In May, ROC the Future Alliance (RTFA) joined fellow members of the Cradle to Career Network in Milwaukee for a convening focused on kindergarten readiness and early childhood education. At the two-day event hosted by StriveTogether, participants shared their experience shifting practices, policies, resources, and power structures to improve early childhood education nationwide.

StriveTogether’s mission is to “partner with communities to ensure every child has every chance to succeed, because race, ethnicity, poverty and circumstance should not determine opportunity or outcome.” The organization’s Cradle to Career Network aims to transform systems to achieve better, more equitable outcomes for Black, Indigenous, Latine, and Asian children, as well as children experiencing poverty. Their work is guided by community expertise, data and shared learning.

Three members of ROC the Future Alliance attended the May 10th – 12th event in Milwaukee: Parent/Family Partner (P/FP) Cherriese Bufis-Scott; Early Care and Education Strategies Director for Children’s Institute Lynn Lubecki; and Director of RTFA’s Whole Child Initiative Sara White Smith.

“Our main focus was to share data to help define developmental milestones for kindergarten readiness,” said Lynn Lubecki. “How do we know if children are kindergarten ready or not? What are we measuring?”

According to data from COR-Advantage – a nationally recognized kindergarten readiness assessment tool – 44% of pre-K students were kindergarten ready in the Rochester City School District (RCSD) during the 2020-2021 school year. 62% of Asian pre-K students were kindergarten ready, followed by 48% of Hispanic/Latino/a pre-K students, 45% of White pre-K students, 44% of Black pre-K students, and 41% of multi-racial pre-K students.

“We know that kindergarten readiness begins before the child is even born,” said Lynn. “Sharing our understanding of this with partners from across the country is something to celebrate.”

Transforming Practices, Policies, and Power Structures

Examining who holds power within education systems and where inequity and oppression still exist are critical parts of collective impact work. Expulsion and suspension rates are a prime example. “Black boys are expelled and suspended at higher rates than their white peers,” explained Sara White-Smith. “It’s a problem that has gone unchecked for a long time, and instead of improving it’s getting worse. The Cradle to Career event in Milwaukee was a great opportunity to talk about how we can examine power structures and who makes decisions about suspension and expulsion so we can strengthen our push for policy change.”

Building Parent/Family Partner Power

One of the biggest “aha moments” was that most attendees had never experienced “Parent/Family Partner Power” first-hand. They were not used to seeing parents truly at the center of the work. “Everyone found it fascinating that I (a P/FP) made the trip to an out-of-town event,” said Cherriese Bufis-Scott. “At RTFA, we call that ‘Building Parent/Family Partner Power.’ It also seemed like the first time anyone had seen a baby at a convening meeting!” Cherriese typically brings her baby, Septima, to ROC the Future meetings and events, so why not bring her to Milwaukee for the Cradle to Career convening? As Cherriese is quick to point out, “We need to remember who our consumer is.”

Next Stop: Cradle to Career Convening in San Francisco

This fall, RTFA will have another opportunity to share best practices and learn from collective impact organizations from across the country. Our application to present at StriveTogether’s 2023 Cradle to Career Convening in San Francisco September 19th -21st was approved, so a group of Parent/Family Partners, System Partners and members of the RTFA Backbone Team are going to California to represent Rochester on a national stage. The working title of our presentation is Building Parent/Family Power: A Systems Change Blueprint.

We are proud to work alongside StriveTogether and our Cradle to Career Network partners to build a future where every child has the best chance to succeed in school and in life. For more information on ROC the Future Alliance’s participation in the Cradle to Career Network, please visit our website.