Welcome to Together for Together for Change, the podcast where we explore the transformative power of systems change and civic infrastructure.
In this episode, we reflect on the Cradle to Career Network’s largest in-person gathering to date — the 2023 Cradle to Career Network Convening. We also look back at some of our favorite moments from recent episodes as we close out this season of the podcast.
Hosted by: Monroe Nichols, director of policy and partnerships at StriveTogether
Featured guests: Jennifer Blatz, president and CEO at StriveTogether, and Colin Groth, chief advancement officer at StriveTogether
00:19 Monroe Nichols, director of policy and partnerships at StriveTogether
Hello, I’m Monroe Nichols, director of policy and partnerships at StriveTogether and your host for today’s episode of Together for Change.
This season we’ve been focused on our North Star of economic mobility by exploring how children and families are better off when we do the work that treats the root cause of issues rather than the symptoms. At StriveTogether, we do this by changing systems and building up civic infrastructure.
Today we have a special episode as we wrap up season three. We’re looking back at some of our favorite moments from the podcast and the 2023 Cradle to Career Network Convening, which brought more than 600 of us to San Francisco last week. Joining me today are StriveTogether President and CEO Jennifer Blatz and our Chief Advancement Officer Colin Groth.
Jennifer, Colin, welcome back to Together for Change. Let’s get started.
Alright, at the convening, we bring together our network members, their partners, our national partners, public sector officials and more. This year’s convening was the biggest yet. Jennifer, I’m thinking about 2016 in Memphis and how much bigger this year was from 2016 in Memphis. So I’m wondering with all the growth over the last several years, what were you feeling when you left San Francisco? Is there a topline key insight that you might want to share as you arrived back to the office this week?
“When we work together, there is nothing that our Cradle to Career Network cannot do.” – Jennifer Blatz, president and CEO at StriveTogether
01:35 Jennifer Blatz, president and CEO at StriveTogether
So first Monroe, it’s great to be back on the podcast with you. I mean, I think, so after every convening, regardless of whether it’s, you know, 2016 in Memphis, much smaller versus 2023 in San Francisco, largest convening ever. I think there’s always a buzz, sort of like, you know, this feeling of energy or in the room and I will say leaving last week, you know, I felt really just a tremendous amount of pride and appreciation for the incredible work that’s happening across the country and a really positive energy at a time when it’s not always hard to watch the news and feel positive of sort of the state of, you know, are we facing a government shutdown and are we facing, you know, some downturn in the economy ahead?
Just to see so many people from across the country working in partnerships and really very positive and excited about putting more young people on a path to mobility. The greatest insight that I took away from last week is that truly when we work together, there is nothing that our Cradle to Career Network cannot do. And so I feel energized, positive and excited about what’s ahead.
02:53 Monroe Nichols
That’s awesome. That’s, you know, one of the things Jennifer, I think about often, whether it’s doing the podcast or when we’re going across the country and certainly at the convening every year, it just really feels like there’s a sense of the Network taking ownership of the future of the entire country, right. And I think that’s a really special thing. That’s really neat. And and it it, you know, you get so filled with it every time you’re around everybody because there’s not this sense of, “Oh, we’re going to wait and see and for somebody else to solve these problems,” it’s like, no, “We’re a powerful network of leaders that are going to do it ourselves” and it gets more and more diverse, the types of people who are there, the fact that we have so many public sector officials now and so many network partners that show up, it’s not just our network members that are there. It’s like it’s the place to be this time of year.
03:34 Jennifer Blatz
It is and I do want to add one thing that you’re reminding me of, Monroe, is, you know, for the first time ever, and this was the 14th annual convening — and I’ve been at every, there’s only one that I missed and I was, I was about to give birth to my twins so couldn’t could attend the Portland convening but was there in spirit. But of these 14 convenings this was the first time we really centered, for the first time on the mainstage, we had Erik Stegman from Native Americans in Philanthropy join us to talk about how important it is and how we might be able to better engage our tribal communities in the work.
And this has been something, so I just think about like how you talk about, you know, the diversity of the group and the diversity of work that we’re doing and over since the beginning of our work in 2011, you know, tribal communities have been a part of this working community, tribal organizations, and yet we have, you know, we hadn’t been able to really figure out how do we engage with and center their voices in a different way, and I give a lot of credit to our colleague Josh Davis for really pushing us on this.
But I do want to share that was a unique sort of take away and an insight that I’m taking away from last week is, is how we continue to build out the diversity and inclusiveness of this network. We still have more work to do, but we keep on working at that.
04:54 Monroe Nichols
I love it. It’s the constant pursuit to make sure that we’re, you know, bringing people to the, but bringing people to the table in a way that we’re actually changing outcomes. Right? I think that’s a really special part about the work.
