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Louisville United: Ready Families and Communities + Ready Schools = Ready Kids

Integrated Community Data & Support System to help build a defined system for early care and education to ensure early school success.

Photo of Amy
2 1

Written by

Name or Organization

Metro United Way , on behalf of the Ready for K Alliance which is a partnership of local organizations, businesses, and community leaders that are working together with parents, teachers and early childhood care providers to increase engagement and involvement to ensure children start kindergarten ready to succeed. This alliance is one of the four pillars withn Louisville’s Cradle to Career framework.


Louisville, Kentucky

What is your stage of development?

  • Advanced Innovator with 3 to 10+ years of experience in ECD


  • Non-profit

What is the stage of your proposal?

  • Full-scale roll-out: I have completed a pilot and analyzed the impact of that pilot on the users I am trying to reach with my idea. I am ready to expand the pilot significantly.

Describe how your solution could be a game-changer for your selected Opportunity Area (600 characters)

Unlike the K-12 system, early care and education services lack a defined system and consist of a highly diverse set of providers and funding streams. This reality makes it more difficult to access and use data to guide strategic community-level planning and action. Our idea is to transform low-income and disinvested communities using evidence-based intervention strategies, supported by data and place-based research build the system. Our know what works to improve quality child care and increase parent engagement. The strategies need to be overlaid with the data to scale what works.

Select an Innovation Target

  • System design: Solutions that target changing larger systems.

Tell us more about your innovation (1500 characters)

A strong start in school and strong families who can support their child’s education.

What problem are you aiming to solve? (3 sentences)

Educational attainment offers the greatest opportunity to impact the long-term success of individuals and our community. In 2016-2017, only 52% of children entered kindergarten prepared. In the 7 priority zip codes, where families have the least access, support and opportunity, only 40% of children entered prepared.

Explain your idea (5000 characters)

Transform the close to 30 elementary schools in the 7 priority zip codes into the ‘Learning & Service Hub’ of the community through: comprehensive support for families, high quality child care, early identification of developmental delays and integrated data systems. High quality social service professionals provide comprehensive services to families within walking distance to eliminate or reduce barriers. This delivery model connects a full system of support including basic needs, financial stability and health. ‘Learning and Service Hubs’ allow communities to build upon strengths and assets and realize cost savings and other efficiencies through use of shared space and services. A ‘high quality’ pipeline from birth-3rd grade is defined to ensure children have high quality experiences before they enter Kindergarten and transition strong through the primary grades. Working families are supported through high quality child care centers located within their community. Centers are transformed through robust professional development, proven strategies that increase adult-child interaction and play-based environments. Pediatricians identify potential developmental delays through well-child visits so that concerns can be detected early and high quality early intervention services are delivered before a child starts school. Parents and caregivers are supported as they learn developmental milestones and early warning signs. In this solution, each of the schools are reimagined-stipends and other incents are provided to attract and retain ‘best in class ‘staff so that every single child within the 7 priority zip codes has the opportunity for a ‘best in class’ educational foundation to support their becoming a successful, contributing members of society. Finally, this collaborative network uses an integrated community data system that collects and collates data from cross-sector providers in health, education and human services to enable coordinated, comprehensive support to meet the full needs of individuals and families in our community. This information and coordination among and between partners addresses interconnected, complex needs.

How does or how could your idea impact low-income children? (1500 characters)

The effects of multidimensional poverty do not just add up, they compound. Each additional disadvantage that a person experiences multiplies their barriers to success and well-being. Not only is there a personal cost to poverty (those living in poverty have a life expectancy that is 12 years less than those not living in poverty), but our community is less competitive because we have fewer people in the workforce, less earnings, and more costs to the community. Children are most impacted, growing up without the basic supports (food, shelter, stable family, etc.), necessary to get the start in life they need to succeed. Currently only 53% of children enter kindergarten ready to learn and 66% of our high school students don’t graduate college and career ready. Data for our community shows that black citizens are much more likely to live in concentrated poverty than white citizens, creating poorer outcomes for black youth and causing long-standing racial tensions in our community that must be addressed. The interventions and supports necessary to address the multidimensional needs of children and families living in concentrated poverty exist in our city today. However, our current ecosystem is disconnected and inefficient and does not work in concert to lift people out of poverty.

Scale: Describe how your idea could reach a significant number of end-users. (1500 characters)

When children start school behind, they stay behind, and then they are off-target at the critical third-grade level. Research shows that the negative effects of a poor transition to kindergarten are magnified for at-risk children, such as those who live in our target zip codes. Data shows a correlation between: • The number of children who miss the first day of school (because of late registration) and financial loss for school districts. • The Kindergarten Screen scores of kids who register late Research also shows that it’s not just kids, but also schools, that need to be “ready” in order for the kids to have a successful kindergarten experience. In our community, there is a gap in organization coherence around early school success. Many departments within the school system have a hand in it, many well-intentioned organizations play a role in it,but no single entity “owns” it. Our data show large, systemic gaps include a lack of coordination, a lack of ownership, a disconnected system and not enough strategies that work have been taken to scale. One eye-opening gap we discovered is that there is little to no intentional engagement of schools with families prior to kindergarten.

