In January 2012, The Yakima Valley Community Foundation, Heritage University and Yakima Valley Community College partnered to launch a comprehensive inquiry exploring Pre-Kindergarten through college completion in Yakima County. The project is entitled One Voice for Higher Education. Although the intention of this project is to recommend evidence-based, key interventions that will significantly increase the percentage of high school completion and college-degree attainment in Yakima County, the primary aim of the One Voice Project is to create a durable coalition of diverse partners that will come together and speak with One Voice about the importance of education to our community. We assume that our challenges are tied to a complex of conditions and systems that go well beyond schools themselves. American foundations have learned that interventions at the system level, that have the support of stakeholders, community leaders, and families, will achieve the greatest long-term impact. Creating change in a complex system requires the coordination of many different stakeholders working together towards a common goal.
A team of researchers at Heritage University and Yakima Valley Community College first reviewed national, state and local research, to test which rigorous practices will work best in our community. The results of this work are included in a series of eight documents: four detailed literature reviews with concrete recommendations, from which we created four research briefs that include data that describes our community context.
One Voice staff worked with partners including Education Service District 105 and the College Success Foundation to hold a variety of community and practitioner forums designed to listen to the input of those most closely engaged with the pre-kindergarten through higher education systems.
One Voice leadership further held a series of cross-sector community leadership forums to engage stake-holders including education administrators, faith leaders, local industry leaders, non-profit organizations, and local legislators. The purpose of these forums, termed “best thinking groups,” was to test recommend interventions from the literature and also to actively engage a wide spectrum of decision makers that will have the will and resources to put a collective plan into action. This work culminates in a community action plan that outlines five broad community goals. This plan incorporates best practices articulated in the literature, recommendations offered by education system practitioners and community members, and finally recommendations articulated by 49 community leaders who met over three district sessions to distill the findings of this project into concrete action items.
Finally, One Voice staff coordinated with Education Service District 105 and the Community Colleges of Spokane to engage school districts in Yakima County in the Student Transitions Information Project (STIP). The STIP process bridges the data gap between high schools and post-secondary institutions by combining K-12 records with data from National Data Clearing House, community colleges, and universities to create a longitudinal data system for school districts and colleges in Eastern and Central Washington.