal about the importance of being a community liaison as communities learn about the flexibilities and potential opportunities under the new federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

Lillian Pace, Senior Director of National Policy at KnowledgeWorks, and I facilitated a workshop at the 2016 StriveTogether Cradle to Career Convening, Rise Up: Education Excellence for Every Child, in Memphis, Tennessee, last week. The event explored ways that StriveTogether partnerships can best help communities accelerate the achievement of results from cradle to career. The room was filled with representatives from across the country, all with similar priorities—understanding the new ESSA law, exploring the implications for their partnership, and finding opportunities their partnership can take to support the new law’s implementation in their community and in their state.

We presented an overview of the law, focusing specifically on accountability measures and the new data states will collect to determine how schools are performing. (For action items that cradle-to-career partnerships can take to support ESSA implementation, read our one-pager.) The new ways in which a state is required to report on school success gives parents, advocates, and community stakeholders access to data they may have never had before, and StriveTogether partnerships are in a unique position to help them interpret that data with the right partners to continuously improve efforts to improve child outcomes in their communities.

To get a taste of what this might look like, workshop participants reviewed a draft of the California proposed school accountability report card, considered how their communities might react if this was the required report card for their school, and shared ideas about how states and districts can be more thoughtful in presenting data to the community. There was agreement that focusing on growth and proficiency is a positive step for states, as California anticipates doing. The multi-dimensional focus gives credence to schools that are continuously improving—both high and low performing schools.

Which brings me to the liaison piece. Participants talked about how they can help interpret data for parents and community members, finding bright spots and helping establish next steps and strategies for growth in communities. They discussed the nuances of picking particular measurement indicators, such as parent engagement, and focused on how they might be able to help shape the conversation to focus on what’s appropriate for their community.

Finally, participants discussed what ESSA can mean for their stakeholders, including how they want to measure success, how they’d like to give feedback to their state departments of education during this visioning and application process, and developing tools for local partners to understand data once it has been reported upon.

Partnerships can play a key role in bridging the gap between policy and implementation, and ESSA is no exception. Being a liaison and convener to help partners understand the new law will help create an even more robust system of continuous improvement and change, strengthening the communities where partnerships reside.

As your community looks at the new ESSA law and explores implications and opportunities of the new law’s implementation in your community and state, ask yourself these questions:
  • Does the way data is presented in the California proposed school accountability report card work for your community? What do you think about the new areas of focus being shared?
  • What can you do to help interpret data for parents and community members? What kinds of tools, training, or materials would help parents and advocates use this data to find stronger opportunities for all students?
  • What does ESSA mean for your stakeholders? How will ESSA impact your work?
  • How do you want to measure education success in your community and how can you share that feedback with your state department of education?


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Small Changes Can Make a Big Impact

Tue, 2016-09-27 11:24

At the 2016 StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network Nation Convening, attendees shared ways they were having impact within their communities.

At the final morning in Memphis, Nancy Zimpher, Chancellor of the State University of New York, invited the StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network convening attendees to stand for the gatherings they had attended as she cycled through the locations of the last seven years. Once everyone was on their feet, she announced, “Welcome to the Network!”

The feeling of community was carried over into the morning’s speakers, whose stories of impact ranged from Learn to Earn Dayton’s push for kindergarten readiness to Graduate! Tacoma’s work to improve high school graduation rates. Everyone was invited to see their own impact in making big changes from the smallest step forward.

“The data did the work,” says Ginger Walker of P16Plus, who shared, along with executive director of the partnership Judy McCormick, the impact of making one small test of change at a single campus.

“From teachers to lunchroom staff, everyone was talking about FAFSA completion,” Walker says, highlighting the challenge of college enrollment and persistence among the majority minority population in San Antonio, TX. A FAFSA team was gathered monthly to look at data and make changes in real-time to ensure more students were getting the supports they needed. Government and Economics faculty were incentivized to encourage and give time for FAFSA completion during the school day, and pep rallies were held to rally students around the importance of submitting their FAFSAs. In just one year, they saw an increase of 10 percent, and the program is taking off – 7 campuses will be employing the same methods this coming year.

In Tacoma, WA, they’re seeing tremendous gains, as well. High school graduation rates were estimated at 55 percent in 2010, and have risen steadily over the last five years to 82.6 percent in 2015 – above the state average even among schools whose students aren’t majority economically disadvantaged, which theirs are. Amanda Scott Thomas, Director of Community Partnership, Academic Equity and Achievement at Tacoma Public Schools, insists their successes are due to shared ownership in defining a clear goal.

After digging into the data, the way ahead was clear in Dayton, OH, too. Ritika Kurup, Director of Early Learning with Learn to Earn Dayton, explained how upon seeing the correlation between high school graduation rates and kindergarten readiness, the community mobilized around summer learning efforts. After disaggregating summer reading program data, the disparities were clear. Learn to Earn Dayton shared their findings with local libraries, who took the initiative to change their practices to better support the children most in need. A new library card was introduced, one that didn’t require a parent signature and didn’t accrue late fines. A book drive was also organized to provide books where children need them most: in the home. In 2012, the drive’s first year, 8,000 books were distributed. This year? 80,000. Students with the greatest need received a book a week for 10 weeks.

