Dreama Gentry: Empowering Rural Communities through Education

Posted July 10, 2020
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Classroom worker helps a child

Photo courtesy of Partners in Education

A recent eval­u­a­tion of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Chil­dren and Fam­i­ly Fel­low­ship® gen­er­at­ed case stud­ies of indi­vid­ual Fel­lows who are using the program’s lead­er­ship lessons to trans­form the way orga­ni­za­tions serve kids, fam­i­lies and com­mu­ni­ties. This is one entry in a three-part series on the case studies.

As exec­u­tive direc­tor of Part­ners for Edu­ca­tion (PFE) at Berea Col­lege in Ken­tucky, Drea­ma Gen­try has one objec­tive: help­ing Appalachi­an stu­dents suc­ceed. Com­plet­ing the Chil­dren and Fam­i­ly Fel­low­ship (Class 10, 20162017) has equipped her with the tools and skills of Results Count® to help advance this impor­tant work.

The Fel­low­ship required Gen­try to iden­ti­fy a spe­cif­ic, mea­sur­able result for PFE. She opt­ed to track kinder­garten readi­ness — a key pre­dic­tor of future aca­d­e­m­ic suc­cess — in eight coun­ties in south­east­ern Kentucky.

In rur­al areas such as ours, fam­i­lies lack access to high-qual­i­ty ear­ly edu­ca­tion oppor­tu­ni­ties,” says Gentry.

Enter PFE, which aims to pre­pare kids for kinder­garten by enhanc­ing their ear­ly learn­ing expe­ri­ences, increas­ing access to these expe­ri­ences, and engag­ing their fam­i­lies as a first teacher and ear­ly learn­ing advo­cate. Includ­ed in this approach: care­givers receive at-home par­ent­ing sup­port — a move that kicks off a pos­i­tive chain reac­tion. We increase care­givers’ con­fi­dence,” Gen­try explains, and that helps lift the edu­ca­tion­al aspi­ra­tions they have for their child.”

The pro­gram then uses the BRIG­ANCE Kinder­garten Screen — a kinder­garten readi­ness assess­ment tool adopt­ed by the state’s Depart­ment of Edu­ca­tion — to gauge its success.

Ear­ly results are in — and impres­sive. One of the eight coun­ties that adopt­ed PFE’s approach to kinder­garten readi­ness was Clay Coun­ty. Dur­ing the 201718 and 201819 school years, the share of Clay Coun­ty chil­dren under the age of 5 who were assessed as ready for kinder­garten jumped from 26.9% to 56.7%.

Rela­tion­ships, resources and results

Accord­ing to ICF, the con­sult­ing firm that eval­u­at­ed the Fel­low­ship, Gen­try pushed PFE to engage with the entire sys­tem serv­ing the region’s young chil­dren. Under her lead­er­ship, school dis­tricts, ear­ly child­hood providers and ear­ly child­hood coun­cils in south­east­ern Ken­tucky all adopt­ed the program’s goals and strate­gies for kinder­garten readiness.

ICF found that Gentry’s use of Results Count advanced PFE’s achieve­ments in the fol­low­ing ways:

  • Data map­ping at the coun­ty lev­el and fac­tor analy­sis — the process of deter­min­ing what works and what doesn’t work based on under­stand­ing the under­ly­ing rea­sons behind the prob­lem or solu­tion — led to spe­cif­ic ser­vices and inter­ven­tions for each of the eight counties.
  • PFE data ana­lysts helped pro­gram man­agers and com­mu­ni­ty part­ners exam­ine con­tri­bu­tions, track results across all racial and eth­nic groups and iden­ti­fy adjustments.
  • A focus on shared per­for­mance mea­sures, along with the col­lab­o­ra­tion of mul­ti­ple part­ners work­ing toward com­mon goals, con­tributed to the pos­i­tive results.
  • Results-Based Facil­i­ta­tion tech­niques enabled PFE to effec­tive­ly lead meet­ings with its part­ners. Using agen­das and action com­mit­ments — a struc­tured way of mon­i­tor­ing pri­or com­mit­ments and iden­ti­fy­ing new ones — the play­ers shift­ed their con­ver­sa­tions from polic­ing each oth­er” to pro­duc­tive­ly explor­ing why a par­tic­u­lar com­mit­ment was not met and mak­ing the adjust­ments nec­es­sary to con­tin­ue work­ing toward results with urgency.

Last­ing change

PFE is one of sev­en orga­ni­za­tions that the Casey Foun­da­tion has iden­ti­fied as a hub for expand­ing the use of Results Count through­out the social sec­tor. The goal is to grow the pool of lead­ers who have the skills and tools need­ed for accel­er­at­ing mea­sur­able and equi­table improve­ments in the well-being of chil­dren and fam­i­lies across the country.

Gen­try is now one of these lead­ers — and she’s not oper­at­ing alone. Our work builds the capac­i­ty of local res­i­dents to use data to iden­ti­fy prob­lems and then use local know-how to find appro­pri­ate solu­tions,” she says.

PFE has joined Save the Chil­dren, Striv­e­To­geth­er and the Casey Foun­da­tion to devel­op and launch the Rur­al Accel­er­a­tor Ini­tia­tive. By com­bin­ing results-based lead­er­ship devel­op­ment, strate­gic invest­ments, local part­ner­ships and peer learn­ing, the ini­tia­tive seeks to ensure that chil­dren in rur­al Amer­i­ca are ready to enter school, thrive aca­d­e­m­i­cal­ly, and exit high school pre­pared for a career or high­er education.

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