Chapter 4
IV. Preparing for long-term action and success

Setting benchmarks and timelines to achieve goals

The likelihood of ongoing, sustained progress in combating the dropout crisis will be greater if markers of an effort’s progress — benchmarks — are in place and linked to timelines. For each effort, establish short-, mid-, and long-term benchmarks, each of which should address measurable, meaningful, and varied features of the effort.

Measuring progress against benchmarks will require you to get information and feedback consistently as you go forward. Regularly checking outcomes and impact against benchmarks will reveal which in- and out-of-school initiatives are effective, which wraparound supports are making a difference, and which of either of these need to be modified or eliminated.

For the greatest success, everyone needs to take responsibility for meeting benchmarks and achieving progress. Community leaders must hold themselves and their colleagues accountable and commit to making necessary adjustments along the way.

Keeping everyone’s eyes on the long-term reward — achieving 10-year goals

As teams become deeply involved in their work, the amount of effort required and the size of the challenge may seem overwhelming. Team members may become frustrated, and, not unlike dropouts, may disengage. Teams can take several steps to keep enthusiasm and progress high for the 10-year effort:

  • Revisit goals and priorities. As teams learn which efforts are working, which aren’t, and what resources are available, they can take satisfaction in their successes and streamline plans to make workloads more manageable.
  • Organize and prioritize goals to better match members’ available time and financial resources. What can be done well in the short term to accomplish results by reallocating existing resources? What can be done well in the mid-term that may require more significant changes in resource allocation or in policies? What initiatives will take several years of preparation before they can be implemented effectively?
  • Consider long-term leadership and staffing from the outset and along the way. For the long term, who will oversee the team’s work? How will work and progress be recognized? How will issues and transitions in leadership be managed? Are relationships growing between the team’s leadership and the leadership of other existing organizations in the community?

Deeper Look

To learn more about managing community-wide change, see:

  • The Forum for Youth Investment’s Ready by 21 ChallengeAddresses the challenges of change head-on: if efforts toward change are disconnected, the energy for change may decrease. It is a challenge to all who care about children and youth to think differently — to learn a different way to approach all of the tasks associated with trying to manage, make or measure change at any level from the classroom to the capital — so that they can act differently, making decisions that lead to bigger goals, bolder strategies, better partnerships.
  • Whatever it Takes: How Twelve Communities Are Reconnecting Out-of-School YouthThe report tells the story of 12 communities across the U.S. that have reclaimed their schools and turned around dropout rates in their communities. The communities used varied and innovative methods, as there is no cookie-cutter plan for every community to follow. However, major themes run though each community’s success: open entry/ open exit; flexible scheduling and year-round learning; teachers acting as coaches, facilitators, and crew leaders; clear codes of conduct with consistent enforcement; extensive support services; and a portfolio of options for varied groups.

  • A Collective Responsibility, A Collective Work: Supporting the Path to Positive Life Outcomes for Youth in Economically Distressed CommunitiesDiscusses how communities can band together and offer a wide variety of supportive activities to bolster their youth’s successes in school and life. Individualized support has a significant impact on shaping young people’s lives, especially as children grow older. These support continuums should contain three key elements to be effective:1) Each must provide opportunities for youth to be engaged continuously in activities that develop skills in multiple domains; 2) a coalition of leaders from key sectors and systems must rally around the continuum; and 3) the continuum must connect all of the local and state youth resources. This report recommends that communities with large populations of youth in distress take the following seven actions to build continuum of support: 1) elevate the youth challenge in a holistic way; 2) galvanize community around the challenge and commit to building solutions; 3) create a forum for vision and planning; 4) address the developmental needs of youths, putting particular focus on those who are falling behind; 5) leverage existing resources in the community; 6) establish measures of accountability; and 7) be bold.

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