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Closing the Opportunity Gap Together

Posted by Cecilia Garza

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Change can’t happen in isolation. We’re stronger together.

We’ve all heard it one way or another. It’s a sort of ultra-logical mantra of those seeking social change — mostly because it’s easier said than done. But it’s also the mainstay of collective action work. And it’s something that as a funder, over the last five years, SVP has continuously examined our role in: How do we promote partnerships that could transform whole systems?

While capacity building and unrestricted funding remain the cornerstone to our approach, our grantmaking committees and teams are always looking for opportunities to invest in collective impact and systems level change. In that, the Road Map Project has played a part in our evolution since the start. And we’re excited to share a bit about their success in cross-sector collaboration, and how they are adapting and evolving to address inequity in our region.

The Backbone to Change

In 2010 the Road Map Project set out to double the number of students in South Seattle and South King County on track to finish college or earn a career credential by 2020. An inseparable component of that goal was to also close the opportunity gaps for low-income students and children of color.

The Road Map Region serves over 125,000 students and spans the Auburn, Federal Way, Highline, Kent, Renton, Tukwila and (south) Seattle school districts. About 70 percent of the students in the region are students of color, 56 percent are low income and 20 percent are English Language Learners.

The social sector is filled with examples of partnerships and networks. But the key component that separates collective impact from cross-sector or sector-wide joint efforts is a backbone organization to coordinate activities to a common goal. For the Road Map Project, the backbone organization is the Community Center for Education Results (CCER), which supports and staffs the initiative.

A regional partnership and leader in collective impact, the Road Map Project works to align the efforts of school districts, funders, youth development organizations, libraries, housing and health agencies to improve indicators of student success. They do this by providing data to buoy continuous improvement and a structured system for sharing and collaborating.

Within the Project, SVP is among a subset of eight funders providing rapid resource funding to support Road Map Project strategies or initiatives. Also several current and former SVP Investees participate in Road Map Project efforts, including College Access Now, OneAmerica, Zeno, Open Arms Perinatal Services, and Southwest Youth and Family Services to name a few.

Deepening Cross-Sector Engagement

Collective impact requires alignment among many different sectors, including local government. The King County Housing Authority (KCHA) is one institution that has taken an increasingly larger role in the education sphere. Its team participates on the Project’s Data Advisors Work Group, Birth to 3rd Grade Work Group, Community Network, and Youth Development for Education Results Work Group.

“It’s tied to the mission and vision of KCHA to transform lives through housing,” explains Ted Dezember of KCHA’s education initiative.

“It’s about preventing intergenerational poverty,” he continues. “If all we’re doing is raising the next generation of people that will live in our housing sites, that’s not a very good use of resources.”

With 20,000 children in KCHA’s housing programs, the agency’s education initiative focuses on five areas: early learning, family engagement, out-of-school time, attendance, and college and career-readiness. This means investing in physical infrastructure like community and youth centers in family housing sites to ensure space for services like the library, YWCA, public health agencies, and after school programs. It includes funding after school and summer programming at 15 KCHA housing sites. Perhaps most importantly, the education initiative maintains strategic partnerships with the Kent, Highline, and Bellevue school districts where there are high concentrations of children in public housing.

By partnership, Ted emphasizes, KCHA and the three school districts do much more than collaborate on a project. The three have data sharing agreements with the housing authority that allows all entities to look at the progress they’re making in key areas, like the number of students experiencing chronic absenteeism.

The housing authority serves as a pipeline connecting families to programming and resources. The Summer Splash program at their Birch Creek housing site, for example, is a summer reading program designed to prevent summer learning loss for elementary aged students. The Kent School District and Kent Youth and Family Services provide a mix of program staff and certified teachers to run the program with vetted curriculum. The schools identify the students in most need, and KCHA teams up with Kent Youth and Family Services to build relationships with families and engage parents in Summer Splash.

“Our partnership really considers how we get two large bureaucracies that share common kids, and essentially want the same things for families and kids, to come together to authentically plan, and think about how resources are being leveraged,” Ted explains. “We’re always looking at how the housing authority can use its tools, leverage its resources to partner and have an impact with school districts.”

