"We won’t start something
for sustainability right
from the beginning."
Janice Wilkerson, Assistant Superintendent
Schools and community groups in Covington, Kentucky, know what it takes to create and sustain successful collaborations. What started as a coalition of schools, mental health agencies, and the local police department has evolved and grown into an established nonprofit organization, Covington Partners. The coalition—which now includes various family service groups, Catholic Charities, and the Covington Housing Authority—continues to thrive due to its strong focus on sustainability.
“We won’t start something without planning for sustainability right from the beginning,” says Janice Wilkerson, assistant superintendent of Covington Schools.
The coalition partners began by pooling their resources and bringing together community leaders, but as they began to see successes from their efforts, they knew that they needed to take stronger action to sustain and scale-up their work.
One of their first tasks was to become a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization to gain financial independence. As a nonprofit, Covington Partners now has increased flexibility to work with a variety of funding sources and partners. For example, its 501(c)(3) status allows the group to apply for grants that may not be open to school districts. The coalition can also work with both public and private schools, thereby reaching a broader range of the community’s children and families. In the process, the partners have piqued the community’s interest, resulting in additional partners and increased support. With this strong following, the partners are able to hold yearly fundraising events, including golf outings and silent auctions.
Throughout all of its work, Covington Partners has consistently collected data, focusing on “The Big Three”—attendance, behavior, and academic success. These three indicators are a priority for school administrators, who are the key decision-makers about programs that involve students. With school administrator support, the group can better reach students and families through schools while at the same time build linkages with those who may influence funding decisions at the district level. These data have also helped the group attain financial awards from various organizations, such as the local United Way.
Data also help the partners make informed decisions about programming, showing them where to invest time and resources. For instance, because outcome data revealed that school security assistants have a positive effect on school safety and climate, the district continues to fund these positions. When the data showed that 51% of students with mentors had better school attendance than the previous year and that students who participate in the mentoring program tend to drop out less than students without a mentor, Covington Partners expanded its middle school mentoring program to include both elementary and high school.
Understanding the importance of data collection and sharing, the partners continue to develop new systems for gathering and distributing data to increase the quality and efficiency of their services. Soon, Covington Partners will adopt what is known as the Learning Partner Dashboard—a data-sharing system developed by the Cincinnati Public Schools. This database compiles information about individual students and then makes it accessible to the school staff and community partners who serve those students. This process helps kids get the services they need and also reduces service duplication, which can save resources.