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Monday, September 15, 2014
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Published: Sunday, 1/12/2014

GUEST COLUMN

Aspire initiative can transform Toledo’s schools

The development of a culture in which data are shared will lead to better outcomes for young people

BY POLLY TAYLOR-GERKEN
Taylor-Gerken Taylor-Gerken
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Toledoans need all the help we can get to transform our schools. Aspire, Lucas County’s new cradle-to-career initiative, offers an opportunity for stars to align for the benefit of our children and our community.

Our schools often try to be all things: social service providers, parent educators, mental health advocates, poverty fighters. Educators can become discouraged and overwhelmed by the many factors outside their control that make it hard to get students where they need to be academically.

Yet every segment of our community recognizes that the highest goal we can aspire to is a good-quality education for all children. The Aspire initiative aims to unite the efforts of everyone who is addressing factors that are known to impede or improve educational progress.

As educators, we should be encouraged, because this is a dream come true. Imagine having all sectors of our community set their sights on making sure children are born healthy, are ready for kindergarten, read and do math at grade level, and are prepared for options beyond secondary school.

Imagine using evidence-based strategies to chip away at the barriers to realizing these aspirations. Imagine enabling educators to concentrate on what they do best: teach.

The local education community has operated on a model of continuous improvement for more than a decade. This includes refining our ability to focus on evidence-based practices and data-based decision making. Those who provide the money for social service programs have long asked for such strategies, and the data to back them up.

Aspire seeks to bring the continuous-improvement process, perfected by industry and proven to be effective in school reform efforts, to this community and the social-service world in a new way. The development of a culture in which data are shared, and driving forces become less competitive and more collective, will lead to better outcomes for young people.

After-the-fact evaluation merely to prove whether something worked is not enough. Assessments of services on a shorter cycle are sensitive to small changes, and allow for ongoing data collection. These things will help service providers judge whether they are on the right track long before they report their outcomes to their funding sources.

In this way, adjustments can be made and the likelihood of achieving our goals increases. Everyone’s work improves when data are shared openly by those who are working to reduce barriers to educational success.

We also may learn new ways to measure success that we haven’t traditionally thought of. What is the collective power of the community networks that shape our children’s futures? How do we measure effective collaboration among well-established networks?

We have an opportunity for a real transformation of our schools. We must keep the interest and investment of the business community, fuel the engagement of the social-services community, and nurture the trust of the education community.

Aided by Aspire, I look forward to being part of this transformation.

Polly Taylor-Gerken is a member of the Toledo Board of Education and a licensed school psychologist.



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