COCKE COUNTY—Save the Children has had a partnership with the Cocke County School System since 2008, providing school-age programming, early childhood education and kindergarten readiness services, and community engagement collaboration.

In May, 2019, the non-profit organization selected Cocke County as one of three communities to be part of the new Rural Accelerator Initiative (RAI). The other communities are Perry County, KY and Whitley County, KY.

Nick Carrington, Save the Children, Advisor-Collective Impact, shared, “We believe that if we support communities to establish the four pillars of civic infrastructure, they will use them to build a brighter future for all children.” STC is investing $400,000 over a period of three years to help Cocke County develop this infrastructure of a shared community vision, data-based decision making, collaborative actions, and investment and sustainability.

The Rural Accelerator Initiative (RAI) was launched with the goal to accelerate progress toward cradle-to-career outcomes for all students in Cocke County. The work is driven by the belief that no one organization owns education and that the best solutions to local problems are created when individuals and organizations work together over the long term.

Kathy Holt, STC Senior Specialist, Collective Impact, stated, “Collective Impact is just that- individuals, businesses and organizations working together collectively to reach a common outcome. Everyone can impact the benchmarks along the cradle to career continuum and help children enter kindergarten ready to learn, exit third grade reading on grade level and graduate from high school as a ready graduate. Working together, we can reach these goals through collaboration among community partners.”

Claude Gatlin, Chair of the Rural Accelerator Initiative Leadership Table, added, “According to a recent survey, 95 percent of the voting population for the State of Tennessee is in favor of improving kindergarten to third grade reading literacy. The Rural Accelerator Initiative was formed in Cocke County to meet this challenge. My initial expectations of this program have been met and exceeded, which leads me to believe that the best is yet to come.”

One strategy for advancing the collective impact work in Cocke County includes leadership development. Three community members serve of the Rural Accelerator Leadership Program (RALP) team. They are Crystal Chambers, Unify Cocke County; Matthew McConaughey, Cocke County Health Dept.; and Kathy Holt, Save the Children. This team attended a 10-month training program to develop leadership skills needed to facilitate results based meetings. The team’s role is to identify and support working groups needed to move work forward that is necessary to accomplishing the identified results.

As a RALP team member, Matthew McConaughey shared, “The work of RAI has helped to bring all the players to one table; this has allowed us to further our mission and to provide top of the line programs and services to Cocke County. It is rewarding work and a blessing to see all the positive impacts that we have accomplished. Knowing that we are just getting started and the long line of programs and activities to come is exciting. I encourage anyone who is interested in getting involved or wants some more information to reach out and join Cocke County’s journey.”

A second part of the leadership infrastructure is the Leadership Table. Twelve cross-sector, executive-level leaders participate in the direction setting of the collective impact work. These members include Chair Claude Gatlin, President, Newport Kiwanis and Community Development Volunteer; Co-Chair Derrick Woods, Retired, Chief Deputy, Cocke County Sheriff’s Office; Sandra Burchette, Director, Newport City Schools; Jana Chambers, Retired, Director, Cocke County Health Department; Roland Dykes, III, Mayor, Newport City; Chris Edmonds, Business & Industry Coordinator, TCAT; Kay Hale, Executive Director, DCEA; Manney Moore, Director, Cocke County Schools; Crystal Ottinger, Mayor, Cocke County; Lynn Ramsey, Director, Cocke County Chamber of Commerce; Karen Stooksbury, Assoc. Prof/Coordinator Early Childhood Education, WSCC; and Rev. David Woody, Pastor, First Methodist Church. The Leadership Table is the key forum for setting overarching goals and strategies for the collective impact work. Other duties include convening partners, removing barriers, and eliminating disparities.

Derrick Woods, Co-Chair of the Leadership Table, said, “The Leadership Table has extraordinary, knowledgeable and productive members that touch all aspects of our community from education, government, and health to civic organizations, non-profits, and churches. The commitment of this group has an immediate and lasting value to the children and this community. We have established a great group of partners who will be an asset to the work and in return will give strength to our goals.”