“It was all about getting the right programming for the right kids,” says Kurup.

And while every partnership had details to share about how their communities achieved such incredible results, Graduate! Tacoma’s Executive Director, Eric Wilson, insists there’s “no silver bullet.”

“It’s not just one thing, it’s 50 things,” says Wilson. Each community is different, but many communities share similar challenges, making annual convenings all the more valuable for learning and networking opportunities. For, as Zimpher pointed out, they’re an opportunity to reaffirm the value of collective impact work and to “hold hands and work together.”


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Learn to let go of the desire for credit. If you want recognition, get a puppy.

Thu, 2016-09-22 11:24

Post image for Learn to let go of the desire for credit. If you want recognition, get a puppy.

Do you find yourself just doing the work yourself because it will be faster, easier, and done the way you want it to?

This was the question that framed Becky Kanis Margiotta, co-founder of The Billions Institute and lunchtime plenary session speaker at StriveTogether’s 2016 Cradle to Career Network Convening. While she was quick to assure everyone in the audience that they were “good people” for rolling up their sleeves to do the hard work of collective impact, she also said that we all have the potential to be better when we put responsibility where responsibility belongs.

“This isn’t a ‘do it yourself’ bone,” says Kanis Margiotta, speaking of the value of the backbone organization and her own experiences learning to let go of control, learning to say no, and discovering the unique strengths and interests of the individuals she worked with when she took a step back and allowed others to step up.

Powerful keynote from Becky Margiotta about how to create a backbone on connection, creativity, and collaboration. #RiseUpC2C

— ROCtheFuture (@ROCtheFuture) September 21, 2016

According to Kanis Margiotta, the key to success is having a shared aim – and the only way to know if it’s truly shared is when you’re asking of others what you would ask of yourself. If you’ve been doing it all, it’s not too late. Asking more of your partners offers them the opportunity to recommit to the work, which can be energizing for everyone, and freeing for you. Kanis Margiotta insists that we must learn to let go of the desire for credit. “You must profoundly, madly let go of your own ego,” says Kanis Margiotta. “If you want recognition, get a puppy. The best possible media is when you are an afterthought.”

Profoundly let go of your own ego. Stop heroing. #RiseUpC2C #BeckyMargiotta

— Allison Titcomb (@AllisonTitcomb) September 21, 2016

When the people doing the work are the ones in the spotlight, they’re that much more encouraged to keep doing what they’ve been doing, to do more, to do better. When asked how to ensure funding for the work of the backbone organizations when they can’t attach their names to the work directly, Kanis Margiotta encouraged attendees to create their own metrics, different from those of their partners, that would still show their value within the community.

The sum of Kanis Margiotta’s message was the power of collective impact work to build a collective “us,” empowering everyone while moving the needle for all children, from cradle to career.


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What Education Excellence for Every Child Really Means

Wed, 2016-09-21 16:25

At the 2016 StriveTogether Nation Convening, convening attendees are having conversations that will shape the future of equity in our communities for years to come.

According to Adriane Johnson-Williams, founding facilitator of the Seeding Success partnership in Memphis, TN, the work of collective impact and confronting structural and institutional racism is like a highway.

“All lanes must be maintained,” insists Johnson-Williams. “And you need to be able to change lanes when you want to – and not worry about being pulled over because you’re somewhere you shouldn’t be.”

“Everyone should have a right to change their lane.” – @AdrianeW901 on racial equity in the classroom. #RiseUpC2C

— Seeding Success (@seedingsuccess1) September 21, 2016

Johnson-Williams was among the opening speaker’s for this year’s StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network Convening, “Rise Up: Education Excellence for Every Child.” She introduced a series of speakers that addressed what it means to truly commit to “every child,” including the discomfort that can come with confronting the inherent inequities in education. Zandria Robinson, Ph. D, an Assistant Professor of Sociology and Anthropology at Rhodes College, spoke to the notion that institutions “crave stasis.” “They’re weebles,” says Robinson. “They wobble, but they don’t fall down.” Robinson encouraged attendees to consider that some of the changes pursued in institutions like education won’t fix the real problem – that they are designed to reproduce status, and maintain income inequality – unless we expose the structural racism inherent in the system.

Lean into discomfort to have conversations necessary to address structural inequities. Yes, Maria Oceja! Listen to ppl who know. #RiseUpC2C

— Lisa Lazarus (@lisaflazarus) September 21, 2016

The data doesn’t lie. Wendi Thomas, journalist and editor of MLK50 Memphis, a yearlong reporting project on economic injustice, shared some powerful truths. Among them? It will take 228 years for black families to accumulate the same amount of wealth as white families. According to Thomas, “this problem can’t be solved by education because it wasn’t created by education.”

So what can be done? Maria Oceja of Bridges USA, a Memphis-based youth leadership program, insists it starts with the way we think about the work.

“We need to do this work with opportunity youth, not for opportunity youth,” says Oceja. She, along with the other speakers, encouraged attendees to consider creating a space for those directly impacted by structural racism to share their experiences and knowledge. “They’re the experts.”

#RiseUpC2C @zfelice at @StriveTogether: What we say education does and what education actually does.

