Bringing home “total community'” for rural and Greater Minnesota student success


Coming home to Minnesota this week after an intensive three days of learning about student success efforts in southwestern Ohio  and northern Kentucky _  and trying not to think about the state government shutdown _ one of the first things to pop up on my screen was a powerful  op-ed in the St. Cloud Times, headlined “Education Is Up to All of  Us.’’

 The article was all about a “Student Success Task Force’’ and a “Linkages Committee” in the St. Cloud area, which is mounting a “total community’’ campaign aimed at cross-sector coordination to improve achievement and attainment.   “The goal is to change the way people in the St. Cloud area think about the stake we have in the development of all (bold italics mine) our children.”

The  author of this eloquent appleal was  Patrick Henry, a retired executive director of the Collegeville Institute for Ecumenical & Cultural Research.   His main point was that everybody in the St. Cloud area needed to get enthused about  a “communitywide,  top-of-mind’’ campaign for universal student success.     Henry urged his fellow central Minnesota citizens not to compartmentalize their thinking and not to defer to the public sector and public schools and welfare agencies, or the non-profit sector, on a mission that’s so crucial to the health and vitality of all of Minnesota.   Reading between the lines, Henry was exhorting businesses and all individuals to get more involved, whether they had children or not, and he noted that the portion of  households with kids in school had dropped from one-half to one-fourth over the last few decades.

I really liked this passage:  “Don’t underestimate the significance of your attitude.  When everyone in the community takes ownership and acknowledges a stake in the development and achievement of all (bold italics mine) our children, the St. Cloud area will be transformed, deserving even more its `most liveable’ designation.”

The column nailed almost perfectly the kind of  “total community’’ effort we learned about from the Strive Partnership in Cincinnati,  and that’s being advanced  in Grand Rapids  by the Blandin Foundation-supported Student Success Team, and which organized our tour.   One of the happier takewaways from the trip is that Blandin and Grand Rapids are already well along toward a “total community, cradle-to-career” initiative for improved school success.

Strive in Cincinnati is very much an urban model but the principles _ setting measureable goals and benchmarking results, focusing on early childhood, total in-school and out-of-school support for every student, pushing academic rigor, preparing for and securing post-secondary attainment and career entry _ can and should be applied everywhere.

We got some more specific advice for rural areas in a presentation from the Foundation for Appalachian Ohio, which has education attainment at the forefront of an agenda for 32 mostly rural eastern Ohio counites.   And we were linked in that session to some other national efforts, including the Ford Foundation’s “Creating Rural Wealth” initiative, aimed at finding ways to sustain and restore economic health and wealth, which is really what the student success initiatives are all about. 

More encouragement on the rural and urban homefront came from an all-day session I attended in St. Paul on Thursday, sponsored by the Minnesota Minority Education Partnership and its  Minnesota College Access Network project.    We heard from no fewer than 10 “College Connector Teams”  as they proudly described their efforts to improve post-secondary participation and completion among specific groups, in rural areas as well as in the Twin Cities.   

Among those that particularly impressed were a couple of teams focusing on American Indian kids, at the Bois Forte and Fond du Lac reservations.  We also saw presentations from groups working on minority success in St. Cloud, in Northfield and among the Latino population, which has a strong presence not just in urban areas, but in southern and western Minnesota.