Colin, this season of the podcast and the theme of the convening has been all around getting more people and families, children and families on a path to economic mobility. And that’s what we call our North Star, right, this year. And to sailors, the North Star isn’t just metaphorical. And for somebody who is a fisherman, a deep-sea fisherman like Colin Goth — people don’t know that’s a fun fact about Colin. We got one fun fact about Jennifer. She missed one convening to have twins. One fun fact about Colin is that he is a fisherman at least once one time a year. So the North Star is really important thing for people like you, Colin.
But in the context of our network, of StriveTogether, what does our North Star really look like?
“If we can put 4 million more children on a path to economic mobility, what could that mean for every kid in this country?” – Colin Groth,
chief advancement officer at StriveTogether
05:44 Colin Groth, chief advancement officer at StriveTogether
Well, it’s a great question. And just to bring some data to this, so I, you know, I have an annual fishing trip. I’ve been in the ocean fishing three times, and all three times I have unintentionally caught a shark. So I’m three for three on shark adventures in flats fishing, at least outside Key West. But the North Star, I mean, this is like the rallying cry. You talked about leaving the convening like feeling like this is a movement of leaders across the country.
I feel like every movement has that kind of galvanizing North Star, and for us it’s this idea of economic mobility. You know, we know our communities are galvanized and organized around this idea of the cradle-to-career outcomes as the best interim indicators that we have in this, this field towards economic mobility.
And Jennifer, I think, beautifully laid out this ambitious challenge to the Network to say, you know, by 2030, could we see four million more young people on a pathway to economic mobility? Could we see 70% of communities in the Network moving four out of seven cradle-to-career outcomes? Could we see $70 billion in public funding being leveraged to this work to improve outcomes and/or to sustain civic infrastructure? And could we see an unleashing of the skills and competencies needed to do this work through the Training Hub leading to, you know tens of thousands, we’ve been saying 75,000, training units delivered by the Training Hub, but how do we get more people engaged, supported?
In our network session I was talking about, you know, my vision for this is that anybody that joins the place-based partnership field has access to the critical skills and competencies within their first 90 days on the role by getting engaged in the Training Hub. And so that North Star, to me, is about the four million more. Ultimately this network has been serving somewhere around 12% of all kids in the country. And if we can demonstrate the power of this work, if we can put 4 million more children on a path to economic mobility, what could that mean for every kid in this country? As we think about the hard work in front of us.
“We have this incredible progress that’s been happening across the country that gives us some indication that yes, the work is hard … but it is very much possible.” – Monroe Nichols, director of policy and partnerships at StriveTogether
07:39 Monroe Nichols
Yeah, I think it’s great and you know, I think the thing for us to always remind ourselves of, and for people listening who may not be as familiar with StriveTogether. But I think the convening of great reminder for all of us that are in the Network that it is possible, these are not like pie in the sky things, right, like we have this incredible progress that’s been happening across the country that gives us some indication that yes, the work is hard, maybe there’s some complexities to it, but it is very much possible.
Jennifer, Colin mentioned a little bit about bringing more people into the work and the four million more and all this kind of stuff, and we know that to reach those goals that he laid out, it is part about bringing more people to the work. And you know one of the plenaries at the convening last week focused on activating youth leadership. We talk so much about young people, but we know it is a challenge to make sure that they are fully integrated in the work that we’re doing from start to finish, right. And I know we had some great things have happened in the Network. We’ve modeled that and good things have happened, but at the convening, we heard from Dr. Tim Lampkin of Higher Purpose Co. and Jerelyn Rodriguez of The Knowledge House and they shared insights on supporting youth leaders like themselves.
What stood out to you in their conversation and what might be something that you would lift up to our listeners who are seeking to activate young people and the things that have happened in the Network that you want to make sure you draw their attention to?
“There’s no one better to know how to transform these systems that get these really disparate outcomes than those who are most impacted by the systems. And that is young people in our communities.” – Jennifer Blatz, president and CEO at StriveTogether
08:55 Jennifer Blatz
Thanks for this question, Monroe. I mean I believe that all of our plenaries were inspiring. But I mean perhaps this is the one that I heard the most feedback from our partnerships just about how incredible it was to see two younger leaders who have been leading in their work as role models for what young leadership can look like, young entrepreneurship in particular.
Jerelyn Rodriguez, so she is a young leader who’s working to also help build young data talent. So there’s so many parallels for our work. And then we had some conversations with her about what might it look like to work together to be able to even build a pipeline for data talent for the Network and engage more young people and young data talent in this work. And of course she serves on the board of one of our partnerships. So she’s engaged with South Bronx Rising Together.
