Cradle-to-Career Pipelines Prepare Students for Lifelong Success

Dane Smith, president of Growth & Justice (Image courtesy of Growth & Justice)

Today we welcome Dane Smith, president of Growth & Justice, a research an advocacy organization that develops innovative public policy proposals based on independent research and civic engagement.

For Minnesotans with roots  in country life or smaller towns,  there are certain treasured historic images that reflect the values and advantages of rural communities:  the communal barn-raising, the church social, the one-room schoolhouse, or in more recent years, the entire town attending high-school graduation ceremonies, or rallying around the local schools’ sports team.

Over the last century, in northern Minnesota particularly, this community cohesiveness around schools and education has been the secret to unifying  diverse people, some of whom were enemies in the old world.     In the last century, immigrants seeking jobs on the Iron Range and in forestry and agricultural sectors drew from an amazing variety of eastern and northern European nations, with very different religions, languages and cultures.    And the high quality of Minnesota’s rural education produced a tremendous human asset that benefited our entire state, and nation.

That communitarian advantage, where the entire village took some responsibility for each other and for each other’s children,  is taking a new form as Minnesota enters an exciting new era of more worldly rural diversity.

In an op-ed that Growth & Justice distributed recently to news media throughout rural Minnesota, we showed maps in 1980, 2010,  and projected for 2040,  that show a rapidly diversifying racial mosaic for Greater Minnesota.    The 2040 map projects most rural counties will have more than 10 percent people of color, and more than a dozen counties are projected to have between 20 percent and 50 percent people of color. The report that produced those maps, by the group Policy Link, highlights stories of progress and success in Worthington and Willmar, two rural cities that have seen economic growth as a result of their growing immigrant populations.

The same report wisely puts extra emphasis on meeting the needs of children, reflecting the growing consensus in Minnesota — shared by experts and business leaders — that our economic future depends on eliminating the education opportunity gap that exists for low-income students and students of color.    And among more than a dozen policy recommendations for moving Minnesota toward more equitable growth, one stands out: Minnesota must create “cradle-to-career”   pipelines to prepare students and workers for lifelong success.

Emerging examples of this new kind of local leadership can be found in new “student success” partnerships that are emerging in Austin, the Itasca County area, Northfield, Red Wing and St. Cloud. These partnerships have in common a specific theory of change developed by the Strive Together network based in Cincinnati.  But the principles in this theory are being replicated in other rural Minnesota communities as well, as demonstrated by the progress in Willmar and Worthington, and the trend hopefully will become a statewide movement.

Each of the Strive partnerships relies on a broad and formal collaboration among local schools and colleges, parents and students, nonprofits, businesses, philanthropies, and other community partners. Each partnership is developing a birth-to-career roadmap for their students, with specific goals such as kindergarten readiness or reading proficiency by third grade, and establishing action networks to identify specific interventions to achieve the goals. There is strong emphasis on data and results and multiple measures of academic, social and developmental success, as well as the fostering of personal relationships that often are crucial to unlocking human potential.

Although the Strive model aims to close opportunity gaps for low-income students and students of color, the framework is focused on improving the performance of ALL students.  All children will do better when the entire community has a stake in birth-to-career improvements and supports postsecondary and to career readiness.

Rural Minnesotans have always understood that it takes a village to raise a child to maximum potential, and it’s encouraging to see this historic principle being adapted for the 21st Century.

The Minnesota Statewide Student Success Movement is being boosted by Growth & Justice, one of the state’s respected policy research and advocacy organizations. Blandin Foundation awarded a three-year, $300,000 grant to initiate and coordinate, along with many partners, the network of student success efforts in the state.

For additional information, contact:

Dane Smith



Twitter: @GrowthandJust


E-Mentors: creating professional communicators one email at a time

Dear Mr. Future Boss,

Thx 4 the email. im excited for this gr8 opportunity and can’t wait 2 meet u.



Today’s Youth

Blandin Foundation e-Mentors meet with Bigfork High School students

Lower case i, numbers in place of words (4/for), and unidentified acronyms (TTYL) – these are only a few of the common grammar gaffes found in emails from today’s youth.

Teens modify language to fit the style and culture of their online social spaces. And with digital tools swallowing up 6-8 hours of the average teenager’s day, it’s no surprise that social lingo seeps into more professional forms of communication, like email.

Research shows that teachers develop positive or negative perceptions based on the how well students communicate via email. Likewise, grammar usage is linked to career advancement, or lack thereof, according to a 2013 Grammarly study.

So who will be the career climbers? Well, Bigf0rk High School students for one.
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Big Data in Philanthropy

“It is more difficult to give money away intelligently than to earn it in the first place.”

- Andrew Carnegie

In a December 2013 Wall Street Journal article, philanthropy scholar Lucy Bernholz offers big data as an to answer Carnegie’s implied question: how can we be intentional, and intelligent, when awarding grants?

But what is big data and how can it be used?

Berholz, along with Paul Tarini of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and Larry McGill of the Foundation Center, tackled these questions during a Council on Foundations (COF) webinar last week. As part of their Leading Forward: Innovations in Philanthropy webinar series, COF offered “The Practices and Opportunities of Big Data in Philanthropy (watch here) to organizations eager to harness the power of data.

