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Published: 1/16/2014 - Updated: 3 months ago

Civic leaders seek to boost education outcomes

‘Catalysts for change’ aim of group ‘Aspire’

BY NOLAN ROSENKRANS
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Some of the area’s most prominent civic and business leaders have banded together to try to improve the health and education outcomes for Lucas County children.

The leaders of dozens of businesses, unions, government, and educational organizations have formed a group called Aspire, a nonprofit that’s meant to focus community efforts more effectively to help children from “cradle to career.”

Though conversations surrounding the group have been ongoing for more than a year, and staff have been on the job for months, Aspire has been in a quiet planning phase until now.

Partners will hold a news conference today to announce the initiative and present their report on Aspire’s goals. Aspire won’t be a funding agency, but instead a “catalyst for change,” Executive Director Aaron Baker said. The idea is for Aspire to use data to help community agencies so they can align resources in the most effective way.

"We are using data to help us implement continuous improvement processes," he said.

Aspire is part of the StriveTogether network, a collection of community initiatives modeled after one started in Cincinnati nearly a decade ago. Colin Groth, Strive director of strategic assistance, said the organization was impressed by the large buy-in by Toledo community members early in the process. Planning meetings had several hundred participants, and businesses have loaned staff to work at Aspire.

“That’s frankly something we never saw in Cincinnati,” he said. “We never had that community connection right up front.”

While every community is different, Mr. Groth said, each has its own assets that can help create positive change if leaders work together.

Since the Strive initiative started in 2006, the percentage of students prepared for kindergarten in Cincinnati has increased 11 percent, fourth-grade math scores have risen 16 percent, and eighth-grade math scores 31 percent.

Strive’s formation coincided with a slew of reforms within Cincinnati Public Schools, so it’s hard to say which initiative caused the improvements. Mr. Groth said it’s not about taking credit for improvements. Instead, Strive’s role is to help CPS in its reforms, and help sustain and scale its improvements.

Board members of Aspire include Michael Anderson, president and CEO of The Andersons; Mayor D. Michael Collins; Randy Oosta, president and CEO of ProMedica; Michael Thaman, chairman and CEO of Owens Corning; Roger Wood, president and CEO of Dana Holding Corp.; George Chapman, chairman, CEO, and president of Health Care REIT; Toledo Public Schools Superintendent Romules Durant, and Dr. Lloyd Jacobs, president of the University of Toledo. Al Stroucken, chairman and CEO of Owens-Illinois, is chairman of the Aspire board of managers.

Mr. Stroucken said businesses have a responsibility to help improve children's lives, in part because business ultimately caused a societal shift in bringing women into the work force. He said it's unfair to expect parents to be as involved in child development as they were in the past as mothers and fathers are working long hours.

“It’s a little bit callous to say it’s the parent’s responsibility,” Mr. Stroucken said.

Business leaders can provide expertise in continuous improvement, and the funds to make change, he said. If they don’t, they’ll continue to see a work force falling behind peers in academic achievement and preparedness for careers.

Aspire will focus on five outcomes: That children are born healthy, children are ready for kindergarten, children demonstrate proficiency in reading by third grade and math by fifth grade, improving high school graduation rates, and that high school graduates enroll in postsecondary education or some form of job training.

The initiative will use data analysis to determine what programs are working and where improvement is needed, and then help agencies decide where to align resources. One of the benefits, Mr. Groth said, is that agencies begin to use a common language and “shoot at the same target.”

Mr. Durant often talks about the importance of collective action. While the city has the resources to make improvements in student outcomes, groups often don't align to create a collective impact, he said.

Aspire, to Mr. Durant, can serve as the quarterback for that alignment, helping to guide community-wide decisions through data analysis. Mr. Durant said that Aspire could create positive change in a city “that has gone years without really working together and making things happen.”

The initiative, funded mostly by board members and their companies, has an annual budget of about $200,000, Mr. Baker said. Its board will meet quarterly.

Contact Nolan Rosenkrans at: nrosenkrans@theblade.com or 419-724-6086, or on Twitter @NolanRosenkrans.



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