Realizing a long-term vision for Rhode Island requires a plan: Better yet, two plans
It has been said that if you aren’t sure where you are going, you won’t get there. It’s true. To do our best work as a state — and to improve economic, health, and educational outcomes for all Rhode Islanders — we need to chart a course and stay the course as a community.
At the highest levels of government and industry, we see that growing the Rhode Island economy is made a priority. That said, without improving health and educational outcomes, even a better economy will still be a fragile economy. It’s time to prioritize health and pre-K to 12th grade public education, too. It is time to be bold and innovative in these two areas. Without that, too many Rhode Islanders are falling behind. As a community, we have not committed to an enduring vision and long-term plan that transcends election cycles, overcomes special-interest inertia, and is guarded and guided by doing what is right for Rhode Islanders.
That is why, over a year ago, we convened two long-term planning committees with local, senior-level experts in health and pre-K to 12th grade public education. The two groups worked independently, meeting monthly to create a long-term approach for improving the health of Rhode Islanders and for improving pre-K to 12th grade public education. Both groups sought to identify the most pressing needs and commit to state-level coordination and institutional decision-making that will address those needs over the next ten years.
Very early on in both planning processes, the health and education committees identified a similar focus – on equity.
The health committee quickly turned their attention to the fact that good health isn’t only about healthcare. It’s about living in a safe place, having access to nutritious food, being supported by a caring community, and knowing that quality, affordable, physical and behavioral healthcare is readily available. And the group acknowledge that equitable access to each of those important components isn’t available to all – but it could be, especially in a state like ours. The education committee was clear from the outset that to truly improve outcomes for all Rhode Islanders we need to chart a course, and stay the course as a community – committed to high achievement and equity for students, families, and educators who are part of the public school system.
Recently, each of these groups issued a report outlining its process, vision, priorities, and strategies which members of the two committees endorsed. Our endorsement is included in that list, and the Foundation has committed $1 million to the implementation of each of the 10-year plans - $2 million in total, above and beyond our traditional grantmaking in these two sectors.
Each long term planning committee has also convened community members around the long term planning processes. In early December, the Long Term Education Planning Committee welcomed over 300 parents, students, teachers, school administrators, policy makers, advocates, and education-sector leaders for an all-day brainstorming event. Called, Make It Happen: A World Class Public Education for Rhode Island, the event gave the committee and each attendee an opportunity to reflect on priorities and strategies for improving pre-K to 12th grade public education in Rhode Island, and to brainstorm tactics for making improvement a reality. After Make It Happen, the planning committee reviewed table and scribe notes from each brainstorming session and incorporated much of the feedback received into their final report. The final report is available at www.rifoundation.org/EdinRI.
Just after the release of the Long-Term Health Committee's final report, the group brought together 200 health-sector leaders, advocates, policy makers, and providers to a half-day convening and brainstorming session. The final report can be found at www.rifoundation.org/HealthinRI,
As each of these efforts moves beyond visioning and priority-setting and toward the work of truly improving health and educational outcomes for all Rhode Islanders, the Foundation stands ready to support and invest in the work.
As the chair of both planning committees, it’s been a privilege to work among leaders and experts in their respective fields to find potential solutions that will benefit our state. It is also an extraordinary testament to the people around each committee table – both health and education – to see how dedicated they are to finding solutions. In each group there are members who are sometimes on opposite sides of a bargaining table, or are in competition with one another – and there was no animosity, and no posturing, just two groups of dedicated, professionals with their sights set on what is best for our state.