— Wendi C. Thomas (@wendi_c_thomas) September 21, 2016

Cordell Orin, Executive Director of Stand for Children, imagines a Memphis where “power and wealth and privilege are more reflective of current demographics than they are of the history of structural racism in our community.” When there are more than 28,000 opportunity youth in Memphis alone – individuals between the ages of 16 and 24 who are neither enrolled in school nor employed – his dream might seem unattainable. But getting the right people at your table, or getting at the table of those whose input and influence are critical to achieve true systems change, is an essential first step.

Over the next day and a half convening attendees will continue having the conversations that will shape the future of equity in our communities for years to come. For, as Johnson-Williams says, “if we are not actively working to address disparities and their underlying causes, we might as well stop working.”


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In Cincinnati, Systems are Changing and Student Outcomes are Improving

Tue, 2016-09-20 00:00

Post image for In Cincinnati, Systems are Changing and Student Outcomes are Improving

As hundreds of leaders and practitioners across sectors converge in Memphis for StriveTogether’s Cradle to Career Network Convening, we are proud to announce the designation of StrivePartnership of Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky as our first Proof Point Community, celebrating the achievements of local partners and institutions working together to change how education systems work to improve outcomes from cradle to career.

After a decade of cross-sector efforts, nearly 80 percent of key indicators of student success are improving. And, behaviors, policies, and practices have changed and continue to change across the community to align efforts and resources to improve outcomes from kindergarten readiness through post-secondary completion.

When StrivePartnership started in 2006, a group of leaders from various sectors throughout the Cincinnati area came together with a common goal: to improve academic success in the urban core. More than 300 cross-sector representatives joined the partnership, including school district superintendents, early-childhood educators, non-profit practitioners, business leaders, community and corporate funders, city officials and university presidents.

By sitting around the same table, partners were able to align around shared educational goals and outcomes.

Now, 10 years later, organizations, institutions, and community members – including Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, the United Way, Cincinnati Public Schools, and the business community – are aligning their work to support a shared cradle to career vision.

Here are some of the successes StrivePartnership and its partners have had recently that exemplify how systems are changing:

1)  Investing in what works: Public and private funders are changing the way they think about investments, recognizing the importance of investing in high-impact, evidence-based, scalable interventions in ways that secure sustainable public funding. Every Child Capital, a first-in-the-nation venture philanthropy fund focused on scaling proven early literacy interventions that have a business case for public funding and a secured public partner, has attracted more than $4 million dollars in funding.

Cincinnati Public Schools, in partnership with the Cincinnati Preschool Promise, is pursuing an unprecedented November 2016 levy to significantly expand access to preschool and strengthen the pre-K-12 public school system so every child has a strong start and a strong future.

2) Using continuous improvement: Over the last year, StrivePartnership developed a rapid-cycle continuous improvement capability training series, Impact U, for the region’s education leaders with Cincinnati Children’s Hospital (CCHMC) and StriveTogether. Community leaders are improving early grade reading, and a key Cincinnati Public Schools executive is now working half-time at Children’s Hospital to ensure true collaboration.

“The bold experiment of ImpactU to build community capacity to have meaningful quality improvement skills that start small but build up in a systematic way is a critical partnership between CCHMC and StrivePartnership,” said Tom DeWitt of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital.

3) Aligning post-secondary partners: A collaborative of  two- and four-year institutions from Ohio and Kentucky are analyzing data across post-secondary institutions to understand root causes for low post-secondary attainment through the Persistence Project. Spending time together strengthened relationships and allowed for sharing data across state lines, which is almost impossible.

“The work done across higher educational institutions might be difficult to continue without the avenue and opportunity that StrivePartnership provides to collaborate. It helps to have a regional focus. With the catalyst to move it forward, that has a bigger impact than working alone,” said Dr. Patricia Mahabir of Gateway Community College.

The StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network, which represents 68 communities across 32 states, is working toward the common result of the success of every child from cradle to career. StriveTogether has developed a method to assess the effectiveness of collective impact partnerships, helping communities stay focused on results and sustain impact over time. A community in the Cradle to Career Network will be designated as a Proof Point community when 60 percent of indicators across six cradle to career outcomes are maintained or improved year after year. Additionally, community leaders across sectors must demonstrate evidence of changing how systems work in four key areas: Shared Community Vision, Evidence-Based Decision Making, Collaborative Action, and Investment and Sustainability.

StrivePartnership and its partners continue to strengthen civic infrastructure to support local efforts to achieve better and more equitable outcomes for children. Local partners are focused on continuing to build capability of leaders and practitioners to use data for improvement, adopt intentional strategies to address structural inequities, and expand parent and community engagement. They continue to pursue innovative approaches to align resources to what works, including public funding through a school levy to expand quality preschool.

Being designated as Proof Point is a significant achievement, but it represents a milestone – not the culmination of the journey. We congratulate StrivePartnership on this milestone, and we look forward to seeing the impact they will continue to make in the future.



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Network in the News: recognition, new leadership, and more

Thu, 2016-09-08 16:45


Partnerships are being recognized for their work and planning for the next big thing.

If your partnership has been featured or mentioned in your local news, send it along to We would love to share your work with our partners, stakeholders and friends.


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A gathering of experts and learners

Tue, 2016-09-06 09:00

The StriveTogether Expert Convening in Las Vegas this past June was a learning community of people practicing collective impact, all helping each other learn and grow.

