Perspective, Transformation and Change in Leadership

Excerpts from Dr. Marian Gryzlo’s keynote speech at the  St. John Fisher Doctoral Program in Executive Leadership where she earned her doctorate, at the hooding ceremony on March 21, 2015

We’ve studied many leadership theories and leaders in the past three years—trying to understand the million-dollar question. What makes a great leader? We probably would each come up with a different answer to that question –based on what wspeech 3e’ve experienced, who we are, where we’ve been and where we are going. Today, I am doing to discuss perspective, transformation and change as they relate to leadership.

Steve Jobs, one of many leaders we studied, gave a powerful speech at Stamford’s graduation in 2005, not long after he had battled and survived cancer. His words left a lasting impression, and to date his speech has received over 21 million views on YouTube. He told graduates that:

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will hoodingsomehow connect in your future… Because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart, even when it leads you off the well-worn path.” He said “Do what you believe is GREAT WORK.”

Today, I am going to invite all of you to take a moment to think about what your GREAT WORK is or will be— and to think back about those dots that connected.

I’d like to share with you a story, from Perfect Square by Michael Hall. It’s about aPerfect-Square perfect, happy, red paper square. If you can just picture in your mind a 2-dimensional, flat square.

One day, unexpectedly, the square was cut into pieces and poked full of holes.  So what did it do? That formerly perfect square—made itself into a fountain that had beautiful streams of water flowing from it. So the quick thinking square made itself into a lovely flower garden from the scraps. Then–

  • The square was shredded into strips—
  • So it rearranged into a beautiful park where children played
  • Still being tested, the square was snipped into ribbons-so it rearranged itself into a deep running river
  • As if it that was not enough, the square was shattered completely- just like a broken mirror
    But it gathered its pieces and rearranged itself into a sturdy bridge
  • These unexpected challenges and changes kept coming at the square—
    It was crumpled, ripped and wrinkled.
    But it rallied one more time, and made itself into a tall, strong mountain.
  • It had experienced so many changes, and been through so much-but kept reinventing itself, growing from each seemingly impossible situation
  • Finally, it was now back to being a perfect red square.— But here is the kicker. It was not happy anymore. The red square felt confined by its four sides-and cramped by rigid corners

It could not and would not go back to being just a square—–So what did it do?  The square transformed itself into a window—-That looked at a mountain that gave birth to a river, crossed by a bridge, that led to a park that was home to a garden that had a lovely flowing  fountain.2981471

We all came into this program as our own versions of perfect squares. And we have all shared professional and life experiences that may have felt like we were being torn apart-As leaders, it is often hard— Dr. Claudia Edward said —“Sometimes the right thing is not the easy thing.” Simple, powerful words for leaders.

We also studied many complex issues about the state of the world— poverty, inequality, racism, sexism, scandal, deceit, crime and even redemption—We were sometimes torn up as we debated thGroup Shotese problems, but as we studied the issues, we were no longer content to stay on the sidelines. We slowly and surely were being developed as executive leaders and agents of social and organizational change.

Many of us faced personal situations that seemed to shatter us at the time—but we built our own bridges to others in our class who became like our family. We withstood the pressure, and like the square, transformed. And when we felt crumpled, and wrinkled, hanging on by a thread we “trusted the process.” We rallied—moving mountains to accomplish our goals. And we began to see our own organizations thorough a new set of eyes.

We are all leaving here today as windows. We have developed competencies from the challenging curriculum and work we have achieved. We have developed empathy by studying and debating issues related to social injustice and looking at issues from many different frames. We have devimageseloped courage, from knowing that the toughest problems we face as leaders will challenge us-but not defeat us.

The great French painter Henri Mattise said, “To look at something as though we had never seen it before requires great courage.” Mattise was not afraid to change the colors of the sky, the sun or the ocean. He was willing to step into the unknown, experiment and take risks, as we have been trained.

In the Leadership Challenge, Kouzes and Posner state that as leaders, our hearts, minds and souls are all necessary in order for us to paint a compelling vision, make tough decisions, and develop others. They also said we need “deep competence and cool confidence” to achieve our grand dreams. Now, we now stand ready to be transformational leaders.

