Working together towards student success

Published 8:01 am Sunday, August 23, 2015

Back in 2012, the Vision 2020 Education Leaders committee began to talk about leveraging all the strong educational institutions in Austin — Austin Public Schools, Pacelli Catholic Schools, Riverland Community College, Austin Public Library and others — to take the success of our students to the next level.

Research turned up programs that had been successful in other communities. Yet time after time, the committee found that program solutions from other communities didn’t fit Austin. The commitment to provide better outcomes for all students was strong. We couldn’t find a program that would reduce the achievement gap, improve graduation rates, provide meaningful challenges to students at many different developmental stages, prepare students for the world of work and offer more rigorous courses for academic high flyers.

In the end, the Education Leaders Committee selected a system, collective impact, rather than a program to bring the vision into reality. In 2014, a new collective impact nonprofit organization was formed: Austin Aspires. It’s been exciting to see Austin Aspires Executive Director Jennifer Lawhead and her board launch a community-wide transformation in education over the past year.

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In order to build community relationships and learn about the needs of students in Austin, Ms. Lawhead conducted research over the last year. She collected more than 2,300 data points from 60 focus groups including 900 Austin students, teachers, parents and leaders.

Below are some examples of the insights from community members in these focus groups.


Insights from adults:

“Parents are overwhelmed. Especially when both parents are working.”

“It is hard for students to find their passion when they are struggling to have their basic needs met.”

“We need to change our mindset. Not all students are college bound.”


Insights from


“My school schedule is so full I cannot take classes in things I am actually interested in.”

“Show kids you care.”

“I need more real life experiences like the Go Green Club.”

This summer, Ms. Lawhead convened a Leadership Table to create community-level education goals. This Leadership Table, consisting of a cross-sector of executive-level leaders from Austin, reviewed research about national best practices in education, local performance and community data, and the collective impact process. They continue to meet and expect to bring forward draft goals in early fall.

When the community-level goals are set, Local Action Teams will establish the measures and indicators for these goals, answering the questions; What does educational excellence look like if we are achieving this goal? AND how will we measure our work so we know that we are meeting our goal?

Find more information about Austin Aspires at or contact Jennifer Lawhead at 507-437-0920 or