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Posted: January 01, 2012

Guest column: A zip code should not determine a child’s success

Denver Education Compact gathers leaders from education, business, government and the community to improve outcomes for students

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By Theresa Pena

For too long in urban cities like Denver, a child's zip code has determined educational and economic outcomes. Nationally, a child living in poverty has a 1-in-10 chance of graduating from college. Forecasts identify 70 percent of all new jobs created in the next decade will require post-high school educational training.

Mayor Michael Hancock created the Denver Education Compact to address this challenge. The goal is to work with leaders across sectors to improve educational outcomes for children in Denver, thus creating stronger economic outcomes for the city. This is an organization dedicated to getting things done by advancing the performance of cradle-to-career initiatives for Denver kids.

The Compact's executive committee will work with educational institutions that serve children up to 21 years old to identify key outcomes that, if accelerated, would provide enhanced educational success for Denver youth. Examples of goals being considered include: making sure every child is ready for school, that they graduate from high school and are ready for a career, that they earn a college degree or career credentials.

The Compact was kicked off in October with participation from leaders in business, philanthropy, education, and the community along with the co-chairs of the Denver Compact: Mayor Michael Hancock, Denver Public Schools Superintendent Tom Boasberg and CEO of Colorado Kaiser Permanente, Donna Lynne. The business community's involvement with our executive committee include CEO level leadership from BBVA Compass, Colorado Kaiser Permanente, Davita Inc., Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, Entravision Communications, JPMorgan Chase & Co., Oakwood Homes, and Sage Hospitality.

Once the executive committee has selected and prioritized three to five goals, it will create subcommittees to begin work to accelerate progress. The subcommittees will be chaired by members of the executive team and community organizations; eventually the program will include participation from hundreds of people.

Each member of the executive committee signed a pledge to contribute time, resources or talent and to make a minimum two-year commitment. The first contribution to the Compact was by the University of Colorado Denver.  Chancellor Jerry Wartgow agreed to lend Janet Lopez, CU Denver's director of P-20 Education Initiatives, to the Compact as the interim director until I assumed the position on Dec. 1 after completing my second term on the Denver Public Schools Board of Education.

The Denver Education Compact is modeled after other successful initiatives elsewhere in the country, including Portland, Ore., Cincinnati and Houston. Each city assembled a leadership team with representation from business, education and philanthropy. The national convening of this work is built on the concept of "collective impact," which argues that "large-scale social change requires broad cross-sector coordination." Cincinnati's collective impact effort has led to the improvement of student success in key educational indicators over a five-year period.

The Compact is a public/private partnership and will be initially incubated in the city. Over the course of the next several months, I will work with the leadership team and identify an organization that will permanently house the Denver Education Compact. In other cities, the work was anchored by a foundation, a nonprofit or an educational institution.

Finding a home in a neutral organization is critical to advance the educational initiatives of the Compact and to ensure the sustainability of this work beyond the tenure of the superintendent or the mayor. Denver is unique among other Compact cities in that the leadership team is comprised of both the school district leader and the city leader, two critical institutions that touch the lives of Denver children.

The mayor has launched an ambitious educational pipeline project with the support of civic leaders across the city. The mayor, the co-chairs and the Compact leaders believe that now is the time to improve the economic health of the city and stop the cycle of low academic performance for Denver kids - regardless of where they live.

Theresa Peña, who completed her second and final term on the Denver Public Schools Board of Education in December, is the executive director of the Denver Education Compact.
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