As leaders, we now have the vision to see clearly through the windows we have become, to view the challenges of our worlds with empathy and to serve with confidence and competence. The dots have connected.
Thank you.

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National Opportunity Summit: When Young Adults Do Well, Communities Do Well

Providing equal access to opportunity for all Americans is the defining issue of our time. The most direct and powerful way to accomplish this goal is to dramatically improve education and employment prospects for teens and young adults. In addition, providing pathways back to education or to jobs for those already disconnected is an important part of the overall strategy.

In late February, Opportunity Nation convened leaders from business, nonprofits, elected officials and young adults to have a dialogue about the urgent crisis of youth unemployment and its impact on opportunity in America. The National Opportunity Summit, co-convened by the United Way Worldwide, created a national dialogue about the 5.7 million young people in America today not in school or working. These disconnected youth carry with them a huge opportunity loss. In Westchester, that number is estimated to be between 12,000 and 15,000 youth. According to one study, disconnected youth in the US represents a $93 billion loss each year, with most of the costs realized at the local level.

Dr. Marian Gryzlo, CEO of Think to Lead, participated as a leader at the Summit. As an Opportunity Leader, she met with other leaders during the event to discuss strategy and opportunities for statewide and organizational collaboration.

She joined fellow New Yorkers from Citizen Schools, Democracy Prep Public Schools, Turbo Vote and Iona College, meeting congressional staff from Senator Kristin Gillibrand’s office on Capitol Hill to discuss youth education to employment issues. They discussed reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (also known as No Child Left Behind), the Career and Technical Education Act (also known as Perkins), and the American Dream Account Act. They advocated for better ways to connect to, succeed in, and fund education.

“Youth education and employment pathways are one of the most critical economic and social issues of our time,” stated Gryzlo. “Without addressing it with a common agenda, an entire generation of young people will be lost to opportunity, while employers predict there will be over 3 million good jobs they cannot fill with qualified candidates from our country. It doesn’t add up.”

Speakers at the Summit, a powerhouse group of leaders from all political affiliations and sectors, included NJ Senator Cory Booker, CEO of the United Way Worldwide Stacey Steward, Starbucks Chief Community Officer Blair Taylor, and Miami Dade College President Eduardo Padron.

The collective voice of Summit participants echoed the positive theme “We Got This” as attendees tweeted during the two-day event. During the Summit AT&T ‘s Tim Wolff, Vice President of Construction and Engineering, announced a $3 million contribution to Genesys Works, an innovative social enterprise that places economically disadvantaged high school students into a professional career through workplace training and meaningful senior-year-long internships in businesses — including AT&T — across the country.

Throughout the two-day Summit, young leaders representing every state discussed the impact of youth unemployment and disconnection on their regions, but also shared positive solutions. Many launched their own organizations to address the issue to create jobs and reconnect youth.

According to one study, disconnected youth in the US represents a $93 billion loss each year, with most of the costs realized at the local level.

The National Opportunity Summit was hosted by Opportunity Nation and co-convened by the US Chamber of Commerce Foundation, Business Roundtable (BRT), United Way Worldwide and Jobs for America’s Graduates (JAG). The Summit is the first national opportunity event focused on the critically important issues of youth employment, skills training and meaningful cross-sector education and career pathways at both state and federal levels.  Opportunity Nation’s Steering Committee includes America’s Promise Alliance, CFED, Jobs for the Future, Jumpstart, Points of Light, Seattle Colleges, United Way Worldwide, World Vision and Year Up.

Each year, Opportunity Nation releases the annual Opportunity Index, a composite measure of 16 key economic, educational and civic factors that expand or restrict upward mobility for Americans, and provides and Opportunity Score for all 50 states and Washington DC and 2,900 counties. One of the indicators that correlates most closely with overall opportunity is the number of young Americans ages 16-24 who are neither in school nor working. When young adults are connected to school and work, communities are more likely to provide greater opportunity to their residents.