Learning & Course Correcting

By bringing organizations, institutions and funders together, the Road Map Project region has experienced steady progress in areas like kindergarten readiness, third grade reading, and high school graduation. However, these small gains for closing the opportunity gap and doubling the number of students on track to earn a college degree or career credential by 2020 have not outpaced the greater challenges the region is facing.

Racial gaps persist and poverty continues to be a barrier. The Road Map Project’s latest annual report, which highlights data from the 2015-16 school year, shows 63 percent of its white third graders meeting state reading standards, while just 34 percent of their black peers demonstrated proficiency. Similarly, 67 percent of non-low income third grade students met reading standards compared to 38 percent of low income students.

Meanwhile, youth homelessness has more than doubled in the region, from 2,000 K-12 students in 2010 to today’s 4,500.

“It led us to say, ‘Well, do we continue on to 2020 and see where we are, or should we make the necessary shifts now?’” says Lynda Petersen, CCER’s associate director.

The Road Map Project commenced a strategic planning process in 2015. Throughout the planning, three facts remained. The Project needed to:

  1. Do more to center racial equity in all that they do, as well as operationalize it;
  2. Recognize that equity is achieved across different timescales by more explicitly tracking short term, midterm and long term change.
  3. Strengthen their connection to community voice — parent voice, youth voice — in all layers of the work.

Now, nearing seven years since setting their original goal of doubling the number of students on track to earning a college degree or career credential, the Road Map Project is expanding their efforts and extending the goal from 2020 to 2030.

To achieve their vision that every child and youth in South King County and South Seattle — especially children of color and low-income students — thrives, the Road Map Project’s revised goals are—

By 2020, increase equitable policies and practices in our education systems and dramatically improve outcomes for children and youth from cradle through college and career, so that;

By 2030, we will eliminate the opportunity and achievement gaps impacting children of color and low-income children in South King County and South Seattle, and 70 percent of youth in the region will earn a college degree or career credential.

The Project is in the process of making several shifts to center racial equity as a more integral part of their work. The most significant of which has meant not shying away from untread waters by establishing an executive committee made up of community leaders that reflect the diversity of the region — as opposed to sector or fiscal leaders.

“It’s a lot different than most cradle-through-career projects that typically have a leadership table made up of top CEOs, mayors, superintendents,” Lynda says.

It’s also a break from how the Project has structured its partnerships over the last seven years.

“In the past there was no identified leadership body in the Project,” Lynda explains. “It was intentionally created to be non-hierarchical and there were a number of different groups playing different roles. The idea being that they would all connect with each other, and review different work efforts, priorities, strategies.”

In many cases, a circular organizational structure worked well. But, over time, Lynda explained further, there was also confusion about decision making and roles different groups were playing. The Community Leadership Team is an effort to form a body that is deeply connected to their community, dedicated to achieving this change, and that will build accountability for all the priorities, strategies, and areas of the work. As the backbone organization, CCER will simultaneously work to foster strong connections between the Community Leadership Team and education system leaders so there’s a positive relationship with decision makers.

“This is an experiment, but we’re really excited about it,” Lynda says. “There are a lot of big efforts in our region, and organizations that are excited about aligning around system-level indicators to support the short-term and long-term change we need to achieve in our region. Ensuring the project is community led will help us keep our focus on racial equity while working to achieve sustained transformational change together.”

Get Involved

Interested in learning more about the many facets of collective action that SVP is involved in? Thinking about joining the Education or Environment Collective Action Teams so that you can be part of funding great work like the Road Map Project? Check out our approach or contact Mike Quinn for upcoming opportunities.

Plus, join CCER’s mailing list to learn how you can get involved directly with the Road Map Project.


Cecilia Garza_small

Cecilia Garza is SVP’s communications manager. In her free time, she enjoys sailing the Puget Sound by way of her small yet comfortable Coronado 25’ and romping the beach with her 10-pound Italian Greyhound.

Learn more about Cecilia and read more of her work here.

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