Story of Impact from Strive Together's Annual Report


Build a Blueprint for Better Outcomes



The StriveTogether Theory of Action™ guides the StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network. Built on lessons from network members, the theory of action serves as a blueprint for building and sustaining a cradle-to-career community infrastructure.

Like many communities across the United States, Racine County recognized racial disparities affecting outcomes for children. Community leaders from this Wisconsin community turned to StriveTogether for guidance to create lasting, meaningful change.

“The disparities were so clear; the differences for black and white children were shocking,” said Chelsea Powell, deputy director of Higher Expectations for Racine County. StriveTogether shared its data-driven approach with community leaders. According to Powell, this resulted in some tough conversations that built trust as Higher Expectations posted disaggregated data on its website for the community to see. She said, “If you want a community to succeed, if you want a fully capable and employed work force, it can’t just be the white kids. We have to make a difference for every student and every family.”

Prospective partners explore their readiness to join the network by organizing around a shared vision, selecting desired outcomes and identifying indicators of success. They hold themselves accountable for delivering results. They commit to using continuous improvement to drive better results and to supporting an organization dedicated to managing the partnership.

Higher Expectations provides this backbone support in Racine County and joined the StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network in 2014. Higher Expectations followed the StriveTogether Theory of Action™ to create a shared vision for a fully capable and employed Racine County workforce. The local United Way, one of the community partners, now aligns its funding decisions to building an educated workforce. The Racine Unified School District supports the vision through its “North Star” initiative to ensure all students graduate prepared for college or a career. Finally, more than 90 employers are engaged in the Academies of Racine to provide students with the skills needed for the 21st century workforce.

“They galvanized interest around true career and college readiness. It was just a buzzword when we got here, but now it’s our reality.”

“I have never seen a community as well aligned,” said Chad Severson, InSinkErator’s former chief executive officer. “We started to hear and observe movement afoot in the community with the purpose of preparing young people for careers. This resonated strongly with me as we develop our workforce and continue to hire locally.”

As network members progress along a path of continuous improvement and better outcomes for children, the stakes rise across four pillars of work: shared community vision, evidence-based decision making, collaborative action, and investment and sustainability.

“The four pillars are embodied in our community now,” Powell said. “It works. Our partners are collaborating, looking at data in a new way. You can see it in meetings that go beyond the scope of Higher Expectations’ work.”

StriveTogether Senior Director of Learning and Activation Ritika Kurup explains, “Our theory of action consists of a series of gateways, or milestones, network members pass as they improve systems and eliminate disparities. Each gateway has a series of quality benchmarks that are key to creating real change and improving economic mobility for children and their families.”

Higher Expectations is one of 11 network members to reach the Proof Point gateway and is now working toward the Systems Transformation gateway. Partners meet this milestone when:

  • Four of the seven cradle-to-career outcomes are met.

  • Four disparity gaps are reduced or eliminated.

  • One adjacent sector outcome for children, families or community residents improves.

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Higher Expectations is progressing along five of the seven cradle-to-career outcomes. One example is kindergarten readiness. Higher Expectations provides student-level data to school districts and nonprofit partners. Local data and national research led Higher Expectations to ask former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker for funds to expand kindergarten to a full day for 4-year-old students. In Racine, the school district invested $1 million to improve early learning programs and increase access to full-day, 4-year-old kindergarten in schools serving low-income students beginning in the 2017-2018 school year. Now, 5 percent more kindergartners are meeting or exceeding literacy development targets.

Higher Expectations is also working to reduce racial inequities. In partnership with StriveTogether, Higher Expectations introduced Race, Equity and Inclusion: A Leadership Program to Accelerate Results. This led the district’s elementary reading team to work with three low-income, racially diverse schools to help educators identify factors contributing to disparate student results. They discussed implicit bias and tested interventions to close gaps. These targeted interventions are now embedded in several elementary schools, resulting in reading improvements.

Racine Unified School District Deputy Superintendent Eric Gallien said, “Higher Expectations makes sure everyone knows what everyone else is doing and works together collectively. Off the bat with early childhood learning, Higher Expectations got everyone laser focused. They galvanized interest around true career and college readiness. It was just a buzzword when we got here, but now it’s our reality. Everyone in the community understands the vision, and Higher Expectations is the glue for that work.”

To read the full annual report from Strive Together: click here.

Elizabeth Erickson