Mary Jean Ryan had a successful career, serving for years with Seattle mayors Norm Rice, Paul Schell, and Greg Nickels, leading Seattle’s Office of Policy and Management and chairing the Washington State Board of Education. But by 2010, she had become convinced that “business as usual” wasn’t working. Seattle was a vibrant city with world-class employers and high rates of education, yet many local youth were being left behind.
Researchers at Georgetown University predicted that by 2018, 2/3 of all jobs in Washington State would require a postsecondary credential. But among youth graduating from schools in South Seattle and South King County, only 1 in 4 were achieving any kind of postsecondary credential—and for kids of color, the figure was less than 1 in 8.
Mary Jean knew that something had to change. She started by bringing key leaders together, including district superintendents, the head of the community college system, funders, local businesses, community leaders, and nonprofit providers. And she asked them to work on big questions: “How can we get an entire education system to work differently? How do we get change at scale?”
Together, they struggled over several months to hear each other’s perspectives and come to a shared understanding of the root causes behind low education success rates. This work yielded a common and bold goal: To double the number of youth on track to achieve a postsecondary credential by 2020, and to close the unacceptable achievement gaps for low-income youth and kids of color. The Road Map Project (RMP) was born.
“But how can we transform this bold goal into action?” Mary Jean asked. She hired additional staff for the backbone organization, the Community Center for Education Results (CCER), to take on the explicit responsibility for supporting the work of the RMP. Cross-sector working groups began to identify local assets and develop strategies that addressed potential gaps while building on community strengths.
Partners quickly saw the power of this new way of working together. In one example, districts, mayors, parent groups, funders, and nonprofits worked to increase sign-up rates for the College Bound Scholarship, which provided low-income students who signed up in the 8th grade a free ride to college. Their email outreach campaign increased sign-up rates from 51% to 98%, affecting hundreds of families.
A year later, the federal Department of Education announced Race to the Top, a federally funded contest to encourage innovation in K–12 education. Because the RMP had a history of collaboration and was well-aligned in purpose and approach, Mary Jean was able to quickly pull together key leaders to weigh in. The RMP’s proposal stood out as the only applicant to include multiple districts (7 school districts work together in the region), and it received a near-perfect score, winning the maximum grant amount—$40 million—to continue to work on behalf of local kids.
Mary Jean, her CCER team, and all of the Road Map participants demonstrate that real change is possible when we change the way we work. This is the power of collective impact.
About Community Center for Education Results
Community Center for Education Results (CCER) is a nonprofit organization founded in 2010 as the backbone support for the Road Map Project. CCER provides staffing, communications, and data support to the project.