When Reinventing Isn’t Just a Catchphrase

So, what happens when county school superintendents, the mayor of the county seat, major institutions and companies big and small throw out the playbook for how secondary and post-secondary education was always run and join up on the same team?  It might just lead to reinventing an entire region and re-envisioning its future.

The Yadkin Valley Regional Career Academy in Davidson County – only in its second year of operation, but 10 years in the making – grew out of a conversation about the future of the county, sparked by the North Carolina New Schools initiative.  New Schools adherents commit to ensuring that every student graduates high school “ready for college, careers and life.”  Students in Davidson, and neighboring counties, though, were going in the opposite direction.

Over the last decade Davidson County, which is part of the Piedmont Triad, lost 5,500 manufacturing jobs, primarily in textiles and furniture.  These were family-supporting jobs that didn’t require post-secondary education or training, which meant college-going was not a tradition.  Indeed, high school completion wasn’t necessarily a priority.  When those jobs moved off, and new jobs arrived, the workers weren’t prepared to take them on.

The “first response” effort was on re-engaging displaced workers through postsecondary education or certification.  But what about upcoming generations?  A culture of higher education striving and attainment doesn’t happen overnight.  It has to be built.

In collective impact fashion, Triad education, workforce, civic and business leaders came together to explore what kind of high school experience not only could overcome the education deficits many area students had, but also inspire students and their families to set their sights on learning beyond 12th grade, and prepare them to succeed on that path.  They believed that finding a new way to move their young people onto higher education was how they could reinvigorate their region and economy and sustain it into the future. [Read more…]

Making Change Stick

Making collective impact work starts by underscoring the collective part.  Our alliance believes that when communities truly create change together, it is change that withstands funding cycles, election results, leadership and generational shifts.  It is change that sticks.

One of the hardest concepts to embrace when working on social problems is the idea that everyone brings something of real value to the table.  Lip service is easy.  Community input for the sake of inclusion is relatively easy.  The belief that everyone in a community has the understanding to shape smart thinking, and has resources to bring to a solution, is much more difficult.  But, that’s the path to a stronger solution and one that has lasting impact.

Social problems derive, in part, from the deficiency we all experience when we can’t be our best selves and fulfill our full human potential – either due to poverty, oppression, lack of opportunity, isolation or a number of other reasons.  Solutions must welcome, embrace and employ the “best stuff” from everyone involved.  Designing a solution, then, must be rooted in giving everyone touched by the problem a chance to contribute his or her best stuff.

The “best stuff” idea comes from a terrific mentor of mine named Bill Traynor.  For 30 years, Bill has worked as a community builder, running some of the most innovative programs out there including, among others, Lawrence Community Works in Lawrence, MA, and Neighboring America.  [http://risingclass.org/stories/entry/bill-traynor] Among the many things Bill taught me was the idea that the best solutions happen when you conscientiously design opportunities for interaction that:

  •  recognize and value what resources, knowledge, expertise and commitment every person can bring;
  • facilitate genuine exchange of those resources in an environment that feels free of class, position and institutional power;
  • make room for people who spark something together to take action on it together. [Read more…]