Feasibility: Where are you with understanding the feasibility of your idea? Describe what you’ve done so far and your plans. (3000 characters)

Our children’s earliest experiences - with their families, with their caregivers, with their healthcare providers – establish the foundation for future success. At Metro United Way, our vision is a community whose people achieve their fullest potential. We fight for the education, health and financial stability of every person in every community. Through our work as the community lead for the early childhood education pillar in the cradle to career initiative, Metro United Way has changed the dialog around the importance of focusing on children's development during 0-5 years of age. At Metro United Way we have many strengths as an organization – fundraising and funder most often come to mind – but our greatest strength lies in our ability to unite people and resources to create solutions that solve problems. So, while we know what works, the results are limited to the resources we have and the challenges are increasingly more complex, interconnected and deep rooted. So, our work must become more strategic, more connected and more innovative. You’ll find Metro United Way at these tables…..leading or partnering in many of these conversations. -79% of partners report that the Ready for K Alliance is making progress and in improving 1). Access and Quality of child care centers, 2). Family and caregiver Engagement and 3). Improved Transitioning to kindergarten. -To date, the Ready for K Alliance has mobilized over 2.4m in new funding to support early care and education. -Ready for K Alliance was recognized at the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading Pacesetter Honors last summer in Denver for the school readiness component of the grade-level reading work and will participated in the All-American City Awards Panel. -Experienced a 190% increase above baseline over the last two years for on-time Kindergarten Registration. -Children that attend Excellent Academy early learning centers are 2 times more likely to be ready for kindergarten compared to demographically like peers who did not attend. -Teachers who participate in the Excellence Academy early learning centers have a 71% retention rate. -High quality classroom environments and child/teacher interactions in our Excellence Academy early learning centers are consistently meeting or exceeding national averages. Developmental Screening Appears to be Associated with Kindergarten Readiness. -The odds of being ready for kindergarten for those completing four or more Ages and Stages Questionnaire: Social Emotional scale was almost six times that of children who completed only one questionnaire, controlling for demographic characteristics and developmental level.

Tell us more about you (3000 characters)

We are in the middle of a comprehensive Louisville study to compare the geographic distribution of early care and education providers (supply) and children likely to need those services (demand). The difference between the spatial distributions of supply and demand will be used to rank zip codes based on need. This pragmatic community-based approach to early childhood work makes this study unique. Included in this zip code level analysis will be an identification of which zip codes have the greatest need for additional services, including an analysis of program type (Early Head Start, Head Start, state Pre-K, subsidized child care and general market rate child care). Additionally, our study will produce a hypothetical operating pro forma for a full day full year child care center that includes assumptions about the number of children the center serves, as well as age ranges and family income ranges of children served, with a goal to demonstrate the financial requirements of operating such a center. This access and quality study and financial modeling work will inform strategic planning and allocation of resources to maximize early childhood efforts in Louisville. The study will help ensure that investments of resources improve early childhood development opportunities for the greatest number of children. By assessing the needs and identifying the service gaps along with developing a funding model to sustain them, the combined inquiry will provide data to inform strategic investment in program expansion, facility modernization, site selection for new centers and programs, targeted communication to communities, providers, and policymakers regarding the need to strengthen and build the early care and education system that we need in Louisville.

Do you have the people and partners you need to do what you’ve described? (600 characters)

We know the strategies that work We have more early childhood data now--than we've ever had before to understand the landscape We have the right people at the table. We need to ensure that strategies that work are scaled, we're reallocating dollars when programs don't work and build a seamless support for children and families.

Would you like mentoring support?

  • Yes

Are you willing to share your email contact information submitted on OpenIDEO with Gary Community Investments?

  • Yes, share my contact information

[Optional] Biography: Upload your biography. Please include links to relevant information (portfolio, LinkedIn profile, organization website, etc).

Amy Neal is the Vice President of Early Care and Education at Metro United Way where she serves on the organization's Strategic Leadership Team. She earned her M.Ed. from The College of Mount Saint Joseph in Cincinnati, Ohio and her undergraduate degree from the University of Kentucky in Lexington, Kentucky. Her work experiences include classroom teaching, family and community engagement, consulting and collective impact.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Iliriana Kacaniku

Dear Amy,
Welcome to the Early Childhood Innovation Prize. We're thrilled to host your idea and help it grow through our human-centered design approach and toolkits. I enjoyed reading your idea and learning about effect of multidimensional poverty and the importance of data in coordinating the services in 7 priority zip codes. It would be helpful for the sponsor and the community to learn a bit more on yur solution and in particular how do you envision using the evidence to create strategies that will guide community-level planning and action. What is your vision of a solution that will focus on benefitting children 0-3 years old?
Since you are at the full-scale roll-out, do you have any feedback or challenge that you would like to share and engage the community in the conversation? We have recently shared out User Experience and Feedback and Prototype toolkits (available on the home page of this prize). Both of these tools can serve you well in organizing the feedback into an innovative solution and then prototyping it and testing it again.
Check them out and let us know how can we help.
Best regards,

Photo of Amy

Thank you for your questions.  I have questions for you, too!
Our solution is to build a system for 0-3.  Using established channels ;including  corporate (pediatricians and hospitals) and grassroots efforts (churches, home visitation, library).  We have very strong data that show the impact (and potential) of developmental screening but we are not reaching near enough children.    How can more from our team in Louisville interact and help our proposal grow?