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Grad Nation Summit Celebrates the Partnership’s Progress and Promise

By Marian Gryzlo

April 30, 2014


General Colin Powell

“When children succeed, businesses succeed, communities succeed, and our nation succeeds.”  These words set the tone for the 2014 Grad Nation Summit convened by America’s Promise Alliance in Washington DC.

The education, nonprofit and business communities and young people collectively called for “new pillars of reform” supported by “actionable research” that gets to the root of the issue during the two-day summit. The event, attended by over 1,000 leaders, celebrated reaching the milestone of an 80% high school graduation completion rate for US children, the first time in the nation’s history.  However, the conversation also refocused intently on how to address the 20% of children and youth still left behind.


Chair of America’s Promise Alma Powell

Alma Powell, Chair  of America’s Promise Alliance, recalled her organization’s beginnings 17 years earlier, as an outcome of the historic President’s Summit for America’s Future when four living presidents and Nancy Reagan convened in Philadelphia. Mrs. Powell spoke of how, at that momentous summit, the presidents recognized, “the bottom line–what is good for our children, is good for our country.”

Calling it a “definable problem” General Colin Powell, Founding Chair of America’s Promise Alliance, spoke to an attentive and enthusiastic crowd.  “A child is at a disadvantage if that child does not have the presence of an adult who can pass on generations of good experiences, generations of what works and what doesn’t work; generations of what will destroy you and what will keep you in play– if that doesn’t come from the parents, the faith-based institutions.. if it is not there, it is our obligation to provide it.”

Marian Gryzlo & Alma Powell, Chair of America's Promise Alliance

Marian Gryzlo & Alma Powell, Chair of America’s Promise Alliance

He spoke of the importance of eliminating “drop out factories, failure factories”, which are down from 2,200 to 1,300 since the Grad Nation Campaign has taken on the issue. He called for the need to also recapture youth “who are out of the system and get them back in the system.”


US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan

Speakers included Secretary of Education Arne Duncan,  who called for a “sea change” to address the “state of lost opportunity”, the 20% of the young people who did not graduate, which represented 718,000 young people in 2012, mostly of African-American, Hispanic, Native American descent or with limited English proficiency. He called it a “matter of equity” and announced a new initiative for teacher preparation, Teach to Lead  to  address the issue.

John Gomperts, President and CEO of America’s Promise Alliance, said : “High school graduation is a crucial milestone in the journey toward adult success, but that adult success is really our goal-real opportunity for young people in America.

Senator Cory Booker called for the “collective will of society” and spoke of “leveling the playing field in the Power Ball of our kids” sharing stories of the challenges he saw on the ground as mayor of Newark, where many young lives were needlessly lost to the streets and crime. He emphasized the importance of investments in early childhood, “We know for every dollar spent in early childhood we get about $7 back, yet many low-income families are being left out.” He spoke of the “powerful impact” mentoring has on the outcomes of children and the “mountains yet to climb.”

“No more excuses, we have the resources, technology and data-we are only lacking the collective will, and I am confident if we stand together..we can find a way to get to the root.”

Lumina Foundation President and CEO  Jamie Merisotis spoke of the launch of a new online platform, Move to support moving educational attainment rates to 60% by 2020. He also discussed the report “Stronger America”   and called for a “student-centered” versus an institutional–centered or system-centered” approach to education.

Darren Walker, President of the Ford Foundation called for the need to “think of our communities more holistically to turn the dial on this” calling for “schools, employers, and universities come together to raise awareness and generate momentum.” He also discussed perceptions of race in America, asking, “How do we change our attitudes so that when we see young black and brown young men, we see assets not deficits?”

Caring adult mentors, student-centered education and innovation were emphasized as critical. Dr. Pam Cantor, physician and Founder and President of Turnaround for Children, called for schools that provide fortified environments, social supports and teachers trained in behavioral management. City Year CEO Michael Brown spoke of the need for “wrap around emotional and social supports” in schools. Other topics discussed included the trend of the decline in marriage and more children being raised by a single parent.

