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posted: 5/20/2014 5:30 AM

U-46, community partners to address education issues

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Elgin Area School District U-46 is moving forward with an initiative that will bring together businesses, community organizations and schools to solve educational issues.

School officials and community leaders have been working on the Alignment Education Initiative for nearly two years. It's a partnership between the city of Elgin, the Grand Victoria Foundation, United Way of Elgin, Elgin Community College, Judson University, and Elgin Area School District U-46 and Central Unit District 301. Eventually it will involve area chambers of commerce, businesses, community groups, nonprofits and social service agencies.

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"We need educated people to make our community move forward," said Cherie Murphy, assistant to the Elgin city manager for community engagement. "One of the things that the city can do is to be a good facilitator."

Last spring, the city hosted area education leaders and people from all walks of life at a summit to discuss how to help schools succeed. And a group of local leaders attended an Alignment USA conference last fall.

"We are now at a stage where we are identifying potential members," Murphy said. "It started in Nashville in 2002 as an initiative of their chamber of commerce. In 2009, Rockford adopted the same alignment model. A lot of the communities faced a lot of the same issues that we had."

Murphy said a significant number of area high school graduates are not ready for college, and the area has a high percentage of at-risk students.

"We have hundreds of partnerships already existing in our community with individual schools," Murphy said.

But there is no way to measure the impact of work social service agencies and nonprofit groups already are doing, she said.

"We have so many people who want to help and are willing to help," Murphy said. "We have an opportunity to build on a lot of existing efforts. Several other cities and states are looking at Alignment because they do have measurable outcomes."

The goal is to be able to coordinate community, business and civic resources to help resolve issues within the schools, said Sharon Bush, director of Elgin programs for the Grand Victoria Foundation.

Officials are working to put together a governing board that would have oversight. They anticipate it will cost roughly $100,000 to launch the initiative with a financial commitment from each of the partnering agencies.

"We want every community to buy into it and sign an understanding that we are all committed to education and helping our school districts," Murphy said.

United Way of Elgin and Grand Victoria Foundation already have made commitments, but it's unclear how much U-46 and other groups will be asked to contribute.

"It's about the collective impact," said Patrick Mogge, U-46 director of school and community relations. "You leave your self-interest at the door. It's about organizations coming together."

The next steps are for initiative leaders to undergo training through Alignment USA, form committees to address specific problems, and invite groups to participate in designing and implementing the solution.

"The business community will be integral to this," Murphy said.

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