Rural Initiative

Kathy Holt, right, Senior Specialist for Collective Impact, leads an activity during a recent meeting of stakeholders in the new Rural Accelerator Initiative for Cocke County.

NEWPORT—The first community stakeholder meeting to launch the new Rural Accelerator Initiative in Cocke County was held on June 27. While the initiative broadly seeks to accelerate progress toward cradle-to-career outcomes for all students in Cocke County, the initial focus will be on kindergarten readiness.

The initiative emphasizes the importance of pursuing educational results through cross sector collaboration among community partners. Organizations represented at the first meeting included Douglas Cherokee Economic Authority, Cocke County School System, Newport Grammar School, Telamon, Head Start, private day cares (3-D Day Care, Kiddy Corner, First Baptist Pre-K), Cocke County Health Department, Newport Pediatrics, Sunset Gap, Helen Ross McNabb, Nurse-Family Partnership, Unify Cocke County, Options, Sheriff’s Department, Newport City Government, and the Cocke County Legislative Body.

Planning and preparation for this initiative started in December 2017, with an informational meeting in Berea, Kentucky. The team of trainers from StriveTogether, along with Save the Children leaders, conducted a meeting in Cocke County in February, 2018 to assess community interest and commitment. Cocke County, along with Perry County, Kentucky and Whitley County, Kentucky were selected to participate in the pilot.

Save the Children has partnered with Partners in Education at Berea College, StriveTogether, and the Annie E. Casey Foundation to design the initiative and to provide training and leadership essential to bring about community change around kindergarten readiness.

Douglas Cherokee Economic Authority will serve as the anchor institution for the financial management and accountability of the initiative. Kathy Holt has been named as Senior Specialist for Collective Impact to serve as leader for the initiative in Cocke County.

This initiative will help Cocke County establish collective impact efforts aimed at ensuring all students in Cocke County enter kindergarten with the skills necessary to be successful.

Kathy Holt explains, “Collective Impact is just that – community leaders, businesses, and organizations working collectively together to impact a common outcome. In this case, it is kindergarten readiness.” She also quickly pointed out that the goal is that “ALL students will enter kindergarten ready to learn.” This means students entering both the Cocke County School System and Newport Grammar School, she added.

One strategy for advancing the collective impact work in Cocke County includes leadership development. Five community members have been identified to serve on the Rural Accelerator Leadership Program team, They are Crystal Chambers, Save the Children Community Engagement Coordinator for the Cocke County School System; Alicia Dalton, Office Manager for Newport Pediatrics; Matthew McConaughey, Health Educator for the Cocke County Health Department; Trudy Wisdom, Family Service Worker for Douglas Cherokee Economic Authority; and Kathy Holt, Senior Specialist for Save the Children. This team will attend a ten-month results-based leadership program, including five two-day seminars.

The Rural Accelerator Initiative also provides financial support for Cocke County to launch and firmly establish efforts around kindergarten readiness, while laying the groundwork for additional cradle-to-career outcomes. Over three years, $400,000 will be available to support the community action plan.

According to Kathy Holt, “The leaders of this initiative recognize that kindergarten readiness is not owned by any one organization or group. We talk about specific “academic” skills that children need to have when entering kindergarten, but there are so many more factors that impact a child’s learning such as health, proper nutrition, housing, access to early childhood education opportunities, and others. For all children to enter kindergarten ready to learn, it will take a total community commitment. If we can get everyone focused on kindergarten readiness and talking about how they can align their actions to this goal, we can truly transform our county into a kindergarten ready community. We can then reach our goal of “All children in Cocke County will enter kindergarten ready to learn.”

She added, “We are very grateful for each organization that attended our first meeting and committed to joining this collective impact initiative. We appreciate the enthusiasm and support that were expressed by the attendees. We look forward to working with this group and adding additional partners as we develop and implement a strong action plan that will allow us to reach our desired result.”

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