Photo: Investing in Data

Sharing Our Cookies: Investing in Data Technicians to Strengthen the Suncoast Campaign and Local School Districts

Posted on January 17, 2022 by Connor LaGrange, TPF Fellow 2021/22

The Patterson Foundation (TPF) exists to strengthen the efforts of people, organizations, and communities. One cluster of TPF's values is ensuring we invest for a lasting impact by managing assets responsibly, realizing real change requires a depth of resources, and focusing on shared aspirations while leveraging resources. One of the ways in which TPF ensures that resources are being stewarded effectively is to be in conversation with our community partners continually.

Background

One of the more tangible partnerships TPF has created is between the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading (SCGLR) and three local school districts. SCGLR is a region-wide effort within TPF's four targeted counties to help children from birth through third grade, especially those from asset-limited families, succeed by reading on grade level by the end of third grade. As one can imagine, a four-county effort focused on children in grades third grade and below has a litany of moving parts. One of the key factors which allow SCGLR to be such a force within the community is its use of data. Data undergirds everything SCGLR does. It allows the campaign to target areas of need, tell an accurate and compelling story, and assess the impact different aspects within the campaign have within the community.

TPF prides itself on investing in ways that fill gaps and amplify impact. TPF saw the need for consistent, accurate, and timely data. One of the largest producers of data relevant to SCGLR is, in fact, each county's school district. While school districts were willing to share data, TPF discovered capacity was a roadblock to receiving timely reports. TPF saw an opportunity to partner with the school district's data divisions by funding a data technician. These data technician positions within Charlotte, Manatee, and Sarasota counties are designed to increase capacity and strengthen data acquisition and management processes. Accurate and timely data is essential to track progress in the five focus areas supported by SCGLR:
TPF began funding this endeavor in 2016 after listening and observing struggles. SCGLR, TPF, and lead partners within each county had trouble obtaining data from the school districts. Upon further discovery, it was determined that although the school districts were willing partners, their data departments did not have the capacity to quickly respond to data requests. After consulting with each county's lead partners and administrators in each participating school district, TPF made the decision to fund one data technician position in each of the three largest school districts within SCGLR's reach (Charlotte, Manatee, and Sarasota). Each position works directly within the county's respective school district and is on-call for any SCGLR or lead partner data requests.

 

Process

To ensure all systems were functioning at an optimum level, SCGLR, in conjunction with TPF, hosted two Knowledge Sharing Sessions regarding this strategic data partnership. A Knowledge Sharing Session offers all involved parties the opportunity to discuss what is working, what can be improved, and find alignment moving forward. Each session included the county school district's data teams, our lead partners, TPF's Director of SCGLR Beth Duda, and TPF Fellow Connor LaGrange.

The first Knowledge Sharing Session took place with Sarasota and Manatee counties. The Charlotte County cohort attended the second. Each Knowledge Sharing Session was framed around these three questions:

  • What is working within the strategic data partnership?
  • What can we improve?
  • What additional value has this position provided your district?

Findings

One of the main themes uncovered during our asking of the first question (What is working?) was the lead partners felt as though they were able to be creative designing templates and/or Memorandum of Understandings with their participating partners because felt they had greater access to data. "It took us a few years…but it has gotten a lot smoother. At particular times (in the past), we just gave the data. Now we have created seamless information sharing that benefits everyone and sharing information with each agency. Our community agencies can now use the data to measure the impact." One of the representatives from the school district discussed another practical aspect of the strategic partnership. "What's been great is that by providing the extra position, we have been able to realign duties and innovate. We have created dashboards. Having the extra position allowed us the capacity to create the dashboards. Teachers use it. The community uses it. The COVID dashboard and all was because we had enough resources to do it. If we didn't have these resources, all we would give is the basic what is required by law to give out, regarding data."

An SCGLR lead partner discussed how the partnership truly goes both ways. "When we first got the data person, it was important to get the data in a way that the schools get it. What does success for a student from them (their perspective) mean? We started by creating a picture for each school and then created a list of high-risk schools."

What seems to have made this partnership viable is the flexibility of those involved as all parties strive to best serve students. However, sometimes there are bumps in the road. Part of continued learning and sharing is discussing even the rocky patches.

When discussing what can be improved, there was much discussion around SCGLR and the lead partners' largest data requests; THIS BOOK IS COOL! In Summer and the Suncoast Summer Reading Challenge. With over nine thousand children participating in 2020 and 2021, the districts' data requests are robust and sometimes difficult to manage. Several of the data technicians discussed the frustration in attempting to match children who participate in summer program offerings correctly. Many of the individuals within the school district's data department seemed more frustrated at not being able to produce timely reports for SCGLR or their lead partners rather than the difficulty of finding students within different systems. Some on the calls were extremely willing to share their cookies and discuss ways other organizations within the community have traded data between themselves. There was a touch of resistance from some individuals when the discussion of partnership cropped up. "Who builds new systems? Who maintains them?" were just a few of the questions posed when discussing the ability to share data between multiple organizations and systems. This seems to be a place where TPF and the SCGLR can continue fostering wide participation by walking through the de-silo-ization process with organizations.

All parties involved sang the praises of data technicians funded through the generosity of TPF. In fact, one data lead from a particular school district said, "We could not function without (this person)." This simple comment demonstrates the true impact this investment has had. It has given the school district data departments a much-needed lift and given SCGLR and their lead partners the ability to access data more quickly and more in-depth to increase their impact.

Conclusions

There is one thing that makes this strategic data technician position partnership so unique. TPF enters and funds endeavors with the aforementioned value of investing for a lasting impact at the forefront of new engagements and collaborations. There will be many opportunities to continually revise and bolster TPF's connections and partnerships because TPF is in the business of making change, and change only happens at the speed of trust. Sometimes trust might take a while or be a rocky journey, but when one is in it for the long haul, the results can have a positive impact on the community.


Participating Individuals
The Patterson Foundation
Beth Duda
Director Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading
bduda@thepattersonfoundation.org

Connor LaGrange
Fellow
CLaGrange@thepattersonfoundation.org

Dan Schlandt
Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading Engagement Team Member
Dschlandttpf@gmail.com


Lead Partners
Nicole Light
Education Officer
Community Foundation of Sarasota County
nlight@cfsarasota.org

Bronwyn Beightol
Chief Impact Officer – Early Learning & Youth Success
United Way Suncoast
bbeightol@uwsuncoast.org

Angie Mattthiessen
Executive Director
United Way of Charlotte County
director@unitedwayccfl.org

Jennifer Sexton
Collective Impact and Communications Director
United Way of Charllote County
Impact@unitedwayccfl.org

School Districts
School District of Charlotte County
Carmel Kisiday
Director of Elementary Learning
carmel.kisiday@yourcharlotteschools.net

Doug Dunakey
Psychometrician
doug.dunakey@yourcharlotteschools.net

Susan Moore
Data Specialist
susan.moore@yourcharlotteschools.net

School District of Manatee County
Robin Thompson
Interim Executive Director of Curriculum and Professional Learning 
thompsonr@manateecountyschools.net

Evan McCarthy
Director of Assessment and Research 
mccarthye@manateecountyschools.net

Jessica Saunders
Assessment Specialist
saundersj@manateecountyschools.net

School District of Sarasota County
Denise Cantalupo
Executive Director, Office of Accountability and Choice
Denise.cantalupo@sarasotacountyschools.net

Joe Binswanger
Director of Information Technology 
joe.binswanger@sarsasotacountyschools.net

George Goodfellow
Senior Statistical Data Analysts
George.goodfellow@sarasotacountyschools.net


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