Guest post by Victor Cedeño, Director of Networks and Education Policy with Generation Next, a Cradle to Career partnership in Minnesota.

This past June, I had the opportunity to attend the StriveTogether Expert Convening in Las Vegas. I was honored to be invited but was even more excited for the opportunity to learn from other communities. As it turns out, the title “Expert Convening” was somewhat ironic.

Each of the sites had expertise in their own work and many of the attendees were experts in their fields. And of course, each was working on very impressive initiatives including:

However, I would venture to say that few of the attendees felt like experts. In fact, soon after explaining our projects, many attendees began asking questions of each other that to outsiders may seem rather elementary:

“How do you describe your work?”

“How did you decide to take on this project?”

“How do you build buy-in in the community?”

“How do you work with funders to align efforts?”

These are just some of the questions and conversations we had in big and small groups and it made me realize that despite our best efforts to follow the StriveTogether framework, we are all still learning the best way to do collective impact.

The work of improving educational outcome for children, given the various challenges in our communities, is inherently difficult. Doing that work as part of a collective impact partnership is inherently complex. We have to juggle many interests, prioritize between all important issues, and galvanize others into action. We consider ourselves responsible for outcomes we mostly don’t even impact directly as partnership staff. Framework or not, there is no perfect blueprint for each our communities.

This is why I found the term “Expert Convening” to be ironic. Although many now consider themselves experts in the field of collective impact, the truth is that each community is its own unique subject. That feeling of ambiguity you feel is real and I bet most of us feel that way doing this work.

That is why gatherings such as the one in June and the one next month in Tennessee are so critical. The most useful resource for collective impact partnership staff is not a book, a framework or an expert somewhere. It is others, like us, who are struggling in similar roles, who may have tried similar strategies in the past and what any outcomes may have taught us.

My colleague from another city, Juliette Price, has already captured our learnings from June in an excellent blog, but no blog can do justice to the transfer of knowledge that happens in person or over the phone. Without connecting to others from Seattle, Dallas, Albany, Tacoma and other cities we could not have made the progress we have here in Minneapolis – St. Paul.

I’m looking forward for more opportunities to connect next month in Tennessee, and if we balance our expertise in our fields and communities with a desire to learn from each other, I know that it will be a productive gathering.

Victor CedenoVictor Cedeño is the Director of Networks and Education Policy with Generation Next, a Cradle to Career partnership in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota. Victor serves as the primary staff for identifying education policy innovations locally and across the country, and ensures these innovations are core parts of Generation Next strategies. He is also tasked with ensuring that Generation Next networks are supported, aligned, and working strategically to find and identify the most effective solutions to meet the coalition’s five key goals to close the achievement gap.


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Engaging Higher Education in the Data Utilization Revolution

Fri, 2016-09-02 11:13

As K-12 starts using data to drive more change, it's time to engage high education in the data utilization revolution.

In 2013, the data revolution was going full steam ahead in K-12 education, but it was going in the wrong direction. Everything was focused on using data for evaluative purposes and placing blame instead of using data as a resource to help drive improvement. The collective impact movement, when implemented with rigor and discipline in a community, has helped to slowly but surely shift the mindset towards that of improvement and I hope that continues. There are outstanding examples that can be shared of data being used by Cradle to Career Network members to lift up and build on what works.

But what about the other two ends of the cradle to career continuum: early childhood and higher education? One could argue that the federal intervention in early 2015 requiring all Head Start providers to reapply helped to reinforce the value of using data to improve quality. There was certainly a focus on making sure the agencies delivering services were having impact. Now there is an expectation that data is being used on an ongoing basis to improve.

On the other end of the continuum, higher education, the driver for using data for improvement is not as clear. One could argue that the talk nationally about outcomes based funding has had some effect. But I would venture to say that the Lumina Foundation’s Community Partnerships for Attainment (CPA) initiative has had an equivalent if not greater impact.

Starting in 2013, the Foundation identified 75 communities over three years and challenged partners to work together in a focused way to:

  1. Increase transparency and the pace of change around college enrollment, retention and (most importantly) attainment
  2. Take the time and energy to understand what is having impact and how to improve

The Lumina Foundation was not prescriptive in how to make these changes happen, but they worked to constantly identify emerging best practices they could lift up to expedite the progress of communities committed to increasing higher education attainment across the country. In so doing, Lumina Foundation created a demand for and respect of the value of data to inform action than we had ever seen before nationally.

One recent moment in this initiative reinforced this point perfectly. At the final gathering of the CPA communities in February 2016, there was a seminal moment and, strangely enough, it was a tale of data driven practice. Georgia State University shared the outstanding results they have realized regarding their progress helping non-traditional and first-generation college students complete their desired degree. The headline is indeed compelling. But those in the room have heard success stories before. What was interesting was how the conversation was less about the success and more about how the university utilized data to achieve their results. Georgia State University used data to identify the key barriers and then continued using data – with their most innovative faculty and staff – to identify and constantly improve upon what was working. People rushed to microphones after to ask questions and dozens were left wanting as the time ran out.

