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Community Outreach for Involvement & Collaborative Support

Mrs. Sue Peterson

Mrs. Sue Peterson

We are blessed to live in a community that cares about kids.  A community that is resource rich in service offerings and activities for children and families, a community where donors will open their pocketbooks time and time again to provide outstanding opportunities to less fortunate children.  I am continually amazed at the generosity we see in the Coulee Region.  From food pantries to clothes closets, camp send-a-kid to scholarship banquets, new playgrounds or theaters, this community is generous beyond belief.

With the acceptance of donors’ generosity comes great responsibility.  A responsibility to be a good steward of program and organization funds, a responsibility to provide meaningful and beneficial programs and services, and a responsibility to hire staff that are committed to making a difference and hold true to your organization’s mission.  One of the greatest opportunities to effectively and efficiently use donors’ funds is through collaboration.  In La Crosse, we “do collaboration” well.

Over the past year the Community Outreach for Involvement and Collaborative Support Subcommittee has focused a great deal on collaboration.  What can we learn from one another?  How can we work together more efficiently?  While these questions answer what we do, they also address the more important underlying questions.  Where are the gaps in services for our kids? How will students benefit? What is in the best interest of families?

While many of the organizations participating in this subcommittee offer similar services (i.e. after school programming, tutoring, recreation, youth sports), we agree that there are more than enough youth to go around.  We also agree that there are barriers to participation that must be addressed including transportation, shortage of volunteers, parental/guardian awareness of programs.  We know that to best meet the needs of La Crosse’s youth we must work together to address these issues.

Research tells us that students’ life experiences and opportunities impact student achievement.  Vacations, exposure to various cultures, and interaction with different professionals provides important background information, builds vocabulary, and provides important context for students.  Students living in poverty, nearly half of the students in La Crosse schools, lack these opportunities and therefore are often at a deficit when compared to their classmates.  Organizations like the YMCA, Ho-Chunk Nation, Boys and Girls Club, the School District of La Crosse’s After School Programs, and Hmong Cultural Center work hard to “even the playing field” by providing opportunities and experiences for students.  We know that a student can read that the oceans are filled with salt water, but one mouthful of salty water and the fact will never be forgotten or they can read about the Hoover Dam, but seeing its impressive magnitude makes it and the understanding of water irrigation unforgettable.

One of the goals of the School District of La Crosse is to graduate students who are career and college ready.  The experiences and opportunities youth and family serving organizations provide to students are critical to the school district reaching that goal.  Perhaps Albert Einstein said it best, “The only source of knowledge is experience.”  We are thankful for the partner organizations that build students’ knowledge through enriching experiences, experiences we know will impact their future.

Together From the Start

The collaboration effort began back in July of 2005 at the recommendation of then School District of La Crosse Superintendent Gerald Kember. He had heard about a collaboration effort at the State School Board Convention with the City of Whitefish Bay and the Janesville School District and how that they have worked collaboratively with local government. At the recommendation of Superintendent Kember and County Administrator Steve O’Malley and Mayor Mark Johnsrud, the collaboration was formed. The purpose of the collaboration is to improve services to residents and save money for tax payers.

The first meeting was a working session to create a listing of existing/on-going collaborations and a list of “possibilities for new collaborations.” The existing collaborative efforts and possible collaborations were grouped into six areas and a subgroup was formed around these groupings.

The six sub-groups in the collaboration include: publicity/administration, joint purchasing, human resources, buildings and grounds, client services, and information services. Over these past five years, the various subgroups have collaborated on items such as joint purchasing of paper, fuel, bringing in national speakers on diversity and government efficiency, discussions on Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP), high speed data collaborations, joint Earth Day activities, etc. The members of the collaboration include the Mayor Mathias Harter, School District of La Crosse Superintendent Randy Nelson and County Administrator Steve O’Malley. The sub-groups consist of the department heads and the administrators of the three La Crosse governmental entities.

The Client Services sub-group name morphed into Children and Family Services as it became clear that the real focus of the sub-group was on improving services and outcomes for children and families in the community and at school.

Below are videos from our Rebuilding for Learning Summits held in 2011 and 2012.