The Literacy Coalition of Chattanooga's Program Improvement Story
Program/services before starting the EFF/UPS program improvement process
The Literacy Coalition of Chattanooga has convened since 1999. Various representatives from community literacy providers and supporters (foundations) came together to:
- Provide general support of providers;
- Ensure the survival and development of literacy services;
- Continually identify providers;
- Coordinate efforts; and
- Raise the awareness of the importance of literacy in Chattanooga.
In 2003, after much prior discussion, it was decided that literacy providers (early childhood through adult education) didn’t want or have the time to meet only to hear updates, which could be done through email. The providers wanted to better define the necessity for literacy providers to gather, what was needed from each participant and what was the process to developing a strong literacy coalition.
A leadership team was created to guide the coalition through a strategic planning process. The strategic planning process defined the mission and goals of the coalition. In October 2003, the whole coalition adopted the Strategic Plan and the mission statement, which is that The Literacy Coalition identifies resource and promotes the necessity of literacy for individuals and community growth. The five goal areas are 1) Research of best practices, 2) Inventory of Current Providers, 3) Standards of delivery of services, 4) Advocacy and 5) Structure (see Strategic Plan for activities under each goal).
Between October 2003 and November 2004, coalition members gathered in groups by goal and began discussing how we attacked each goal. We had small successes. We researched best practices of coalitions in other cities, and designed a “Provider Survey” which we mailed to each provider listed in the Reading in Hamilton County Report (and received about a 50% return); the Standards Committee began by discussing services provided in early childhood literacy.
In August, 2004 the coalition’s chair, Lori Hairrell, changed careers from working with United Way’s Success By 6® early childhood literacy to working with READ Chattanooga’s Adult Education program. When READ was asked to participate in the EFF/UPS Program Improvement process, Ms. Hairrell asked if the Literacy Coalition could use the process to define the next steps of the coalition. The leadership team was modified to better represent the diversity of literacy providers and community supporters (foundations) and was called the EFF Program Improvement Team.
Issues/concerns identified by the Literacy Coalition before starting the program improvement process
During the strategic planning process, the Leadership Team agreed that the purpose of the Literacy Coalition was to:
- Promote the idea/value of reading as a way to achieve and grow; and to
- Produce a literacy-focused community.
Each individual early childhood through adult education provider was working to insure that this happened, but the coalition as a whole was not in a position to make this kind of an impact. The team felt like if we could find a systematic way to make this happen, we could have a bigger impact. The first concern was that as a coalition, we didn’t know each and every literacy provider, nor was every type of service provider (early childhood through adult education) represented during literacy coalition meetings.
The team proposed these changes that might improve the Literacy Coalition:
- Plan for Marketing/Public Awareness
- Better Collaboration
- Improved Coordination
- Identification of “Best Practices
The team also discussed why these proposed changes were necessary. If the Literacy Coalition is the community advocate for literacy, the community needs to know:
- Who is the Literacy Coalition?
- Why do literacy providers need to collaborate?
- What could a literacy coalition (unified service providers) add to the community?
- What are best practices?
- What is the benefit for a provider to belong to the Literacy Coalition?
- When will the Coalition meet?
- Where is the Coalition going?
- Why should the community be involved?
- How will the Literacy Coalition function?
- Who will lead the coordination?
How EFF supported the change process.
EFF gave the Program Improvement Team the tools we needed to better define how to meet our existing mission and goals. Through the EFF approach, 8 leaders of literacy services and resources defined the areas the Literacy Coalition would need to impact, and how these changes, if made, could strengthen its work:
- Common language would give each individual provider the same message to share when speaking about the importance of literacy services to the community as a whole.
- Thinking “big picture” instead of individual service provider could make more of an impact in our advocacy efforts.
- Marketing materials would give a provider a visual representation of the literacy coalition’s mission, goals, and activities.
- Introduce Literacy Coalition to the community by identifying who is already partnering with and who in the community (funders, government, etc) already has the service provider’s ear.
- Better identification of who is already at the table (meetings) and who needs to be…
- Better plan for determining who is the point of contact for information on the coalition.
- Cleaner plan for determining how and when a provider learns about the literacy coalition.
- Exposure to other providers, peer support groups and committees, agency self-assessments and recommendations for researched and proven standards could give a service provider a cleaner, bigger picture of their individual programs impact on the whole community
- A clear curriculum based on EFF standards could assist various types of literacy providers on the same goals within different demographics and programs.
- Clearer idea of the Literacy Coalition goals and who to target to strengthen the Coalitions mission.
