Something genuinely remarkable is happening for kids and families in Eagle County.
This past week, individuals and representatives from more than 40 groups in Eagle County came together for the purpose of creating a much better community for our children. While the exact vision is still a work in progress, the parts are coming together.
Imagine a community where all children are nurtured and nourished, are safe and celebrated, where they grow up hopeful and with eyes on a better tomorrow, and where they are treated with respect and love.
Lofty and unrealistic, some might say. But to those present, who could feel a sense of moral purpose and commitment, we can imagine no other acceptable future.
Representatives from Eagle County’s government, nonprofits, foundations, faith-based organizations, philanthropy and Eagle County Schools were present. Individually, we’ve all worked to improve outcomes for the community’s youth. Occasionally, we’ve collaborated and shared resources. Eagle County has a tradition of these groups supporting each other and working together for the good of our community’s children. But now, we are considering a systemic, inter-connected and purpose driven approach. Such an effort has a dramatic and positive impact for our kids.
SCHOOLS CAN’T DO IT ALONE
Research dating back into the 1960s has noted the tight correlation between student outcomes and poverty. But this relationship is no secret to anyone. Kids from disadvantaged backgrounds have to work to overcome a variety of obstacles, some from even before they are born, to be as successful as a person born into privilege.
Of the variables that have a measured impact on student outcomes, roughly 70 percent of them come from “background” or “out-of-school” factors. These factors are critically important in the life of a child, and they include caring and successful parents, someone to read to them and encourage curiosity, having access to quality medical and dental care, having a safe place to call home, being nourished and being loved.
This is not to say that “in-school” factors are not important — schools matter a great deal. But, if we want consistent and quality outcomes for the children in our community, then our schools can’t do it alone. These background factors are not things we can ignore or leave to chance. Our studies of high performing global education systems reveal focused and systemic efforts to make sure that every child is supported toward their dream.
For decades, our state and nation have crafted policies aimed at blaming and shaming our nation’s public schools for not “solving” this problem of our society, and then wondered why these approaches have not had a significant or sustainable impact on the problem.
Rather than hand wringing, pointing the finger at someone else or whining about those things that stand in our way, these community leaders are stepping up to do something that will have a genuine impact. These efforts will go beyond making every child feel cared for and supported and will change the trajectories of their hopes and dreams.
Still, much stands in our way. Limited funding streams that are further tied up by mandates and bureaucratic red tape, competition for “turf” and recognition, everything from overlapping to disconnected organizational purposes or agendas — all of these things are barriers we must work to overcome.
We must also overcome our innate desire to seek a “quick fix” or a “silver bullet,” which may get lots of short term attention and acclaim but ultimately fails to move the needle in a meaningful way. Instead, we must work to be consistent, to work as a system, to be disciplined and to be patient. It is only through these long-term approaches that we will have an impact on the powerful and recurring wicked problems that stand between our young people and successful lives.
I’m very proud to be part of this community coalition, and I’m excited about where we are headed. It’s too soon to say for sure if this effort will work, or if it will accomplish the kinds of positive outcomes that all children in our community deserve, but it is the right work.
We look into the future and see an inclusive community in which all children are loved. Where our kids are safe, engaged, nourished, healthy, valued, hopeful, empowered, learning and can realize their dreams.
If ever there was a place that could set a shining example of what a community and its schools can accomplish out of love for its children — let that be us and let it be now.
Jason E. Glass is the superintendent of Eagle County Schools. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.