I can say with confidence this would not have been the case before CPA started. As communities engaged in this initiative and influenced their peers nationally, there has been growing recognition that higher education can use their inherent data expertise to be transparent about progress and look inward at their performance. The intense focus on enabling creative insights and solutions to emerge over the last three years through the initiative has been a significant accelerant to help make this happen. With this key foundational insight and some emerging exemplars nationally, I have much more confidence we will, as a nation, achieve the bold goal of 60 percent college attainment by 2025.


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Checking the Foundation for Collective Impact

Wed, 2016-08-24 09:54

Checking the Foundation

Adriane Johnson-Williams, founding facilitator for the Seeding Success partnership in Memphis, TN, is exploring what it looks like to truly do the work of collaborative action. Through stories of challenging conversations and genuine relationship building, she shares her experiences working to change behaviors and practices in pursuit of better and more equitable outcomes at scale. A native Memphian committed to improving outcomes in her hometown, she now works in philanthropy.

Using data to define problems, develop plans, and monitor progress may seem straightforward, but continuous improvement has never been among the competencies required in the youth development, direct service, or intermediary agencies that make up most collective impact partnerships.

I learned that the hard way.

When the Seeding Success Continuous Improvement Director negotiated a data sharing agreement for the partnership, we were presented with an opportunity and a challenge. Our direct service partners would be able to measure progress for the children they served, and we would be able to aggregate up to the partnership level. Our monitoring would be as regular as new data weres available.

We were responsible for data security and ensuring partners would use the data for continuous improvement. I worked closely with my teammate and developed a training that covered it all.

We adopted language from the Data Quality Campaign. We examined other approaches to continuous improvement training for nonprofits and designed something appropriate for our audience.

Or so we thought.

We made far too many assumptions about what our partners knew. Some staff had basic literacy and numeracy challenges. Others struggled to apply the concepts to their work. There were significant failure rates on the training assessments. Access to data was tied to proficiency, which means we were standing between our partners and very sought after data. Things got a little tense.

We had skipped an important step. We never assessed our starting point. If we had, we would have found that we needed to lay a foundation before attempting to build partner competency.

As our work evolved, a significant part of my job became focused on capacity-building. The better we got at it, the more need we saw. It has since become a focus of local philanthropy because we know that an agency’s ability to pursue outcomes depends on capacity. Thanks to regular conversations with the StriveTogether team and the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Results Based Leadership faculty, I have interrogated my definition of capacity-building. Since my departure from Seeding Success, I have shifted my language to competence.

Defining and assessing competencies is achievable. It has been happening in the nonprofit management world for years. What has been missing is a systematic way of assessing competencies for continuous improvement in the sector.

Ultimately, we are engaged in a professionalizing of direct service work in the health and human development sector beyond the arena of licensed social workers and like professionals. We are asking child care, youth development, social service, and intermediary leaders to commit to a core set of knowledge, skills, and dispositions and be held accountable for them.

I am both excited about the possibilities and nervous about the implications. This is a corporate and somewhat scientific approach. Such methods privilege ways of knowing that have marginalized people of color and limited access for people living in poverty and in the working class. Professionalization sounds great, but it also suggests a weeding out of those who are unable (or unwilling) to see their work as systematic and scientific.

For some people caring is more important than competence no matter the outcomes. And in some circumstances, those people may be right.


Adriane Johnson-WilliamsAdriane Johnson-Williams, Ph.D. was the founding facilitator for Seeding S uccess, a StriveTogether Cradle to Career partnership in Memphis, TN. She now works in philanthropy. She is a native Memphian committed to improving outcomes in her hometown.


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Network in the News: community building and back to school

Tue, 2016-08-23 14:20

Happy Student

StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network members are building a sense of community around back to school, civil relationships, and election issues.

If your partnership has been featured or mentioned in your local news, send it along to We would love to share your work with our partners, stakeholders and friends.


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Not Just Old Wine in New Bottles

Mon, 2016-08-15 14:47


Adriane Johnson-Williams, founding facilitator for the Seeding Success partnership in Memphis, TN, is exploring what it looks like to truly do the work of collaborative action. Through stories of challenging conversations and genuine relationship building, she shares her experiences working to change behaviors and practices in pursuit of better and more equitable outcomes at scale. A native Memphian committed to improving outcomes in her hometown, she now works in philanthropy.

“This isn’t new.”

“We’ve been doing this for years.”

“This is just the next step.”

“You’re building on what we’ve already been doing.”

These same things have been said for decades in school reform—centuries if you look closely enough. There is a cyclical process where someone has a bright new idea, turns the lives of practitioners upside down, and eventually fades away. Those who are able to wait out the new sexy thing can just get back to their normal lives in due time.

Does that describe collective impact? Is this effort to pull people together across sectors to focus on improving community-level outcomes simply old wine in new bottles?

I didn’t really know the answer to those questions at the outset of my work with Seeding Success in Memphis, TN, but I did know that what had been happening wasn’t working. I also knew that outcomes reflect individual behaviors. It would be a massive lift to get people to see the failures of whatever approaches they were using as their individual and collective responsibilities.

People would have to trust us before we could hold up mirrors and expect them to act differently, but how do you build trust in the midst of so much cynicism?

In addition to defining trust as action, it’s important to know more about who is in the room and why. I found that at Seeding Success, there were essentially three types of people: opportunists, survivors, and workers.