General Powell stated, “A child is at a disadvantage if that child does not have that presence of an adult who can pass on generations of good experience; generations of what works and what doesn’t work; generations of what will destroy you and what will keep you in play. If that doesn’t come from the parents, the faith-based institutions, if it not there– it is our obligation.”

Dr. Robert Balfanz, Co-director, Everyone Graduates, at John Hopkins University, spoke of the gains, and also the challenges emphasizing the importance to “greatly accelerate rates of graduation for young men  color.”  He emphasized what what is working to raise the graduation rate-awareness, accountability, secondary school reform, and enhanced student supports. He also encouraged attendees to look at their own community’s data from the U.S. Office of Civil Rights of the Department of Education, referring to “egregious practices” of suspension rates, referral rates to special education, and referrals to law enforcement. John Bridgeland, President of Civic Enterprises, joined him in discussing their new report “Building a Grad Nation Progress and Challenge in Ending the High School Dropout Epidemic” 

The summit ended on a high note with a performance by Rev. Nolan Williams, Jr.’s choral group NEWworks, performing an original song written for the event, which the audience sang along.083

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$250 Million Global Initiative to Address Skills Gap through Cross Sector Collaboration

Intern Luncheon 2010

Intern Luncheon 2010 (Photo credit: Grand Performances)

By Marian Gryzlo

Yesterday, JP Morgan Chase announced an unprecedented $250 million investment to fund workforce readiness  called New Skills at Work. This will be the largest ever private-sector effort aimed at addressing the “skills gap”. Organizations like the Institute for a Competitive Workforce  and the Aspen Fund for Community Solutions  have been calling for greater partnerships to address this educational/economic issue.

Leaders in business and government have  been calling for a greater focus on relevant skills and experiences for students that will address industry needs in a global economy. Now JP Morgan Chase is stepping up to the plate in a major way.

There have been urgent calls for collaboration across sectors to address the issue of young people neither in school nor working towards independence (White House Council on Community Solutions, 2012). Business advocacy groups claim education and workforce systems have not kept up with employer needs, leaving job seekers unprepared for modern jobs and 3 million U.S. jobs unfilled, creating a skills gap. Skill, fit and experience are described as major challenges in workforce development (Institute for a Competitive Workforce, 2012). According to a report sponsored by Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute, the skills gap affects manufacturers’ ability to grow.

Perceptions of Employers and Educators

In a major national study of business and higher education leader perceptions done by Civic Enterprises, data revealed educators place greatest priority on providing core academic knowledge and preparing students to be lifelong learners. Only 28 percent of educators indicated providing workforce knowledge was their most important priority, while to business leaders this issue is critical.  Also, higher education leaders are more likely to report they are doing a good job in educating young people, while employers are reporting that those same young people’s skills are inadequate for employer needs.

The findings of the Civic Enterprise are corroborated by a major study done in 2012 by the McKinsey Center for Government, “Education to Employment: Designing a System that Works.”  The authors of the global study found that employers view a lack of skills in the emerging workforce as a significant challenge. Also, the opinions of young people in the US revealed 45 percent are not confident their postsecondary studies improve their chances of getting a job. McKinsey’s study explored attitudinal and behavioral questions in a survey of 2,832 employers, 908 providers of postsecondary education, and 4,656 youth. Results revealed fewer than half of youth and employers believed that new graduates are adequately prepared for entry-level positions, compared to 72 percent of education providers who believed new graduates are prepared for work.

Results also revealed that one-third of employers say they never communicate with education providers, and that of those that do, fewer than half described it as effective. Meanwhile, more than a third of postsecondary institutions state they are unable to estimate the job-placement rates of their graduates. Of those who say they can, 20 percent overestimated this rate compared with what was reported by youth themselves.

So is New Skills at Work the disruptive innovation many are hoping for or another CSR initiative that aligns with corporate strategic interests, or both? With the right players at the table and an issue where the stakes are high for both people and for profits, this just might be an approach that will be game-changing, Let’s hope so for the young people.

