Word on the community side of the street is that there’s a word on the education side of the street people don’t understand. It’s not “collective” – that word makes sense, as a whole. It’s not “impact” – though we all love to make one.
Put these two powerful words together, and you run into the confusion: “Oh, that’s just a fancy word for collaboration.” Or the naïve, “Well sure, we worked together, as a collective. We definitely made an impact. Collective impact!”
When I first joined P16Plus Council of Greater Bexar County, I wasn’t so different. The term was new to me, so I didn’t recognize its relevance or importance to the educational community. Boy, did that change quickly. Every day, there was a new semantic sojourn into the language that defines our very mission and vision in the San Antonio community.
Today, I’d like to take you on a similar journey, one that will explore the roots of this elusive term and why it’s critical to dramatically changing the educational success of students of Bexar County’s 15 Independent School Districts.
My name is Adam Tutor, and this is “Collective impact.”
Collective impact is the commitment of a group of actors from different sectors to a common agenda for solving a complex social problem. Here at P16Plus, nestled into our offices in St. Paul’s Square at Sunset Station, we follow the StriveTogether framework, and we are proud to be a Sustaining Member of the StriveTogether Network (one of 12 in the nation, demonstrating our commitment to partnerships that dramatically improve Bexar County students’ educational success).
StriveTogether is a national model for collective impact that takes the “cradle to career” approach, ensuring the success of every child from birth through college. The network began in 2006 in Cincinnati and has since become the fortified resource center, hub, and model for all collective impact organizations throughout the nation. Here’s what they espouse, and how we together create sustainable, measurable, and scalable initiatives to positively alter the educational landscape.
The first pillar that defines collective impact is Shared Community Vision, when a “broad set of cross-sector community partners come together in an accountable way to implement a cradle-to-career vision for education and communicate the vision effectively.”
What defines a cradle-to-career vision – accountability and effectiveness? We believe the table below can shed some light on that.
This table captures our focus area at P16Plus – intentional checkpoints at each level of a student’s growth with a commitment to creating initiatives that make a dramatic impact at these target areas. I work as the liaison for the San Antonio Youth Commission (SAYC), a group of city-council appointed high school students who advocate on behalf of the youth. We have hosted leadership trainings at Café Commerce and Say Sí, bringing in dynamic people from the City of San Antonio, GRE Creative Communications, and TEDxSanAntonio (to name a few) to help connect our youth to the vibrant landscape available to them in San Antonio so that they can share their voice effectively. We will be partnering with the Financial Aid Council of San Antonio (of which we are the Backbone Organization) and Student Aid San Antonio, a city-wide initiative, to increase FAFSA completion rates and raise awareness for financial aid, which is sponsored by Firstmark Credit Union and planned, implemented, and executed through a planning committee composed of the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, San Antonio Education Partnership, Trinity University – College Advising Corps, and SA2020.
The shared vision is engaging and values the voice of our youth. Accountability is measured by active planning and participation in high-energy events that demonstrate follow-through and commitment, and effectiveness is shown by a greater number of partners desiring to work with SAYC and integrate their ideas into game plans at the city level.
The next pillar, and a hallmark of P16’s approach, is “evidence-based decision-making,” defined as the “integration of professional expertise and data to make decisions about how to prioritize a community’s efforts to improve student outcomes.” The challenge here is developing shared measurement techniques that can impact at the community level, and then being able to analyze that data in a way that drives community improvement.
In partnership with Northside, North East, San Antonio, and Southwest ISD, as well as Pre-K 4 SA, P16Plus set out to reach more than 14,000 students in order to address the issue of chronic absenteeism. Organizations including Communities In Schools and City Year joined the initiative, and P16Plus worked with them and the school staffs to provide direct interventions for more than 5,000 students.
Through data methods that targeted individual students, tackling issues from their roots, we were able to demonstrate that 35% of the chronic, non-attending students improved their attendance, saving the school districts hundreds of thousands of dollars. Find out more about the initiative here.
So here comes this word “collaboration”, a defining aspect of collective impact through “collaborative action,” the third pillar. This is the process by which networks of appropriate cross-sector practitioners use data to continually identify, adopt, and scale practices that improve student outcomes.
Here at P16Plus, we have established collaborative action networks at each student level (Birth-third, fourth-12th, Higher Education/Workforce, and Data) that use mutually reinforcing activities to reach priority outcomes. At the Higher Education/Workforce level, we have established a group called the Adult Learner’s Network, co-facilitated by Education Service Center-20 (Region 20) that aims to leverage partnerships connecting adult learners to the opportunities that create a self-sufficient life to build healthy communities. A member of this network, Bexar County Adult Probation, has teamed up with P16Plus and SAISD to provide GED classes for former gang members in Bexar County. This is mutually reinforcing by allowing probation offices to connect their probationers to higher education and vocational success, while using services of Goodwill of San Antonio.
A requisite component of any initiative is proper buy-in from the community and the ability to sustain the project. As such, “investment and sustainability” is the final pillar in the StriveTogether framework. At P16Plus, it is our role to be constantly mobilizing resources for impact, engaging stakeholders and business leaders in a dialogue about education and how critical their support is in the process. This is a facet of our designation as a “backbone organization,” an anchoring entity that provides constant communication and facilitation efforts to ensure that the initiative can hold ground and become scalable in other areas of the community.
This past year we partnered with Communities in Schools to secure $200,000 in donations from the Tesoro Corporation, which, when coupled with significant investment from Harlandale ISD, helped create the STEM Pipeline. This initiative is led by Harlandale teachers and coordinators who follow the curricula produced by Project Lead The Way, which is at the forefront of STEM pedagogy and methodology in middle school and high school classrooms. This is a fuel-efficient example of all pillars in action.
At P16Plus, we believe in the collective impact model because it takes common goals and produces uncommon results. Over the course of the next year we will be taking an introspective look at initiatives and successes from the collective impact model that take place in San Antonio’s educational sphere. Each month on the Rivard Report, a new success story will be shared that demonstrates the power of this framework and acknowledges all of the various contributors and partners who make this city great by making our students’ chances for success greater.
If you’d like to learn more about collective impact, participate in one of our networks, or acknowledge a success story that you believe honors the spirit of collective impact, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit our website for more information. By working together, with a common agenda and a belief in our efficacy as educators and community partners alike, we can make a greater impact and dramatically improve student outcomes and successes in San Antonio.
Featured/top image: The staff of P16Plus is looking forward to a prosperous new year with promising partnerships. Courtesy photo.