And then Dr. Tim Lampkin just really inspiring in investing in Black businesses, indeed, really empowering Black leaders in Mississippi in the South and staying in his community and the importance of place. And so those themes just to, you know, for the young people in the room, and we did have young people with us in the room, where many of our partnerships brought with them, young leaders who are contributing to their work, just to see that I think just was an incredible inspiration. And then the advice and the insights that they drew, you know, there were some questions from the audience about, like, how we could apply sort of what they’re learning around engaging young people and empowering young people and their work.
And their advice consistently was like, first and foremost you need to ask young people what they think and you need to create a safe space to listen to them, and, you know, do something with that, what you’re hearing. And I do think, sometimes I worry and I speak from my own experience in early days of doing this work on the ground and community engagement, you know, how much is performative? Oh great, we have a young person on the board. But like how much are we really creating a safe space for them to contribute and actually to activate what we’re hearing from them? So I heard that as an insight.
The other piece was just like, get out of their way. Young people there, there’s no one better to know how to transform these systems that get these really disparate outcomes than those who are most impacted by the systems. And that is young people in our communities. And so how are we getting out of their way?
You know I mentioned that there were young people with us at the convening and I had a chance last year to visit with our partnership in the Rocky Mountain region, Rocky Mountain Cradle to Career, and they, I know that they’ve been on the podcast before to talk about their civic influencer work.
And so Gabi, one of their civic influencers, was there at the convening and I had a chance to meet in the fall and then the team reintroduced Gabi to me at the reception of the convening last week and I asked, you know, what’s going on with you, Gabi? How’s school? She’s a college student, and she’s like, It’s so busy. I’m now sitting on like, I don’t know how many boards she said she was sitting on. I have no idea. She’s sitting on multiple boards. But not only that is she was talking, I said so, how’s that going for you?
And she, she described one board where she’s like, it’s me and a bunch of, of PTA moms and she’s like, “And hey don’t know what they’re talking about.” And she’s like, “And I’m telling them that they don’t know what they’re talking about.” And just to see her be activated and excited, to be able to contribute and not holding back and, you know, they’re working to recruit more civic influencers and expand their youth engagement work in Rocky Mountain.
And it’s been so instrumental to their success and helped to get their mill levy passed for the first time in 28 years. They passed a levy for school district because of those civic influencers, because of those young people and people like Gabi who are in the work, they’re leading, they see the contributions they can make, and now she can be a mentor for other young leaders in their system. And that was something else I heard Dr. Lampkin and Jerelyn Rodriguez talk about was mentorship and the importance of this.
So there’s so many applications in our work as we think about putting more young people on a path to economic mobility. We have to get young people engaged in the movement, much more engaged in the movement, and I think we saw a lot of examples of that last week and throughout our Network.
13:16 Monroe Nichols
That’s outstanding. You know, I had the opportunity to meet, shout out to Gabi. I had an opportunity to meet her when I went to Adams County earlier this year, and not only was she part of that mill levy deal, she’s like on the oversight committee for how the money is being spent. And I was like, you’re like a superhero. And there was, there was like, I think 100 people who applied to be on that commission. And I think there’s only like eight or 10 of them that are on there, and she’s one of them.
It really like hit home to me when we have these conversations about engaging young people and listening to them. See, I have a 15-year-old. And I hope that he does not listen to me when I talk about these things, because he’s going to have a big beef because I don’t listen to him as maybe as much as I should. But he, you know, he’s getting a driver’s license now, Jennifer and Colin, this is a point of personal privilege here, and he’s picking out all the cars he wants and everything. And I’m like, I don’t think so, man. So, so let’s be careful how much, how much I say my personal life, how much I listen to my 15-year-old. I probably should a little bit more.
So the cool thing about the podcast is it sometimes prepares folks who’re going to be on the national convening stage for the national stage. And so several folks who were in San Francisco with us have been on the podcast. One of them is somebody within our StriveTogether family, a special member of the StriveTogether family, Richard Raya, who helped close out the convening with the conversation about nested civic infrastructure with, I think with you, Colin, and with Kim Johnson, one of our public sector partners who is the director of the California Department of Social Services.
On stage and on the podcast, Richard shared the work that he’s doing currently with the Mission Economic Development Agency, where he’s the chief strategy officer and leads the work of the Mission Promise Neighborhood. The incredible thing about this work is how it’s expanded upward from the neighborhood to the city to the state level. And now obviously having a national impact. Where have you respond to something we’re going to listen really quick to how Richard described his work there in the Mission neighborhood on episode five.
15:08 Richard Raya, chief strategy officer at Mission Economic Development Agency
So now where we are, Josh, is that we don’t want this to be a boutique project just in the Mission District. There are other formerly redlined communities of color in San Francisco such as Chinatown and the Bayview, which is historically one of the Black working-class neighborhoods in San Francisco, and other neighborhoods. And we’re working with the city now and philanthropy to help plan Promise Neighborhoods for these other neighborhoods. And we’re calling it the Promise City Initiative.
