As the old adage goes, two heads are better than one. Imagine, then, what dozens could do.
That’s the basis for the collective impact model: convening multiple organizations that are working independently within the same space and toward the same goal to accomplish that goal collectively. That’s also the basis for ROC the Future.
“Collective impact is about bringing together organizations that are independently working in the space but trying to get us all to row together. It’s different from each of us doing our own things because if it works, it means truly bringing together all of us, and the whole is greater than the sum of the parts,” said Daan Braveman, president of Nazareth College and a convener at ROC the Future. “The focus of ROC the Future is on student success.”
As a collective, ROC the Future’s focus is to help each child reach his or her full potential. The nonprofit alliance works to promote alignment and focus of community resources to improve outcomes for kids in Rochester. Anchored by the Children’s Agenda, ROC the Future consists of a board of 30 convener member organizations, as well as more than 60 leading Rochester-area institutions participating on Collaborative Action Networks (CANs) and outcome teams.
“What sums it up for me is that we agree on what our goals are and we agree throughout the process,” said ROC the Future alliance director Jackie Campbell, who also has worked for the city of Rochester for nearly three decades, most recently as director of the Bureau of Youth Services. “We don’t have to be in 100 percent agreement on everything. But the things that we say we support, that we work together to do that.”
ROC the Future began in 2011 as one of nearly 70 StriveTogether communities nationwide. In late 2017, local conveners adopted a new framework for ROC the Future that is organized around three priority areas that include school readiness, early grade literacy and high school graduation.
Within those three areas lie seven core outcomes that include kindergarten readiness, early grade reading, middle grade math, high school graduation, post-secondary enrollment, post-secondary completion and employment.
Led by Patty Uttaro of the Rochester Public Library and Karen Fahy of the Rochester City School District, the Early Grade Literacy Outcome Team focuses on third grade literacy within RCSD. The team began in 2018.
The High School Graduation Outcome Team is led by Hank Rubin of the Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives, Cecilia Golden of RCSD and Rosemary Rivera of Citizen Action, NY. The team, which also launched last year, has completed a deep dive into the factors tied to on-time high school graduation and will work with two high schools to develop actions and interventions that support students in their ninth grade year as a strategy to improve graduation rates.
Chaired by Dirk Hightower of Children’s Institute Inc. and Lisa Hiley of Nazareth, the school readiness outcome team works within four areas to help improve a child’s success in school. Those areas include helping the community support kindergarten readiness; helping child-serving organizations and schools support kids within their families; helping families gain the skills necessary to support their children’s school readiness; and supporting kindergarten school readiness for the child.
“We have strategies in a few primary areas: ready child, ready family, ready community and ready schools or organizations,” Hiley said. “Around that we’re specifically looking at workforce development. What we’re doing in the spirit of collective impact is coming together and saying, how can we enhance the existing opportunities for providers, for professionals.”
Those providers include educators, speech language pathologists, social workers, behavioral specialists and home visitors, Hiley noted, a network of individuals who work with children to age eight.
“The whole issue regarding early intervention and CPSE (Committee on Preschool Special Education), where there’s been a lack of responsivity because of not enough speech language pathologists, not enough physical therapists, that’s where the workforce development was first identified as an issue,” Hightower said. “Because if we’re going to have ready kids, we’ve got to have people in the field who are working, and that includes teachers. We don’t have enough teachers at the earlier grades to really serve all the children that we have.”
Additionally, observers have noted that the time between pre-K and kindergarten contributes to educational loss. To bridge that gap, a number of local programs are available for summer learning through the Greater Rochester Summer Learning Association that include summerLEAP, Horizons and other programs that cater to children in all grade levels.
“They have experiential types of learning and projects, where all the kids learn how to swim, where the kids absolutely have an enriched environment in regards to literacy and reading. They have an enriched environment regarding math and science,” Hightower explained. “It’s a very hands-on type of approach, and that’s true across all the grade levels.
A community is only as healthy as the health of its children, he added. That means, in a broad sense, their language development, motor development, their physical development and other things.
