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St. Cloud, Itasca County schools leap forward with ‘Strive’ model

Date Published: 10/04/2012

Author: Dane Smith, President


Minnesota’s best hope for reducing disparities and achieving broad improvement in educational results was on display last week at a packed ballroom at the St. Cloud River’s Edge Convention Center.

Some 300 of the “Granite City’s” most involved citizens, from CEOs to principals to parents to social workers to new immigrant leaders, turned out to applaud the unveiling of St. Cloud’s brand new “Partner for Student Success” team (www.partnerforstudentsuccess.org).

The basic thrust: No more piecemeal panaceas and hit-or-miss interventions or “spray and pray” philanthropy. Everybody in the community commits to teamwork in helping all children all the way through the education pipeline, from before birth to career launch. A new emphasis on coordinated efforts and individual attention, using data and evidence-tested methods, is meant to seal the leaks in that pipeline and keep kids on track toward post-secondary completion.

Breaking free from the idea that education happens only from “bell to bell” or “bus to bus” is a central tenet of the new model, one speaker said.

This strategy is commonly called the “Strive model,” and it’s being adopted in communities large and small from coast to coast, connected by the National Cradle to Career Network. Minnesota is among the most active states in incubating Strive partnerships, and similar efforts are under way in Grand Rapids, the Twin Cities, Duluth and Red Wing. A rapidly diversifying and economically distressed K-12 student body, with low-income students now averaging more than 35 percent of enrollment statewide, is a key driver in this overdue and encouraging movement.

Nancy Zimpher, the chancellor of the State University of New York system — and the initiator of the original Strive Partnership in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky when she was president of the University of Cincinnati — was the keynote speaker.

Her central message has been echoed by legions of education experts and the field’s most informed thinkers, including President Barack Obama’s education secretary, Arne Duncan, and Diane Ravitch, a former assistant education secretary under President George H. W. Bush.

“It is a myth that one person or group can fix education by themselves, no matter how visionary or passionate,” Zimpher wrote in a Huffington Post op-ed last year. “Only by working together — public and private institutions of higher education, state education departments, school districts, elected officials, civic, philanthropic and corporate leaders — will we see results.”

In other words: Crucially important as parents are for student success, it does take a village to properly prepare our children for today’s increasingly complex economy and world.

In St. Cloud, Zimpher rallied the new coalition with reports of progress in other regions (Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky districts have reported improvement in 40 of 54 school success indicators) and hammered home the important elements of a Strive partnership.

To paraphrase, they are:

The action was in St. Cloud last week, but the Strive model is actually most developed some 150 miles north, in a combined effort by several school districts centered in Grand Rapids that has spread across several north-central counties.

Although urban schools and communities get most of the attention for the widening gaps in achievement that harm low-income kids and communities of color, Minnesota’s north-central lakes-and-woods region has its own challenges with white rural poverty and disadvantaged American Indian populations.

The Itasca Area Initiative for Student Success has perhaps the state’s most advanced development of the Strive model and recently completed its own customized roadmap called “A Pathway to Student Success.”

That blueprint (see accompanying graphic) stipulates that every student will have access to such assets as “out-of-school programs and activities” and “technology and the skills necessary to use it to achieve goals.” It further envisions a continuum from before birth to early career along which every student will be prepared for school, demonstrate competence or mastery at each learning level and enroll in and complete a degree, certification or other training program after high school.

The Itasca organization has a core team (and I’m a member of it, having traveled with the team to Cincinnati last year to study the Strive model) that meets regularly to plan the specific work that needs to be accomplished to help all kids succeed from early childhood education to post-secondary completion.

A key message in both the Itasca and St. Cloud efforts is the obvious truth that the local economy and community will prosper if all children live up to their full potential, and communities have a public responsibility to make sure that happens outside of school as well as “bell to bell.”

Here’s how Ravitch laid out the need for coordinated partnerships in her book “The Death and Life of the Great American School System”:

“Our schools cannot be improved if we ignore the disadvantages associated with poverty that affect children’s ability to learn … Their families need additional supports, such as coordinated social services that help them to improve their education, to acquire necessary social skills and job skills and to obtain jobs and housing … Schools must work with other institutions and cannot replace them.”


A version of this column originally appeared in the St. Paul Legal Ledger Capitol Report on Thursday, October 4, 2012.

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