We’re all in this Together

Kids Are the Winners in Public-Private Partnerships

Three successful Kansas early childhood collaborations prove children, families and communities benefit when diverse partners work together for the common good.

The research is definitive. When you provide Kansas’ littlest citizens with high-quality early education, the entire community benefits. And when diverse segments of the community come together through public-private partnerships, these programs are all the more effective, gaining the reach, fuel and expertise necessary to maximize the impact of their work.

As executive director of the Kansas Children’s Cabinet & Trust Fund, Janice Suzanne Smith, is on the forefront of building and expanding partnerships across the state. She urged the early childhood professionals gathered for the EC11 conference to “look at people as assets who can enrich your community and have something to give, who have perspectives to share that will make all our lives better.”


For inspiration, Smith spotlighted the work of three such partnerships that receive ECBG funds, in Coffeyville, Hays and Wichita. While each site is different, they are similar in how they have effectively harnessed the skills, resources and energy of a wide array of partners and cemented them around a common vision. The measurable impact proves partnerships work.

The Entire Community Has Come Together
Coffeyville USD 445

“We knew we had to do something immediately,” said Dr. Craig Correll, the superintendent of Coffeyville Public Schools, as he shared with the EC11 audience some very sobering statistics. During the 2011-2012 school year, the district’s kindergarteners had 93 behavioral referrals, 881 tardies, 1,223 unexcused absences and – the stat that hit Correll the hardest – 11 out-of-school suspensions for behaviors he found shocking.

Graphic Recording of Coffeyville Statistics

Graphic recording of Coffeyville statistics captured at the EC-11 Conference

In Montgomery County, where Coffeyville is located, the poverty rate is 24.81%, and almost two thirds of the children qualify for free or reduced lunch. In 2008, only 8 percent of the African American males in the district were proficient in math.

“When did we fail them?” Correll and his team queried. The kindergarten data shone a light. “They had come to us with this gap in kindergarten,” Correll realized. So the answer to improving the life of children in the district, and helping the community reach its overarching goal of breaking the cycle of poverty, lay in improving pre-school education in Montgomery County. Reaching this ambitious goal would require the best efforts of the entire community, he said.

So they formed partnerships that brought public and private organizations together with one goal: Help children get the early education experience they need to enter school ready to learn.

With the rallying cry of “We’re all in this together,” the district forged new partnerships and strengthened existing ones with a wide array of stakeholders, including Coffeyville Community College, child-serving nonprofits and the business community.

USD 445 is leading the charge by participating in numerous programs and partnerships, including the Coffeyville Coalition for Early Education and the KHSA Early Learning Communities Collaborative. Their partnership with Tri-County Special Education Cooperative ensures children with special needs receive early intervention. Four County Mental Health Centers provide classroom consultations, including mental health assessments, intervention plans, outreach to parents and parent education.

The district’s flagship program is the Dr. Jerry Hamm Early Learning Center, for children 3 to 5. Amanda Cavaness, principal of the center, shared that 61 percent of their families reported an income of less than $10,000 a year, with 25 percent of the children of Hispanic/Latinx origin, many of whom spoke English as a second or third language.

That data showed Cavaness one thing: “We have to work that much harder. When the children come to us and we know what their life is like out of school, we know we have extra work to do.”

The hard work of the teachers, assistants, parents and students has paid off. Test scores have risen significantly, and by 2016, all CLASS environments met the benchmarks. The preschools were entering kindergarten ready to learn.

“The Dr. Jerry Hamm Early Learning Center of Coffeyville has one of the most diverse populations, the third lowest average family income, parents with the least education and the greatest percentage of gains compared to other sites in the longitudinal study. The scores were above the statewide ECBG averages with significant improvement over the school year,” found Dr. Lynn Schrepferman, a Wichita State University senior research scientist who evaluated test data for the Children’s Cabinet & Trust Fund.

Correll was excited to report that the 2015-2016 school year stats for kindergarteners looked very different than the ones four years earlier. Behavior referrals, tardies and unexcused absences fell significantly. The number he is most excited about? Out-of-school suspensions were zero.

“Without these relationships, none of this would have been possible,” Correll stated. “Coffeyville changed the first five years, and we changed everything.”

Data is powerful
Hays USD 489

Not everybody is a numbers nerd. But everyone can agree that numbers that prove your early childhood program is knocking it out of the park are worth their weight in gold when applying for funding, winning publicity, effectively advocating for early education, improving staff and student performance, and assessing program needs.