  1. The people who disappear after a few meetings are opportunists. They leave once they realize there is no immediate money on the table. The opportunists who hope to reap the benefits of doing something funders like are going to stick it out. They’re ultimately survivors.
  2. The survivors are there to ensure nothing too dramatic or disruptive happens. They often judge others’ contributions but make few of their own. In my experience, they attend meetings regularly and stay in the network.
  3. The workers are already inclined to be self-reflective. They see that things aren’t working and are more willing to consider that they may have a role. The workers are where you focus. Don’t grieve the opportunists. Respect the hustle and fear of the survivors. They each have something to offer. But put in additional effort with the workers.

Our Third Grade Reading Collaborative Action Network (CAN), began with a fair number of opportunists, but it was our survivors and our workers who went on to serve as a critical laboratory for the entire partnership.

I made the choice early in my work with the CAN that instead of trying to get more people to the table or working to convince naysayers, I would support the workers in their pursuit of change. At the time it seemed small, and it wasn’t always forward moving, but now that investment is proving to have been the right choice: summer programming in Memphis may be poised to reduce summer learning loss for thousands of students because just a few workers were willing to try something new.


Adriane Johnson-WilliamsAdriane Johnson-Williams, Ph.D. was the founding facilitator for Seeding S uccess, a StriveTogether Cradle to Career partnership in Memphis, TN. She now works in philanthropy. She is a native Memphian committed to improving outcomes in her hometown.


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This Change Was Made For You and Me

Thu, 2016-08-11 13:46

Albany Promise

Guest post by Juliette Price, Director of The Albany Promise, a StriveTogether Cradle to Career Partnership.

Communities and individuals, from California to New York, are working every day to change adult behavior to improve the outcomes for our nation’s most vulnerable students.

But this work can be lonely. At this year’s StriveTogether Expert Convening, five cities from across the nation—Albany, Minneapolis, Tacoma, Marin and Cincinnati—got together to share their triumphs and tribulations, tips and lessons learned and collectively move our field forward focused on their efforts at targeting strategies to close the achievement gaps in their communities.

Each community brought a singular case study from their partnership’s work in order to take a deep dive into why a particular strategy worked and identify the key elements to delivering on the promise of improvement. Every case study was radically different—some communities focused on high school graduation rates, others on summer learning loss—but common themes quickly emerged as key to ensuring targeted strategies led to improvement.

  • Clearly define the problem: The outcomes partnerships want to move are complex. For example, successful college enrollment is the confluence of many events. By just focusing on summer melt—the last three months before college enrollment—you can start to make noticeable gains towards your goals quickly.
  • Scope small: With very large geographic areas such as Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN, sticker shock can set in when you see that there are 29,000 high school students in the partnership’s footprint. By selecting four high schools to begin working with, the partnership focused on just 5 percent of the student population, enabling them to start testing immediately.
  • Design with the end user in mind: The partnership in Marin County, CA is focused on raising FAFSA completion rates and opted to build the intervention directly into the school day, enabling them to reach students where they already are instead of adding a new layer of service.
  • Build buy-in into the process, don’t seek it: It was clear that we all struggled with issues surrounding buy-in from partners. Seeking buy-in simply doesn’t work—co-creation does, and including the right partners at the right level of buy-in is key.
  • Bet small, then go big: With over 70 million students in the United States today, scale is the name of the game. But innovation causes disruption, and unknowns are easier handled when a new process is piloted with a small number of students. Every time a new process is executed, we learn more about the situation and use continuous improvement to augment impact as we scale.

We may be scattered across the country, but our collective expertise in improving outcomes for kids is continuously reinforced when we share our lessons learned, from sea to shining sea.

Learn more about targeted strategies and what you can do to bring attention to and eliminate disparities at the StriveTogether National Convening in Memphis, Tennessee September 20-22, “Rise Up: Education Excellence for Every Child.”

Juliette PriceJuliette Price serves as director for The Albany Promise cradle to career partnership in Albany, NY. She previously worked in higher education, teacher education, and statewide education policy, focusing on using evidence-based interventions to improve the lives of students and families across the state of New York.


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Network in the News: third-grade reading, math boot camp, and more

Tue, 2016-08-09 20:00

Eastside Pathways

Network members are making news and changing the outcome.

If your partnership has been featured or mentioned in your local news, send it along to We would love to share your work with our partners, stakeholders and friends.

Photograph courtesy of Eastside Pathways.


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Trust is (Also) an Action

Thu, 2016-07-07 12:17

Adriane Johnson-Williams, founding facilitator for the Seeding Success partnership in Memphis, TN, is exploring what it looks like to truly do the work of collaborative action. Through stories of challenging conversations and genuine relationship building, she shares her experiences working to change behaviors and practices in pursuit of better and more equitable outcomes at scale. A native Memphian committed to improving outcomes in her hometown, she now works in philanthropy.

The first time I facilitated a Collaborative Action Network meeting, I knew I was in a room full of people who wanted dramatic change in our community. I assumed that all we had to do was clarify our roles and get to it.

I was wrong.

The idea that “collaboration moves at the speed of trust” is commonly shared in conversations about collective impact. Its twin, “change happens at the speed of trust,” is also commonplace. Both suggest that trust has to be built before work can begin, so, how do you bring people together to build trust without doing work?