A third component of the backbone infrastructure needed to sustain the collective impact work is the fiscal agent. In this role, Douglas-Cherokee Economic Authority provides financial management for the work. Kay Hale, Executive Director of DCEA, expressed, “Douglas-Cherokee fully realizes that educated children are empowered and make our communities stronger. This is why the work of the Cocke County Cradle to Career Coalition is so important. All children deserve a good education and need to be ready to learn and grow. Our investments in children today will pay off in the future.”

As the infrastructure is built in Cocke County, the Rural Accelerator Initiative is transforming to a new name – Cocke County Cradle to Career Coalition- or C-5 for short. Kathy Holt added, “The Leadership Table felt that this name change was needed for both visibility and sustainability of the work. Cocke County Cradle to Career Coalition is much more reflective of the work across the cradle to career continuum by a coalition of community partners.”

David Woody, Pastor of First Methodist Church and Leadership Table member, headed up the work of identifying a new name for the Rural Accelerator Initiative. Pastor Woody, shared, “It was important to rename the Rural Accelerator Initiative as the Cocke County Cradle to Career Coalition to help the community better understand who we were or what we do. So, we asked the Leadership Table three questions: 1. Who do we serve? 2. What is our work? 3. How are we organized to do our work? The answers came fairly easily. We serve all of Cocke County. Our work is to positively impact the education and well-being of children from cradle to career. And we are a coalition of diverse individuals and agencies working together for that common goal. What emerged was a name with 5 C’s—Cocke County Cradle to Career Coalition. The next step was to identify our guiding principles. Naturally, five more C’s emerged: Creativity in Approach, Community Collaboration, Commitment to Help, Challenge to Learn, and Connection to Resources. In every way, we are C-5!”

Over the past twenty months, several strategies have been developed and implemented to support kindergarten readiness. The Count Down to Kindergarten awareness campaign is the anchor strategy developed to provide parents/caregivers knowledge and resources to support the readiness skills that children are expected to have when entering kindergarten. This strategy was rolled out universally to the whole community through local media (Newport Plain Talk and WNPC radio) and to targeted areas of early childhood education providers. Kindergarten readiness kits were made available to all in-coming kindergarten children last summer and plans are to support summer learning again this year.

The Cocke County Cradle to Career Coalition (C-5) has also authorized work in developing alternative learning spaces. This includes installing two Born Learning Trails – one at the Newport City Park and one at Cosby Rural Medical. These interactive learning stations support wellness and readiness skills through highly engaging, outdoors activities. The Born Learning Trails are complemented with Little Free Libraries where children can get a book to take home.

C-5 is partnering with the Newport Housing Authority to provide monthly kindergarten readiness packets, along with in-house learning and technology spaces. In addition, Cocke County Schools has dedicated a full size school bus that is being refurbished into a “traveling learning center” – the ABC Learning Bus, and Empower Cocke County has committed to providing space for an in-house learning center that will be utilized to support playful learning for children birth through 5th grade.

Finally, C-5 is developing strategies to address food insecurity in Cocke County. A working group of community leaders who already address lack of food has been organized to develop a infrastructure to support food distribution in Cocke County. Working collectively with the Cocke County School System Family Resource Center, a grant has been secured to build school level food pantries at three locations. The group is also networking to identify gaps in needs vs available resources.

Claude Gatlin, Chair of the C-5 Leadership Table, added, “The Rural Accelerator Initiative has now been rebranded to make it more recognizable and meaningful for our community. Our new name is the Cocke County Cradle to Career Coalition or the C-5 group for short. However, the work of this group continues in working for solutions to elevate the cradle to career learning experience for every child in our community.

“As chairman of the C-5 Leadership Table, it is a privilege and honor to serve with other community leaders with the credentials and experience needed to make significant progress in achieving our mission. Collectively, our vision is to elevate the opportunity for every child in our community to be successful from cradle to career. I ask that you take notice of this program, keep up with its progress and join in as we move forward in helping every child learn how to learn.”

For more information about the Cocke County Cradle to Career Coalition, you may contact Kathy Holt, STC Senior Specialist, Collective Impact, at kholt@savechildren.org.

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