A few takeaways:

  • Don’t use data for data’s sake. Put your goals first, then decide if data is an appropriate tool.
  • Data sharing is different than lesson sharing. Data may be part of lessons, but it is “magical thinking” to assume that simply making data available will catalyze change. Data needs context such as the purpose for gathering it, and insight from those the data was gathered from.
  • Find out what your organization’s data footprint looks like. It can tell you where your organization shows up in the world and who’s looking at you.
  • Data is not democratic; some voices are not being heard.
  • Digital data is forever. People are concerned with how they are perceived based on their data trail. We need to address issues of privacy and security when collecting data.

For more on how big data and other topics are changing the landscape of philanthropy, check out the free resources at the Foundation Center and the Council on Foundations.

Redefining competitiveness

In a recent Star Tribune editorial, Growth & Justice president Dane Smith challenges us to think about how we perceive competitiveness. He argues that the focus has been narrow for far too long, emphasizing “cheap labor and lower taxes.”

Smith says that, instead, competitiveness  should be defined by what is done to increase human potential.

This re-framing of competitiveness is reflected in work that leaders are doing to build healthy rural communities across Minnesota.

One way is through the use of strong broadband networks. Now, people living in the farthest corners of Minnesota can do business across the world, all while contributing to their home community through their time, talent and treasures. Red Wing, Minnesota has been a leader on this front. Through their Red Wing Ignite initiative, the community is investing in technology to spur innovation and bolster their community’s competitiveness.

Running adjacent to Smith’s editorial was an article on Senator Matt Schmit (DFL-Red Wing) and his push to pass legislation that would bring high-speed Internet to un- and under-served rural Minnesota communities. Read the rest of this entry »

Blandin Foundation awards $3.4 million in grants to support rural leaders

David Marty, president of the Reif Center

Through our work, we want to inspire rural communities to claim their futures by reaching out into the world of possibilities and grabbing the solution to their community challenge. Last week, Blandin Foundation trustees approved 93 grants, totaling $3.4 million, to leaders who are doing just that kind of work.

Some examples of the work we are supporting through recent grants:
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Blandin Foundation extends its commitment to rural broadband

Schools use broadband technology to link students to learning opportunities via telepresence

During their spring meeting March 20 and 21, Blandin Foundation trustees voted to extend the organization’s decade of work in rural broadband another two years (through 2016) and allocate $1.5 million more for community broadband grants.

“We see every day what local leaders can do to address very significant and complex challenges,” said Dr. Kathleen Annette, CEO and president of Blandin Foundation. “When it comes to broadband, our role is on the people side of the equation, working with community leaders as they plan for their community’s access to — and use of — high-speed Internet so critical work and life today. Broadband clearly has become the indispensable infrastructure of our time, and rural communities must be part of that picture.”
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Rural connections cradle our littlest learners

Invest Early is in its ninth year of providing wrap-around early childhood services for Itasca County children and their families.

They recently released their Year 7 results in a report compiled by Wilder Research. Highlights include:

  • Home learning environments, which are associated with higher school readiness scores, improved significantly for Invest Early families during their participation.
  • Kindergarten entry results show that Invest Early children perform better than their low-income comparison peers, and they continued to narrow the gap with the higher-income group this year.
  • More Invest Early students were ready for kindergarten this year than in all previous years.
  • Efforts within the Invest Early school districts to improve conditions for school readiness systemically may be gaining momentum and benefiting all low-income students.

As the program evolves, it is taking a data-driven approach to early childhood – looking at each child’s progress and utilizing that knowledge to make curriculum changes.
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Passionate about rural? Consider joining our team!

Blandin Foundation seeks a full-time Grants Program Officer.

Candidates should have:

  • passion for vibrant rural Minnesota communities
  • engagement in inclusive community leadership, desire to work toward helping communities catalyze their ability to expand opportunity for all of its residents.
  • knowledge of education systems and/or economic and community development practices.
  • demonstrated skills in financial and grant analysis, communication and facilitation.

Click here for more details.

The Web celebrates 25th birthday. Is rural invited to the party?

In one week, the World Wide Web will turn 25, and boy does it have a lot to celebrate! From 1995 – 2014, the number of Americans who use the internet has shot up from 14 to 87 percent. That’s huge!

In recognition of the Web’s 25th birthday, Pew Research Internet Project released a  new report looking at the rapid growth of the internet and how it has impacted the “way people get, share, and create news; the way they take care of their health; the way they learn; the nature of their political activity; their interactions with government; the style and scope of their communications with friends and family; and the way they organize in communities.”

Here are a few noteworthy findings: Read the rest of this entry »

Cultivating young rural leaders

More than 10,000 rural Minnesota middle and high schoolers are celebrating National FFA Week this week, with activities that range from meeting with government officials to hosting community meals and the Jackson County area’s annual barnyard for kids.

FFA may be more familiar by its former name – Future Farmers of America – but FFA’s scope today reaches far beyond farms. It provides youth an opportunity to prepare for career success through events that develop skills such as public speaking, communication, and hands-on job experience in fields such as research, technology, business, management, communications, the economy, and other careers.

These skills also are key to community success. According to the 2013 Rural Pulse, 62 percent of rural Minnesotans ages 18-34 would consider serving in a community leadership role when asked. With a crop of 10,000 youth with skills that are hallmarks of community leadership, why wouldn’t communities ask?

Many students already are finding opportunities to apply their skills to community work. The Foley FFA chapter tested more than 60 wells in central Minnesota’s Benton County, then accessed funds from the Minnesota Intelligent Rural Communities broadband project to build a database and online map of results, which has become a crucial tool to monitor water quality in their area.