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Cradle to Career summit says communities should define outcomes

What happens between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. at Rochester's 17 schools is really important to a student's education — but it's not the whole story.

A group of more than 30 Rochester organizations is stepping up to make sure students do well in school, and they say success isn't possible without a supportive community. The Cradle to Career summit brought those groups together Friday morning in hopes of coordinating a variety of efforts already underway in the community.

And their focus, because it's tied to so many other educational and life outcomes, is literacy.

"We believe it takes a village to raise a child," said Elaine Case, a Rotary club member who was part of the team that planned the event. "Our schools do some amazing work, but today our students face a multitude of barriers well beyond the boundaries of school."

People were greeted by a "data walk" as they made their way to Rochester Community and Technical College's Hill Theatre on Friday morning. The walk, filled with statistics such as 31 percent of 2015-16 kindergartners were ready for kindergarten, caught the attention of many.

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Case and others want to raise that bar, making sure more students are kindergarten ready, that they're reading at grade level throughout school and that they're graduating on time with post-secondary options.

That's where the community comes in.

Often, there are too many scattered but well-intentioned programs and not enough of a system in place to coordinate them to figure out what's really working.

"We are spraying resources all over the place, and we are praying good things happen," said Jeff Edmondson, founder and director of StriveTogether, a nonprofit network of community partnerships.

The goal of designing a "cradle-to-career" plan would be one "where everyone has a role," over the long term, and would require the community to define the outcome expected. Then, the community will track and review data to see what efforts actually are working.

Then, Edmondson said, communities shouldn't try a bunch of new things, rather they should take an honest look at what's already in place in the community, assess what's working well and expand those efforts.

"It takes courage to admit what's not working," he said. "It can't be about the money; it first has to be about the results.

The Cradle to Career effort got its start in 2006 in Cincinnati, where the community realized it needed to look beyond the schools and into the community to support education. In Rochester, the push for a greater community role in education started in 2015 with the city's three Rotary clubs. The group stumbled upon the Cradle to Career Network, a network of more than 70 cities with the goal of improving student educational outcomes.

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But this isn't another model they're selling and reproducing in each city, Edmondson said. Because communities can vary so much from one another, it's up to Rochester to figure out what already is working here and replicate that.

Other communities, including local ones such as Austin and Red Wing, already have adopted cradle-to-career plans.

In Red Wing, the wake-up call was when nearly 40 percent of students didn't graduate high school. Community leaders pulled together beginning in 2012, and already, the kids of color ready for kindergarten went from 48 to 87 percent.

Another example Edmondson pointed to was in San Antonio, Texas, where an alarming drop in attendance worried administrators. Budget cuts had pushed the bus routes out to a radius at least one mile from the school; they found the majority of kids not making it to school were living right around the school and had lost busing. The school adjusted the routes, and the students quickly were back in school.

He said it's sometimes simple fixes that can have a major impact on students rather than big new initiatives imposed on teachers.

Other school districts, such as Cincinnati, realized they had to start with kindergarten readiness because of the data that shows the strong effect it has on students throughout their time in school. The district passed a $48 million referendum in November and channeled $15 million of that to high quality early education programs in the community, regardless of whether those students eventually would funnel into the public schools.

For Rochester, the next step will be to determine what the goals will be and to create a governance structure. Organizations in attendance included the United Way, Families First of Minnesota and the Rochester Public Library.

But event organizers said it's something that needs to be addressed soon because of a looming workforce gap of as many as 24,000 people.

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"It's going to take the entire community to address these issues before we can make an impact," Case said.

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Jeff Edmondson, founder and director of StriveTogether,

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