How do we go from having just one Promise Neighborhood, to actually taking this approach citywide, where the city takes a neighborhood-based approach to addressing the historical inequities and the current inequities in the city? And the state is investing in this work now, in the Mission Promise Neighborhood work. And we’re working with a coalition of a statewide partners in the cradle-to-career space to expand the state’s investment. And we’re calling this the “It Takes a Village Act,” because at the root of this work — and I think you hinted at this, Josh — at the root of this work is about us kind of remembering who we are as humans and seeing each other as neighbors who help each other out when we are in need. And we’re coming together as a village to take care of our own. That’s what this work is about. And so that’s what we’re calling this statewide act, which would help fund multiple Promise Neighborhoods or similar cradle-to-career initiatives across the state.”
16:44 Monroe Nichols
So Colin, hearing Richard, and I know this has been a conversation that that we certainly had across the work, with this concept of nested civic infrastructure where we see this work growing from the neighborhood level on up. I’m curious, hearing Richard know what’s going on there, the experience you had on the stage there in San Francisco, you know, what’s so exciting about the potential for the work in San Francisco and what does it represent for the Network at large?
“In the same way that we think about investing in roads and bridges, we have to think about investing in the people infrastructure, the problem solving infrastructure, the data infrastructure that’s necessary to close the gap between our aspirations for kids and families and the outcomes that we see our systems producing.” – Colin Groth, chief advancement officer at StriveTogether
17:06 Colin Groth
Yeah, it’s a great question and it was so alive for me in the room, in the multiple rooms that we were in, in San Francisco with you know, we talked for years for at least 12 years now, about this idea of civic infrastructure, right. I’m a transit guy. You know, I spent seven years working in in public transportation. So I think a lot in terms of infrastructure and in the same way that we think about investing in roads and bridges, we have to think about investing the people infrastructure, the problem solving infrastructure, the data infrastructure that’s necessary to close the gap between our aspirations for kids and families and the outcomes that we see our systems producing.
And you know, personally, like when Jennifer and I, we had the chance to do a breakout session, packed room, network members talking about the strategic plan and at one point, I was just asking people to raise their hands, you know, “Raise your hand if you’re working to align neighborhood-level work or community school infrastructure with your regional partnership.” And like 90% of the hands in the room started to raise and then when we talked about how many folks are thinking about the connection of state-level organizing or state-level policy work to the work of your partnership, again like 90% of the hands in the room raise.
So I think what’s exciting to me is this is happening across our movement. We’re seeing communities thinking about supporting and aligning deep neighborhood-level work that identifies what’s working for kids and families across the cradle-to-career continuum, whether it’s, you know, Learn to Earn Dayton supporting the creation of the Northwest Dayton Partnership, whether it’s those two partners working together with StriveTogether and the William Julius Wilson Institute to actually go out and secure federal Promise Neighborhood funding to expand and align cradle-to-career services in that neighborhood, connecting that to data infrastructure and policy work that Learn to Earn is supporting across the state to actually advance and advocate for the science of reading and to support the implementation of science of reading policy in their local community so that we’re not just learning what’s working for kids and families, we’re codifying it in the state-level policy. We’re supporting it through the implementation of that policy in a way that actually drives outcomes in a tangible way, in place.
“We’re not just learning what’s working for kids and families, we’re codifying it in the state-level policy.” – Colin Groth, chief advancement officer at StriveTogether
And so what I think is most exciting to me is that this work is happening. We have to sort of fuel that fire. We have to put some resources into it. We have an opportunity through this next strategic plan to really intentionally invest and align in that. And we’ve got a whole bunch of partners that are lined up around it. We’ve got the Purpose Built Communities network. We’ve got William Julius Wilson Institute. We have Partners for Rural Impact and Save the Children working to support more rural communities to join us in coalition, to join us in power building and to go out and advocate for change. We have folks from Results for America who are thinking about the engagement of public agencies, mayors, county leaders, the National League of Cities, so many more.
So I think this neighborhood to national framework, it’s exciting. It’s tangible. It’s already emerging and our work is to really support and invest in that over the next seven years and to tell this nation a story of what’s possible when you actually get the plumbing right in this country.
“This is about the future of the country and what can be different about it.” – Monroe Nichols, director of policy and partnerships at StriveTogether
20:07 Monroe Nichols
That’s right. So I think what’s great about that, and we talked about, you know, the 2030 plan and the goals and how real they are. And part of is this alignment of like hey, you know, good work could happen at every level, right? And so let’s make sure that we’re aligned about doing great work at every level and this concept of nested civic infrastructure and how StriveTogether is bringing together those partners and how those partners are very activated.
