The "Vision" for Achieve Escambia is: "Every Generation Achieves Success--Cradle to Career."
The "Mission for Achieve Escambia is: "To align our community resources so everyone is empowered to achieve success."
On April 11, 2016, the "Backbone Convenors" of Achieve Escambia--United Way, the University of West Florida's Haas Center, and the Studer Community Institute, with additional funding from Gulf Power--unveiled Achieve Escambia (AE), a community structure/process that began in Cincinnati with Strive Together, a non-profit subsidiary of KnowledgeWorks. The Navy Federal Credit Union was also a major sponsor, if not funding source, of the community strategy conference. The conference lasted four hours and did not cover the materials as in-depth as the organizers would have wanted. There were at least 248 participants from local government, local education, business, non-profits, faith-based, media, and law enforcement (Chief David Alexander).
The conference featured two consultants: Kathryn Merchant, a senior fellow with the national Strive Together network where she serves as an advisor to more than 60 communities, and, Hany Elena White, senior manager for Partner Progress at Strive Together, a subsidiary of KnowledgeWorks. Both have extensive experience in working with communities to achieve goals.
The Achieve Escambia process began about six months ago with a working group creating a draft framework to unveil today for more comments from interested members of the community. Many of the framework drafters attended today's conference.
The key to this education reform effort, called "cradle to career," is a concept called "collective impact." Collective impact refers to bringing together a coalition of organizations, known as "stakeholders" in the non-profit lingo, having a central coordinating organization, but relying upon numerous committees and networks to effect change. The objective is to have all organizations and networks working to achieve core primary goals that are measured across organizations the same way.
A distributed article on "Collective Impact" in the Stanford Social Innovation Review by John Kania and Mark Kramer, emphasized five key conditions for success exhibited by similar groups around the country: a common agenda, shared measurement systems, mutually reinforcing activities, continuous communication, and backbone support organizations. Other Strive Together efforts have started in Indianapolis, Houston, Richmond VA, and Hayward CA, and will start in Portland OR, Fresno CA, Mesa AZ, Albuquerque, and Memphis.
By common agenda is meant agreement on "primary goals," even though groups may disagree on other aspects of the education problem. Unlike other education reform efforts that put the school at the center of policies, Strive Together puts the child at the center. This represents a paradigm shift.
There are four key principles that inform Achieve Escambia/Strive Together's theory of social action: engage community expertise and voice; eliminate disparities; build a culture of continuous improvement; and, leverage existing assets.
There are five major outcome areas for Achieve Escambia: every child achieves school readiness (kindergarten); every student achieves academic success (math and reading in elementary school); every student achieves graduation (high school); every learner achieves readiness for a desired career (post-secondary completion); every adult achieves economic self-sufficiency (employment).
The conference emphasized that trust was a "prerequisite for creating results." Trust meant that other people were perceived to be sincere, competent, and reliable. Essentially, words should match actions. At that point my fellow attendee, Grace McAffery, president of Latino Media Gulf Coast, told me that politics, race, ethnicity, and religion usually divided administrators from the community.
The Black community in Escambia County already knows the decades of political campaign promises that are ignored once candidates are elected. The Black community already knows the government programs that are not implemented, or, if implemented, do not achieve the desired results. The Black community needs no reminding that it barely has a voice on the elected bodies and its interest in surviving and not being poisoned to death are often times not acknowledged. And the Black community needs no lessons on the continued existence of racial disparities on almost every key political, economic, education, health, criminal justice, or environmental indicators in Escambia County. The Black community needs no reminding that institutional racism persists.
In short, in order for Achieve Escambia to move forward and achieve success, the Black community and other "minority" communities (see below) need to be included in the process. These other communities need to buy-in into the process and not be included in a token fashion. If Achieve Escambia wants local folks to take "ownership" of the process as "stakeholders," then they actually have to have real, tangible, visible ownership and stakeholder roles.
