Robert Gehrke’s Sept. 24 column about after-school programming in Salt Lake City called for a “serious dialogue about how to expand after-school options statewide.”
Gehrke correctly recognizes a challenge that goes beyond a single school district. As part of a unique and nationally recognized partnership of business, education, and community leaders committed to transforming the educational environment for Utah students, the Promise Partnership wholeheartedly supports this dialogue — and strongly suggests that we all take greater accountability for improving student outcomes.
The Promise Partnership is committed to helping every child succeed, regardless of their background. Coordinated by United Way of Salt Lake, it is comprised of six school districts, 10 communities, hundreds of business, government and nonprofit partners, parents, teachers and youth. We recognize that after-school programs are critical resources for working parents and when done well, they can be so much more.
The challenges we face as a state in helping every child reach their potential are well known. Utah ranks 35th in the nation when it comes to student achievement for economically disadvantaged students, and ranks second to last in per-student spending. Our state serves over 659,000 youth in our K-12 and charter public schools, and less than half of these students are proficient in language arts and math. Low-income students, students with disabilities, mobile students and students of color are much more likely than their peers to be behind grade level (source: Utah State Board of Education, 2016-2017 Fingertip Facts).
Too often we attack these challenges with a single program. We fail to see the opportunities for mutually reinforcing alignment of, for example, a high-quality after-school program with a school-based academic support initiative. A serious dialogue about after-school programming, outside the context of how we all share accountability for academic, social and emotional results for every child, would be a significant missed opportunity.
We believe a serious dialogue about improving outcomes for every child, and closing economic and racial disparities, in an environment where we all must work together and be accountable for those outcomes is the best place to start. Within that dialogue, we would recognize the importance of high-quality, academically integrated after-school programming. We would design incentives for aligning efforts across organizations, systems and sectors. We would use data to continuously measure progress and improve rapidly.
We would spread innovations such as the work done within Promise Partnership school districts to embed teachers in nonprofit summer-school programs to help eliminate “summer learning loss.” We would also align many other strategies and interventions that are critical to success: strong school leadership, a collaborative and innovative culture with high expectations, well-supported, effective teachers and parent engagement. In communities with high concentrations of poverty, we also recognize the need for adequately funded health and mental health services, affordable housing, and aligned community resources and supports.
We’ve all seen serious dialogue that remains simply that — dialogue. Outside of a context where we all hold ourselves accountable to results for every child, even well-meaning dialogue often leads to endless problem gazing and finger pointing. But within the Promise Partnership we’ve seen dialogue produce results, and we’ve only scratched the surface of what’s possible.
We invite the dialogue suggested, but let’s start with the question of how we can get better results for every child in our state.
Bill Crim, president and CEO of United Way of Salt Lake, and Lexi Cunningham, superintendent of the Salt Lake City School District, are members of the Promise Partnership Regional Council