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City Heights Nonprofit Struggles To Connect With San Diego Businesses

April 23, 2014 1:21 p.m.


Tad Parzen
, Executive Director, City Heights Partnership for Children

Kevin Crawford, President and CEO, United Way of San Diego County

Related Story: City Heights Nonprofit Struggles To Connect With San Diego Businesses


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Our top story on Midday Edition, the struggle to get San Diego businesses engaged in a City Heights education initiative. Three years ago the City Heights partnership for children was launched. The idea was to join with San Diego Unified School District and the business community to create a cradle to college to career education effort in City Heights. But a recent case study by the Harvard Business School notes how the effort to has struggled to connect with San Diego businesses. Meanwhile children and the poor and underserved areas of the city are waiting to see the full realization of this business agenda. I would like to welcome my guests, Tad Parzen, Executive Director of the City Heights Partnership for Children. Welcome to the program.

TED PARZEN: Thank you, it is good to be here with you.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Kevin Crawford is President and CEO of United Way of San Diego County. Kevin, welcome.

KEVIN CRAWFORD: Thank you, it is my pleasure to be here.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now Ted, the City Heights Partnership for Children is the coordinator of this education initiative, what kind of success of you had so far?

TAD PARZEN: We have had wonderful success, especially in the early childhood space. Some 5000 kids received by primary and secondary vision screening as we listen to our partners in the schools and ask them what are some of the primary roadblocks to success for kids. And immediately out of the principal's mouths was vision, and we all remember kids who acted up in class early, it turned out to not be a behavior problem, it was a vision problem. They couldn't see the board, or they could not read the book. So we were able to coordinate an effort where 5000 preschool through fifth graders received primary and secondary screenings if they needed it, and then about 500 of them received the glasses that they needed right at school, no-cost, never having to leave the neighborhood. And so many of those kids would never have got either of the screenings, or the glasses, and would have struggled getting to third grade literacy proficiency.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: This is obviously a multifaceted education initiative for the kids in City Heights, what would you say Tad, was the overall goal of the program?

TAD PARZEN: Well, this is San Diego's regional cradle to college or career impact initiative. Our goal is to support every child, every step of the way, so that San Diego reaches its potential by preparing young people to be participating contributing members of society.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Finishing school and getting a job?

TAD PARZEN: Right, that is the endgame to make sure that everyone has a well rounded, well supported 360∞ supports so they can get to the point in adulthood, where they can really succeed in the community in whatever their path is.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And Kevin, if you could, how were you involved in the original vision for this project? How would local businesses ultimately be involved if that original vision was manifested?

KEVIN CRAWFORD: The original vision started by Price Charities, and Tad was a part of Price Charities. Only in this last year did United Way and up being the anchor for this. So, the partnerships, the City Heights ownership is actually part of United Way right now. And in the business community has been having a long history of support of United Way in partnership with United Way and consider them to be very significant contributors, both with intellectual capital and financial capital to help us with our agendas. They are certainly seeing the effects that are taking place in City Heights right now, and it is getting their attention and they are enthusiastic about it, from all I can tell.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And yet, Tad you say on a scale of 1 to 10, I think we're at a four on mobilizing the business involvement, what do you mean by that?

TAD PARZEN: We have a long way to go, we have made a lot of headway in building a new relationship between the nonprofit sector, the education sector and the business sector. And my mother taught me better manners than to disagree with my host within the first ten minutes, but in this case calling it a struggle is not exactly right. We are actually a lot further along than ever before in the San Diego region. Where the CEO of the economic development Corporation and the CEO of the chamber, a major CEO of a major employer and very socially responsible company with solar turbines, all sat at the table with the superintendent of schools with the regional head of the county health and human services agency, ourselves, and others. In an attempt to co-design how we will proceed to support children throughout their life to cradle to college to career. To me that is a huge step in the right direction I call it a four rather than a ten, because we're not up to the end of the road yet where there is indeed a deep partnership in the implementation of how we support kids all the way through.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And yet the Harvard study does say that your organization has met challenges and connecting with business, what do businesses give as their reasons for not supporting the project?

TAD PARZEN: Well there is a history of the business education sector relationship has not always been smooth. And businesses have a particular need, they need to meet the bottom line, justifiably so. They need a workforce pipeline, they need an informed consumer base, they need safe community, they need a place they can recruit employees too. And be able to say: we really recommend you live here because, or put your business here if you're the EDC, because the schools are great, streets are safe, it is a robust economy and that is really the interest. And historically, that has not been a productive dialogue starter for the education sector, which has a different culture. And also justifiably so, part of what we do as a partnership for children is build that bridge between the business community, the education sector and the nonprofit sector as you mentioned Maureen, thank you for pointing that out. This is really more than an education issue, in fact we do not talk about it as an education issue. This is a regional effort to produce kids that can thrive in our own community, to home grow those kids that are going to support the regional economy, the regional fabric of our neighborhoods.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I want to hone in on one of the things that you said about the sort of tension that sometimes exists between education and the business community. In the report, that harkens back and the researchers harken back to the time of School Superintendent Alan Burson, and the business community feeling that they got the short end of the stick, in how that his school superintendency resolved itself. Are you still feeling the aftereffects of that, Tad?