To avoid losing collaborators due to inaction or trying to force people to do complex work before they are ready, it’s worthwhile to remember that trust is not just a noun. It is more than a thing that is built; it is also a verb.

Here are three elements to consider when beginning (or shifting) work within groups.

1. Define trust as an action.

Bryk & Schneider’s “relational trust” is built on respect, personal regard for others, competence, and personal integrity. There is no way to build relational trust without everyone demonstrating that they respect each other, will treat others well, are competent in their roles, and can operate with integrity.

Although I entered rooms with degrees and a solid professional history, I intentionally called out my lack of knowledge in the specific outcome on which a network was focusing. My position in the space was about facilitation. The people in the room were the experts. They held the knowledge. It wasn’t an easy posture to maintain (and I failed often), but I was intentional and explicit about respecting their role in the work. This work is their work, not ours. Using Results Based Facilitation (RBF) helped us make accountability a regular part of every meeting. Participants reported on their action commitments and explained what facilitated or impeded their progress. And when staff made errors, we owned up and were committed to modeling integrity and accountability.

The speed of trust was defined by the staff’s ability to respect the groups enough to ask them to do their best work and hold each other accountable for the outcome to which they had committed. There was not a single “trust-building” activity in any network meetings – we built trust and momentum through the work and how we conducted ourselves.

2. Know thyself.

Identity matters when it comes to building trust. Who we are informs how people will respond to us and how we will react to others. Being aware of context and being honest with yourself and collaborators is a good place to start.

I am a black female native Memphian who left my hometown and returned after 25 years. I have some credibility given the neighborhood where I started, but I’m essentially a stranger. At the same time, I challenge all sorts of stereotypes and low expectations of black women in Memphis. To some people I am family, to others I’m the help, and to others I’m the enemy. To be effective I have to manage those identities whether I claim them or not.

When asked to substitute facilitate for my executive director, a young white man, I encountered some resistance from the white women who were leading the effort. One attempted to micromanage the design process; another tried to facilitate over me. I had to firmly, but professionally, assert my role as facilitator and my commitment to better outcomes for children.

Knowing myself and how I am perceived by others allows me to be authentic and consistent. Everyone, regardless of how they categorize me, can always trust me to be me, which means I bring the most effective me into every space.

3. Do your homework.

Collective impact efforts are about bringing together people who have been contributing to the work for years, sometimes decades. Any room is likely to have existing relationships and experiences that could facilitate or derail efforts at any time. Identifying and preparing for potential threats and barriers to trust is essential to keeping things moving forward.

The level of analysis that has been necessary to navigate early childhood in Memphis rivals preparation for contentious political races. The landmines are countless. Interpersonal dynamics in this sector were instructive on how different people and groups can enter collaborative spaces. Taking the time to meet separately with various factions and develop relationships with people by asking about their work and learning about their concerns helped me to design more effective meetings and avoid those landmines.

I began my work assuming the existence of a shared understanding—whether of the problem or the solution—was sufficient to move work forward, but I have come to understand that trust matters. Lack of trust is still no excuse for inaction. It is simply a reason for acting differently and supporting others to act together.
Adriane Johnson-WilliamsAdriane Johnson-Williams, Ph.D. was the founding facilitator for Seeding S
, a StriveTogether Cradle to Career partnership in Memphis, TN. She now works in philanthropy. She is a native Memphian committed to improving outcomes in her hometown.


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Network in the News: summer programs, grants, and celebrations

Tue, 2016-07-05 15:21

Summer programs and outreach events inspire communities.

StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network members are taking advantage of these long days to make headlines while making an impact in their communities.

If your partnership has been featured or mentioned in your local news, send it along to We would love to share your work with our partners, stakeholders and friends.


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A Team of Rivals

Wed, 2016-06-29 20:26

Collaborative Action

Adriane Johnson-Williams, founding facilitator for the Seeding Success partnership in Memphis, TN, is exploring what it looks like to truly do the work of collaborative action. Through stories of challenging conversations and genuine relationship building, she shares her experiences working to change behaviors and practices in pursuit of better and more equitable outcomes at scale. A native Memphian committed to improving outcomes in her hometown, she now works in philanthropy.

When I joined Seeding Success in Memphis, TN, I was the third employee: the facilitator.  I, a black woman, would be the person managing relationships with the most diverse group of people involved in the effort.

Memphis, TN is a majority black city and our county-wide work focused on a majority black population. We had recently gone through a period of intense racial conflict around creating a county-wide school district. What had been two school districts – Memphis City and Shelby County – became one school district, and after months of legal battles, was fractured into 7 districts. The conflict exposed an antipathy for black children and families living in poverty and a preference for racially and economically segregated schools that core to the identify of this deeply southern city.

The Memphis context may be distinct, but the work of improving cradle to career outcomes is similar across the nation. We are often talking about racial and economic inequalities that overlap, and, in my experience, these conversations tend to happen in rooms filled largely with white people leading collective impact efforts across the country.

Seeding Success’ work was, unsurprisingly, launched and led by a white man. Our continuous improvement director was a brilliant and outspoken white woman. Although we got along well, our team was at our core a team of rivals. The differences between the three of us could have ruined us, given our ideas and experiences regarding race, gender, culture, and epistemology (our way of knowing), but they didn’t. What happened?