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Partnerships, Politics and Public Funding for Children and Youth

Children are priceless

Children are priceless (Photo credit: Westchester Children’s Association)

Dec. 5, 2013

By Marian Gryzlo

“The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is today.” Chinese Proverb.

Decisions impacting children made now will impact the fate of a community well into its future. There are an estimated 225,675 children under age 18 living in Westchester County, New York, one of the nation’s wealthiest counties. At a public hearing last night before the legislature to hear from citizens on the $1.74 billion proposed 2014 county budget, there was praise and pleas from representatives of about 30 nonprofit groups encouraging the county to increase, or at least not decrease, their funding.

A handful of young people,  parents, and leaders of nonprofits  that provide services to a broad spectrum of  youth came out last night, to make a plea to maintain funding for programs ranging from youth leadership, after school programming, the arts, safe shelter, food, housing, and a program that provides an alternative for Westchester children being jailed in adult prisons while awaiting trial, one of only two such models programs in the nation.

The hearing was a parade of people, young and old, wearing hats, carrying signs and waiting in a long line that snaked around the ornate chamber walls. Children’s excited shouts could be heard from the lobby, as dozens of parents brought their little ones with them to support increased funding for childcare. Children, carrying handmade signs, cheered on their parents who implored legislators to increase subsidies to allow them to work and their children to have adequate care. Research shows that children in quality childcare enter school more ready to learn, important to what is called the cradle to career pipeline.

Kathy Halas, head of the Child Care Council of Westchester presented stark statistics about child care costs of $14,000 a year per child, described as a “heavy lift for those desperate to go to work and equally desperate to have safe places for their children.” The county budget proposal includes a $2.5 million increase in Title XX funding, which funds childcare slots for low-income families.

About three dozen nonprofit organizations are currently considered contract agencies of the county that provide services to youth. The county is considering allocating about $1.7 million to continue to fund service contracts of these groups, as well as $200,000 in funding earmarked for children and youth services, referred to as Invest In Kids,  derived from local tax levy funding earmarked for positive youth development programs and administered by Westchester County Youth Bureau. This  total amount represents about $13 per young person in the county.

Middle and high school students from Family Service of Westchester’s Westchester County Youth Council,  spoke passionately about their experiences in its leadership development program. “My voice is stronger, more confident,” said one 17-year old speaker, who talked about how the group, which involves youth from schools throughout the county, confronts such issues as racism, bullying and issues facing communities in Westchester.

Frank Williams, Jr. executive director of the White Plains Youth Bureau, which serves over 2,000 youth, spoke to the board, saying, “You stand in the gap that every child in our county has hope, opportunity, education, support and a job, which begins at the early stages of development, their birth.”

The time may be fertile to plant more seeds of opportunity.

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What We Can Learn from the Mayflower Compact

"The Landing of the Pilgrims."(1877)...

“The Landing of the Pilgrims.”(1877) by Henry A. Bacon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Nov. 30, 2013

By Tom Frankie

This time of year, along with commercials for every product under the sun, we also begin to see a decidedly negative view of business in the media. Stories about corporate influence often have a negative spin. We read about how many corporations are heartless and repressive, and wielding capitalism as a generally unjust system of exploitation, as we happily spend money on items they insist we need.

Why would we willingly go forth and contribute to the problem if these things are true? I submit we  can learn much by taking a look at how the Pilgrims approached business, the work ethic, and yes, capitalism as a positive tenet of our democracy.

We all learn in school that the Pilgrims fled Europe in search of religious freedom, but only about half of the passengers on the Mayflower were actually Pilgrims. Many were “strangers,” merchants and craftsmen who were not part of the Pilgrim’s congregation at all, but were included to help make the venture a success. The Mayflower Compact essentially was an agreement to form a commune, where property and labor would be shared by all.

