Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Opportunities for Local Collaboration in Delaware County

One of the more interesting examples of community wide collaboration around education has been having tremendous impact on young people in Cincinnati. 5 years ago childhood educators, school superintendents, college presidents, business leaders, foundation directors and a number of community leaders came together because local students were lagging behind other communities in college attainment rates. Community leaders were concerned about remaining competitive in a global economy if local students weren’t able to get into college and do well. Leaders initially met to discuss college readiness, but the focus quickly shifted to high school freshman and keeping the kids in school…. Then to middle school students …. Then to grade school and eventually focused on the importance of kindergarten and quality early learning experiences. The initial meeting of community and education stakeholders met to discuss college attainment rates but quickly focused on the entire education continuum.

This collaborative was unique both in the quality of the partnership and the nature of the problem being addressed. Partners in a collaborative must come together and agree not just on common goals, but shared ways to measure success towards those goals. They must communicate on a regular basis. And there must be a “backbone” organization, like United Way, that is focused full-time on managing the partnership. The key to making a community collaborative like this work is setting a common vision and finding a common language, and in this case the common language was data. The participants didn’t let each other get focused on ideological or political issues. They focused on the data, and implemented thoughtful data driven programs as a single working collaborative. Everyone worked together from the same playbook.

Three years later the results were dramatic. Kindergarten readiness had jumped 9%, 4th grade reading increased 7% and math increased 14 %; and the high school graduation rate was up 11%. College graduation rates for students from local urban high schools had jumped by 10 %.

Delaware County has hundreds of nonprofit organizations, most of which work independently, and many local, county, state and federal government agencies each focused on a very unique part of the education continuum. When it comes to solving social problems, society often behaves like a drowning man whose arms and legs thrash about wildly in the water. We expend a great deal of energy, but because we don’t work together efficiently, we don’t necessarily move forward. It’s encouraging to see community collaboratives work, and I hope that the educational funding issues we are facing here in Pennsylvania will spur similar local efforts that can better prepare our children for a prosperous future. They deserve it!


  1. How can we go about bridging the gap between all the non profits here in Delaware County? Surely someone has to make everything from appropriate funding to early intervention a prority here all over the districts can no longer serve all the needs and local taxpayers are already maxed out enough....

  2. It would benefit us to focus on bringing travelers into our area. If the trains ran later, I'm positive so many people would be out spending tons more money and getting home safer. This also means building up local businesses and events to draw others into our area. Bring the money back to the people who work and live in Delco. I would love to see our communities thrive again, instead of becoming dependent on government funding which they can pull and cut at any time. We are so close to the city, yet no one from the city comes out to us, nothing to see or do.

  3. There is a collaborative in the city of Chester that has worked to establish common goals for nonprofit youth organizations for the past 6 years. It's called the Chester Youth Collaborative (CYC) and it is the city's official Youth Development Resource. Over the past year, the CYC, the city and partner organizations have worked to create a policy agenda which incorporates recommendations for quality out-of-school time, increased post secondary options, workforce preparation and health and wellness.

  4. As a parent of children with disabilities I can attest to the disconnect between some agencies in Delco and the need for there to be a better connection. And this blog post is right, things need to be data driven. If you don't have the numbers you can't crunch them and get the right grants to the right places at the right time. It's totally a numbers game driven by the people for their communities.