It’s incredibly exciting and I think again it makes those goals not pie in the sky goals, that makes those goals real. This is about the future of the country and what can be different about it and I’m really excited about that because we at the heart are talking about transforming a system nationally, which is cool, and to that end, one of the great pleasures of doing the podcast, which the two of you know, is all the folks you get to talk to through the course of the year and perspectives.
I had the great pleasure of interviewing Susan Dawson in one of my favorite podcast episodes. She’s with the E3 Alliance in Austin. And, you know, she was really sharing about, like, what does it really mean, what do we really mean when we talk about systems transformation. What does that mean on the ground? Like, what has really changed in the community to let you know that you’re there? She describes this transformation in a powerful way. And so I want to make sure we hear from her in her voice what she had to say when I asked her to define systems transformation back in episode two.
21:25 Susan Dawson, E3 Alliance
The most important thing is that we’re not talking today about transforming students, we’re talking about transforming systems. Because so often, it is the systems that are the barrier or the opportunity for our students to succeed. Too often, implicit bias, or sometimes even explicit bias is what helps or hinders our students from reaching the success and the economic mobility that we want them to.
And especially when we think about scale, not helping tens, or hundreds or thousands of students succeed, but helping hundreds of thousands of students succeed. So when you think about systems transformation, at scale, we’re really talking about population-level change, and understanding deeply those systems that are impacting our students, our schools, our teachers, our staff who are trying to work together to create the kind of success that we want to see.
22:25 Monroe Nichols
So Jennifer, you were talking about past convenings. I was thinking about the Seattle convening and really rolling out this idea that we’re going to have these communities for each system change, systems transformation, which is a big goal at the time, right? But since the conversation even that I had with Susan earlier this year, we, let’s see had, I think, two more communities have reached the systems transformation designation along the StriveTogether Theory of ActionTM, bringing us to a total of seven systems transformation communities today.
I’d love for each of you to share maybe one story or maybe even just, you know, a takeaway from one of those communities that really shows systems transformation at play, you know. How are you seeing changes being implemented for the long haul and how’s that leading to better outcomes for kids and families? I’ll start with Jennifer.
23:11 Jennifer Blatz
I’m going to, I guess, take a privilege and kind of share two examples because I want to build on something that Susan said.
23:18 Monroe Nichols
I’ll say Jennifer, as CEO, you can take all the privilege you want to, so.
23:23 Jennifer Blatz
Because I think these are similar and it gets to what Susan — I always think of Susan as someone who has always asked me, consistently over the last, you know, 14 years, what do we mean when we’re talking about scale? And I think you know she just defined, obviously, when she shared her definition of systems transformation and what we mean when we’re talking about scale. And I think about the work in Central Texas that Susan has been leading since the very beginning, since even predating this Strive Partnership work, E3 Alliance was doing this work as well before we were even StriveTogether.
And so recently the work of E3 Alliance has been focused on math work and advanced math pathways, knowing that young people who take advanced math pathways are more likely to go on to and be successful in postsecondary education. And they recognized as you know you would see in many, many districts across this country that students of color and low-income students were being tracked out of advanced math pathways. And so they made a, you know, simple policy change, but really transformed the system institutionally to make it an opt out, that you have to opt out of. You’re automatically enrolled in advanced math pathways and you have to opt out. Then they start to close disparity gaps. When you kind of take away that biased tracking, you see gaps begin to close. And so talking about scale, so that first impacted young people and students across Central Texas.
And then they took their data and used it to shape legislation that ultimately made this a policy for the entire state of Texas, which is a tremendous scale. And so you look at that type of systems transformation, like an institutional policy change, and how it becomes transformative. And it truly is just an incredible example of what it looks like to transform systems and get to the scale question that that Susan has been asking forever.
And sorry, Colin, if you were going to share this example too, but I think of so many similarities in the work that UP Partnership is doing in San Antonio. So UP Partnership is also another systems transformation community in the StriveTogether Network, that has reached the systems transformation gateway and they’re supporting young people and families across Bexar County. And they have a comprehensive plan to put more young people in Bexar County on a path to economic mobility called their Future Ready Plan. And it’s, there are more than 90 different partners who are engaged in this plan.
So a policy change, another institutional policy change they made is they have this — and this is, like as a former college admissions officer, I love this — they have this direct admissions initiative, where the top 25% of the students in every class, in any class graduating class from Bexar County, are automatically enrolled in a four-year institution. So it just takes away the complex admissions process, which is really, it’s insane how complicated the admissions and financial aid processes are, but this just takes it away. You’re automatically enrolled. You can opt to go to a different school, but you are automatically enrolled in a four-year institution and they’re predicting that this will increase postsecondary attainment by 10%, which is an incredible scale when you’re talking about 10 percentage point increase in postsecondary enrollment and ultimately completion, I think I said completion, I think they’re predicting enrollment increase of 10%.
