July 28, 2017
As a member of the Achieve Escambia Leadership Council, I am asked, “What makes Achieve Escambia different from similar efforts?” I respond explaining what Collective Impact means, which in simple terms, means a variety of agencies agreeing to come together to coordinate their efforts to achieve better outcomes and results using resources each agency already has at their disposal.
Achieve is trying to use the Collective Impact model to improve the effectiveness of the processes we have in Escambia County to prepare young men and women to enter the workforce and lead successful and productive lives. The efforts necessary to reach this goal start not upon college or high school graduation, or in middle or elementary school; its starts in pre-school and even before that at birth. This is why our key slogan is Cradle to Career.
The efforts of Achieve Escambia are significant in that the major tool we use is the data that describes and defines our community. As a member of Achieve Escambia’s Data Team, I have been a part of the process to gather this data and select the key indicators. The members of the Data Team represent almost every major institution that plays a role in the Cradle to Career continuum. Every point on the Achieve Road Map, and accompanying Dashboard, is being scrutinized based on what the data collected says about that particular point.
Achieve Escambia is seeking not only to accumulate data about various programs and aspects of our community, but is also looking to validate the accuracy of the data that is already being used.
Here is an example of why this is important. Currently, State education offices report that less than 70 percent of the children who are 4 years old in Escambia County attend Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten, otherwise known as VPK. That is roughly 2,400 out of 3, 850 children, and places Escambia well below the state average. However, as we collected more data we realized there are many 4-year-old children who are participating in preschool, but not necessarily the state VPK program.
From the initial data we have collected we have determined that over 600 children attend private preschools that do not participate in the VPK program, many of which are faith-based programs; there are about 200 children every year that participate in the Head Start program, but not VPK; and the parents of around 150 children every year exercise parental choice and decide to leave their child with the early learning provider they have been attending, sometimes since birth, even though that provider does not offer VPK. This adds up to around 950 children. So that means we have 3,350 children, or approximately 87 percent, attending some type of preschool when they are 4 years old. While not perfect, it is certainly better than 70 percent, and when it comes to addressing improving these numbers it is much more manageable.
This example highlights the need for thorough, in-depth data collecting and the accompanying analysis before solutions are developed and any actions are taken. Otherwise actions taken may be inappropriate or resources may be wasted trying to fix something that in the final analysis may not be broken, or at least less broken than originally thought.
From this type of data analysis, it was determined that kindergarten readiness was a pressing need in our community, and where Achieve ought to focus its first efforts. As a result Achieve Escambia’s first Collective Action Network, or CAN, was launched in November. The Kindergarten Readiness CAN has already initiated two Indicator Task Forces, or “ITFs.” One is focused on increasing the percent of 4-year-olds enrolled in VPK programs in Escambia County. As the lead agency for VPK in Escambia County, the Early Learning Coalition is working with other Achieve Escambia partners toward improving this outcome area, and we hope to see an increase in VPK enrollment numbers as early as this fall.
If you or your organization is doing work with children from birth to age 5, we encourage you to join our Kindergarten Readiness CAN. If you are not in the early learning field, you can still get involved. Talk to your friends and family about the importance of early learning. Encourage them to register for VPK at elcescambia.org. The VPK program is free for every 4-year-old residing in Florida. If later learning and career readiness are of interest to you, please get in touch with Achieve Escambia. Achieve will be establishing more Collective Action Networks as we explore all the way points on our Road Map we have developed of the Cradle to Career continuum. We encourage you to check out our website at AchieveEscambia.org to get more information and how you can become involved in our community’s efforts to prepare our children for a successful future.
I believe Achieve Escambia will make a difference in Escambia County. I am encouraged that the foundations of our efforts are rooted in our own data, because as they say your own data is the hardest to refute, but it is also the most reliable means for good, albeit sometimes hard and uncomfortable, decision making. We are starting by trying to improve the number of children we get ready to enter kindergarten. I cannot think of a better place to start. How we go about this, and how successful we are in our efforts, will be determined by the data. As Kimberly Krupa, the new director of Achieve Escambia, said upon being hired, “I cannot wait to put data into implementation.” Neither can the rest of us, because our children will not wait to grow up while we figure it out.
Bruce Watson is the Executive Director of the Early Learning Coalition of Escambia County and serves on the Achieve Escambia Leadership Council and is an Achieve Data Team Member.