From Deseret News October 6 2015, by Morgan Jacobsen
Community leaders and educators hope to use data, outside expertise and a $300,000 grant to improve opportunities for success for students and their families in Kearns.
Salt Lake County and the Baltimore-based Annie E. Casey Foundation announced Tuesday they will each provide $150,000 to implement the Evidence2Success program in the township. The initiative has been used in similar communities across the country to curb the effects of poverty and provide coaching for teachers.
Being able to build on the current successes in Kearns as well as the experience of other communities will help teachers and public agencies coordinate their efforts in meeting children’s needs, said Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams. Currently, Kearns is the most diverse township in the county, with one-third of its population under age 18 and half of its children living in poverty, he said.
“This is truly a community that cares deeply about the future and is committed to making life better for the children and families who live here in Kearns,” McAdams said. “The opportunity to harness the data and learning this program has gathered from other places around the country and apply it right here in Kearns is truly what’s exciting about this grant.”
The Evidence2Success program will begin immediately using data from the Student Health and Risk Prevention survey. The Utah-developed survey is administered every two years to students in sixth, eighth, 10th and 12th grades to identify at-risk circumstances, such as drug use, poverty, physical health and other well-being concerns.
Then parents, teachers and community leaders will decide on key focus areas to improve the services children and families get, such as classroom instruction, after-school helps, employment services and other possibilities.
Suzanne Barnard, director of the foundation’s evidence-based practice group, said Evidence2Success has helped other communities address local concerns. Providence, Rhode Island, for example, used the program to improve the chronic absenteeism rate in its schools, among other issues. In just one semester, the rate went down by 5 percent in two schools, she said.
“What we hope to bring with Evidence2Success is a way to put residents and children and families in that driver’s seat so they can control some of the decisions that are made around services that their children get,” Barnard said. “Everything we do — the coaching, the tools, the matching money — all of that is designed for us to be able to give what we know to the community and then begin to step away.”
Educators in Kearns will monitor academic outcomes in reading, math and science, as well as results from future SHARP surveys, to track the initiative’s progress, according to Granite School District Superintendent Martin Bates.
“I don’t think student achievement is magic,” Bates said. “As we’re able to get the foundation’s assistance in really identifying which factors have the greatest impact, then we’ll be able to develop teachers and support families and support children and have the whole community be a bright spot.”
Barnard said Kearns and Salt Lake County were invited to participate in the program because of quality local leadership and improvement efforts already taking place, such as United Way’s collective impact initiative. Authors of a recent Harvard report called Salt Lake City the “poster child” for collaborative student support.
But such services are needed in Kearns. Last year, almost half of the students at West Kearns Elementary were English language learners, and 84 percent came from families of low socio-economic status. In Kearns High School, chronic absenteeism was a problem for 16 percent of students, according to the Utah State Office of Education.
Those are challenges that other communities have dealt with across the country, according to Bates.
“It’s invaluable to have national experience from communities that look a lot like this community and look at their bright spots as compared to our bright spots, and be able to learn from each other,” he said.
Bryce Seipert, president of the Parent Teacher Association at Kearns Junior High, said he hopes the Evidence2Success program will help parents get more involved with schools in improving outcomes for their children.
“Students in this community, they have lots of will and desire to learn and to grow and succeed, but the parents in the community, we may not have as much understanding about how to get them where they want to go,” Seipert said. “That’s where the Annie E. Casey Foundation comes in. They’re able to show us what has worked in other places, what kind of evidence-based programs are out there that might work with us.
“I’m willing, and I hope other parents are, to do the footwork,” he said. “We’re the ones that need to make the change. If we can get parents on board, I know we’ll be successful.”