On the campuses of the Los Rios Community College District, Sacramento State and other area colleges, more than half of the enrolling students register for remedial classes in math, reading or writing. Local employers anticipate shortages in skilled workers. Youth in rural communities struggle to gain training and find a job.
The challenges facing the Sacramento region are not new. Educators and business leaders have spearheaded programs and tapped into grant funding over the years to prepare students for college or a career. But the efforts, they say, have often been disjointed, sometimes overlapped and failed to make a significant impact.
In March, business, education and community leaders will officially launch a new approach called Align Capital Region, an alignment model designed to engage the community by leveraging assets and resources in a way that achieves systemic, generational change.
“I think the region has done tremendously good work, but it’s been done in silos,” says CSUS President Robert Nelsen, who is co-chair of the steering committee at Align Capital Region.
“We’ve never come together as a region and worked collectively,” Nelsen adds. “This is about working cooperatively with business and local officials to have a larger impact.”
The collaboration involves eight counties (Colusa, El Dorado, Nevada, Placer, Sacramento, Sutter, Yolo and Yuba), 74 elementary and secondary school districts, eight community colleges, three universities, three workforce development boards and businesses throughout the area. The goals are straightforward but challenging: improve college readiness, educational attainment, career readiness and community vitality.
To coordinate the effort, stakeholders intend to follow a collective impact model proven in a dozen other communities across the country, including Nashville, Tenn.; Polk County, Fla.; and California’s Coachella Valley. The model provides a clear structure, requires tactical planning and invites community participation.
In Rockford, Ill., whose schools were labeled dropout factories, the Alignment approach brought foes together to turn around the schools, said Rev. Kenneth Copeland, former co-chairman of Alignment Rockford.
“Every community is not as much divided as it is disconnected,” Copeland says. “This is a structured way to tap into the reservoir of goodwill that’s in the community. It is a multidisciplinary approach to whatever issue you are attacking.”
In California’s eight-county Capital Region, educators and business leaders note that just 43 percent of graduating high school seniors meet the University of California or California State University course requirements for admission. The area’s youth unemployment rate is 21 percent and roughly 5,800 residents are homeless.
Several of the region’s largest employers predict workforce shortages if businesses fail to actively engage youth and partner with schools to expose students to the subjects and skills needed for future jobs. The Sacramento Municipal Utilities District, for example, sees the potential to “create a pipeline of talent” that reaches into the elementary schools by supporting math and science teachers.
“Rather than sit idly by, we’ve taken a position of being more proactive,” says Gary King, SMUD’s chief workforce officer and chair of the ARC transition board. “We need to partner with the education system to do that.”
At Sutter Health, a primary provider to the economically indigent, the nonprofit has spent millions on programs to increase access to care and to combat poverty. Yet, this effort hasn’t seen significant traction, says Anette Smith-Dohring, workforce development manager at Sutter Health.
Aligning Sutter’s community investments with other organizations that have the same goals has the promise to really make an impact. “If we work together and we have $10 million, that goes further than one group with $1 million,” Smith-Dohring says.
Using the Alignment model, leaders from business, education and community organizations will work under a volunteer governing board. But the hands-on tactical planning will be carried out by three Alignment Teams whose volunteer members will tailor strategies and metrics for each of their areas. That’s important because the needs of students and employers in Placer County, for example, are different than Sacramento County, even though the region as a whole has identified the same goals.
In previous efforts at collaboration, “all resources and conversation tended to be focused on Sacramento,” says Sheryl Ryder, executive director, career development of the Placer County Office of Education and chair of the Sierra Alignment Team.
“We want to make sure students have similar opportunities no matter where they live,” Ryder says. “This allows us to have parallel conversations and learn and work together.”
“If we can find solutions that are working, we don’t want them to stop at the borders of our school districts,” adds Brian King, chancellor of the Los Rios Community College District and ACR steering committee member.
Educators, perhaps more than ever, say they need the help of area businesses — not just as advisers, but the active participation of business leaders who are willing to go into classrooms and employers who bring students into their workplaces so students know what is expected of them to get a job.
That business participation is key to the Alignment model. However, it goes beyond employers and educators, reaching into the entire community to enlist and coordinate existing efforts and resources rather than creating new programs or organizations, says Brian Bedford, president and CEO of Align Capital Region, which plans to send invitations to some 3,000 businesses, educational institutions and nonprofit organizations throughout the area in February and March. In the invitation, people will be asked to bring whatever program, asset or resource they have that could help achieve their common goals. ACR also hopes to expand its reach beyond the usual suspects and encourage invitees to recommend others in the community.
“There are people in this community who care about this work,” Bedford, a former business professor and dean who also worked at Intel and Apple. “They will be able to see how they can help.”