The Mayflower arrived in Plymouth too late in the year for the Pilgrims to begin building a suitable settlement. They spent the winter largely living on the Mayflower while they built their first houses. By spring, half of them were dead. Spring brought much needed help from the local Indians, but still the Pilgrims struggled. Men took turns working the land while the women cared for the children. Harvests were shared by all, but there never seemed to be enough to eat, as resources were continually squandered. The first three years found the Pilgrims starving and dying every winter.

In 1623, Plymouth abandoned the communal model as the colony’s governor, William Bradford decreed that each family should work its own piece of land, keeping what it produced. Suddenly, everyone worked harder and resources were more carefully managed. Women and children joined the men in the fields and the harvests increased sharply. The Pilgrims never again starved. The work ethic and incentive of personal success that capitalism brings with it saved the colony.

I set out to find a local example of capitalism doing similar good, and I found Paul, who owns a small company in my own neighborhood.

The company is small, but employs about fifty factory workers, all of whom live in the community. They are unionized and Paul has worked hard over the years to maintain a good relationship with both the employees and their union. Forty-two of the employees have been with the company for over 15 years. Paul told me he believes he has provided them with a good job that allows them the means of a comfortable life in a good community. In return, they have contributed greatly to the success of both Paul and his company.

In 2008, when the economy began its decline, Paul found himself in the position of needing to make personnel cuts. He presented the problem to the employees and their union representatives, who agreed to be furloughed and work a reduced, four day week. Six months later, the economy and the prospects of the company failed to improve. Paul again approached the employees and not wanting to put anyone out of work, proposed resorting to a three day week. To Paul’s thinking, three fifths of one’s salary was better than zero fifths. The union representatives, however, explained that while their members could live on the wages paid through unemployment insurance, a three day work week would simply not provided them sufficient income. The result was a mutual agreement that one dozen workers would be discharged.

This was not a good situation for any party involved, but it was a decision made and agreed to with all stake holders understanding the situation fully, and having a voice at the table. I hazard the media would have portrayed the situation differently, most likely as a simple effort to preserve the company during trying economic times. While that is certainly true, the situation was also the product of true transparency, free communication and open negotiation. The trust and good faith those communications yielded paid large dividends by 2011, when Paul was able to rehire each of the dozen unemployed workers.

Open communication got Paul’s company and its employees through a tough time. While we may portray capitalism as a heartless, unjust system of exploitation, any truly accurate portrait of corporate America must also include examples such as I have described. From the extreme generosity of the Gates Foundation to the countless lives changed and decidedly improved thanks to an IPO issued by Apple in 1980, capitalism and American corporations have provided a level of social justice that, while not readily apparent, is undeniable.

Many criticize the fact that the primary responsibility of any company is to act on behalf of its stakeholders, but making a profit does create jobs and increase wealth. As long as the company is behaving responsibly, making a profit may in itself be the most socially responsible thing it can do. Different interest groups will always judge the actions of a company based on their differing perspectives. Corporate leaders must therefore be mindful of those differing perspectives, develop the ability to manage trade-offs, and be prepared to handle unintended consequences. The corporations demonized in the media may have failed to do these things, but in generalizing that standard to all corporations, I believe the media do society an injustice.

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Mobilize the Community or March Alone?


Students (Photo credit: Editor B)

Nov. 26, 2013

By Marian Gryzlo

Mobilize the community or march alone? Encourage community  participation  or keep the public outside looking in?  Which is more effective?

Something interesting is happening in New York State. People who are  outraged over the poor performance and services delivered by certain public school districts are coming out- but not too demand better public schools.  Those mobilizing in New York are demanding tax credits to support more school choice.

Just last week in Westchester, 5,000 students rallied to support Education Investment Tax Credit Legislation,  New York State Assembly Bill 1826-B and Senate Bill 4099-A.  The measure would provide a tax credit to individuals and business for  donations to public schools, school districts provide for scholarships to  help low- and middle-income students attend certain private schools. The  bill would also reimburse teachers for spending their own money on classroom  supplies.

So what does all this mean to children living in Westchester County, which  boasts the  some of the highest performing schools in the nation, as well as  some of the lowest? A tale of two cities, in which zip codes and school  district boundary lines often determine a child’s future more than their  intelligence or aspirations.

