As Members and guests arrived at Norwalk ACTS’ Community Convening on December 5, they were greeted with a room full of data on the walls, disaggregated by gender, race, and high needs. The charts and graphs offered specific snapshots that illustrated:
A demographic breakdown of K-12 Norwalk Public School students by neighborhood
Early literacy assessments
3rd, 6th and 8th Grade English Language Arts and Math achievement
“Why does data matter?” Anthony Allison, Norwalk ACTS’ Executive Director asked, as he welcomed close to 100 attendees and opened the meeting. “Norwalk is a Collective Impact Community and by following the principles of Collective Impact, Norwalk ACTS has created a framework to support its singular focus: to improve the lives and futures of all children in Norwalk, from cradle to career… We know that we have to rely on aspects of what data tells us in order to make better decisions in achieving our mission,” he said.
NORWALK ACTS’ FIRST BOARD OF DIRECTORS
The first order of business was presented by Rev. Lindsay Curtis, Advisory Board Chair, regarding the status of Norwalk ACTS’ process of becoming an independent 501(c)(3) organization. “Thanks to many competent and committed people, Norwalk ACTS’ work and impact has grown significantly over the last three years. Becoming an independent 501(c)(3) will enable Norwalk ACTS to continue its commitment to continuous improvement, in support of our city’s children.”
Rev. Curtis then turned the podium over to Advisory Board Member and Governance Chair, Rob Cashel, President and CEO, Family & Children’s Agency (FCA), who outlined the voting process for approval of the Norwalk ACTS’ Board of Directors. Voting members submitted their ballots; votes were tallied; and the new Board was approved with an enthusiastic round of applause.
Dr. Steven Adamowski – Superintendent of Norwalk Public Schools (Ex-Officio)
Harry Carey – AT&T
Rob Cashel – President and CEO, Family & Children’s Agency
Rev. Lindsay Curtis (Chair) – Pastor, Grace Baptist Church
Dr. Brian Davis – President and CEO, Maritime Aquarium
Cathy DeCesare – SVP Strategic Initiatives, United Way Coastal Fairfield County
Linda Franciscovich – The Grossman Family Foundation
Craig Glover – CEO, Norwalk Community Health Center
Brian Griffin – President, Greater Norwalk Chamber of Commerce
Rhonda Kiest – President and CEO, Stepping Stones Museum for Children
Dr. David Levinson – President, Norwalk Community College
Ceci Maher – Executive Director, Person-To-Person
Diana Revolus – Child and Community Advocate
Mayor Harry Rilling – Mayor of Norwalk (Ex-Officio)
Bruce Ritter – Ritter Family Foundation
Erv Shames – Shames Family Foundation
COMMUNITY BRIGHT SPOTS
Next on the agenda was the opportunity for community members to share Bright Spots and successes.
Mary Kate Locke, Director of Child and Family Development at FCA, announced that Norwalk ACTS was 1 of 8 StriveTogether communities nationwide that was awarded a grant to represent Norwalk and our work at the Social Emotional Learning (SEL) Expert Convening in San Antonio in February. This opportunity will enable Norwalk ACTS’ Members to learn how experts in the field are measuring social-emotional learning competencies, to share knowledge with one another and to dive deeper into the root causes of social-emotional learning disparity gaps in our community.
The SEL Expert Convening will convene teams from StriveTogether cradle to career partnerships during a 2-day workshop. Each team will be comprised of 2-3 partners or partnership staff working to improve social-emotional learning and ultimately student outcomes. Norwalk will be represented by Mary Kate Locke from FCA, Marissa Mangone from Mid-Fairfield Child Guidance Center and Paula Palermo, Norwalk ACTS’ Data Director.
Norwalk Public Schools’ Chief of Technology, Innovations and Partnerships, Ralph Valenzisi, announced that Norwalk is going to be one of the beneficiaries of Sprint’s 1Million Project- a partnership in which 250 Norwalk and Brien McMahon High School students will receive either a free smartphone, tablet or hotspot device, and 3GB of high-speed LTE data per month for up to four years, while they are in high school. Within two years, Norwalk Public Schools (NPS) plans to have full one-to-one computer and internet access in place for all high school students.
Ralph explained that 70% of America’s high school teachers assign homework requiring online connectivity, yet more than five million families with school-aged students do not have internet connectivity at home. “These students are unable to complete their homework, search for jobs, apply to college and financial aid, or easily access the valuable information they need to succeed in school and life,” he added.
Ralph shared a geomap showing third grade students in the city who are reading below grade level, overlaid with those without computer access at home. A red area showed the correlation between the two.
Ralph is a member of Norwalk ACTS’ Implementation Team and through his leadership, has spearheaded the District’s and Norwalk ACTS’ Digital Learning Initiative. Ralph acknowledged the critical role Norwalk ACTS played in the District’s ability to collect and access the data that enabled NPS to receive this tremendous grant opportunity.
Sophia Gevas, Director of Silvermine Art Center’s Outreach Education Program, shared details about a partnership with the Norwalk Housing Authority and Norwalk Public Library to provide a group of Norwalk 6th-8th graders with a unique, after school art enrichment experience. Students visited the Stamford Nature Center to study and photograph animals in their natural environments. They then met with New York Times bestselling author and poet Page McBrier to write poetry to accompany their photographs. The result was a book, “Just Between Friends,” which debuted on December 7 at the Norwalk Library.
“This was a unique project that enabled the students to learn photography and editing skills on the visual side, and then discover their creative writing talents by composing the accompanying poems,” said Sophia. The goal of the Outreach Education Program is to merge art with literacy skills, history, geography, math and science, and to promote critical thinking skills, collaboration, communication skills, creativity and self-confidence.
Another Bright Spot was presented by Dre Towey, local kindie rocker, mother of three and first-time attendee at a Norwalk ACTS’ Convening. Her business, JAM Studio is a creative haven aimed at empowering youth and parents to use art and music as an education and literacy tool. The Jam Studio has partnered with local organizations over the years, such as The Open Door Shelter, the Norwalk Housing Authority, the Carver Center and others to provide process oriented art and music programs for children who don’t have the access and opportunity for this kind of enrichment.
2017 Community Impact Snapshot
Norwalk ACTS’ Data Director, Paula Palermo, presented the newly published 2017 Norwalk ACTS Community Impact Snapshot, which is a precursor to a comprehensive Community Report. This Snapshot is intended to illustrate the impact our Membership has had on our children’s outcomes since the release of the Norwalk ACTS Baseline Report in March 2015. It serves to highlight how data can help our community see itself, and to help inform our Membership’s actions. The publication also provides a description of our Membership’s Workgroups and Initiatives that are developing and implementing strategies and actions to positively impact children’s lives cradle to career.
Paula outlined 2018 goals for continued improvement around data collection, selection and use:
Improving data collection and integration processes
Improving indicator selection
Standardizing indicator reporting
Emphasizing GROWTH and historical data
Improving social/emotional and health/wellness data collection and integration
The next Norwalk ACTS Community Convening will held on March 6, 2018 from 9:00am to 11:00am at Stepping Stones Museum for Children.