Itasca area residents bring home lessons from Ohio schools

Blandin Foundation-hosted study tour looks at acclaimed student success project


Grand Rapids, Minn. (July 5, 2011) Hosted by Blandin Foundation, as part of its Student Success Initiative, a diverse team of 18 Itasca County area leaders has just completed a learning tour in Ohio.

The Itasca area team met with key staff from the Strive Partnership, a cross-community initiative with a goal to help all students succeed. This group of Greater Cincinnati leaders at all levels of the education, nonprofit, community, civic, and philanthropic sectors works together to drive better results in education, from cradle to career. The team also met with staff from Foundation for Appalachian Ohio, a partner applying Strive lessons in rural Ohio.

“Seeing first-hand how a community can come together to dramatically improve the success of all students was a powerful experience,” said Matt Grose.  In addition to being the superintendent of the Deer River school district and chair of the Itasca Area Schools Collaborative, which includes six local school districts and Itasca Community College, he is a member of the local Student Success Initiative.  “One of our takeaways is the importance of alignment among organizations and communities alike around goals that put kids first and result in improved outcomes for all children.”

“Investment in the success of our youth is an investment in expanding opportunity for local communities,” said Jim Hoolihan, Blandin Foundation president.  “When every student has the tools and support they need to succeed in education, our communities are stronger.  The Strive Partnership exemplifies the power of an entire community embracing its students and their success. The learning tour was one opportunity to bring perspectives from an established and successful program into local conversations about supporting our area students in their success.”

Team members heard presentations and participated in discussions on using data to drive decisions, collaborative action, impact on school districts, parent involvement, and school/business partnerships.

“I was very fortunate to visit the Strive Program in Cincinnati with such a dedicated, creative, and enthusiastic group of educators and community members,” said Marian Barcus, Blandin Foundation board chair. “The Strive program exemplified the power of data, relationships, and leadership, but most of all, putting students first. The Itasca area schools have many characteristics contributing to student success, and applying the Strive lessons will definitely help close the achievement gap.”   Peter Block, Cincinnati resident and author of The Abundant Community, Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods, joined the team for breakfast and challenged them to “get real” about what schools can do, what parents can do and what communities can do together to ensure the success of all children. Focusing on the unique gifts that we all possess and bringing these gifts into the life of a child is at the heart of the abundant community.   

Study tour participants included several members of the “core team” of the Itasca Area Student Success Alliance: Sue Akre, Harold Annette, Patsy Bernhjelm, Sarah Copeland, Matt Grose, Susan M. Hoeft, Mary Kay Jacobson, Jan Reindl,  and Rochelle Van Den Heuvel.  Paul Undeland, Minnesota Power, also participated to provide an employer perspective and Dane Smith, president of the Growth and Justice organization, participated to evaluate the Strive program from a statewide perspective.  Marian Barcus, Blandin Foundation board chair, and staff members including Malissa Bahr, Jaci David, Wade Fauth, Bernadine Joselyn, Mary Kosak and Becky LaPlant also participated.

Photo caption:

Cutline: 18 Itasca Area citizens recently traveled to Cincinnati Ohio to learn about their “cradle to career” community-wide effort to close the achievement gap. Left to right Patsy Bernhjelm, education advocate from Outing, Paul Undeland, Minnesota Power’s Rapids Energy Center, and Matt Grose Superintendent Deer River and chair of Itasca Area Schools Collaborative, listen intently as principle and ABC News “Person of the Week” Anthony Smith talks about taking the graduation rate at Taft Technology School from 18 to 95 percent in ten years.