That said, there is a great deal of potential in Achieve Escambia. It will take time. There will be fits and starts. It will take time for all groups to learn to trust. It will take time to adjust funding. But, this "collective impact" is a strategic model that has achieved results elsewhere in the country. If those lessons learned can be incorporated into the Achieve Escambia process model, we may begin to see progress. If trust, inclusion, and realignment of resources are pursued in a meaningful way, there can be hope that this "collective impact" approach might succeed. One of the speakers noted that the creation of Baptist Hospital was the result of a similar community process. We also have the successful example of Baptist Health Care Corporation and Sacred Heart Health System collaborating with community groups to launch the Partnership for a Healthy Community.
A More In-Depth Look
Let's take a closer look at the Vision and Mission statements.
The "Vision" for Achieve Escambia is: "Every Generation Achieves Success--Cradle to Career."
The "Mission" for Achieve Escambia is: "To align our community resources so everyone is empowered to achieve success."
My table consisted of the aforementioned Gloria McAffery; Rev Dr Tyler Hardeman (Antioch Baptist Church); Pastor Carl Reeves (Greater Mount Lily Missionary Baptist Church); Amy Lavoy, assistant county administrator for Escambia County; and, Manette Magera, executive director of Learn to Read.
The key terms that drew the attention of our table were: Every, Our, Community, Resources, Everyone, and Generation.
These key terms are inclusive. There is no ambiguity with words like "every" and "everyone" and "our."
But, is it so not ambiguous? Does it include immigrants, both documented and undocumented? Does it include the Black community? Does it include the LGBT, especially the young transgender students who are the special focus of community hatred across the country? Does it include Muslims--Americans, immigrants, and refugees who have endured demonizing rhetoric and hate crimes since 2001? Does it include the Jewish community? Does it include the homeless, particularly homeless one- and two-parent families with school-age children? And while there are several slides including the "faith-based" communities, what of the secular, the humanists, the atheists, or other spiritualists?
It is very easy for a group of community elites to write "Every" and "Everyone" when the unstated, subconscious, implicit bias is "every" white person, perhaps even "every" white Christian person. Now, I am not saying that anyone drafting the strategy document for Achieve Escambia is a racist. I am not saying that the language in the draft document is racist. We all have subconscious biases as part of our "operating system."
In fact, the statements are admirable and drew support apparently from everyone attending the conference. Our table voted 6-0 in favor of the Vision and Mission statements. The question is not, are the Vision and Mission statements noble. The question is whether or not the words "Every" and "Everyone" are as inclusive as the common meaning and understanding would lead a reasonable person to believe.
The word "generation," suggests that the community's inclusion goes beyond those who just graduated from college, or who joined the military, or found a (hopefully) well-paying job at a living wage. But, does the word "generation" also include older adults who may need to learn how to read, or those returning citizens who have just been released from prison? Is "generation" as expansive as it needs to be to include "everyone" or is it restricted to cradle to young adult?
And then there is the Mission statement: "To align our community resources so everyone is empowered to achieve success."
On virtually every indicator one would care to analyze, Black folks, inside and outside of Escambia County, lag behind whites and Latinos, where there is comparable data. There are racial disparities in terms of income, wealth, home ownership, education attainment, job mobility, medical treatments, health outcomes, being imprisoned, being stopped-and-frisked, and being subjected to toxic poisoning from industry, to name just a few areas of concern. There are abundant social science studies on implicit bias by teachers and police officers that negatively affect Black youths, both boys and girls, and teenagers.
Even within Escambia County there are racial disparities in education.
Some of these disparities have been touched upon in previous CJ's Street
Report articles on the School-to-Prison Pipeline based on community
information events featuring the League of Women Voters, the American
Civil Liberties Union, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the National
Association of Social Workers, with the support of the Pensacola News Journal (Here, Here, Here, and Here).
But there are others. Everyone in the Black community knows that
School Superintendent Thomas closed local neighborhood schools in Black
neighborhoods and bused the children to schools out of their
neighborhoods. Everyone in the Black community knows that school
resources are not equal across schools.
