AchieveGuilford is a community based commitment to the educational success of all children in Guilford County. Sponsored by the Guilford Education Alliance, Guilford County Schools (GCS), Businesses for Excellence in Education and Action Greensboro, AchieveGilford aligns community resources to ensure students are successful at each critical point in their education and prepared for the challenges of postsecondary education and future careers. With a mission of Every Child Ready: Cradle to Career, AchieveGuilford is guided by a steering committee of community volunteers and works through project teams in specific focus areas.
Every economic and community development study conducted in Greensboro and High Point has targeted public education as an important issue. There is a direct correlation between a strong school system held in high confidence by the community and the ability to attract individuals, families and businesses to Guilford County. Over the years, community efforts from nonprofits and groups like the Business for Excellence in Education, High Point Workforce Project, Action Greensboro, and the Guilford Education Alliance, have worked alongside GCS to create many new and innovative programs. AchieveGuilford was created, then, through a task force embracing all elements of the community and the schools with a goal of forging a common agenda for success.
AchieveGuilford was formed to create a community commitment to educational success. Education drives economic growth and financial gain within a community and thus, the success of GCS children directly relates to a better prepared workforce,stronger local economy and more active and engaged citizenry. While there are many programs of excellence within GCS, further opportunities exist to provide additional support in order to ensure overall student success at critical development stages. By establishing community-based programs, AchieveGuilford will focus on the 18 hours a day a student is not in school so success is realized in and out of the classroom.
The goals of AchieveGuilford are fully aligned with the goals set forth in the GCS strategic plan to provide greater support for public education through community-based programs. Frequent, transparent communication among AchieveGuilford, its steering committee, GCS and the community, ensures a strong support system for student success. Through regular updates via a variety of communication channels, a broader understanding of task force goals and objectives will take place.
A steering committee comprised completely of volunteers from the business, nonprofit and public sectors, which includes the GCS Superintendent and executive staff members, will help implement Achieve Guilford programs. Seven project teams focus on specific areas - such as strengthening early childhood education, literacy or new career paths tied to the future economy - to identify effective programs through existing nonprofit organizations and by developing new programs for implementation. A list of some of the individuals and organizations involved can be found at the organization page.
Critical success factors have been identified by the steering committee that are the basic points where a student must be successful if he or she is to progress, graduate, and enter some form of postsecondary preparation. Project teams have been created to focus on these success factors and to develop other supports for GCS. These include:
- School Readiness: The focus on early childhood development (pre-natal, birth and up to age four) sets the pace for social, emotional, physical, and intellectual growth. A child who does not come to kindergarten with the basic vocabulary, counting skills, letter recognition, and other factors begins his/her educational career with a deficit. By working with daycares, faith based organizations and parents, the community-at-large can help prepare a child for learning.
- Reading on Grade Level by the End of the Third Grade: The beginning of the fourth grade is a touchstone for future success. Texts and written materials, as well as the associated vocabulary that accompanies reading, is required for a student to progress. A student not reading at grade level at this point requires extensive, increased intervention to catch up. Through tutoring and experiential literacy/reading games, nonprofits, churches, synagogues and other youth focused organizations can help ensure a child is reading at grade level by the end of third grade.
- Career Planning and the Future Economy: There is no question that the economic base of Guilford County continues to change. It is critical that teachers, counselors and students understand trends in the workforce, as well as the experience and education needed for future jobs. Beginning to really think about the age-old question of "what do you want to be when you grow up?" during the middle school years helps a student embrace the educational requirements of future employment. AchieveGuilford seeks to make Every Child Ready: Cradle to Career. It is clear that a high school diploma is insufficient. A postsecondary education, which includes training, community college or a four-year university, is required to fully prepare a student for a successful career of his/her choice. The business community and professional groups can provide invaluable information to schools to better prepare students for the workforce.
- Parent Involvement/Parent Academy: GCS has created an innovative and valuable method for parents to learn how and when to support their children, and to follow their progress. Through the Parent Academy, parents can take an active role in the education of their child that includes on-line access to the texts used at every grade level. Using the district's Parent Assistant program, parents can check their child's grades, homework assignments and attendance. Offering classes and information on how parents can work with their children and teachers will improve their understanding of education as it relates to economic and future success.
- Character Development: An education, and becoming a "whole person," requires more than just classes and topical learning. Teamwork, ethical behavior, and having a moral code that helps a student develop a philosophy of life and personal goals have been found to be just as important in school success as grades alone. Service learning and volunteerism teach about the importance of community and engage students with others from all walks of life and backgrounds. A community focus on character education supplements in-school themes and provides a base for conversation throughout Guilford County.
- Leadership Development: Professional development is critical for individuals throughout their career. GCS, along with many local businesses and community organizations, offers professional development programs. Leadership opportunities and management development seminars with business professionals for school personnel - including teachers, principals and school administrators - will enhance performance. Data shows that the quality of the teacher is the most critical factor in student success, followed by the strength of the instructional leader or principal. Turning leadership opportunities into positive action, both personally and professionally, is the overarching goal of this task force and provides an outlet for employers across Guilford County to become involved.
- School Models: GCS is a national leader in the development of early and middle colleges, as well as the creation of special magnet school and education theme programs like the International Baccalaureate. New schools under development include a health professions early/middle college and a Science, Technology, Math, and Science (STEM) early college. An additional goal is the creation of a middle school modeled on the features of the KIPP schools and the Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta.
There is a national network of communities engaged in similar work. Known as the Cradle to Career Network¸ the model was first developed in Cincinnati through a program knows as STRIVE. It has now spread to Houston, Portland, East Bay/Oakland, and Richmond, while about fifty other communities are in various stages of affiliating with the network. AchieveGuilford plans to be a part of this network to learn from other communities and to gain technical assistance as appropriate.
AchieveGuilford initial planning and development has not required substantial funding. Thus far, funding has been provided by local foundations. As specific programs are identified and developed, the philanthropic and business communities will be approached to provide support. The nonprofit community will be encouraged to collaborate with others and to align their existing programs rather than to develop new programming.
AchieveGuilford will require some staff support to coordinate programs and activities, but the bulk of the effort will be accomplished through volunteer commitment. Some new programs will require start-up funding. The Guilford Education Alliance, a 501c3 nonprofit organization, serves as fiscal agent and provides accounting services and oversight.
AchieveGuilford will embrace existing GCS performance goals and will seek to help students progress by tapping into community resources and expertise. That is, a strong relationship with individuals and groups in the nonprofit, business and public sectors will afford students and schools a broader knowledge base to pull from. Our goal is not to measure the success of the school system, but to measure the effectiveness of the community programs in contributing to student success. If a program is not positively contributing, then it will be modified or its sponsoring agency will be encouraged to make changes. An evaluation model and process will be developed using the resources of the local higher education community.
AchieveGuilford is different because it is, to our knowledge, the first comprehensive educational initiative in Guilford County in which the focus on educational success begins at birth and continues until a student enters a career. By bringing current and new players into the picture - from nonprofits currently providing programming to faith communities and other organizations - we hope to further motivate Guilford County so that the mission, Every Child Ready: Cradle to Career, becomes a reality.
You can support AchieveGuilford in numerous ways by donating your talent, time or treasure. At www.achieveguilford.org, you can become a part of our email distribution list, volunteer for a project, financially support one or more programs or contribute directly to GCS activities. To share an idea or talk with one of our committee members, visit the Contact Us page on the web site.