In August of 2015, StriveTogether, in partnership with the Annie E. Casey Foundation, launched the StriveTogether Leadership Program. This nine-month program is an in-depth training for the six cradle to career partnerships participating in StriveTogether’s Accelerator Fund in Annie E. Casey’s Results Based Leadership, a practice that has changed social outcomes for communities across the nation. This blog from Kirstin Yeado, Community Impact Manager with Higher Expectations in Racine, Wisconsin, and is one of several reflections from participants in the program.
Meetings without a particular result or focus are simply work avoidance.
This, among many other takeaways, has influenced Higher Expectations’ approach in taking on the complex challenges that so many communities face. Working toward eradicating racial disparities in education and opportunity in Racine, Wisconsin, Higher Expectations has recently joined five other StriveTogether Network communities in the StriveTogether Leadership Program. When we know that 88 percent of white students entered school “ready to learn to read” in the Fall of 2015, but only 71 percent of African-American students and 68 percent of Hispanic/Latino students, we know, too, that this is a challenge that requires a commitment to results.
At a recent site visit, we were given the opportunity to be truly results-focused, using the visit to spearhead a conversation with community leaders who would be willing to commit their time, talent and resources to solving the challenge of racial disparities. But what would be on the agenda? What’s the result we want to achieve? And what would the “ask” of our participants be? Using lessons in results-based facilitation learned from StriveTogether and the Annie E. Casey Foundation, we developed a results-based agenda that used a particular outcome – kindergarten readiness – as the focus of our conversation. By keeping the conversation focused on this particular challenge, we created a clear path to action.
Our meeting was attended by several community leaders, including leadership from the school district, county, nonprofits, faith-based organizations, and the local NAACP.
- Our conversation started with a data walk. Before you can begin to tackle the challenge of inequity, you must know what the data tells you.
- We then spent time as a group uncovering the story behind the data. What does the data tell us about the state of well-being for children in Racine? As we reviewed the data, we saw a clear pattern of disparities that started in kindergarten and continued through post-secondary experiences between African-American and white students. We also noticed a growing Latino population in our community.
- Next, we spent time exploring the mental models that guide the thoughts and actions of our community each and every day. Like most communities, we know there are mental models around who is “responsible” for these outcomes. Understanding these models is critical to ensuring we develop solutions that disrupt or align with our beliefs about root causes.
- Finally, we made action commitments. What can we as community leaders do to continue have tough conversations and, ultimately, move the needle when it comes to kindergarten readiness?
During our time together, we agreed to further explore the implicit racial bias that affects so many communities and how it impacts the way we approach solutions to racial inequity. We also will be doing a deeper investigation into kindergarten readiness “bright spots” where outcomes are strong for all students and racial disparities are minimized, and investigate key aspects that make these schools, programs or classrooms successful.
Though our conversation in January was brief, it was a necessary step for our community. Using the lens of kindergarten readiness results, we engaged our community in an important discussion and developed next steps around a challenge that often leaves people feeling overwhelmed and unsure of where to start. Though we know the journey ahead is long and full of challenge, it’s a journey our community must take if we wish to eliminate racial disparities.
Kirstin Yeado serves as the Community Impact Manager for Higher Expectations in Racine County, Wisconsin, a StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network Sustaining member. Higher Expectations launched in 2014 with the bold vision of creating a fully capable and employed Racine County workforce. Yeado is an experienced social sector professional who has provided technical assistance to communities building partnerships through the Federal Promise Neighborhoods and Building Neighborhood Capacity (BNCP) programs.