A huge number in a state like Texas, right, I mean, it’s huge.
26:55 Jennifer Blatz
And it’s gonna lead to exponential increase in attainment as well, so these institutional policy changes, which are kind of like you know, you have to opt out or you’re automatically enrolled. But these are changes you can meet make with the stroke of a pen, like easily. I know I’m making it sound easy to make these changes. But these are transformative changes that do get to scale, and we’re seeing more and more of that across the Network, and that’s what’s really exciting to me. It’s leading to just incredible outcomes improvement.
27:25 Monroe Nichols
I think it’s really cool, too. You think about the share of those students who may have never even thought that was a possibility or, you know, maybe they’re first generation. So parents don’t necessarily know how to navigate that system to take all the guesswork out of it absolutely changes lives and changes families. And again, reverting back to what we talked about, what’s our North Star at StriveTogether? It’s economic mobility. It’s huge indicator for it. Colin?
27:47 Colin Groth
Yeah. So I, I’ll stay away from those two and I will maybe mention, I got to sit in on a session from Racine and breaking news, Monroe, I don’t even think you know this, but probably by the time this podcast comes out, we will have announced that Racine is another community that has met this benchmark.
28:04 Monroe Nichols
You have heard it here first, people, on the podcast.
This is this — is this is maybe a podcast first? We’re going to break some news. You’ve heard it here.
28:10 Monroe Nichols
We got a whole breaking news part of the podcast now.
Literally, I just sent the email notifying the Higher Expectations team. Probably, you know, an hour before this podcast is recorded
That’s awesome. That’s awesome. So now, now three communities have reached this transformation since June.
28:25 Colin Groth
That’s right. So I got a chance to sit in on one of the sessions at the convening and you had these two incredible leaders from Racine Unified School systems, both named Janelle, which made it a lot easier for me, and Jeff Neubauer from the partnership talking about literally like a six-year journey, maybe more, where, you know, Higher Expectations for Racine County Youth and Families, in partnership with Racine Unified School District, has worked to bring in this continuous improvement classroom continuous improvement approach that we actually found with the convening speaker, I think in the Minneapolis convening, Dr. Pat Greco came shared this story of Menomonee Falls School System.
They heard about this incredible work from a community literally about an hour from Racine at the StriveTogether convening. Came home, you know, we worked with them to bring some different leaders from the school system and the partnership to Menomonee Falls. Our colleague Cheryl Broadnax, who unfortunately passed over the past few years, supported them to implement this this classroom-level continuous improvement process, where the partnership was bringing resources, StriveTogether was bringing TA and support.
And now they literally have a districtwide strategic plan that incorporates this classroom-level continuous improvement work, teachers using formative assessments, working with kids to provide feedback on every lesson that’s being delivered every two weeks or so, every 10 days, looking at data.
And they’re scaling this districtwide. It’s a core component now of the Racine Unified School District’s strategic plan. And what we’ve seen in other communities like Spartanburg is, you know, schools that actually take this approach, they’re seeing — Marquis Clark, a great leader from Spartanburg County who leads one of the elementary schools there. They’re seeing 35, 37% increases in things like early grade reading proficiency, in things like early grade science proficiency.
And so seeing partnerships where they’re bringing resources, they’re bringing supports and they’re actually changing the way the school district in this case works and changing it for every kid in Racine Unified School system, it’s incredible to see. It’s incredible to see the impact. And just to hear it firsthand. And it’s also exciting personally. You know, I met more folks from state agencies at the convening this year, you know, state departments of education. I met more folks from school districts this year. So just seeing the growing engagement of school systems and public agencies in these systems, transformation communities and across the Network was incredibly gratifying.
30:58 Monroe Nichols
That’s really cool and I’m glad you brought Cheryl’s name. She’s just an amazing legacy at StriveTogether. And someone who I know we all miss. But it’s amazing to see how the work that she was deeply involved in continues on. It’s still changing lives. I think that’s just amazing. So I’m glad you, I’m glad you mentioned her and brought those up.
You know, I think back, Colin, to when we first met, you know, back in the those old days in in Tulsa, Oklahoma.And Jennifer even made a trip down o beautiful Tulsa way back then, and I’m thinking about, and this is a little bit off script, but I’m thinking about the changes in the Network and how it’s grown. To your point about partners who are now coming to the convening, but are very much deeply involved in the work. I remember how hard it was at one point to communicate to a state agency or even to a superintendent why do this work at all.
And so, you know, I don’t know if either one of you would offer up just — you two have been we talk about, OGs at StriveTogether, there are no two more OGs than the two OGs on this call right now. I would hope that you the two of you are very proud of what you have helped build over the years. But do you have any reflections we kind of go into the waning parts of the podcast, any reflections of just the journey to getting where we are today. The conversation we’re having right now I’m not sure was even front of mind of the conversation, you know, back in the early 2000s.