- Determine whether the coalition is pro-active or re-active.
- Define what it is that existing programs are hoping to do and is there a need for that service in our community.
- Staff coordinated trainings on how the Literacy Coalition can help other providers make informed decisions and prevent duplication of services while strengthening collaborations (who to talk to, where to get technical assistance, funding, etc.)
- Clear options should better address the service providers goals if the Literacy Coalition provides a panel of experts who are passionate about assisting individual providers as they research, define, develop, implement and track program goals.
The EFF process brought clarity to what we know needs to happen. However, in the meantime, The Hamilton County Mayor defined a goal to “ensure that 90% of third graders read on grade level by 2010.” The Community Foundation took the lead role in convening a 6-month information gathering process called the “Reading Initiative”. The end result of the Reading Initiative would be a community strategic plan. To meet the Hamilton County Schools goal of 90% on grade level, the plan would define how to use every existing literacy provider and resource to its full capacity, including early childhood and adult education programs.
The Reading Initiative defined that United Way’s 211 should be the existing resource used to identify literacy providers – a shared goal of the Literacy Coalition.
The future role of the Literacy Coalition would be included in this plan. Our understanding was that there were two looming questions.
- Does the literacy coalition need an advisory board to support the providers working to advocate the necessity of literacy? and
- Does the literacy coalition need a paid employee to convene meetings, build the collaboration and facilitate the activities defined by either the leadership team or the advisory board?
Literacy Coalition members agreed to wait until the Reading Initiative’s draft plan was peleased in late September 2005 before we determined exactly how we would continue to pursue the changes we had identified as a result of our EFF Program Improvement process.
Implications and next steps for the organization in the cycle of continuous improvement.
The issue, months before we began strategic planning, was that providers wanted to do more than just meet and talk. That led to the development of the strategic plan, which lead to the quality improvement process.
In light of the recent activities of the Reading Initiative, and the resulting lack of clarity about the future role of the Literacy Coalition in the Initiative’s strategic plan, several questions remained open:
If providers did want to continue to meet, it was not clear that it is the role of a literacy coalition to provide that table. The other challenge was whether providers from the same field meet (i.e. early childhood, elementary, after school programs, adult, ESOL, etc.) or do all providers meet together?
Another question that always came up was who is going to be responsible for convening the meetings and guiding the process. The coalition members went through strategic planning to determine if there was a need for a paid staff person, and if so, who would pay for this position, what would be the staff responsibilities besides convening providers to talk about programs, and what impact would the investment in a paid literacy coalition staff person make in the community.
Then in September 2005, the Reading Initiative introduced “READ20.” READ20 is a huge public awareness campaign to advocate for the importance of literacy, the 2nd part of the Literacy Coalition’s primary focus.
Because of READ20, the leadership team members agreed that the best possible outcome for the Literacy Coalition, as it was, would be to continue our involvement by partnering as individual organizations with READ20. Therefore, the Literacy Coalition, as it had existed, has disbanded.
However, the leadership committee members thought that the other question, “Whether providers from the same field meet (i.e. early childhood, elementary, after school programs, adult, ESOL, etc.) or do all providers meet together?”, was still a valid question. Beginning January, 2006, READ Chattanooga and Chattanooga State Adult Education programs will co-chair an adult education forum to look at the area of adult literacy programming. United Way’s “Ready For School” initiative will continue to take the lead with the early childhood literacy collaboration. Conversations will continue to address duplication of services and referrals among programs providing literacy services.
What have been the results of this improvement effort – to me as an individual, to my practice, and to my organization, READ Chattanooga, Inc.?
As a new Adult Education (AE) supervisor, I was not in a position to involve READ in the EFF program improvement. However, after taking the Literacy Coalition through the program improvement process, I am disappointed that it wasn’t READ instead.
I found the EFF improvement process to be helpful to each literacy provider involved in the coalition. I thought EFF was clean, clear and workable. While it took several sessions to complete, I felt like everyone understood why and appreciated the process.
As an individual, new to AE, I found the improvement process easy to implement and very important in clarifying my role as an administrator and as a literacy provider.
In regards to my practice, the process gave me the language and tools I needed to look at my own management process and how I implement EFF into my organization.
In regards to my organization, I am hopeful that READ will have continued opportunities to work with EFF and the EFF Program Improvement process. I feel as if it is very critical for AE programs to take a very hard look at why they exist and what they need to do, especially when working to identify programming to meet the workplace and family literacy components of AE programs designed to work with individuals who are not likely to meet a GED goal.