Harvard report: SLC becoming 'poster child' for collaborative student support

September 28, 2015
Author: Morgan Jacobsen
http://m.deseretnews.com/article/865637750/Harvard-report-SLC-becoming-poster-child-for-collaborative-student-support.html

SALT LAKE CITY — Getting students to read proficiently, do well at math and graduate from high school takes more than 180 days a year of sitting in a classroom, especially for children of low-income families. But helping students be successful can require even more than what parents and teachers alone can provide, giving evidence to the notion that it takes a village to raise a child.

And that's exactly what's happening for thousands of Salt Lake students.

Utah's collective impact effort, an initiative that continues to gain momentum in dozens of schools, earned recognition in a report released Monday by Harvard Business School that praised the Salt Lake region for its coordinated efforts in improving students' chances for achievement.

United Way of Salt Lake has served as the "backbone" for the effort in combining and organizing the resources of families, teachers, businesses, healthcare providers and other volunteers to holistically serve children, according to the report.

So far, the academic results are promising.

"On the academic side, there's a clear and positive impact when everybody in the community gets together and aligns themselves," said Martin Bates, superintendent of the Granite School District. "That's really what collective impact means: alignment."

United Way of Salt Lake's efforts began largely in the Granite School District, where almost 60 percent of the district's 68,000 students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. Now, the nonprofit partners with multiple organizations to provide after-school tutoring programs to help students master core content.

Community nursing services also offer immunizations at school. A mobile dental clinic visits elementary schools each month, filling cavities and providing preventive care for students and their families. Promise Partnerships, a branch of United Way, also offers vision exams for students and delivers glasses, if necessary.

Collective impact also includes resources for teachers, helping them analyze student performance data, identify best practices, and secure resources and volunteers to help in the classroom. Tutors with the program visit regularly with teachers to align after-school curriculum with what students cover during school.

The Harvard report indicates kindergarten readiness in the Granite School District increased from 54 percent to 61 percent between 2012 and 2014. The percentage of third-graders reading on grade level has increased from 60 percent to 65 percent, the district's high school graduation rate increased from 68 percent to 70 percent, and graduation rates for English language-learning students increased from 41 percent to 53 percent.

"Kids with families that are engaged in their education do better," Bates said. "Whole community efforts to better prepare families as a whole then have a direct impact on a child's experience at school. And it's always a positive impact."

Since 2008, the initiative has grown to include more than 20 schools in the region, serving more than 12,000 students. And since 2012, United Way of Salt Lake has raised more than $25 million to further coordinate community efforts through the collective impact model.

"Salt Lake has a very vibrant collective impact program," said Allen Grossman, co-author of the Harvard report. "The key elements here are the community getting together, the service providers agreeing on a common set of goals, a commitment to get together on measurable outcomes and embracing best practices.

"We're starting to see in Salt Lake some pretty impressive results," he said.

United Way's efforts in schools have garnered national attention from other groups, such as the Daniels Fund, which awarded the group a five-year $5 million grant late last year to advance it's community schools initiative.

But bringing more than 200 business, government and religious organizations together under a unified set of objectives and expectations hasn't been easy.

"It's a new way of working," said Bill Crim, president and CEO of United Way of Salt Lake. "There are lots of organizations that do those kinds of things independently, but to do it together is harder work. … I'd say that the more organizations practice this, the better we all get at it."

It's a process that involves taking inventory of the services students are getting and identifying redundancies or gaps in what's provided, he said. It's also a matter of getting stakeholders to commit to providing consistent, long-term support for their local schools.

"Without collective impact, you would find isolated pockets of success in any school district and in any community," Crim said. "What collective impact does is it tries to identify those, build on them and take them to scale so those pockets of success are not the exception, they become the rule."

For businesses, it's an opportunity to invest in improving outcomes for young community members, according to Scott Ulbrich, a financial adviser for Robert W. Baird, a private wealth management and financial advisory firm. In addition to monetary contributions, the company has also provided volunteers to help students with reading and participating in school service projects.

"From a business perspective, it's a much cleaner way to measure return on investment," said Ulbrich, who also serves as chairman of the Board of Directors for United Way of Salt Lake. "When I see the strides we're making in moving the needle in some of the measurements for these kids, the drop in crime rates and the increase in reading and math scores, it's very satisfying."

Grossman said collective impact has "really enhanced" the impact of businesses and other organizations by coordinating their efforts and helping students and their families in strategic ways. But it's a process that takes time, he said, and Utah is well on its way to helping thousands more students, he said.

"Salt Lake is really becoming a poster child" for collective impact, he said. "They make mistakes; there are a lot of bumps in the road, as every new initiative has. But Salt Lake can hold its head high in terms of really embracing something new and something effective."