So I want to give the two of you just a just an opportunity to reflect back on StriveTogether from its foundations to where we are today. And then we’ll talk about in the future in just a second.
Do you want to start, Colin?
32:26 Colin Groth
Yeah, I’m, I feel like we’ve been putting Jennifer on the spot. I’m happy to start. I’ll just say, you know, my first week at StriveTogether 12 years ago was the Portland national convening. And I just remember hearing about this idea of creating proof points and like, if we’re gonna move public policy, we need, you know, to have communities that are, like, demonstrating how this work can actually lead to impact.
And then to sit in a room like we had last week, where communities were telling stories about moving $11 billion in public funding has been moved by this network over the last few years. We’ve seen communities bounce back, you know, to pre-pandemic levels and beyond at a time where we’re seeing unbelievable disparate impacts, the highest percentage decline in NAEP scores in 30 years. Historic declines in student proficiency, but not in this network. In this network, we’re seeing examples of communities getting organized, getting aligned.
There were people in the room that I’ve worked with in three or four different roles. I think about the Cecilia at Blue Meridian and was with us. Cecilia and I met when she was doing neighborhood work, trying to bring a Promise Neighborhood to Liberty City. We later worked together at My Brother’s Keeper, you know, now she’s a huge partner of ours with Blue Meridian. And seeing her on stage talking about Blue Meridian’s commitment to this.
To have you know Terri from Ballmer Group, Terri Ludwig, you know, an incredible leader come up and say that the Ballmer Group is committing $175 million towards this vision that we’ll talk about in a moment. I never could have imagined 12 years ago that the kinds of relationships that I’d have the chance to build, the type of impact that the Network would be able to see.
And the kind of commitment from leaders in this country to resource and invest in communities that are organizing in this way. It was, I feel like I’ve said it before, serving this network has been the privilege of a lifetime and it continues to be every time I’m in a room like that.
34:20 Monroe Nichols
That’s great. And Jennifer, you’ve, you’ve led this network through important transition and growth and everything, but seeing it from the beginning to now, I want to give you the opportunity to also do some reflection.
34:31 Jennifer Blatz
Yeah, I mean, I think well, first, I really appreciate Colin’s reflection. I think I would add to that that just seeing these examples, you kind of, when you start to ask the question, Monroe, I thought you were going to ask us we had figured out how to communicate about this work. Because you’re talking about like it is, it’s complicated in terms of how to communicate about this work and I think we have in the last, you know, over time.
I think about those early convenings and we’re very much, the process, like “Process is the new program” is something we used to talk about all the time and process is so it is critical and we’re building the capabilities of leaders through our Training Hub and through all of the work that we do to take up the process that gets to better and more equitable outcomes. But now we’re talking about concrete examples of systems transforming and outcomes improving and improving at scale, and so that is how we have to talk about the work continuing to amplify those stories.
And that I think is what you know my takeaway, what felt so different this year and feels more different every year, is there are more stories and examples and bright spots and proof points and just a belief that, you know, that what we’re talking about is possible. And I will say we’ve been shared multiple times, like Colin mentioned, the North Star of putting four million more young people on a path to mobility, that is a goal that we are holding ourselves accountable for. I’m going to — Colin will agree with this, there are some people who questioned us.
They’re like, actually, like, that’s a, that’s a big goal. If you get halfway there, you should be happy. And what I said at the convening is, we’re not going to be happy with halfway there. We are known for exceeding our goals at StriveTogether. There are, you know, 100 million young people who need to be on that path to economic mobility. We can certainly get an additional more million and or more on that path and we will do it through our work with additional partners that, you know, Colin mentioned earlier, national partners like the William Julius Wilson Institute, Purpose Built Communities, Results for America, Communities In Schools, all sorts of different partners. If I start to go down that rabbit hole of naming them, I’ll ultimately forget one, but I will say there is a belief that we can not only accomplish that big goal, but we will exceed it. And that is what I felt leaving the convening.
That’s what I felt when we, I knew, even though there were some people throughout the process of the strategic planning who questioned, like, are we sure about that goal? I mean, even 100 million is a big deal or 100,000 more kids on a path to mobility is a big deal. Our network members were like, “Bring it on. Here’s my number. I’m going to contribute.” And multiple people came up to me and said, you know, “I’m going to figure out our community’s number. I’m going to tell you what it is.” Or some did tell me what their number is and so people are committed. They’re bought in and I have no doubt that we will exceed that goal.
37:30 Monroe Nichols
I love it. You know, this is a sign of an amazing leader, right? I said, “Jennifer, reflect back.” You’re like, no, we’re charging ahead. You’re like, ah forget the reflection, we’re gonna — no, no, it’s great. It’s great. I love it. She’s like, hey, man, I’m not sitting around letting grass grow. I’m talking about what’s happening in the future.
