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Alignment Rockford Named Excelsior Finalist

From the Rockford Register Star:

Total staff: 3 full-time and one part-time intern

Volunteers: 150 to 200 on a regular basis, working on teams, more than 1,000 if you count the Academy Expo and the companies that host site visits and job shadows, provide tutors and support senior capstone projects.

Annual budget: $300,000

Mission: To align community resources in support of public school strategies to raise student achievement, improve the health and happiness of our children, and advance the economic and social well-being of our community.

Services: Alignment Rockford is a public school support organization that employs a process to design and pilot tactical solutions in areas of greatest strategic need for Rockford Public Schools. Efforts stemming from that process include pilot programs to support early childhood, career awareness, and college and career readiness, the most significant of which has been redesigning our high schools into the College and Career Academies of Rockford.

Accomplishments: The development and launch of a work-based learning continuum to support the College and Career Academies of Rockford, which now includes: All freshmen attend the Academy Expo (this year the expo involved 2,100 freshmen, 130 careers and 700 volunteers); sophomores go on a visit to a business that aligns with their academy (this is a shorter visit to one to two places that showcase different types of work environments within the same field); juniors will have a job shadow experience (an in-depth visit to a company or organization that allows students to have an extended duration of time for hands-on activities that connect to their Academy); and launch of English Capstone 12 — a course that provides senior students an entrepreneurial way to develop a project that impacts and involves the community. Alignment Rockford aligns the existing resources in the community to support each of these experiences in the continuum of work-based learning. Alignment Rockford also is the community coordinator for Ford Next Generation Learning and worked in partnership with Rockford Public Schools to earn the designation of model community for the implementation of our high school academies. Rockford is one of only three communities in the nation to earn this designation.

What the nominator said: "In seven years, due to the efforts of Alignment Rockford, hundreds of community volunteers working alongside school district leaders and staff have brought about systematic change in Rockford's public schools. Each year, more volunteers step up to join Alignment Rockford teams, sharing their enthusiasm and professional expertise with staff and students in the district and "owning" their role as agents of change — for the good of the children and community alike." — Jeffrey Hultman, president and CEO of Illinois Bank & Trust and operating board chair for Alignment Rockford.

Responses by Alignment Rockford Executive Director Bridget French

What makes your group different from other groups? Alignment Rockford has set a table for collaboration. Instead of pointing fingers, we have “locked arms,” as my outgoing Board Chair the Rev. Ed Copeland likes to say. When we say we’ve locked arms, we mean that the community has come together — nonprofits, government, business and educators — to work together to increase student performance. The Rev. Copeland also says, “We’re not so much divided as we are disconnected.” Meaning we need each other, but we haven’t always known how to work together. The community needs the school district to produce students who are college and career ready for the workforce. And the school district needs the community’s support to help ensure students are college and career ready. Alignment Rockford has provided a strategic way to collaborate toward mutually beneficial outcomes.

What kind of impact has your group had? Aside from those listed above, Alignment Rockford has been instrumental in launching the College and Career Academies of Rockford, essentially transforming the way we do high school. But more than that, we’ve supported Rockford Public Schools by aligning existing resources — not recreating or duplicating things that are already being done. We’re taking the strengths of our existing local organizations and businesses and directing them to where they’re needed the most to support our students. Again, we’ve set a table — a process for collaboration in a way that’s not been done before.

What is your organization's biggest challenge? Our biggest challenge is one of urgency and sustainability. We’ve come a long way, but we have a long way to go. We need funding, and we need volunteers. We received seed funding from a local philanthroper to start the organization and sustained that funding through RAEDC’s Emerging Opportunity Funds. Those funds were expended in 2014, and since 2015, we’ve had to rely on fund development efforts to support our organization. Additionally, we need more volunteers and manpower to continue to drive change.

What is next for your organization? We will continue to focus on growing the work-based learning continuum for middle and high school, being intentional about engaging companies and organizations in those efforts. Additionally, we will grow our focus on early childhood, working with Transform Rockford’s Education Spoke team to align those efforts.

by RRSTAR reporter Corina Curry