Our table suggested that the five Outcome Areas already discussed needed
an additional Outcome Area called Resource Redistribution, with the Data
Team figuring out how to measure, monitor, and report to the community
that "our resources" are being re-aligned so that "everyone is empowered
to achieve success."
If one of the principles of Achieve Escambia's theory of social action is "eliminating disparities," and racial disparities can be shown empirically to exist, and the goal of the Mission statement is to "align our community resources," there is a very strong implication that resources are, in fact, going to be redistributed and reallocated. And, if "community resources" are going to be realigned, then it stands to reason that this realignment should be stated as a goal, given metrics to be measured, and put on the Studer community dashboard so that everyone can see what progress, if any, is being made to achieve the Mission statement's goal of "aligning our community resources." In other words, the community needs to see that Achieve Escambia is putting its money where its mouth is.
So, does the Mission statement regarding "align our resources" really mean there will be efforts to redistribute and reallocate "community resources" from the haves to the have nots?
And then there is the "Accountability Structure."
At the center of the Accountability Structure is an Executive Leadership Council. The purpose of this Council is to set "overall strategy for the partnership, committing resources and addressing political barriers." There is also a Community Transformation Council which essentially consists of "deputies" to the Executive Leadership Council. Working with them are the "Backbone Convenors."
The rubber-meets-the-road work is done by Collaborative Action Networks (CANs) and Support Teams. A CAN "organize around a community goal and change practice 'on the ground' to improve that outcome." Support Teams consist of subject matter experts on the following teams: Data, Funding, Community Awareness, Diversity, Faith-based, Parent, and Education.
The draft slide for the Executive Leadership Council consisted of 20 senior leaders from business, education, city and county government, law enforcement, non-profits, and faith-based groups.
The only person that could be identified as Black on the ELC is Chief David Alexander, Pensacola Police Department. Every other person on that strategy and resource-allocating Council is most likely white. There were no Civil Rights organizations included in the draft Council. The NW Florida AFL-CIO is excluded from the Council in the draft. There are no organizations representing the LGBT or the homeless on the Executive Leadership Council. Not one imam (mosque) or rabbi (temple) appears in the draft document.
How is Achieve Escambia going to engender trust--where words match actions--when significant portions of the Escambia County community are not included in leadership positions that determine strategy, allocate resources, and overcome political barriers? Significant communities in Escambia County do not want to be given fait accompli decisions they had no role in formulating. That does not engender trust. In fact, that appears to be the old paradigm in Escambia County. In this instance, "Every" and "Everyone" does not appear to be very inclusive.
In the conference presentations there were three other slides on Trust: "Actions that Generate Trust; Actions that Maintain Trust; and, Actions that Repair Trust." In a community where historically trust has been scarce and fragile, inclusion at all levels of the process of the named group types excluded from the draft Executive Leadership Council--to ensure transparency and accountability--would appear to be a prerequisite to generating, maintaining, and repairing trust. Inclusion and Trust go hand-in-hand and it is difficult to see how restrictions on inclusion would not negatively effect trust and thus achievement of Achieve Escambia's ambitious and worthy goals.
Indeed, on one Achieve Escambia slide, Trust is a "Prerequisite for Creating Results."
But, this is not a fatal flaw. Achieve Escambia is a work in progress. The presentation to the Escambia County community was designed to elicit constructive comments and criticisms so that the process can be improved and strengthened.
Indeed, the entire Strive Together process is predicated upon data collection, evaluation, lessons learned, and then moving forward with new ideas and concepts so that improvement is continuous. This is called "Continuous Improvement." Thus, the criticisms voiced at the conference were apparently well received and understood to be constructive.
Hopefully, more individuals and organizations will join Achieve Escambia's Facebook page. Anyone with ideas and concepts, or wanting to know more or how to help, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. They are building a website at achieveescambia.com.
This blogpost covers just the proverbial tip of the iceberg. The four-hour presentation by a host of presenters from different organizations filled a book one-quarter of an inch thick. Perhaps, once the Achieve Escambia website is operational, they will post the slides or post the video they took of the conference.