We had to acknowledge our differences and adapt.

As a member of the StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network, we learned from and critiqued the Theory of Action, a rational document that privileges empiricism. The Theory of Action lends itself well to having a white man stand in front of a room of mostly white male corporate leaders to convince them that action needs to be taken and to invest in that action. It lends itself well to having a woman stand in front of a diverse room of educational leaders to impress upon them the need to partner with people from other sectors. What the Theory of Action alone does not do, however, is lend itself well to a black woman, no matter how well she understands the data, to convince a group of mid-level managers or frontline staff of color that they have any role to play in interrupting what they see as a fundamentally white-controlled space.

In the United States, white men and black women exist at polar opposites of every social and economic hierarchy. And a team with a male leader and female staff paints a gender portrait of hierarchy that is familiar and appealing, or painful, depending on the audience. On the surface, our team was a volatile mix, but we were committed to being open about that volatility. Because we were open, were able to speak frankly about how we were replicating race and gender dynamics while also trying to challenge them.

I doubt we could have handled this challenge ourselves. Thanks to our participation in the StriveTogether Leadership Program in partnership with the Annie E. Casey Foundation, we were introduced to results based leadership and the power of adaptive leadership. We were given permission to consider different ways of adapting our approaches to our various audiences. We were guided to interrogate our own team relationships and the role our identities played in our team dynamics. This informed how we could make progress in changing our local systems in the context of the realities of the lived experiences of community members.

The gift of our team was that we were able to play out potential conflicts in private before we stood before our various audiences. Our volatile mix was our strength. At the same time, our image was and is a hindrance in challenging the local norms. We are left with more questions than answers:

  • What work must white male leaders do to interrupt structural racism in their communities while sitting firmly in their privilege as leaders of complex work?
  • How do women of color avoid being pigeon-holed as the community-facing team members, the relational people, while taking advantage of their connectedness to their communities?
  • How do white women navigate the race and gender landmines of history and context?
  • What roles are men of color playing in collective impact work? How do their identities and roles overlap?
  • In what ways do more complex combinations of identity play into this work?

The actual members of the Memphis team have changed, but the face of the team is essentially the same. As the work is embraced across the community, the challenges have become even greater as the appeal of the terms “collective impact,” “collaboration,” and “outcomes” have hidden the complexity of the work. What our team members have learned about identity, leadership, and equity is not easily translated. As rivals, the work becomes doing, being, teaching, and learning all at the same time.

Adriane Johnson-WilliamsAdriane Johnson-Williams, Ph.D. was the founding facilitator for Seeding S
, a StriveTogether Cradle to Career partnership in Memphis, TN. She now works in philanthropy. She is a native Memphian committed to improving outcomes in her hometown.



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Systems Change is About Every Child

Mon, 2016-06-20 09:36

Pensive Child

We’re on a quest for better and more equitable outcomes for every child in every community – and we believe that through our vision of changing systems, we will achieve education excellence with equity. Cradle to career partnerships across the nation have pioneered new ways of working to change behaviors, beliefs, practices, and policies in service of better outcomes.

But better outcomes are not enough.

We know that our current systems effectively serve some, but not all, of our learners. Every StriveTogether partnership that breaks out their data by race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, gender, geography, disability status, and other variables can point to gaps in achievement among different demographic populations. This work is about changing systems in our communities to produce reliably excellent outcomes for every child.

To achieve the vision, communities have an obligation to create more equitable systems and eliminate disparities. We’ve seen signals of progress: San Diego involves youth and parents in decision-making. Dallas County integrates a focus on rigor, relevance, and relationships to infuse equity into the partnership’s strategies. Racine is facilitating frank conversations about implicit bias and racial inequity to inform kindergarten readiness strategies. And Tacoma has made significant gains in the graduation rates among every racial demographic.

StriveTogether’s Theory of Action has always offered some guideposts to help communities toward more equitable systems.

  • Engaging a broad array of community voices and focusing on eliminating locally defined disparities are two of the guiding principles that partnerships intentionally focus on as they move from building a partnership to impacting outcomes.
  • To advance progress toward systems change, cradle to career partnership must make achievement gaps visible to the community through publicly sharing their data on race, ethnicity, income, and other factors – encouraging everyone to share accountability for narrowing achievement gaps.

From a clear call to action at the 2013 National Convening in Dallas, TX to the tireless efforts of the Race, Class, and Culture Workgroup and the insights of partnerships participating in the Equity Fellowship and StriveTogether’s Results Based Leadership offerings, our partnerships have challenged us to take an even stronger public stance in service of equity.

Now, our updated systems change indicators offer a clear stake in the ground on behalf of the children and families in most need of differential supports based on their unique conditions – such as race/ethnicity, gender, socio-economic status, and ability – to reach their full academic and social potential. We are committed to supporting partnerships in building capability to achieve better and more equitable results. We are raising our bar of quality even higher: it’s not enough to maintain or improve outcomes. To truly change systems at scale, cradle to career partnerships need to take intentional steps to narrow disparities and create better and more equitable systems to support the success of every child, cradle to career.


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