And to that point next year, the Cradle to Career Convening is going to be in Salt Lake City, Utah, a place that is very special and near and dear to the entire Network. We spent our team retreat there this last summer, but we’ll be there next year, September 25th through the 27th.
And our new strategic plan that we’ve talked about a little bit on the podcast today spans seven years through 2023, but a lot can happen in those 12 months. And as we think about the year ahead, what are some of things that you’re most excited about?
I mean, you know, we’ve talked about the big announcements from the Ballmers, like there’s probably some other things that that will be announced soon and that’s very exciting. The resource aspect of, it’s really exciting, but we know this is we’re a where the rubber meets the road type Network. So what are some of the things that, Colin, you might you might lift up that you’re most excited about going into this next strategic plan, but particularly over the next 12 months?
So I won’t do a second piece of breaking news, although I could imagine that by Salt Lake, I imagine that you will see at least one more hugely significant investment into this work nationally, which I think will be exciting to celebrate in in Salt Lake.
38:54 Monroe Nichols
You heard it from our chief advancement officer here, people.
38:57 Colin Groth
That’s, I’m calling my shot. So you’ll see at least one more. Hopefully, hopefully we’ll be able to see maybe two or three by next, by next fall. I think you know, one of the exciting things to me about this plan, this vision for 2030, is this idea of the neighborhood to national. And so I think next year you’ll hear many more stories from the Network about the connections of neighborhood or community school-level work to regional work. I think you’re going to hear examples of how StriveTogether is investing in new ways in state-level infrastructure and piloting work with communities around that.
And I think frankly, you’re going to hear from a community that’s on the leading edge of systems transformation. You know, we’ve heard, we didn’t tell this story in this pod, but you know, the South Salt Lake Mayor has institutionalized the Promise Partnership work as a city department. You’re going to hear from elected leaders that are making this happen in government, in schools, in neighborhoods, across the region and advancing to state-level policy work.
39:55 Monroe Nichols
That’s great. I mean that’s great. And I I’m very excited for folks to hear about what’s happening in Salt Lake City what’s happening around the country, you know, it’s almost at this point the things that we talked about the last convening in Chicago and how much progress has been made in the 12 months to San Francisco, which is absolutely amazing, right? Like I mean it, it’s crazy.
And the investment that we already know about and you know the ones that Colin is teasing — Jennifer, for me, I think about it not necessarily in folks investing in some, you know, idealistic set of activities, but like evidence that we can make the change that is necessary.
So over the next 12 months, I want to give you just an opportunity to maybe say something to the network members that are listening given their work over the last 12 months and the work they’re going to do moving forward. You talked a little bit about charging ahead and the goals. And so I thought maybe to close this out, maybe just a small message to the network members and their partners on the ground on just like what their work means to us at StriveTogether and in the next 12 months and how excited we are about work ahead.
40:58 Jennifer Blatz
Absolutely. I mean, I said this at the convening as part of my remarks is that, you know, our network is our number one priority, always our number one priority. And so we exist, StriveTogether exists to support and fuel this network. Additional investments you’re going to hear about in the next 12 months will be the investments we’re making into our network.
I mean a big piece of this plan is to continue to invest real resources. And challenge the, you know, other investors who are local and both private and public investors to bring more resources to the table to support the work of the Network. So you’ll see, you’ll hear about those investments that we’re going to make directly into our communities. But what I would say to the Network is, you know, and this is I think borrowing from something that Cecilia Gutierrez said to challenge the Network is, you have to stay in the work. This is long-term work. And she challenged the Network as part of her remarks at the convening just to stay in the work. And know that we’re here to support you, that’s what StriveTogether exists to do.
And lean on one another when the work gets hard. And we’re going to continue to create spaces for you to learn from one another and create that, what we call the network effect. And together, we know that we’re going to be able to achieve these goals. So just stay in the work.
And you know that we’re right behind you 100%.
42:20 Monroe Nichols
Amazing. Amazing. Well, Jennifer, Colin, thank you for joining me today. And I also just want to say thank you for the work that you, the two of you have particular have done over the years. It cannot be overstated how important the two of your contributions have been to what we know now as the StriveTogether Network. But this was not a promised thing. It took a lot of hard work, took a lot of dedication. You tell people to stay in the work. I think it can be reinforced by the fact that you yourself have modeled that so well over the years, and so thank you to the two of you very personally for what you all and your contributions, the difference it’s made in my hometown here in Tulsa. But certainly the difference it’s made in communities across the country.
So that’s a wrap on season three. Stay connected with us by heading to StriveTogether.org and sign up for emails about the work. Until next time, I’m Monroe Nichols, and this has been Together for Change.