Norwalk ACTS was initially conceived as a coalition of leaders and organizations to proactively address suspension rates in the Norwalk Public Schools, aspects of No Child Left Behind, and the fact that Connecticut has the largest achievement gap in the nation between low-income children and their more affluent peers.
The Norwalk ACTS membership grew quickly, and its core team—the Mayor, School Superintendent, Executive Director of the Norwalk Children’s Foundation, Chair of the NAACP, Chair of the Early Childhood Council, President of the Teacher’s Union, and President of Norwalk Community College—developed a strategic plan to help close the student achievement gap in Norwalk.
The Norwalk ACTS membership adopted a three-year strategic plan that established community outcome areas of focus.
The Norwalk ACTS strategic planning team was introduced to the concept of Collective Impact and the StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network. The underlying premise of Collective Impact is that no single organization can create large-scale, lasting social change alone.
Norwalk ACTS adopted the principles of Collective Impact and the methodology of StriveTogether. Norwalk ACTS contracted with StriveTogether to assist with the development of a civic infrastructure and a cradle-to-career roadmap to success.
StriveTogether facilitated a Design Institute for the Norwalk ACTS Membership. The Institute provided Norwalk ACTS with the tools necessary to develop its first 180-Day Plan.
Stepping Stones Museum for Children was chosen as the Anchor Entity for Norwalk ACTS. Norwalk ACTS moved from a full volunteer operation to a staffed organization, and became one of 53 communities within the StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network to be designated as a community “Committed to Quality.”
Norwalk ACTS published its baseline report, presenting our community with a snapshot of what Norwalk looks like today – its population as a whole and the students attending the Norwalk Public Schools. This report enabled the Membership to separate the data into constituent parts, identify trends, and persistently align priorities, activities, and existing resources.
All six of Norwalk ACTS’ original Community Action Networks (CANs) acknowledged that working within the context of summer could impact outcomes across the cradle to career continuum. Instead of each CAN building action plans around summer separately, Norwalk ACTS launched TEAM Summer — a partnership of summer learning providers and community members, working together to ensure that our city’s children are learning, experiencing, and discovering during the summer months.
Norwalk ACTS’ Membership signed an updated Memorandum of Agreement (MOA), signifying its commitment to the partnership, Norwalk ACTS’ mission, the principles of Collective Impact, and the StriveTogether methodology.
Norwalk ACTS moved out from its original anchor organization, Stepping Stones Museum for Children, into its own space as part of a movement towards organization independence. The organization applied and was granted an invitation to StriveTogether’s Social Emotional Expert Convening in San Antonio. In March, the 2018 Impact Report was released.
Jennifer Barahona was hired as Norwalk ACT’s new CEO. Norwalk ACTS received its 501c3 status, gained organizational independence, and developed all the policies, structures, and systems necessary to thrive as a stand-alone non-profit organization.
Anthony Allison retired, passing the torch of passion, commitment, and relational connectivity to carry on. Norwalk ACTS participated in a rigorous annual assessment process by StriveTogether and advances from a “sustaining partnership gateway” into the “systems change gateway.” To meet the rigorous requirements of the “systems change” milestone, Norwalk ACTS re-organized staff and added several new backbone positions.
All participants have a shared vision for change including a common understanding of the problem and a joint approach to solving it through agreed upon actions.
Collecting data and measuring results consistently across all participants ensures efforts remain aligned and participants hold each other accountable.
Participant activities must be differentiated while still being coordinated through a mutually reinforcing plan of action.
Consistent and open communication is needed across the many players to build trust, assure mutual objectives, and create common motivation.
Creating and managing collective impact requires a separate organization(s) with staff and a specific set of skills to serve as the backbone for the entire initiative and coordinate participating organizations and agencies.