TAD PARZEN: Now and then it comes, but there were a lot of lessons learned there. One of the lessons that we learned is that together we are much stronger, and by having a productive dialogue between the education sector and the business sector, we will come up the right solution that meets the needs of both. Because really we have a common agenda, and that is part of what we do in a collective impact initiative is to build that common agenda. Businesses need young people to come out of school prepared to meet the workforce demands and the economic demands of the region, and that is a major part of the school district goal. There is a common ground, we build the bridge around that common ground.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Kevin Crawford, you made a point that the United Way has a long track record of working well with the business community. A case in point in this Harvard case study, it quotes Mark Cafferty of the San Diego Economic Development Corporation. He says some of the reason that business has shied away from this particular City Heights project is that "businesses are frustrated with one off programs, and are hungry for something that can scale and make more systematic improvements." Have you heard that from businesses that you have approached about this project? And what have you told them?

KEVIN CRAWFORD: I have not heard that said precisely that way. I do sense some degree of caution here, because what we're really talking about here is a completely different way of serving the children of our community. One of the things that is so unique about the partnership in City Heights, is that it is taking a 360∞ look will at the all of the influences that may go in to preventing that child from learning, or enhancing their ability to learn. Clearly there only a few places in the nation that are actually doing the work that we're doing here in San Diego. Which in and of itself, would cause some to say that me see what kind of success you have here before I get on board. I think it is reasonable and fair, I think we are up to the challenge and even these early stages, we're seeing some positive results from it. I certainly cannot look at the business community as being overly cautious or critical in any sense of the imagination. With a partnership coming on board with United Way, and United Way having such business mind, it is a business minded nonprofit. And it certainly has had profound effects on the community for years and years and years. I think that is certainly an endorsement of the good work that is being done there, and the work that will continue to go on. So, in this whole model it is really about taking, as I said and have said over and over again, taking the brilliance in this community and all of the people that really understand the issue, bringing them to the table around a common goal, a common agenda with common measurements, to really make a difference. So the bottom line is to make a difference.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That was going to be my question, are the programs being developed by the partnership initiative, are they defined enough so a business can come in and support it and then see if it is working? Do you know what I mean?

KEVIN CRAWFORD: I think they clearly are. Any investor, whether a private individual or corporation, they want to see results. We want to see results. And that is what is driving the whole initiative. Data is used to do determine where investments are made, data is used to determine if that investment is reaping dividends. And that is really the selling point of this whole thing, and certainly that is attractive to business.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Tad, I wonder what you have gotten out of this Harvard study that has evaluated your program initiative's efforts to try to connect and energize and get the business community enthusiastic about this whole effort. What have you learned from that?

TAD PARZEN: Well, it has told me that we have a long way to go. And a lot of work to do, and with our partners in the business community, I need to do deeper outreach and make sure that they are clear on their roles and continue that dialogue. These things move at the speed of trust, we like to say. And that trust, as Kevin pointed out, is still building. So, that tells me that we are on the right path but we have a lot of work to do, and there is a long way to go.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Aside from the United Way, I have spoken with and heard of several nonprofits who say that they do have a problem in connecting with the business community, that it is a challenge. Would you say that challenge is in the culture aspect that you mentioned earlier?

KEVIN CRAWFORD: Largely that is right. I have been in the business sector, I have been in the philanthropy sector, I have been in public education and government, and there are culture differences between all of those sectors. There is a language disconnect. There is often an accountability disconnect, the things that one sector thinks they are accountable for our different than the way that the center approaches it, and that has a tendency to frame the issue and what we have tried to do and have done successfully to date, is give everybody a line around the same accountabilities. You asked earlier about some of articles, they are very specific. These important moments in a child's life that if they don't have success there, they are there much less likely to have success at the next level, and business understands that. We all understand that. So, readiness for kindergarten, because we know if they're not ready for kindergarten they're not likely to read proficiently by the third grade. And we know they cannot do that, they are 50% more likely to drop out of high school. Then eighth-grade math and literacy again, the gateway. If you cannot do math at an eighth grade level or can't read and write proficiently by eighth grade, you're not graduated from high school. And we have all of these moments in a child's life, where if they are not succeeding, their chances are going down by the moment. So, business understands that and by coming together around a very specific set of results, successes in a child's life, and using the data to tell us whether what we're doing is working, and if it is not we can do something differently that is proven and research-based, everybody responds to that. So we have generated the dialogue, I believe, that people understand we are about getting results for all children in all areas of our community, in all areas of their lives. Because if they are not healthy, they're not in school and not learning. If they are hungry, they're not ready to learn. If there's tremendous dysfunction the family, they are distracted or might not be at school. As Kevin pointed out this is a 360∞ effort with the health sector, the civil service sector, public education and business sector, parents themselves at the center to tell you what is really going to work in the neighborhood, and then we get it done. And that as Mark said in that interview, people are hungry for that not just in the business sector, but they are hungry to get it done. Everyone is tired of arguing. We're all done arguing. Our rule, when they come into the leadership meeting or any of the meetings were we do not have committees, and we only have action that works, is to leave the argument at the door. Leave your weapons at the door, this is the place where we actually get it done.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I want to thank you both for explaining this very ambitious project to us, and we will check back with you and see how it is going. I've been speaking with Tad Parzen, Executive Director of the City Heights Partnership for Children. And Kevin Crawford, President and CEO of United Way of San Diego County, thank you both very much.