There is no similar, local public outcry by students or families demanding  better from their public education. Taxpayers, who write the checks that  fund the low-performing public schools, quietly decide to send their  children elsewhere if they can afford it, often not questioning who is  investing their hard-earned tax dollars or how funds are invested, evidenced  by dismal voter turnout in school board elections in Westchester County.

According to a data chart created by the Westchester Children’s Association, the lowest performing  school districts have the lowest voter turnout in school board and budget
elections. Only 3.2 percent of eligible voters voted in the Mount Vernon  school election; 2.5 in White Plains; 4 percent in Peekskill. On the  flipside, among the highest-performing school districts numbers are up to 10  times higher: Pleasantville voters, 26 percent, Irvington, 20.1 percent.

I recently attended a small holiday gathering, hosted on a Sunday afternoon  in the home of an executive who works in corporate responsibility for a major corporation,  He has been advocating passionately for changes in public education to better serve students for years,  and his company has been funding initiatives that have proven results or that offer new approaches that are often innovative. He is one of the few corporate people I known that actually  attends school board meetings, asking questions and raising issues, even  rallying his neighbors on his own time to get more involved and pay more  attention.

During the enlightening conversation, the group of individuals from finance,  real estate, housing, education, law and an elected school board member  talked about public education politics, local school district challenges,  trends and the consequences for allowing things in its community to remain  the same. While not all in agreement about the best approach, all were in  agreement that it is complicated-and urgent, even for those who do not have  children in the Mount Vernon public schools.

Dr. Claudia Edwards, a professor of education and author of, Who   Stole the Public Schools from the Public,  a book based on her 2-year study of the  Mount Vernon school district, discussed her findings about community  disengagement and the need for the public to reclaim their public schools  and demand better for young people. Students in Mount Vernon were among the  lowest scorers on state mandated math and language arts proficiency tests  that were administered last spring. While approximately 40 percent of
Westchester County students in grades 3 through 8 showed proficiency in the  two subjects, Mount Vernon cumulatively averaged just 13.8 percent  proficiency.

The net of the conversation revealed that many people do not understand how  the system operates, where there might be an opportunity to make a change or  if their voice would ever make a difference. Listening to this, I thought of  a quote I once heard “If you think you are too small to make a difference,  try sleeping with a mosquito.” Mount Vernon is a microcosm of the challenges facing urban/suburban public education. Stay tuned.


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Raising Healthy Children or Hardened Criminals? Leaders Discuss New York’s Age of Criminal Responsibility


Courtroom (Photo credit: srqpix)

By Marian Gryzlo

Westchester Children’s Association convened dozens of community members from government, education, social services, the court system, and advocacy groups  recently for a Town Hall Meeting to discuss the “Raise the Age” of criminal responsibility in New York. The event was part of a larger statewide mobilization effort advocating for changing the age of criminal responsibility in New York, currently 16 years of age, to 18  which has already occurred in 48 other states.

New York State as an outlier on the issue of the age of criminal responsibility for juveniles, aligned only with North Carolina in its resistance to changing a system developed in the 1970 as a response to a New York City crime wave as part of a sweeping “get tough on crime” package. The overflow crowd in White Plains viewed a compelling video produced by the Correctional Association of New York and listened to its executive director Soffiyah Elijah speak passionately about the lives of children being destroyed once put through the adult system. Some say the outdated approach is based more on economics than theories of justice, as prisons are keeping local economies strong and employment high in certain communities where they are located.

This not only a local, but also has global implications. I was surprised to discover the US is one of only three countries, including Somalia and South Sudan, that has not ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. As recently as 2005, the US was one of only six countries in the world in which the juvenile death penalty was lawful and has been responsible for four out of the six juvenile executions worldwide since 2002, according to Human Rights Watch.

Dr. Traci Gardner, a pediatrician at Children’s Village who has testified before Congress on this issue, talked about the science of the adolescent brain that impairs judgment and decision-making until well into the early 20s. Allison Lake, Deputy Director of Westchester Children’s Association spoke about the implications of New York’s current treatment of children as adults, even those charged with misdemeanors, the majority of cases. She reported that research comparing NY youth treated as adults versus NJ child offenders of the same age who were put through an alternate juvenile justice system, found NY youth were 85% more likely to be re-arrested for a violent crime than the youth who were prosecuted in the NJ juvenile justice system. Also:

  • About 80% of juveniles released from adult facilities will re-offend, likely to commit crimes that are more serious
  • Preventing youth from becoming lifelong offenders saves from $2.6 to $5.8 million
  • Adult system emphasizes punishment: the juvenile justice system emphasizes rehabilitation.
  • Jailing young people in adult prisons socializes youth into a culture of violence and criminality.
  • Youth in adult jails are more likely to commit suicide, be a victim of rape and to report being beaten.
  • A permanent criminal record often prevents access to higher education, housing and employment.

Throughout the past decade, CT has worked to reform its juvenile justice system by expanding community-based alternatives to detention, improving conditions in detention centers, and working to reduce school-based arrests.  New York State Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson, sponsor of Senate Bill S1409-2013 which would raise the age of criminal responsibility in New York to 18, shared her perspective on the issue, and described the legislative process of such a change, indicating the bill is held up in the Senate Codes Committee.

Amid judges, senators, doctors and ethicists on the panel, the most compelling presentation did not include statistics. The quiet voice of a tall young man wearing a suit and tie and standing tall, shared his thoughts on his adult prison experience at age 16. While he did not look like he yet shaves, he overcame his recent history to stand in front of over 100 people,. He was not angry, but thoughtful, discussing how youth in jail are changed in ways that are often irreparable. He was cheered on by about a dozen young men in the back rows, who appeared positive and hopeful, residents of the Youth Shelter Program of Westchester, an alternative to jail for young men awaiting disposition of various criminal charges.

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Striving for Collective Impact

Nov. 19, 2013

By Marian Gryzlo

Leaders from every sector in Yonkers convened to deliberate, design and dream about the education, well-being and future of Yonkers’ children at a design forum at the Yonkers’ Strive Cradle to Career (C2C) initiative being planned for city. It is a new approach to educational achievement for the Yonkers City School District, announced at press conference by city leaders and Strive leaders before the event.

Dozens of participants representing public education, childcare, business, housing, government and nonprofits from throughout Yonkers convened at the Hudson River Museum to spend a full day developing a vision, mission and action plan.

Convened by the Office of the Mayor and the Superintendent of Schools in Yonkers, the event was facilitated by Colin Groth, Director of Strategic Assistance for StriveTogether, a Cincinnati-based organization that has already helped launch 100 such community-based, collective impact initiatives nationwide, 11 in New York State. Strive proposes eight indicators of student success, including kindergarten readiness, 4th grade reading and postsecondary enrollment, and encourages each Strive community to develop its own unique indicators and measures as well.

The room was filled with energy, focused conversation, and flip charts, with engaged participants encouraged to get up and post their ideas, opinions and preferences on  charts lining the walls. Participants were challenged to share, discuss and comment on what their organizations could bring to a “bigger table”.

Organizations including Pathways to Success, Yonkers Hispanic Advisory Board, Yonkers Partners in Education, Yonkers Family YMCA , and Westchester Community College participated, and many organizations were involved in the pre-planning of the event. Vanessa Threatte, the executive director of New York’s Cradle to Career Alliance based out of the State University of New York, a national partner, reported there are 11 communities in NY that have launched Strive initiatives: Rochester, Albany, the South Bronx, Astoria and Broome County.

Some key takeaways from the presentations and comments included the importance of:
◾Common definition of outcomes
◾Commitment to continuous improvement
◾Common measures across communities
◾Problem definition, manageable scope of long and short-term outcomes
◾A “network charter” of stakeholders at the same table

Yonkers will be an educational community to watch in the coming year, and one of the state’s largest and most diverse city-school districts approaches a new way of improving educational outcomes.

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