“We know that, in fact, many of our children do not have the opportunities and are not as healthy in the broad sense as they could be,” Hightower said. “If we’re not successful as a community working with children zero to five, the potential of those children ever being really successful and meeting their potential diminishes every year. I’m not raising a red flag in front of a bull; it is absolutely true that the greatest development of children is in the first three years.”
But Rochester’s high poverty rate doesn’t help. The correlation between poverty and childhood disengagement in schools has been well documented, and in the city of Rochester, where poverty is concentrated, the childhood poverty rate was 52 percent in 2013-17, a 5-point increase from 2008-12 and a 14-point increase from 2000, according to the most recent ACT Rochester Report Card.
A recent report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation contends that “to help children grow into prepared, productive adults, parents need jobs with family-sustaining pay, affordable housing and the ability to invest in their children’s future.” When families are stuck in the mire of low wages, “their access to resources to support their kids’ development is more limited, which can undermine their children’s health and prospects for success in school and beyond.”
The “2019 Kids Count Data Book: State Trends in Child Well-Being” ranks New York State 42nd among the 50 states for economic well-being, and New York has one of the highest concentrations of kids living in poor neighborhoods.
Nazareth’s Braveman, who also is a member of the Rochester-Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative’s steering committee, has a slightly different take on poverty and education. Quoting Christopher Cerf—former head of the Newark (N.J.) City School District, who famously turned the district’s performance around—Braveman said poverty is not destiny.
“Certainly poverty creates hurdles that we need to deal with. But at the end of the day there are many examples of students from very poor communities succeeding,” Braveman said. “What we need to do is understand what the hurdles might be, but not treat them as a barrier to success. When you think about student success as being at the core of what we should be focused on, to achieve that what we need are very effective teachers, we need effective school administrators and I think we need parents who feel empowered.”
Braveman touts an initiative that has gained interest across the country, the idea of community schools. Community schools are those that become a beacon for the neighborhood.
“It’s not only a place where children go to get their education, but it also becomes a hub for the community,” Braveman explained. “So if you’re a parent and you need information about daycare or job training or whatever, the school becomes the community hub, and the school would then tie health needs of the students into their efforts.”
Nazareth is doing what it can to help in those efforts, including literacy training and health and wellness training, Braveman noted. The school is one of dozens of community partners engaged in improving childhood education success.
“We are engaging the community through some of the representatives of grassroots organizations. Those representatives participate in our work, and the expectation is that they’re regularly communicating with the community at large, so that information is being shared,” ROC the Future’s Campbell said. “We’re working on ways to get constituents’ voices into our process, or around our table.”
For several months, ROC the Future has held community stakeholder sessions specifically to inform on ways to bring community voices and input into the alliance’s processes and decision-making, Campbell said.
“One of the things we want to lift up this year is actual community stakeholder opportunities, so that we’re bringing the community together to hear about some of the data, some of the information and sharing that in substantive ways with representatives from the community,” she explained. “So not just sharing, but also getting feedback on some of the things that we are doing in other places.”
As ROC the Future’s incoming chairman and convener for four years, Shaun Nelms recalled sitting at a table four years ago discussing ways in which to improve Rochester and the various initiatives that had taken place through the years.
“Each chair brings to the table his or her own experiences,” said Nelms, who also serves as East High School Educational Partnership Organization, or East EPO, superintendent. “I see ROC the Future being the intersection to the point in which the community’s desires and the school district’s desires and the business community’s desires all intersect. I hope to help facilitate those conversations so we can truly focus on providing a quality education for our students and their families.”
Nelms said ROC the Future is transitioning as an alliance and convener group, so now is the perfect time to align resources and efforts between the alliance and RCSD.
“ROC the Future is not positioned to tell the district what to do; we are partners. Our job is to help bring resources from around the county to address the needs of the district, but to also help the district and remind them of the key priorities from the past,” Nelms said. “ROC the Future has the opportunity to help transition individuals coming in and outside of Rochester by saying here are the seven core principles or outcomes that we’ve agreed upon as a community, as you enter the system, let’s not forget about these. Let’s continue to leverage these and to improve upon these, while also allowing us to help you introduce and implement any new initiatives.”