Collecting solid data that show your early childhood program is achieving great results will also help you forge and build solid community partnerships. That’s why Dana Jo Stanton, early childhood grants coordinator for USD 489 Early Childhood Connections Program in Hays, keeps her nose in the numbers. The self-proclaimed Data Guru for Connections, Stanton collects the data from six different tests the kids in her school take for the common measures initiative of the Early Childhood Block Grants, including ASQ:3, ASQ:SE2, HOME, PFS, myIGDIs and CLASS.  The tests measure children’s progress in a variety of areas, like developmental milestones, signs that a child may be at risk for social or emotional challenges, early reading and early math proficiency.

In the 10 years she has been with the program, Stanton has used such data to help bring in more than $6 million to area early childhood programs.

As soon as the children’s tests scores are tabulated, Stanton makes sure the data is put to work by their many partners to further the education of the center’s 201 at-risk students. Teachers share the results with parents. The school’s program director uses the data to identify areas of instructional weakness, performance reviews and mentoring. Program-wide results are shared with the Early Childhood Grants Advisory Council, the Hays Interagency Coordinating Council, the Kindergarten Readiness Committee and the Hays board of education.

Why all this data? “It’s better to tell people what you do and who you serve rather than relying on assumptions,” Stanton explained. “Your staff and partners should be able to accurately tell others about the quality of your program. Team spirit is built by progress towards a common goal.”

Stanton shared a few “lessons learned” for use by other Kansas early childhood programs as they tap into the power of data to build partnerships:

Utilize the data. Use this resource to gain publicity, empower your advocacy efforts, build your team, increase the success of grant writing, conduct needs assessments, initiate staff and program improvement, and set goals for student growth.

Collaboration is the Key
The Opportunity Project (TOP), Wichita

“No single person or entity can meet the needs of our children,” Cornelia Stevens, the executive director of The Opportunity Project (TOP) Early Learning Centers in Wichita, told the audience of early education professionals. Then, she described the very real needs of the children served at TOP centers.

Of the 629 1- to 5-year-olds in TOP’s three Early Learning Centers, 44 percent were of Hispanic/Latinx origin, with 23 percent non-English speaking. Three-fourths of the students had two or more risk factors, netting the program the dubious distinction of having one of the highest levels of overall risk out of the 21 ECBG grantees.

These kids are exactly who Barry Downing, the private donor who founded TOP, wanted to serve when he created this unique private-public partnership, Stevens explained. “TOP was founded by a private individual who wanted to help children in poverty,” she said. “Mr. Downing came back with areas like teen pregnancy and gang prevention as the problems he wanted to address. He learned that if he would invest in early childhood education, he would impact all these areas and ensure the kids in poverty were ready to learn.”

What started as one individual’s vision has grown into a collaborative effort that is already seeing amazing results in just a few short years.

With more than 20 years of experience developing collaborative partnerships, creating opportunities for new business development, assessing and identifying needed services, and monitoring the quality and effectiveness of those programs, Stevens knows the power of partnership. She said TOP’s alliance with Rainbows United, Kansas Children’s Service League, the Derby Public Schools and the Wichita Public Schools has been key to the school’s success.

During the 2015-2016 program year, the ASQ-3 test results indicated a high level of risk. More than half the children did not meet benchmarks in at least one domain.  As the school year progressed, the children made gains, with significant change achieved in all categories of the myIGDI literary and numeracy tests.

“We started out with 83 percent of our classrooms meeting quality standards. By spring, 100 percent of our classrooms were high quality,” she reported.

How did they do it? They launched a process improvement plan. Students received personal education plans that teamed up the teacher, parents and director. They launched individual and small group remediation.

In addition, Stevens said, “We changed our structure and added curriculum and instruction coaches at each location. We used a mentor teacher model for teachers, and focused on quality.” The program also added an assessment coordinator to analyze data, looks for trends and shares the data in a meaningful way with teachers.

“It’s a team effort,” Stevens said. “Collaboration is the key.”

The EC-11 Summit was hosted by the Cabinet on April 18-19, 2017 and highlighted the importance of investing in Early Childhood. We know that there is an $11.00 return for every $1.00 invested in early childhood initiatives in Kansas. The EC to the 11th Power (EC11) Summit focused on the successes of Cabinet-funded initiatives and the power of those programs to improve the lives of children and families in Kansas.