Twenty-six leaders in business, education and government became signers of the Alachua County Education Compact (ACEC) in 2015, signaling their commitment to aligning resources and activities to catalyze the transformation of opportunities for students in Alachua County. The Compact uses a “Collective Impact” model and represents the signers’ commitment to a common agenda for addressing a single, specific issue: aligning education opportunities with industry needs to create pathways to success for Alachua County students. The Collective Impact model calls for a single organization or entity to function as a “backbone organization” to staff and manage the initiative’s activities. The Chamber undertook this role when the Compact was signed and has spent nearly two years facilitating a process that has resulted in the signers’ agreement on a common agenda to achieve six goals that would ensure that all students graduate from high school; are prepared for college and/or career success; have access to pathways to sustainable jobs and careers; develop healthy lifestyle habits; appreciation for the arts and a sense of social responsibility.
The Compact has also added two signers and made great strides in aligning the 28 signers’ resources and activities to support the six goals. This alignment has empowered the Chamber—as the Compact’s backbone organization—to spearhead a wide array of activities and initiatives to engage and assist students, parents and schools, including:
• Career Discoveries Day, which provides a forum for students and parents to interact with businesses and education institutions to identify career pathways.
• FAFSA Night at Eastside High, which assists students and parents in filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid to connect them to financial resources that mitigate—or sometimes eliminate—costs associated with attending college.
• Collaboration with the Santa Fe College Blount Center Advisory Council to help low-income students navigate classes at Santa Fe College.
• Support and enhancement of high-quality teaching and learning through the provision of training for guidance counselors in the Alachua County Public School District.
• Support for community and policy initiatives that advance school programs, such as the One Mill for Alachua County Public Schools, as well as school infrastructure, such as i3 (The Chamber’s Putting Children First Infrastructure Investment Initiative).
• Support for SWAG’s (South West Advocacy Group) efforts to establish a Children’s Service Advisory Committee in Alachua County.
Through these efforts, the Compact has engaged or assisted nearly 1,000 students, parents, educators, guidance counselors and community members.
These achievements signal only the beginning of the transformation the Compact was created to catalyze in our region. In 2017, under the guidance of the Compact’s Leadership Council, the Compact will continue to move the needle by serving as a resource to students, parents and educators while also growing its capacity for enhanced future impact. Recently, the Compact received expert guidance on next steps, and in response has divided the initiative into two phases. For phase I, the Compact will focus on the first three goals: ensuring all students graduate from high school; have access to and are prepared for college and/or career success and have access to pathways to sustainable jobs and careers. Phase I success will be defined by twenty-one separate measures—including rates of graduation, promotion, attendance and kindergarten readiness; advanced course enrollment and exam passage rates; college readiness, acceptance and enrollment rates; career-technical education certifications and credits; and more. Additionally, the Compact will be implementing consultants’ recommendations to prioritize the development and implementation of a community asset map, a system and process for metrics and data collection, an evolved structure to support its mission and goals, and an action plan to keep signers engaged in advancing Phase I goals.
The Chamber has also formed the Human Capital Foundation, which raised more than $15,000 in 2016 and will continue to lead fundraising efforts to ensure the Compact’s activities can be properly resourced.
Our students from preschool through post-secondary education are among Greater Gainesville’s greatest assets and are imperative to the Chamber’s mission to facilitate economic prosperity, business growth and community progress throughout our region. Ensuring we take every possible action to ensure their success benefits all of us. The Chamber looks forward in 2017 to facilitating the elevation of the Alachua County Education Compact’s efforts and results to a new level. As is true with all of the initiatives we undertake to advance our mission, the Chamber welcomes any and all additional engagement. There is a place for you at the table. Come join us.
SUSAN DAVENPORT is President/CEO, Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce.