When “Random Acts of Improvement” Aren’t Enough

April 13th, 2011

Category: News

Forty-three years ago the residents, businesses and city streets of Wilmington, Delaware were under national guard protection.  Martin Luther King had just been slain and for ten months—the longest non-wartime occupation of any US city—Wilmington was on edge.  The traditional respect for our city’s diversity took a pretty big hit, and the city’s resurgence over these many years has been slow.  It’s only been in the last decade that the concerted and collective efforts of our public, private, and civic leaders have rejuvenated the lifeblood of our city.

Yesterday, the importance of collective—rather than random—action resurged.  Almost 70 Delaware philanthropists gathered in the newly rejuvenated Queen Theatre on Wilmington’s Market Street to launch the new Delaware Grantmakers Association and to discuss the significant ROI that accrues when people work together to meet a shared goal.  While education—and Delaware’s “Race to Deliver”—was the reason for our gathering, The Queen, itself, exemplified just how essential partnerships among public, private and civic players can be.  With the opening last week of The Queen’s “World Café Live,” Wilmington now has another great live music venue, which already has attracted thousands to a building left vacant and deteriorating for 50 years.  The importance of this most recent reinvestment is that The Queen sits next to the Delaware Academy for Art and Design and across the street from Kuumba Academy Charter School; these, in turn, are down the street from the Grand Opera House and Christina Cultural Arts Center, and just blocks from scores of new condos and apartment units, the Hotel DuPont, and DuPont Theatre.  None of these improvements was random.  They resulted from concerted, coordinated, and collective efforts to revitalize our city.

Our keynote speaker, Richard Laine, education director of The Wallace Foundation, drew the perfect parallel.  Random acts of improvement have their time and place, but they are inadequate to the task of improving our schools so that all children benefit.  Successfully transforming our schools takes many things:  a shared vision and plan; solid research and data to back them up; knowledge about what works; strategies that actually rise to the level of the problem at hand; a focus on accountability paired with the supports that people need to succeed; and a focus on systemic, rather than incremental, reform.  We can all work in silos, invest individually, craft parallel strategies and, likely, something positive will result.  But those energies and dollars can be leveraged for much greater effect through collaborative action that has collective impact.

We believe we are doing just this for public education in Delaware through Vision 2015, Race to the Top, and a productive partnership with business, education, and public leaders.  Together we are focusing on strategies equal to the enormous task at hand that will serve the students who matter most.  To learn more, or to work with us on this, please be in touch (djacobson@rodelfoundationde.org).

(For those of you traveling up or down the mid-Atlantic corridor, come see what Market Street has to offer.  It’s been a long time coming, but one whopping partnership has resulted in something great.)

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Dori Jacobson